The Ministry of Wholeness

By Rick Lawrence
Vibrant Faith Executive Director

In the wake of American gymnast Simone Biles’ decision to pull out of major competitions in the Tokyo Olympics to protect her mental health, a threat that the U.S. Surgeon General calls “a second pandemic” has been spotlighted. College counseling centers are already facing a flood of students seeking help for emotional distress, and one-fifth of the adult population is wrestling with depression. The significant mental health consequences of COVID-19 are wide-ranging, impacting an entire generation as profoundly as 9/11 did. We’ve seen an increase in loneliness, anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), substance use disorder—and a broad range of other mental and behavioral disorders, including domestic violence and child abuse. At the height of the pandemic, one-quarter of all eighteen- to twenty-four-year-olds said they’d “seriously considered” suicide in the last month. We need a ministry of wholeness.

So, what are the implications of this widespread psychological crisis for those of us in ministry leadership?

In my new book The Suicide Solution (co-authored with Dr. Daniel Emina, coming out the first week in September), I explore the theological foundation for a redemptive assault on a threat that has gripped so many. Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 1…

In 2013, Time magazine’s editors named Jesus “the most significant person in history.” He is Messiah to millions and “great teacher” or “spiritual leader” to millions more. But Jesus would describe Himself differently. His mission on Earth, of course, was to sacrifice His Son-of-God life to pay the price for our sin and build a bridge back to make it possible for us to have an intimate relationship with God. But more broadly, He came to restore our fundamental humanity—our created-in-the-image-of-God wholeness.

At the beginning of His ministry, He gathered a large crowd on the side of a hill in Galilee and painted for them an epic canvas of what a full, healthy life actually looked like. “The Beatitudes,” the prelude to what we now call “The Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew 5 and 6), is a series of eight broad blessings, all beginning with “Blessed are those who…” But these “blessings” are actually carefully chosen markers for building and maintaining a healthy, stable temple of the Holy Spirit. Over the next two chapters, He switches from a wide-angle to a telephoto lens—pinpointing what health looks like in relationships, self-care, finances, self-esteem, and spiritual maturity. To close out this thundering, poetic invitation into the “abundant life,” Jesus reveales what sort of fruit a life infected by the “standards and practices” of His home culture, the Kingdom of God, produces:

“That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life— whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith? 

So don’t worry about these things, saying, “What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?” These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need” (Matthew 6:25–33). 

A healthy temple, then, is characterized by trust, not anxiety. A pervading sense of well-being in the face of need. A determination to hope that “leavens” circumstantial darkness. And peace, peace, peace of… mind.

Jesus invites us to love Him with “all [our] heart, soul, mind, and strength” (Mark 12:30)—and “all” translates to hardware (our biology) and software (our psychology) restored into wholeness. Healthy brains beget healthy minds. And a healthy brain—like a healthy body or healthy spiritual life or healthy psychology—is the product of a fitness mentality.

Our way forward as ministry leaders starts by recognizing that redemption is much more than a path back into a relationship with God and a ticket to heaven. The mission of Jesus, and therefore our mission, is to help people become more fit—more whole—in their heart, soul, mind, and strength. These four “fitness” filters for ministry make up the drivers of our redemptive impact. Anything that fits under these four umbrellas is contributing to the wholeness of the person, building a bulwark against the onset of depression, anxiety, and suicidality. Through building ministries of wholeness, we are first-responders in this epidemic—it helps to embrace that shift in perspective as we live out our passion and our calling.

Rick Lawrence is Executive Director of Vibrant Faith. He’s the general editor of the Jesus-Centered Bible, and author of 40 books, including The Jesus-Centered Life and the new daily devotional Jesus-Centered Daily.


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