The Work of the ChurchBy Rich DuBose
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Based upon what many churches do, it’s tempting to believe that the primary work of the church is to preach the gospel. We love to tell the world what we believe. There is no shortage of doctrinal presentations, evangelistic sermons and bible study classes within the Adventist faith. We are a belief-centric organization, and we have position statements on every imaginable topic to prove it.
Preaching is important, after all, Jesus told his disciples, “go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you" (Matthew 28:18-20, NLT).
People need to hear the truth about God and his character. However, if you study Christ's life and observe how He ministered, preaching (or even teaching) was not His primary focus.
"During His ministry Jesus devoted more time to healing the sick than to preaching. His miracles testified to the truth of His words, that He came not to destroy but to save. His righteousness went before Him, and the glory of the Lord was His rearward. Wherever He went, the tidings of His mercy preceded Him. Where He had passed, the objects of His compassion were rejoicing in health, and making trial of their new-found powers. Crowds were collecting around them to hear from their lips the works that the Lord had wrought. His voice was the first sound that many had ever heard, His name the first word they had ever spoken, His face the first they had ever looked upon. Why should they not love Jesus, and sound His praise? As He passed through the towns and cities He was like a vital current, diffusing life and joy wherever He went" (Desire of Ages, p. 350).
You may say, "yes, but we're not the Messiah. We cannot go around healing people and casting out demons." That sounds plausible, but think again.
"The followers of Christ are to labor as He did. We are to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and comfort the suffering and afflicted. We are to minister to the despairing, and inspire hope in the hopeless. And to us also the promise will be fulfilled, 'Thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall be thy rearward.' Isa. 58:8. The love of Christ, manifested in unselfish ministry, will be more effective in reforming the evildoer than will the sword or the court of justice" (Desire of Ages, p. 350-351).
When Jesus sent his disciples out two by two to minister in his behalf, he "gave them power and authority to cast out all demons and to heal all diseases. Then he sent them out to tell everyone about the Kingdom of God and to heal the sick" (Luke 9:1-2, NLT).
When we focus on the physical well-being of our neighbors and surrounding communities, we are following in the footsteps of Jesus and the disciples.
I find it interesting that Jesus told His disciples to avoid confrontation over their beliefs. "They were to enter into no controversy with the people as to whether Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah; but in His name they were to do the same works of mercy as He had done. He bade them, 'Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give'" (Desire of Ages, p. 350).
If we want our churches to flourish we need to follow Christ’s example in ministry and focus on meeting people's physical needs. Yes, we can tell them what God is like, and eventually they will ask us about our beliefs. But our first responsibility is to respond to their immediate needs.