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.