Holistic Healers: The Church as Missional Community
What immediately comes to mind when you hear the word mission in a church-related context? Most likely it’s probably something along the lines of a trip to some far away land to “spread the gospel” in order to “save” those who have yet to hear it from damnation. Or perhaps a short-term project like repairing dilapidated homes or building access ramps for those with disabilities.
We tend to think of mission as something the church does. A ministry to be funded and executed.
But what if we expanded our definition?
What if we reframe mission as not something the church does, but what—or rather who—the church is? The very identity of those of us who claim to follow that radical rabbi we know as Jesus of Nazareth?
And beyond that, what if we begin to see ourselves not as a group of people that gather together a couple times a week in a building that we no longer can afford to maintain, but as partners in God’s salvific mission to bring holistic renewal and wholeness to every aspect of creation…humanity, the social order and the environment?
Perhaps then we would begin to see that the church exists not simply to lead folks to Christ, but to transform our communities and social structures.
Perhaps then we would begin to reclaim the church’s identity as a missional community, the vehicle of God’s dynamic love that compelled God to break into the world as a human being to restore and redeem it.
The Sent Ones
Jesus was sent into the world to bring wholeness to every single aspect of it. The entirety of creation falls under the scope of this mission and is the object of Jesus’ love, which is the driving force behind his work of redemption.
God’s mission is a work of love, an act of restoring creation to its original state, making all things new by ushering in God’s kingdom.
If we are to take seriously Jesus’ statement in John’s Gospel that the church is sent into the world just as Jesus (Jn. 20:21), then we have no choice but to view ourselves as an extension of God’s activity in the world.
And if we can grasp this concept and run with it, well, then we become the incarnate church, sent into our communities to bring transformation to everything we touch.
Far too often we tend to fall into the reductionist trap of believing the church’s sole purpose is, to borrow an evangelical term, “saving souls.”
But this line of thought fails to account for God’s love not only for the soul of humanity but also for the wholeness of humanity. God is not only concerned about the spiritual condition of humanity, but also the alleviation of our physical suffering and liberation from oppression and injustice of any sort.
Folks, this is the true definition of salvation.
Human rights, socioeconomic inequality, racial and gender injustice, mass violence, and poverty all are in opposition to God’s intention for the world. If we are to be a reflection of God’s coming reign in the here and now, giving a foretaste of what complete restoration looks like when God’s kingdom comes in its fullness, then we must take seriously the role of transformative justice in the world.
The world doesn’t need more escapist religion promising a more tolerable heavenly future, but radical followers of the radical Jesus actively participating in God’s move to right the present, bringing a holistic approach to being the church that encompasses every aspect of life…spiritual and physical needs alike.
We can change hearts, to be sure, but to do so without also changing systems and structures contradicts our identity as sent people who model the very life of Jesus, challenging the status quo and seeking genuine transformation on the margins of society. Disturbers of the comfortable for the sake of the uncomfortable.
When the Church enters into solidarity with the poor and speaks against racial and social injustice, it is partnering in mission with God in Christ, the One who challenges exploitative economic systems and subverts the political order to bring healing wherever there is brokenness.
Such brokenness exacts an ecological toll as well. Our focus as the people of God can’t help but to include environmental concerns. As partners with and participants in God’s mission, we must view care for the natural world as a sacred act and ethical responsibility.
If we truly believe that through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the entirety of creation is being redeemed, that through those acts all aspects of life are being healed of their brokenness, then we must be careful not to participate in any action that would counteract such healing, including destruction of the environment.
And beyond that we have a responsibility to speak prophetically against any and all systems that contribute to such destruction. Climate change and the abuse and misuse of natural resources are areas of concern that we are called to address through word and action.
May we cease to collaborate with any and all systems that destroy the planet, but rather collaborate with God in its renewing.
Embracing the Call
John Wesley famously said that “I look upon all the world as my parish.” We need to recapture that spirit in our contemporary context—not in a geographical sense, intending to somehow spread God’s good news in an imperialistic, territorial manner—but in a holistic sense, intending to be God’s loving instrument bringing transformation, healing and wholeness to humanity, the social order, and the environment.
In a world in which Christendom has (thankfully) collapsed, the gap between the haves and have nots grows wider, migration on a mass scale due to conflict pervades, social injustice reigns and environmental concerns pose an existential threat to creation, the message of love, hope, peace and reconciliation, of the flourishing of all life, perhaps is needed now more than ever.
The world is starving for a people to bring the love of God to bear in every aspect of society and culture in order that every aspect of society and culture experiences salvation. Starving for a people that sheds its identity as a civic organization with a religious mascot that hides behind the four walls of their holy fortresses and embraces its call as a missional community.
Let the church say amen.
Rev. Brad Davis (he/him) is the founder of The New Society, a grassroots Central Appalachian kingdom movement. A native of one of the nation’s most economically and socially exploited regions, Brad’s passion is connecting its people to a holistic, therapeutic, liberating message of salvation he calls the Holler Gospel. Click here to read more of Brad‘s work.
Feature image: Albert Vecerka / ESTO & Rockwell Group. Photographed at the Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, GA, USA