Emphasis on Justice and City-Transformation is Not Enough

Monday Discussion

Holistic ministry to the whole person and with an emphasis on justice and cultural transformation is not only the biblical pattern but it is a culturally relevant way to speak to those outside the church in post-modern America. “Involvement in social justice issues may cut the negative perspective on the church in half (with unbelievers).”[1] People listen when they know that you actually care about people. Simply put, from a pragmatic perspective, when a church is involved in these types of ministries, it [the church] increases in favor with God and man.

This is at least part of what is meant in Acts 2:42-47 where we are told that the early church sold its possessions and shared in such a way that all who had needs were cared for. The result of this extraordinary generosity was that they were held in favor by all (vs. 47).

Eighteen years of ministry in Bolingbrook, Illinois has proved this over and over. Our health clinic, dental clinic, eye clinic, food pantry, housing counseling and assistance, clothing pantry, ESL classes, computer classes, work with gang members, community service projects, acceptance of community service workers, letters to people who have been arrested, cards to new mothers in the community, surprise-pregnancy counseling, biblical counseling of couples, basketball, baseball, soccer and football clinics, vacation Bible schools, backyard Bible clubs, and encouragement of adoption and foster care families have all garnered high praise from city officials and townspeople alike as well as high respect within the local clergy association.

Pastors at the church have received keys to the city, grand marshal positions in parades, newspaper praise and favor on controversial issues in part because of the holistic ministry of the members of the congregation.

These ministries are what might be defined as outreach. They are the inoffensive witness of changed lives that pave the way for the more offensive[2] yet life-transforming message of the gospel. These types of ministry should become a part of our ministry texture in post-modern America. They are low risk but high impact ministries. They work off of the principle that there is “no impact without contact.” They help our people to initiate contact at the point of need. The Apostle Peter talks about the power of this type of ministry in 1 Peter 2:12-17:

Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.[3]

Good works, holistic ministry, accompanies proclamation and paves the way for the gospel to penetrate the heart of the hearer. But as good and biblical as these ministries are, they are not a substitute for proclamation of the gospel. We cannot just do good, we must proclaim the good news. Tomorrow, I will take the issue of proclamation up here on the blog.

Where have you seen holistic ministry pave the way for increased harvesting for the gospel?

[1] Class notes, Ed Stetzer, MN 9412-01 Missional Church Planting, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, 2009.
[2] Cf. Matthew 11:6; 13:57; Luke 7:23; Romans 9:33; 1 Peter 2:8.
[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (Wheaton, IL: Standard Bible Society, 2001). Emphasis mine.

Continued: Why we love outreach and hate evangelism.

6 thoughts on “Emphasis on Justice and City-Transformation is Not Enough

  1. Given the title of my own blog, it is obvious that this is a topic very near to my heart. It is also a topic that touches on the core of the Gospel. Two quotes that have shaped this thinking in my life:

    1. First quote is from Mt 25:37-40 “Then the people who have God’s approval will reply to him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you or see you thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you as a stranger and take you into our homes or see you in need of clothes and give you something to wear? When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ “The king will answer them, ‘I can guarantee this truth: Whatever you did for one of my brothers or sisters, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you did for me.'”

    It seems to me the Gospel is somehow defined by the things we do to help others. Interesting lack of mention here of “witnessing.”

    2. The second quote is from Jan Hettinga’s “Follow Me.” — “Jesus did not call the cross or His death & resurrection the good news. For Jesus, the kingdom was the good news. The magnificent work of the cross is the beginning. Atonement, reconciliation, redemption, justification, & propitiation are all essential ingredients of the gospel, but the theme of the good news is the rest, freedom, peace, & high investment value of living life under the leadership of the Sovereign Lord of heaven & earth.”

    This is a powerful statement that goes beyond simply sharing salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus but moves into transforming societies to reflect the fact that it is all God’s Kingdom.


    1. Functionalchurch (Mike), thanks for the comment. I think we are pretty much on the same page. My push back on your comment is only “that it is interesting that there is no mention of witnessing in the Matthew 25:37-40” passage is just that, interesting, but it is not an endorsement of outreach without proclamation.

      We need to look at the whole of the NT to get the whole picture.

      Second, I love the quote by Jan Hettinga but here is a gentle push back as well. The “rest, freedom, peace and high investment value of living under the leadership of the Sovereign Lord of heaven and earth” is only gained through the proclamation of the gospel verities that people come to believe in after they have or as they are repenting and believing in the gospel.

      This is at least part of the reason why Mark describes Jesus ministry in chapter 1 as “Healing the man with an unclean spirit (1:21-28), healing many (1:29-34) and cleansing a leper (1:40-45), but he summarizes Jesus’ ministry as going everywhere and preaching “The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (1:14-15)

      Both are necessary. They are companions. City transformation and justice? Yes, AND gospel proclamation, together. Neither substitutes for the other and neither survives separately.


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