As believers gather to act as the Body of Christ on Earth today, it’s important that we carefully consider our actions and make sure they properly represent the work Christ would have us do. Although listening to the Spirit is most important, organizing our activities properly can make sure we are listening for all the Spirit has to say to a church, and to make sure we are deliberate in carrying it all out. Fortunately, Scripture gives us a model to help along these lines, in describing Jesus’ own actions.
Jesus was going throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people. Matthew 4:23 (NASB95)
In all the Gospels, as Jesus traveled around, He was often described as doing one or all of three things: teaching, proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom, and healing people. Sometimes all three were listed together as above, but often the same terms were used independently. Nonetheless, these three terms form a consistent and repeated description of our Lord’s activities. As the Body of Christ today, the church can look to these statements for guidance and a structure for carrying our Lord’s mission here on Earth.
These three aspects can be taken to describe three classes of activities in the church. Proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom points to evangelism. Teaching in the synagogues points to discipleship, and although discipleship involves much more than classroom learning, it did form a key part of Christ’s interactions with His disciples before the cross. And His actions of healing point to ministering to people in general, both those within and outside the Kingdom.
Evangelism is a key part of the Great Commission; it is how people are added to the Kingdom and is the reason the church is still here. The primary method given to us is the same that Jesus used: proclamation of the Gospel. This is separate from ministering to people, and although ministry can open doors, salvation is ultimately something that can only be accomplished by the Holy Spirit. The fact that Jesus proclaimed the Gospel of the Kingdom reminds us that the fruits of being a child of the King start at salvation, not at death, and continue through life.
Discipleship is a key part of the Great Commission, the part done within the church, and so moves Kingdom growth from a process of addition to a process of multiplication. It is a key aspect of sanctification, of growing to be like Christ. Although often implemented as classroom instruction, it must be more than that. One way to describe discipleship is teaching people to hear and obey the Lord. This fosters personal relationships with God, and accountability becomes encouragement to love Him through obedience.
When Jesus was described as healing, there were actually two different aspects mentioned: disease and sickness. These are two different words. The word translated as sickness generally had to do with a bodily weakness of some sort, or a specific ailment. The word translated as “disease” includes this, but could carry the connotation of being socially devaluing. Even more, it could refer to a person’s moral state. If Jesus’ healings point to ministry to people, then those who are sick may point to people within the church; people who have a specific problem, but who otherwise are fundamentally well. The diseased, however, point to those who are fundamentally not well, hence are not yet members of the Kingdom. These would be people outside the church. The fact that these are called out separately suggest that it’s important to consider both carefully.
Ministry to people within the church was one of the first organizational steps taken by the early church. In Acts 6, a group of men were called to organize such ministry because of conflicts that had risen. This remains one of the most important activities of the organize church. Loving each other is not only how the world recognizes that we are His disciples, but it is commanded by the Lord Himself (John 13:34-35). Ultimately, it is how He will determine who are His.
Ministry to people outside the church is also important, and can be one of the ways we are salt and light to the world. The church in Acts typified this by bringing God’s power into people’s lives such that they were drawn to the Kingdom. One way this work is continued today is through outreach programs that seek to physically minister to people with needs. Note that, in the description of Jesus’ activities, proclaiming the Kingdom is separate from ministering to people. While such ministry may open hearts, it is not the same thing as evangelism. Both are important, but they are not the same.
Being deliberate about each of these aspects of church action helps to make sure the worldly structures we put in place match the work of the Spirit throughout the Body of Christ.