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.

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.

Integrating the Physical and Spiritual

I think I prefer the term “integral” to “transformational” as a description of the work we do. As Elly said commenting on my last blog, “Transformation becomes a serious issue when organizations say that this is what ‘they deliver’ as the result of their labor for the Kingdom. In this case, it becomes an indicator that needs precise clarification.” Our ministries can inspire hope and progress toward God’s ideals, but they cannot deliver the Kingdom of God in its fullness. Jesus will do that when he comes again. I love to tell the stories of “transformation” that I have seen in communities around the world, but these stories are only snapshots at a moment in time. Often communities will take three steps forward and two steps back – even as we do in our own personal lives.

If “transformation” describes an outcome, than “integration” describes a process. Both terms describe a corrective to ministry approaches that focus entirely on the forgiveness of sins while neglecting concerns of compassion and justice, or vice versa. By using either one of these terms we are expressing a conviction that evangelism and social concern are both part of Christian mission. We seek complete obedience to everything Jesus commanded – whether the great commission or the great commandment.

From the perspective of outcome (transformation), we believe that followers of Jesus who love their neighbor will contribute toward communities that are compassionate, just, and free. From the perspective of process (integration), we believe that followers of Jesus will minister in ways that are responsive to the whole need of persons and communities – whether physical, spiritual, moral, social, intellectual, or economic.

Complete obedience to everything Jesus commanded requires both compassion for the physical needs of people and proclamation of the forgiveness of sins through faith in Christ. We cannot choose which of Jesus’ commands is most important, but must choose to be obedient to everything Jesus commanded. That to me is the reason for “integral ministry”.

To divorce evangelism from the mission of the church is to separate Jesus from his kingdom. The proclamation that Jesus is the Christ (Lord), and the call to repent and accept the gift of forgiveness are fundamental to the gospel of the kingdom. To enter the kingdom requires a radical transformation in which the rule of God is established in the heart through repentance and faith. Entrance into the kingdom of God is a beginning, but it is not the whole story. The message of Jesus did not stop with the forgiveness of sins. The gospel of the kingdom must work itself out in life and community – in personal holiness, freedom, justice and compassion.

As a practical matter if we will maintain the integrity of a ministry that is obedient to everything Jesus commanded, integrated ministry must become a way of thinking that is constantly reinforced through teaching, modeling, methodology and evaluation. The following are methods we use in our ministries to accomplish this:

1. Leaders model integration: pastors teach physical topics and medical doctors teach spiritual topics.
2. Curriculums include both physical and spiritual topics.
3. Half of training time is spent on spiritual and moral topics, half on physical topics.
4. Every worker, whether paid or volunteer, is required to minister to both physical and spiritual needs in the community. People learn to see themselves, not as specialists, but as people serving people.
5. Regular reports and reviews require that each team measure their outputs against both physical and spiritual indicators.

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.