bits from bob....

Jesus Crisis: Rethinking Ministry and Missions

by Bob Young
[permission is given to reprint with credit noted]

There are so many problems in the world that we Christians who want to help remedy the world's problems hardly know where to start. The problems in our world are not limited to foreign nations; there are serious problems in our own nation. The problems are not limited to the lives and situations of unbelievers, problems exist among those who claim to be believers. Many of these problems have reached crisis proportions, especially in areas of the world where Christians reach out and do "mission work." The crises abroad -- and at home in the US -- include poverty, hunger, malnutrition, unhealthy living conditions, lack of medical care, lack of access to education, breakdown of marriages and families, and drug use. This short list reflects crises I have personally witnessed and worked with in ministry and mission efforts. (To the list one can add the constant need for humanitarian aid when natural disasters strike around the world.)

If we Christians are to be effective in addressing these and other problems, we must address the root problem. Some see the root problem as poverty and think that the solution is in providing sufficient food, money, and other resources. But the root cause of poverty is broken or non-existent social and political institutions. In many places, institutions are weak or crumbling. Strong institutions exist when they are led by people of character. Even unbelievers and doubters whom I know admit that those who faithfully follow Jesus develop lives of character. Genuinely following Jesus changes one's character.

Therefore, the real crisis in our world is a "Jesus crisis." It is a crisis that comes when people do not know Jesus -- they need to hear about him. It is a crisis that comes when people who claim to follow Jesus do not reflect Jesus in the decisions and actions of their daily lives. It is a crisis that comes when people say but do not do, when words and actions do not match. It is not a crisis that will be solved solely with needs-meeting ministries. It is a crisis that will be solved by restoring Jesus as Lord of our lives in our nation and around our world.

What our world needs, and what our nation needs, is not more aid money and more public or private assistance. Our world needs Jesus; our world needs the message of Jesus. Our world needs God-preachers and God-missionaries. I respect and appreciate helper-missionaries, but the presence of Christ is powerless without the proclamation and persuasion of the saving Gospel proclaiming the Savior of the world. If the biggest problem in many developing nations is the "crushing passivity of the people's mindset," those who merely provide aid and resources may hurt more than they help, because people develop receiver mindsets. Christian aid must be coupled with Christian evangelism, because only a change in hearts will bring about spiritual, social and cultural transformation.

The message of salvation is not something that churches, ministers, and missionaries must avoid in order to be accepted and fit into today's society and culture. We Christians must not be deceived into thinking, "It is too bad that salvation is part of the Christian package." Certainly we should heal the sick, provide education, and feed the hungry. Such benevolence and compassion makes us like Jesus. But we must not think that these are the entirety of what matters. In fact, what ultimately counts is not the help we share but the faith we share. The faith that motivates our own discipleship must be transferred to those we touch. This matters immensely because this faith transfer is what builds people and empowers abundant living. This shared faith holds together families and neighbors. This shared faith builds people of character who lead families and cities and nations out of brokenness into wholeness and integrity.

But how can faith be shared if we Christians are half-hearted in our own faith and efforts toward discipleship? We are too often satisfied with too little. We are ready to eat the peanut shell without anything inside. Christianity does not confine us; Christian faith liberates us and instills a lively curiosity and engagement with the world. Christians deal directly with others; Christians stand tall in a spiritually empowered sense, not in the sense of human wrangling for power and position and prestige. Christianity causes people to think collectively before they think individually. They think in terms of the community before self. They think in terms of the world before self. I will take the initiative, not because I will benefit, but because my world will become a better place. This is part of the changed worldview that comes when Christian faith takes hold in one's life. The world is see through different eyes. Passivity is no longer an option. Self-interest is insufficient motivation as one chooses life's priorities. This Christian faith is not built with physical food but spiritual. This Christian faith does not depend on physical wholeness but spiritual.

Churches, ministers, and missionaries who want to help people must not deceive themselves into thinking that material aid, more education, and skill development will be sufficient to empower change in people. An entire belief system must be replaced. That will occur only when faith becomes central and controlling. Our message is faith not food, the Messiah not medicine, hope more than help. Otherwise we are little more than a secular benevolent organization. We may make our world slightly better temporarily, but we are losing the battle for genuine change. We must help people develop Christian faith and character. Then they will become God's missionaries in their own locations and lead their world to new heights as they teach others to nourish eternal hope through Jesus.

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Original article: March 22, 2011
Edited and updated: November 11, 2020