Empowering to Healing Work

Jesus’ model for ministry

by Jill Westberg McNamara

Jesus sent his disciples—a group of people he chose and assembled—out to do and eventually continue his ministry. He told them to preach the kingdom of God and heal the sick. Jesus’ ministry stressed healing the whole person. As was natural in his Hebrew tradition, he did not separate the body from the mind and spirit. He was always concerned about healing a person whose body showed signs of illness, but he also paid close attention to other manifestations of illness in the person’s life.

Jesus dealt with relationships within people, between people and God, between people and their neighbors, and between people and the world. These relationships gave a necessary perspective to the picture that allowed healing to be approached in a wholistic way.

The book of Acts records how well the early church carried out this commission, caring for whole persons and not just spirits or bodies. Phyllis L. Garlick, author of Man’s Search for Health, writes: “They were inspired by a sense of wholeness in their mission to the world. They believed that the new quality of life, which Christ came to impart was to extend to the whole of man’s being, body, soul, and spirit. Thus, from the outside the ministry of healing was considered to be as integral a part of the church’s work as the ministry of Word or Sacrament with which it is fundamentally linked.”1

Mark 2:1–12 illustrates how Jesus’ healing included both the physical and the spiritual realms. In the first verses, when a paralyzed man was brought to Jesus, he said simply, “My child, your sins are forgiven.” In doing so he went beyond the man’s physical ills to touch the deeper causes of the paralysis. The man took up his pallet and walked because Jesus understood that the body and spirit are a unity.

Jesus was a teacher and, in today’s lingo, a team leader. He gathered his disciples to spread the word and help him accomplish his ministry on earth. Jesus’ ministry emphasized empowering other people to do healing work. It took a team to lower the man through the roof of the house (Mark 2:4). Jesus modeled for us that we are to go forth, assemble a team, and heal people.

Defining Health

The discoveries, the procedures, and the medicines of medical science are truly amazing. Indeed, much has occurred since Jesus walked among us. Yet as Jesus’ ministry demonstrates and as current studies point out, the biomedical model contains only part of the answer. We need to take a holistic approach that takes into account people’s attitudes, environments, and relationships. How might each of these dimensions affect our physical, spiritual, or emotional health?

In their book, Dust and Breath: Faith, Health, and Why the Church Should Care about Both, Kendra Hotz and Matthew Mathews write: “Good health allows us to live out our God-given identities.… Comprehensive healthcare, therefore, must seek not only to remove disease but also to create conditions and structures that allow for holistic health.”2

It is explicitly the work of congregations to attend to everything from safety in our larger communities to visiting us at the end of our lives. We are active agents in the creation of community and the building up of families. Often congregations are literally at the crossroads of communities, whether in small towns or major urban centers. When people are in pain or suffering loss, they often find their way to congregations. We can and do make a major difference in this work.

Jesus was a teacher and, in today’s lingo, a team leader. He gathered his disciples to spread the word and help him accomplish his ministry on earth.

Every congregation has the potential to make each person’s days become full of life and love, despite all the hesitancy and resistance. The spiritual component is key here: congregations can motivate people at a level not tapped by most institutions. But the most pressing question persists: how can a congregation have the courage and the imagination to lead the way?

Defining Team

Health teams are the enabling factor for congregations to act nimbly and effectively to address health and wellness issues. The role of health teams is vital to accomplishing the Scriptural mandate: preach the kingdom of God and heal the sick. Complex health challenges certainly cannot be met by any one person within a congregation, even if that person is a full-time staff member.

But what is a team? This sounds like a simple question, but we all come to the question with various backgrounds.

Teams offer a flexible alternative to institutional mainstays, but if you’re not careful they can quickly become stale and purposeless like any other group. Teams are action oriented. They continually try out fresh approaches to reach goals. They can become long-term like a committee, or short-term, like a task force. Regardless of its duration, a health team will always look to improve the health ministry.

Teams can come in all forms and sizes. For some, the word team might primarily indicate something like a sports team, a drill team, or a project team. Yet teams are distinct from groups. A team has a purpose while members of a group might have something in common yet no purpose (such as fans of a certain film or group). In some congregational structures a team may be established with an umbrella of responsibilities and connection to leadership, while in others a team is a small group of people who want to nimbly respond to a need while enjoying flexibility in how they function. Regardless of structure or size, purpose is the most important ingredient for teams. When it comes to health and wellness, finding that purpose can be a challenge since there are many topics to choose from. This is where a survey or assessment of your congregation could be most helpful.

Many of us, however, assemble a team because of a clear challenge that arises, such as visiting the sick, a need for a faith community nurse, the possibility of health coaching, or taking blood pressures. The strength of the team approach is that you will have multiple people striving for the same purpose, each with different tasks providing a rich or more complete health ministry.

Team Elements

Although there is no single preferred model for a health team, it’s safe to say there are several elements common to most. A health team:

  • Consists of a small group of people from the congregation who meet regularly.
  • Pursues a focus and purpose that means a defined need.
  • Knows the strengths of the congregation and understands what might motivate people in its congregation to meet this need.
  • Addresses a need (or needs) using various methods such as education, support groups, pastoral care, health fairs, recreational activities, outreach and referral.
  • Maintains awareness of what is (or is not) happening in the congregation in terms of health and wellness, and possibly also the community at large.


1. Phyllis L. Garlick, Man’s Search for Health: A Study in the Inter-Relation of Religion and Medicine (London: The Highway Press, 1952).

2. Kendra G. Hotz and Matthew T. Mathews, Dust and Breath: Faith Health, and Why the Church Should Care about Both (Grand Rapids: Erdmanns, 2012), 15.

Illustration by Terri Scott

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