Have you ever heard the saying, “Save the soul, and the rest will follow”? This maxim unfortunately characterizes the historic actions of many American Evangelicals. We’ve reduced the gospel to the Great Commission, “Go therefore and make disciples,” and the Great Commandment, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength … and love your neighbor as yourself.”
Yet, in all our evangelistic zeal, we have tragically missed a key component of the gospel: restoration through the Great Requirement.
We see the Great Requirement in Micah 6:8: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
God requires us to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with Him. The Great Requirement does not happen separately from our commission and commandment. When each are done biblically, they are intricately tied together. Simply put, making disciples should be an expression of loving God and our neighbors and should always lead toward holistic restoration. In the same way, holistic restoration should be an expression of loving God and our neighbors and should always lead toward making disciples.
I serve as the lead pastor of Blueprint Church in Atlanta. Our central mission is to unleash healthy people to do ministry where life exists. Over the years, I have seen firsthand the importance of addressing the many facets of life to make healthy disciples and to actively engage your community. To holistically make disciples, we have to address aspects of the spiritual, emotional, economic, and social dynamics of our communities. These are the four pillars we are using at the Send Network to build the framework of community restoration.
Historically, the spiritual pillar is where the church spends the majority of its focus. Too often, churches have shifted the jobs of community restoration to only nonprofits, ignoring the fact that God has uniquely positioned churches to serve and restore systemic and community brokenness. And while our pillars address more than spiritual needs, we want to ensure we don’t lose focus on the spiritual needs of the heart. Many evangelicals carry a fear that if we engage in social issues, we will end up losing the essence and core of the gospel. But our plan is to double down by partnering with local seminaries to help undergird what local churches are doing to spiritually equip their members.
We are working to establish a counseling network to allow small churches and church plants to offer accessible counseling for their communities. I am a firm believer that our emotions are gifts from God to help us live fully in a tragic world. But the brokenness of our world can leave us with festering, unattended wounds. We want to equip and empower local churches to play a role in walking their members, neighbors, and community members toward emotional health and healing.
As we address systemic issues in our community, one of the major factors to consider is economic stability. Communities thrive when individuals are given opportunities to learn, grow, and succeed. Job readiness training is a great way for local churches to partner with the community to create enriching opportunities. Sustainable restorative efforts are a tangible way for the community to see how God can take brokenness and radically transform lives. This means helping people find jobs, keep jobs, and advance in the work place.
The social pillar is where we begin to partner with local nonprofits and para-church ministries to address social needs in our communities. The needs of each community are unique, so the social pillar may look a little different, depending on the community. This pillar will address issues ranging from educational disparities to racial reconciliation and political issues. As we partner with local nonprofits and para-church ministries, we hope to maximize the impact of local churches. The gospel calls us to take action and lead the way in reconciling broken aspects of our community. We need to stand in the gap and engage when we see disparity.
It’s not a priority until it’s your problem
The gospel does not neglect restoration; it lifts it up. When we decide to stand in the gap, we can have a systemic impact in our community. At Blueprint, one of the ways we engaged our neighborhood was by stepping into the gap when we saw disparity between schools in our neighborhood. I firmly believe a problem is not a real problem until it’s your problem. The issues of our neighborhood schools became our issues because our children and the children of other church members were experiencing it firsthand. It wasn’t just that kids in the community were being underserved by their school, but our kids were being underserved, too. So our church family who lived in the neighborhood rallied to address real needs and partner with teachers and school leaders to undergird their efforts and see powerful change take place.
How this happens
In Matthew 9, Jesus told His disciples that “the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” In context, the harvest is a multitude of people who were “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” A shepherd is primarily responsible for being with the sheep. Jesus was distressed because he saw a multitude of people without anyone to be with them. The same is true for many of the neighborhoods in our cities. If we want to truly engage with our neighbors, we cannot settle for a few hours of charity work here and there. We must, like Christ, be with people so we can truly engage in life-on-life disciple making and holistic community restoration.
And holistic restoration happens in two ways: proximity and relationship.
- Proximity: By being present and indigenous to the area we want to minister to, we find out the needs of our community. Living in the community is key.
- Relationship: I might not have a problem with something, but if my wife has a problem with something, it becomes my problem. When we enter into authentic relationships with our neighbors, their problems become ours because Christ has called us to share each other’s burdens.
Our compassion compels us through the Great Commandment to love when crisis strikes. Yet, for many, crisis has been the norm for generations. Our conviction pushes us forward in the Great Commission to make disciples. Yet we stop there, hoping that if we save the soul, everything else will fall in line. In doing so, we have failed to validate our neighbors’ current struggles. But when God’s people engage holistically in the broken aspects of their community, a beautiful depiction of the gospel is on display for the whole community to see.,
Published November 27, 2018