Are You Ministering to Humans?

In the 1982 blockbuster Blade Runner, (or its literary precursor Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?), Rick Deckard, played by Harrison Ford, is assigned to track down bio-engineered replicates and “retire” them—that is, kill them. Of course, the duplicates and humans look and sound exactly the same. The only way to distinguish between a human person and a facsimile is to use a test, the Voight-Kampff, which focuses on their emotional responses to a set of questions. Interesting enough, the line between human and replica begins to blur throughout the film. Some androids are convinced they are human. More so, the unanswered question at the end of the film is this: is Deckard himself a human, or is he simply a confused copy? The question is never resolved.

One can think of numerous science fiction works in which people are not what they seem. Whether it is aliens disguised as humans, or human-like robots, science fiction often asks the question: what does it mean to be human?[1] Truthfully, we have to ask this very question when it comes to our ministries. More than ever, in a culture of technological sophistication and consumerism, we have to think critically as to what it means to be made in the image of God, and what this means for ministry. Therefore, in this essay, we will ask what it means to be fully human, and what that means for how we minister.

People in Full Humanness

First, we must consider the anthropological question of what being human truly means. I would argue that full humanness is what Leroy Forlines calls the “total personality.” In this framework, to be fully human is to be someone who is designed to think, feel and act (Gen 1:27; 3:6). Therefore, we see people in the imago Dei as possessing multiple dimensions to their personhood.[2]

God did not create us as mindless machines—we are more than robots. God created us to think, feel and act. As Forlines says, “We are not mere instruments being used by God. We are persons being transformed in our basic, inner nature into the likeness of Jesus Christ.”[3] The gospel engages and transforms each dimension of the person: his or her mind, emotions, and will.

This transformation is needed due to the Fall. Though created in God’s image, each person is now fallen due to original sin. This is why Carl F.H. Henry states, “Only an anthropology and a soteriology that insists upon man’s sinful lostness and the ability of God to restore the responsive sinner is the adequate key.”[4] Forlines writes elsewhere,

The mind, heart, and will are involved in saving faith. With the mind, the truth about sin, Jesus Christ, and salvation is comprehended objectively. The content of the truth is grasped and understood. With the heart, what is grasped objectively by the mind is grasped subjectively. The truth about sin becomes real. Conviction takes place. The truth about Jesus Christ and salvation becomes real. The reality of the truth conditions the heart for action to follow. The emotions are definitely involved in the experience of faith and the total Christian experience. We feel what we believe. We are not emotional blanks. Emotions are a part of the human personality by creation. Emotions need to be based on truth and disciplined by truth, but emotions must not be downgraded. With the will there is the commitment of the personality to Jesus Christ. We receive Jesus Christ. The will can act only where there is a prepared mind and heart. The will, out of the prepared mind and heart, sets in action the response of faith. What is objectively perceived by the mind is subjectively felt by the heart, and subjectively appropriated by the will.[5]

For Forlines, no part of the human person is left untouched when we both communicate and receive the gospel message. This is the pastor’s role in all he does: to appeal to a people’s hearts, minds, and wills in such a way that they want to worship and obey God (Mt 22:35-40).[6] Thus, to become a Christian is not to become more than human, but rather fully human. Believers are the new humanity (Col. 3:9-10).

Connecting Methodology to Anthropology

This leads to the related question of ministry methodology. As seen, the way we think about personhood directly effects how we will minister to those individuals. For example, do we primarily think of people as consumers, simply present to receive goods? If so, consumers—as is the practice of corporations—should be seen as demographics, and are at the mercy of economic and social trends and the marketers of products. Or do we think of people as primarily thinking beings? If so, our ministry should necessitate an inordinate amount of cerebral content, seeking to change thinking first and foremost.

Yet, both of these examples fail to grasp the fullness of personhood. One begins to see the far-reaching implications of our realized anthropology. Human beings are more than brains. And they are certainly more than categorized consumers. Human beings are God’s workmanship (Eph. 2:10) and are created in His image. Our ministries, then, should be reflective of that truth.

Therefore, let us do everything we can to minister to the whole person. To help visualize this practice, let’s look at two examples: preaching and mercy ministry, or what one might call word and deed ministry.

            Word Ministry Should Reflect Who We Are as People With Minds, Hearts, and Wills

First, our Word ministry should reflect the full personhood of the individuals we’re preaching to. This should manifest itself in preaching that speaks to the mind, heart, and will. Preaching should have an intellectual component. Good preaching thinks logically through a Biblical passage, responds to intellectual questions, and is cognizant of thoughtful skepticism. Yet good preaching also should have an emotional element. It addresses the emotional hurts, as well as the longings that each person carries with them. Lastly, good preaching necessitates a substantive change in the listener, which addresses their will.

After hearing the truth of God preached, the Christian should seek to change. While this often manifests itself in the realm of behavior, it also includes changes in their thoughts and feelings. Fused within the full personhood, preaching is held in balance, not being overly heady, but not giving into sensationalism, and always seeking a renewal of the human will.

            Deed Ministry Should Reflect What We Do as People With Thoughts, Emotions, and Experiences

Second, our deed ministry should reflect a Biblical anthropology. As we think about how we might minister to a person’s needs, we must think about their full personhood. Certainly this includes a physical dimension: clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger, and visiting the sick and imprisoned (Mt. 25:31-45). We seek to transform the areas of life that have been broken and tainted by sin.[7] This is often seen first in the physical and material realm.

Yet we’re also to minister to individuals on an emotional level. We minister to individuals who are burdened with emotional and psychological stress. We help liberate them from unhealthy and sinful psychological habits. This may come through Biblically informed counseling and mentorship.

Lastly, we seek to help people on a cognitive level (Rom. 12:1-2). We educate them about the world through a Christian worldview, helping them begin to think in a Christian manner.

Conclusion

As we can clearly see, the way we understand the human person has a vital effect on how we minister. We want to make sure we think Biblically about the flock and who they are. We don’t want to think less of people, but understand them in the way God understands them—made in His image. We want people to experience a full-orbed humanity. We minister accordingly when we help them understand, feel, and act in the way God intended.

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[1] As an aside, an interesting theme to observe within science fiction works is the struggle for machines to be more human. Often, this comes in the desire of a robot to “feel” more human, yet fails to transition to full personhood. Popular examples include Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation.

[2] James K.A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview and Cultural Formation (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009), 26-32. James K.A. Smith argues that people are not so much “thinking things” as much as they are “worshipping things.” This is a helpful perspective, but fails, I believe, in moving towards a total personality of the human person.

[3] Leroy Forlines, “Conformity to the Personality of Christ: The Extent,” Free Will Baptist Convention Sermons: 1935-2010 (Antioch: Executive Office of the National Association of Free Will Baptists, 2011), 137.

[4] Carl F. H. Henry, The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1947), 15.

[5] F. Leroy Forlines, Classical Arminianism: A Theology of Salvation, ed. J. Matthew Pinson (Nashville: Randall House, 2011), 257.

[6] Forlines, “The Pastor and His People”, 6.

[7] To be clear, these areas of “deed ministry” are not mutually exclusive. In many ways, they could and should be integrated with one another to offer a more holistic ministry.

Author: Chris Talbot

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