A Few Thoughts on Holistic Mission and Movements

A question from Jessie:

Steve, curious about your opinion regarding mark #8 in that book, "movements engage in holistic mission." I assume the author is referring to pursuing good works alongside gospel proclamation. How does this fit in with the 4 fields plan of ministry? There doesn't seem to be much emphasis on good works in the 4 fields model. As someone learning a lot from NoPlaceLeft would love to hear your perspective.

A few thoughts:

What is our mission? This is what Schnabel says, a truly great student of NT mission:

“Missionaries establish contact with non-Christians, they proclaim the news of Jesus the Messiah and Savior (proclamation, preaching, teaching, instruction), they lead people to faith in Jesus Christ (conversion, baptism), and they integrate the new believers into the local community of the followers of Jesus (Lord’s Supper, transformation of social and moral behavior, charity).” 

Eckhard J. Schnabel
Early Christian Mission: Jesus and the Twelve (Downers Grove: IVP, 2004), 95.

Our mission is to make disciples of the nations by going, baptizing and teaching them to obey everything Jesus has commanded (Matt 28). Is that holistic? It depends how you define holistic. 

What did Jesus do? What did he train the Twelve to do? What did the risen Lord continue to do through Paul and the early church? 

Jesus gave no mandate to transform society. Jesus didn't advise Pilate on urban planning or Herod regarding foreign policy. Jesus went looking for disciples. His message didn't bring comprehensive social transformation. It brought division and conflict. 

Does being a disciple bring result in transformation? Definitely. It must. Social transformation is a fruit of the gospel. When it comes, it's a blessing. True disciples love their neighbors in very practical ways. They don't pass by on the other side of the road. 

Let's get back to John Wesley. The early Methodists brought incredible social transformation, to Britain, the US and around the world. For John Wesley social change was the fruit of true discipleship. Early Methodism was a gospel-centered movement. Wesley led with the gospel as the priority. 

Once a movement makes social transformation their mission, they are headed for decline. The gospel must be central. The gospel is the priority. That gospel includes the call to repent and believe, receive forgiveness through Christ's death, be baptized and experience the life-changing power of the Spirit (Acts 2:38). Yet there is no guarantee the gospel and the new community of disciples be accepted in the community. In the book of Acts as the Word spreads disciples are made and churches formed. But there is also conflict and persecution in every place.

So the center of our mission is the multiplication of disciples learning to obey Christ. The fruit is changed lives and salt and light in the community. Yet society is often divided and persecution results. Disciple making movements don't equate or prioritize social transformation over the spread of the gospel.

I'll have more to say on this in my next book on the lifecycle of movements. Meanwhile I need to get back to writing it!