Why Integral or Wholistic Engagement?

Why is wholistic or integral engagement with God’s world a fundamental aspect of Interserve’s ethos? This quote from Change Across Cultures by Bruce Bradshaw, published by Baker Academic in 2002 highlights why wholistic engagement is so important:

The great [overseas] outreach of the 19th and 20th centuries planted churches around the world. It was less successful, however, in transforming the societies in which people lived. Poverty, injustice, corruption, violence, and oppression continued unchecked in much of the world, despite the growth of the church.

Bradshaw points out that the western view of faith was shaped by modernity. Western cultures emphasized individualism. This in turn led to a personalized gospel and ignored the importance of impacting social and cultural systems. In addition, seeing the world in a mechanistic manner led to a managerial approach in ministry that was based on control, hierarchy, techniques, and formulas. Such a ministry approach ignored the fact that salvation and mission ultimately were meant to transform our relationships with God, one another, and God’s creation.

The tragedy of Rwanda and Burundi exemplify this flawed inclination toward individualizing faith. The Church Planting (CP) work in these two countries was “successful” in the 1980s. Yet, many of the people in these new churches participated in the ensuing genocide that happened. This glaring failure of the “successful” CP work caused everyone to rethink the value of CP. This lack of transformation in communities has also been seen in places like Pakistan, where churches have been planted but it appears that little viable transformation has occurred. Our passport countries also contain many examples of this deficiency.

The lack of individual/community/societal transformation within CP work highlights one of the limitations of CP as an approach. CP has resulted in quantifiable numbers but it hasn’t often resulted in social transformation.

Humanitarian and development work as a strategy has also suffered from its own weaknesses of which we are all aware. Billions of dollars/euros have been spent but there has been little progress toward building just communities and societies.

Wholistic engagement integrates the best of CP and humanitarian/development work while trying to compensate for their respective weaknesses. Wholistic engagement moves away from thinking dualistically about work and ministry. It integrates our lives and our work. It works intentionally to see individuals and communities transformed spiritually, socially, economically, and physically.

If we wholistically engage with God’s world, our work will not be reduced to being a platform, nor will it simply be reduced to accomplishing numerically measurable targets. We will be intentional about impacting communities so these communities (and individuals within them) are either in the kingdom of God and living out the kingdom, or moving toward the kingdom in significant ways.

In His service together,

Pat K