Jack Dutton, M.A.
The question of whether the local church or the secular world is best suited to help people is constantly debated and neither side gives much credence to the other.
The secular world has often looked down on the faith-based help provided by the local church as being, in their opinion, too simplistic, void of research-based validation of its long-term effectiveness, and giving too little attention to measurable outcomes. Consequently the secularist tends to view anything remotely connected to religion as having very little value in the arena of serious human psycho/social maladies; at the most maybe having some initial, temporary value to placate those with the need to have a higher power to get through life.
And obviously, the Christian community finds ample reason to be cautious of much of the secular world’s scientific methodology, especially their interpretation and application of their research. The result is that segments of the Christian Church simply become aggressively argumentative and spend great energy trying to win the argument that faith-based help is valid and superior to secular help.
Other Christians become insecure, intimidated, and accept there is no place for faith and religion in the public arena, including in the realm of caring for the most troubled in our society. They retreat to simply dealing with the spiritual, intentionally restricting themselves to the use of the special revelation of the Bible with significant disregard for the general revelation of the created universe. They are careful to remain within the parameters of the secular definition of “separation of church and state.”
There is a well-known quote that states, “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.” I would suggest that both words and visible evidence are important and that we need to encourage local churches to spend more time confidently ministering to the needs of people, knowing that the best apologetics (defense of the faith) and proof of validity is the outcome of changed lives. Besides, the real intent of apologetics is not to win a debate, but to convince someone that God exists, that we matter to Him, and that He alone has the power to set a person free.
Maybe some of that “defense of the faith” energy could be better used to help the church understand why there is such a chasm between humanistic and faith-based approaches; how this specifically stems from one’s beliefs regarding the basis for truth, the origin of man, and the existence of good and evil. The humanist often sees man as basically good in nature with 5 compartmentalized parts. The Christian sees man as a fallen creature that is integrated and that one’s spiritual condition is the central source of how a person expresses themselves through the rest of their mental, emotional, physical, and social being.
Faith-based ministries really can minister confidently and effectively, while not becoming overly defensive because of some finding of “science” that seems to contradict the Bible or because of disparaging remarks about the inferiority of faith-based help. Those who minister to hurting, broken people from a faith-based perspective need to be built up so they know that their good works have eternal value and they don’t become discouraged in well doing.
I visualize, and often teach, that the church should have many of the characteristics of a hospital. I also believe there are corresponding characteristics of an effective helper and that there is individual giftedness that can place people on a continuum of ministry from the most basic ministering opportunities to those that require more specialized training and experience.
For the followers of Jesus Christ to ignore the fact that the Bible clearly states that day after day the universe “speaks” revealing knowledge (Psalm 19), that God has revealed himself through what is seen – specifically His eternal power and divine nature (Romans 1:20), and that we are to go into the world not simply withdraw into “Christian ghettos” (Matthew 18:19-20, Mark 16:15), is to fall short of what is available to mankind in dealing with suffering and how to experience a fulfilled life that God designed us for. The “Great Command” to love those different from us and the “Great Commission” to go into the world and make disciples are all encapsulated simply in the Good News of the Gospel.
Therefore, I believe the local church’s primary mission, using both good science and sound theology, is to “meet people where they are at their point of need and help move them closer to where God wants them to be.”
Jack Dutton, M.A., is a Michigan Licensed Professional Counselor and is Board Certified by the American Association of Christian Professional and Pastoral Counselors. His ministry since 1975 has included Christian camping, the youth pastorate, residential treatment with troubled teens and their families, 10 years in a Christian counseling center, 6 years as an associate pastor of Counseling and Church ministries, and 1 ½ years intensive, home-based family therapy. He has served as the Director of Counseling and One Another Ministries at Gaylord Evangelical Free Church in Gaylord Michigan since 2007, with numerous ministries under this umbrella. He has been married to his wife Jan, a R.N. since September 1977. They have two married daughters and 2 grandchildren.