Growing up, I was involved in a small Baptist church that saw evangelism as the sole mission of the church. My church taught me many important things including God’s unconditional love for me, how to read the Bible for myself, and the importance of youth leadership. As I became increasingly sensitized to injustice and oppression as a teenager, particularly through my participation in D.C.’s socially conscious poetry scene, I experienced a sense of splintering. There was the self who sang about Jesus in my church choir on Sundays and the self who spoke about justice at open mics on Mondays. There were some occasions when these two selves came together – for example, when I penned and performed a rap called “Jesus was a Revolutionary” at a church talent show.
But most of the time, my two selves were nurtured by separate communities – evangelical churches fed one and secular social movement organizations fed the other. In my late 20s, I began to long desperately for integration – as I recognized each part, each passion, each purpose was an integral part of my identity.
The splintering that I experienced within my own identity often characterizes the splintering of Christian identity and mission in the world. Many people have characterized this separation as a division between a concern for evangelism and a focus on social action, between the proclamation of the gospel on one hand and the demonstration of the gospel on the other.
The term misión integral’, or integral mission, was coined by theologians in Latin America to define the purpose of the church beyond these dichotomies, based on a Biblical perspective — as “mission with nothing left out.” Integral mission is characterized by an understanding that our purpose as Christians is to proclaim the presence of God, pursue the power of God, and practice the peace of God (in the sense of shalom – justice, rightness, wholeness and righteousness) in every aspect of life. These dimensions of our purpose are not to be approached as separate and unequal, but as interconnected, overlapping and intertwined.
The term, holistic ministry, also captures this more robust understanding of Christian calling. According to Evangelicals for Social Action (ESA), “Holistic ministry is the practice of God’s people based on the full implications of the Gospel: that the good news of Jesus Christ is salvation for the whole person—body, mind, spirit, and social relationships—and for the whole of existence—creation, nations, and sociopolitical structures.” ESA describes three activities, or three kinds of ministries, as critical parts of a whole: telling people about Jesus so that they may have a personal relationship with Him, demonstrating compassion and care for the poor and marginalized, and transforming relationships between people by working for reconciliation and justice. Other terms have also been used to signify a similar understanding of Christian purpose.
A few weeks ago, my friends and colleagues, Carl and Carolyn Stauffer preached a sermon at our church calling us to prophetic engagement – relationships and interactions with people and the concerns and issues of our time under the leading and direction of the Holy Spirit. Integral mission, holistic ministry, prophetic engagement – each of these terms calls us to ask, “As we seek to follow Jesus, are we leaving anything out?”
Johonna Turner (née McCants) is an educator, cultural worker and scholar. She serves as Assistant Professor at Eastern Mennonite University’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding where she teaches undergraduate, Masters’ level and training courses in conflict transformation and restorative justice. Johonna is animated by a passion to advance peace and justice within marginalized communities by building the capacity of neighborhood churches and investing in the leadership of young people. She resides in Harrisonburg, Virginia with the love of her life (aka her handsome husband).