Stronger Together

Partnerships in Health Ministry

by Stacy Smith

“For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.” -Romans 12:4–5

We, who are many, are one body in Christ. Paul’s vision of the body of Christ in Romans 12 and other epistles shows us God means for us to be connected to others in the work of the gospel and in building strong cooperative relationships. When we consider what this means for faith-based groups working in health ministries, we realize we must be connected in partnership with other pieces of the systems that produce an environment in which health flourishes. In this issue of Church Health Reader, we focus on innovative partnerships between churches and a variety of other organizations and systems—hospitals, research institutions, seminaries, advocacy groups, arts ministries and even government agencies.

We cannot do it alone. Public health experts have consistently affirmed that when it comes to an individual’s health, factors such as quality education, safe neighborhoods and stable housing are far more important than biology and genetics. Because our healthcare system often focuses on medical access and payment policies, the most influential determinants of health are frequently overlooked. Health is complex, and an individual thrives in an interconnected system of resources and behaviors, in addition to biology. This means that in order to be healthy people who live in a healthy society, we must nurture, teach, care and provide for others. Our prescription must be love, and our dosage must be constant. Healthy systems create healthy people, and to create a healthier world, we must work together to create healthy systems.

We have a unique calling. Christ calls us into this complex system to create opportunities for demonstrated compassion, faithful education and unparalleled mercy. At our best (and sometimes, at our worst), the church is a place of concentrated thoughtfulness, and the systems we create among ourselves and in our communities often stand in contrast to other societal systems. In a New York Times article, anthropologist T.M. Luhrmann says, “One evening, a young woman in a group I joined began to cry. Her dentist had told her that she needed a $1,500 procedure, and she didn’t have the money. To my amazement, our small group—most of them students—simply covered the cost, by anonymous donation.”1 Luhrmann perhaps understandably is stunned by this act, yet this kind of love and compassion is commonplace in most churches. While we often hear of congregations that fight, destroy, label or fracture, the church is sustained by quiet, everyday, unheralded acts of mercy. That is because our ministry is modeled from Christ, who did not call us to break even on love given versus love gained. Our role in the system must be to show others how beautiful life is when it is lived in Christ, and to put that beauty to work in our everyday ministry. A healthy system needs love and needs us to demonstrate its capacity.

We must learn with others. Our lives, our churches, our communities and our world need a broad movement toward a faithful, compassionate system of health. We are already working in partnership with other churches and community groups (see A Picture of Partnerships). But the challenges are great. We need better connections, more trust, more love and more wisdom among ourselves and with the rest of the system. By heralding new ways of being healthy, and new ways for the church to be in partnerships that create healthy systems for everyone, we inspire each other to acts of justice, mercy and love. These are not easy virtues and must be nurtured, taught, cared and provided for. When we learn with others, we discover we are stronger together.

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