For years the Church’s goal was to evangelize. But for many of those years “evangelize” meant share the Gospel and move on. Growing up in church, I was trained in Evangelism Explosion, FAITH, Share Jesus without Fear, and others, all effective sharing tools that I have personally seen help lead people to Christ. Any time someone gives their life over to Christ it is a time to celebrate and rejoice, but after the rejoicing we usually leave. There was nothing in EE, FAITH, Share Jesus without Fear or the others that explained what to do after they prayed “the Prayer” and were baptized. What does the new Christian do who has Jesus but is still hungry? What about the new Christian who has Jesus but still doesn’t have a home? What does the new Christian who can’t pay their bills do now that they have Jesus but they don’t have any electricity? The person who shared the Good News with them is nowhere to be found. Their spiritual life is new but their physical life looks the same. Same hurts. Same struggles. Same helplessness.
The authors of Making Neighborhoods Whole (2013) by Wayne Gordon and John Perkins, sum up this issue like this “…once people make a decision to follow Christ, it makes sense for the evangelist to leave the scene. It doesn’t matter if new believers are still hurting, still poor, still hungry, still unemployed, still homeless, still confined to substandard housing, still being victimized by injustice – in a world still in need of love (137-138).” In this type of evangelism we have loved them enough to help them spiritually but have failed to love them enough to help them with their physical needs.
The seventh principle in Making Neighborhoods Whole is a wholistic approach. The idea behind the wholistic approach is found in Luke 2:52 where the Bible says that, “Jesus grew in wisdom (intellectually) , in stature (physically) and in favor with God (spiritually) and other people (socially) (138).” Although Jesus was a spiritual being, he was not just a spiritual being. Scripture is concerned with more than just our spiritual needs and if we are to be followers and imitators of Jesus we should be too.
When asked what the greatest commandment is Jesus responded in Mathew 22:37-40 that the greatest commandment is, “Love the Lord our God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind (37, ESV).” Then he said that the second greatest is like it, “Love your neighbor as yourself (39).” If we are concerned with the wholistic well-being of ourselves we should also be concerned with the wholistic well-being of others. When you truly love someone you don’t just want their souls to be secure, you want all of them to be secure. The book compares this idea to that of our children. We love our children and because we love them we will not ignore them when they are cold or hungry. We will get them a jacket or some food to help them. And it’s in that same way that scripture commands that we love our neighbors.
Now the wholistic approach does focus on the physical needs of our neighbor but that is not to take the focus off the Gospel. It is not either-or, it is both-and. The authors put it this way, “Christ may not automatically put food on a poor family’s table, but neither will providing a family with nutritious meals address their spiritual and emotional needs (140).” People are going to be more likely to hear the Gospel from someone that has loved them enough to help and care for them. It is also a lot easier for people to understand the Gospel when they have a chance to see it in action. “People who feel genuine, unconditional love are more likely to want to discover the source of this love (140).”
This chapter hit me in my heart. I used to be one of those “it’s all about the Gospel and nothing else! It has everything anyone needs!” people. And I’m sure there are a lot of people with whom I shared doing door to door evangelism that I left with Jesus but also very confused. Confused as to why I didn’t help them with the problems they viewed as the most pertinent. Confused as to why I was so happy when I left when the next day they weren’t sure if they were going to be able to give their children three meals. Confused about the guy who came to their door and promised them a new life but the next day life was exactly the same. And though I helped lead them to the Savior of the world, I failed to love them as that Savior would. Let’s take a look at how we share the Gospel with others. Instead of giving them Jesus, why don’t we take time and show them Jesus?