No Sacred Secular Divide

Proverbs 25:2 It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings.

Discovering the secrets of God’s universe is sacred work and the glory of kings. Discoveries that build a nation also glorify God who concealed those truths in His creation for us to explore, discover, understand, use, teach, and celebrate. Every discovery that benefits humanity is a revelation of the glory of God.

Wholistic or Holistic?

I came to the conviction long ago that my ministry should be obedient to both the great commission and the great commandment. I joined the (w)holistic ministry camp. Two decades later, I still don’t know how to spell what I am. My spell checker rejects the spelling “wholistic”. (Technically, “wholistic” is not in the dictionary and is not an alternative spelling of the word “holistic”). On the other hand, many of my colleagues argue that “holistic” is closely identified with alternative medicine or eastern religion and is therefore inappropriate as a description of Christian ministry.

Now I am planning a (w)holistic ministry conference and have to face the question of how to spell the word head on. What do we name the conference? Do we name it the “International Holistic Ministry Conference” or the “International Wholistic Ministry Conference”?

Some of us spell the word with a “w”, and some without a “w”. Some of us use different words altogether, such as “integral” or “integrated”. Whatever word we use, we are united in the pursuit of loving God with all our being, loving all people selflessly, and reproducing disciples of Jesus around the globe.

With that as our united mission, let me invite you to join us at the first International Wholistic Ministry Conference facilitated by the Global CHE Network in Phoenix, Arizona, January 9-11, 2013. For more information, visit http://wholisticmissions.com/.

 

Integration Begins With Me

As followers of Jesus, our obligation is obedience to everything Jesus commanded. That means that we do not choose which command is most important (evangelism or social action), but we find ways to do both. For the sake of the discussion that follows, I will define integration as “obedience to everything Jesus commanded”, and specialization as “choosing which commands to obey”.

Integration in Christian ministry is fundamentally a mindset that is born out of a Biblical and wholistic worldview rather than a dualistic one. Integrated ministries are built on personal conviction that resists both internal and external pressures toward specialization.

When I arrived on the mission field in 1986, a senior colleague approached me with a word of advice: “If you feed someone today, they will be hungry again tomorrow. If you save their soul today, they will be saved forever.” That phrase summarized my colleagues’ philosophy of ministry and theology of mission. Our task was to save souls and plant churches, not to care for the physical needs of people. This is an example of what I will call external pressure toward specialization. Another good example of external pressure toward specialization is the reality that in a hostile environment it is easy to do acts of compassion, but harder to evangelize.

There are internal pressures as well. I might find it difficult or intimidating to talk with others about their need to repent of sin and put their trust in Christ. It might be easier for me to do good works, and wait for people to ask me how they can be saved. That is an example of internal pressure toward specialization.

Complete obedience to everything Jesus commanded requires resistance to both external and internal pressure toward specialization. It is rooted in convictions about what I must do, not just what I am gifted or trained to do.

I can teach what I know, but I reproduce what I am. If we want integrated ministries, then we must be integrated people. Integration begins with me. I must develop convictions that resist pressures toward specialization, and be willing myself to work outside of my comfort zone. If I am a community developer, I must evangelize. If I am an evangelist, I must involve myself with community development.

What are the implications of these ideas for those who are developing a program of training and equipping for wholistic ministry? Here are a few thoughts:

1. Training must be rooted in God’s Word and should focus on integration in the life and ministry of the individual.

2. Training should challenge assumptions of a dualistic worldview, and promote a mindset of ministry to the whole person and community. Individuals must be trained as generalists, not specialists.

3. Training must offer tools that are simple and transferable, enabling the individual to respond personally to the whole need of individuals and communities whether spiritual, physical, social, intellectual, or economic.

What is “Transformational Ministry?”

Everybody seems to be using the word “transformation” to describe the impact of what they are doing. There is transformational leadership, transformational management, transformational development, transformational business, transformational care, transformational learning, transformational marketing – even transformational grammar and math! Most troubling to me is the fact that the political left uses the term to describe socialist ideals of forced redistribution of wealth. That makes me wonder if we should still be using the term to describe our Christian ministries.

If we will continue to use the term to describe our Christian ministries, then we should be clear about what we mean when we use it. The Biblical concept of transformation flows from an intensely personal relationship with God. It is a complete regeneration of our being, thinking, and doing that works itself out in our families and communities. It is not something that is achieved by external force or theories of social change, but by a work of God in the heart. It is reflected in communities that are compassionate, just, and free.

God transforms from the inside out. As followers of Jesus, we have all experienced the transforming power of God at work in us – that quiet work of the Holy Spirit convicting us of wrongdoing, cleansing our hearts, shaping our character, changing our attitudes, and influencing our actions. We also look forward to a time when our lives and communities are completely transformed in the new heaven and the new earth.

There is a present as well as a future aspect to this Biblical transformation. We are growing in love, righteousness and holiness, but will not be fully like Christ until he comes again. In the same way, we work for peace, righteousness, and justice, but will not see the fullness of the kingdom of God until Jesus returns as judge and king.

The Pharisees once asked Jesus when the kingdom would come. He replied by saying: “the kingdom of God is among you” (Luke 17:21). The kingdom of God is present now. It is present when Christian people in the name of Jesus act to release the poor in the developing world from cycles of poverty and disease. It is present when relief is offered in the name of Christ to victims of a tsunami. It is present when the poor participate in the decisions which affect their lives and gain access to resources and knowledge. It is present where Christians facilitate reconciliation, justice, and peace. It is present where forgiveness of sins is proclaimed and Jesus is acknowledged as Lord.

Jesus taught us to pray “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:9-11). This is the goal of transformational ministry. Transformation is God’s kingdom work: it is a process and an ideal, a present experience and a future hope, a means and an end, a struggle and a victory. God is at work among us today, and he will bring what he has started to completion when the Lord Jesus returns in all his glory. We will not know the fullness of the kingdom until our Lord comes again, but the king is here and his kingdom is among us.

God always transforms from the inside out – his work begins in our heart and works itself out in our life. He works in us, then through us, then among us.