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A Model of Wholistic Ministry

Reaching the whole person by wholly giving ourselves to ministry

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The buzzword in today’s evangelical circles is holism, or more appropriately, wholism. Why do we spell it with w rather than h?

The word holistic is used widely in New Age teachings and pantheistic theologies. Holism points to a connection of our human spirit with the spirit that permeates all of nature, both animate and inanimate.

In contrast, Christians have been called to love and be connected to God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:30). If our whole purpose is to serve God with our whole being, doesn’t it stand to reason that salvation will impact our whole being?

Likewise God asks us to show His love and minister to the “whole” person, not the “holy” person. Christians are to present the gospel by linking deed and word in a wholistic manner that will impact body, mind and spirit (James 2:14–17).

One to Imitate

We might be able to wrap our arms around the concept of wholistic ministry if we studied a biblical model of wholism. Certainly Jesus was the supreme model. He cared for people by feeding, healing, teaching and casting out demons.

Yet Jesus was the only perfect man. Though we should strive to be like Him, it may be difficult to identify with someone whose uniqueness defies full imitation.

Instead consider someone who, like us, was sinful and imperfect, but served God in a wholistic manner—Nehemiah. He served both God and man with his whole being, impacting the spirits, minds and bodies of the people he served.

Nehemiah’s spirit was grieved because of sinful people’s failure to complete the Jerusalem wall, disgracing both themselves and God. Nehemiah’s grief motivated him to pray—before his mission to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, during the rebuilding and after the project was completed.

His spirit was clearly energized by communing with the Spirit of God. His “spiritual” ministries included teaching a godly approach to feasting and fasting (Neh. 8:9–10) and serving as a choir conductor (12:31).

Nehemiah was a thinker and a planner. He devised a plan for the presidents of Jerusalem to rebuild the sections of the wall nearest to each one’s home (3:2, 23). He organized a defense for the workers by praying for them and arming them with swords and trowels (4:9, 13). He reinstituted a method of paying priests for their services so they could provide for their families and to keep them from abandoning their temple duties (5:12).

Nehemiah was not adverse to physical labor. When he first arrived in Jerusalem, he conducted an inspection of the crumbling walls and identified the work to be done (2:12–15). As the rebuilding began and opposition increased, he strapped on his sword and took his place on the wall along with the other returnees (4:23). Nehemiah served God with his whole being. His commitment resulted in rebuilding the wall in 52 days.

Nehemiah not only served with his whole being, he ministered to the whole person. He promoted social justice by ending the usury that was forcing people to sell their children as slaves (5:6–12). He cared for the physical needs of local leaders by feeding them from the king’s provisions rather than hoarding the food for himself (5:14). He was concerned with the spiritual welfare of those he served as evidenced by his facilitating the reading of the Law (8:9), adhering to Sabbath guidelines (13:15) and communicating God’s directives on intermarriage (13:23).

If Nehemiah had falsely prioritized the spiritual, physical or social needs, the work would have been hindered. He cared for every aspect of the lives of those he served, bringing glory to God.

The civil servant Nehemiah modeled a way to minister to the whole person with his whole being. Today clergy and laypeople, Compassion and Mercy Associates (CAMA), International Fellowship of Alliance Professionals (IFAP) and C&MA missionaries still use his example as a model of wholistic ministry.

Reap the Whole Person

One modern-day Nehemiah is Robert Sanou, the director of ACCEDES (relief and development arm of the C&MA national church in Burkina Faso) and a CAMA partner. Sanou is a lawyer who has invested his life in relief and development ministries.

ACCEDES contributes to famine relief, reforestation, building schools, digging wells, micro-enterprise loan projects, AIDS awareness training and care for orphans of AIDS victims. Sanou received one of the highest civilian awards given by the government of Burkina Faso for his service with ACCEDES.

Sanou and his staff verbally point people to the One whose free gift of salvation has motivated them to a life of love and ministry. Many nationals are worshiping the Lord today because Sanou gave of himself to meet their physical, emotional, social and spiritual needs.

Dianna Ullrich, a CAMA worker who serves with the team in Gjilan, Kosovo, is another example of a modern-day Nehemiah. She has biblical and theological training and serves as an occupational therapist, English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher and community development worker.

Ullrich provides occupational therapy to the poor and is training a young Kosovar lady to carry on the ministry. Ullrich teaches ESL and shares the good news with her students, giving them a marketable language skill and an opportunity for eternal life. In addition, she established a craft project that provides a part-time income to 250 women who make the items. Key nationals involved in the project have become Jesus’ followers.

Ullrich also leads worship at the new church in Gjilan and gives direction to the youth ministry. She has wholly devoted herself to the Lord’s work to minister to those she meets.

Wholistic ministry is not exclusively a domain of CAMA. All of us, whether laity or vocational ministers, are called to serve wholistically.

We would do well to heed the words of Ludwig Nommensen, an early missionary to the Batak people in present day Kalimantan, Indonesia. He said, “If we sow with a view to the spiritual only, we will never reap the whole man.” Christ calls us to reach the whole person by wholly giving ourselves to ministry. Nehemiah’s example points the way.

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