Bible Study on the Mission of the Church
Holistic Ministry Bible Study
Corporate study of the Scriptures relating to our mission can strengthen the congregation's theological foundations, spiritual unity, and zeal for holistic ministry. Immersing people in the Scriptures can be especially helpful if they are unclear on the concept of holistic mission, or unsure of their responsibility and potential for outreach. Many Christians are sadly ignorant of the wealth of biblical material on caring for the poor, freeing the oppressed, and seeking the lost.
The Bible provides:
- Motivation for ministry: The Scriptures issue a clear call to share the Gospel through proclamation and service, prodding us to obedience.
- Guidance for ministry: The Scriptures lay out the blueprint of God's good design for the church, human society, and all creation.
- Empowerment for ministry: The Scriptures confront us with the need for repentance from self-centered patterns, and transform us by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2).
- Encouragement for ministry: The Scriptures give us reasons for hope and courage the face of discouragement and doubts about ministry.
"All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work" (2 Tim. 3:16-17)
The main theme of the study is "Holistic Mission: The Church's Call to Good News and Good Works." General areas to study could include:
- What is the Good News of the Gospel? What is the meaning of salvation?
- What is the biblical mandate for evangelism?
- What is the biblical mandate for social ministry (compassion and justice)?
- How do the Great Commandment (Matt. 22:37-39) and the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20) fit together?
- What is the biblical model for ministering holistically, caring for the whole person? Study the ministry example of Jesus and the early church.
- What in the world is God doing? What is God's ongoing saving activity in the world, and how is the church called to be a part of it? Consider mission from the perspective of salvation history—from the Garden of Eden to the New Jerusalem.
- Study key words in Scripture that describe how God's people are to relate to the world: servant, salt, light, blessing, ambassador.
- How does God bring about transformation in individuals, communities, nations?
- Study the meaning of "shalom" (e.g., Jer. 29:7). What is God's plan for peace, for righteousness and justice, for the goodness of community and creation?
- Use a topical outline, such as that in chapter 2 of Churches that Make a Difference or the table in chapter 2 of Good News, Good Works.
- Study key words: gospel (Good News), shalom (peace), salvation, justice/righteousness, kingdom of God, healing, the poor.
- Study the example of biblical characters who followed through on a mission: Joseph (wise government official), Nehemiah (community restorer), Jonah (reluctant evangelist), Peter (pioneer in cross-cultural ministry), Paul (zealous evangelist and charity organizer), etc.
- Examine a pressing issue in your community (substance abuse, homelessness, family dysfunction, environmental destruction) from a holistic perspective. What does the Bible have to say about the issue and about the church's response?
Select the topics for study that best fit the needs of your congregation. If you do a ministry inventory, this may suggest areas where the church's theology of ministry is particularly in need of strengthening. Also consider what teaching methods work best with your church.
Recommended Bible study resources include:
- Justice Now! (Christian Community Development Assoc., 1992)
- Carolyn Nystrom, Loving the World (InterVarsity Press, 1992) (Out of print but available from the ESA)
- Disciple Nations Alliance Online Course on holistic kingdom ministry (www.disciplenations.org/course)
- Faith in Action Bible study and devotional (www.putyourfaithinaction); Bible study resources in the Appendix of the Faith in Action Bible
- Harvest Foundation training materials on holistic ministry for churches (harvestfoundation.org)
- Reg Parks, Compassion by Command, video curriculum with Leader's and Participants' Guides (Here's Life Inner City, 2002) (May be ordered online at compassionbycommand.com)
- Amy Sherman, Sharing God's Heart for the Poor: Meditations for Worship, Prayer & Service (Trinity Presbyterian Church, 1999)
- Ronald Sider, ed. For They Shall Be Fed: Readings and Prayers for a Just World (W. Publishing Group, 1997)
Taking into consideration your church's calendar and your goals for the study, plan how the study should be organized, how long the study should continue, and how often to meet. We suggest at least eight sessions, weekly or every other week. The study could be offered as: a Sunday School class (either replacing or supplementing regular classes); a mid-week Bible study; a Sunday evening series; an informal group meeting at a church member's home; etc.
If it is possible to conduct the study through existing cell groups, provide good materials and train current cell group leaders to lead the Bible study. These leaders will get twice as much from teaching the material as they would just from being in the study.
Consider offering incentives to encourage attendance — refreshments, book give-aways to regular attenders, or other perks. Providing child care may remove a barrier to attendance for young parents. Strongly encourage participation of the Ministry Vision Team or other leadership body. Expect that the Holy Spirit can speak through the Bible study to give direction and inspiration to the visioning process.
Set up the Bible study to reach not only participants' heads but also their heart and hands. Encourage participants to make the study personal by providing tools for devotions, prayer and journaling to accompany the materials.
Help the practical applications of the study come alive for participants. Give people assignments to begin to put what they learn into practice. Ideally, organize some form of service project, mission trip, or ministry site visit to coincide with the study. This gives participants the opportunity to observe biblical principles in action, to begin to see their world through a new scriptural lens, and to catch a glimpse of how they might fit into God's big picture of salvation history.