Mission for Souls and Ministry to Bodies

Church bodies are making greater efforts to tackle the social ills plaguing today's world.

This week, Baptist leaders from diverse backgrounds ranging from Christian professionals to denominational CEOs to mission leaders convened for the Baptist World Alliance (BWA)'s annual gathering to discuss issues such as HIV/AIDS, genocide, poverty and missions.

And down under, Australia's most well-known megachurch, Hillsong Church, just wrapped up its annual five-day conference, drawing together over 26,000 Christians from all around the world.

There were 19 different denominations from 68 countries attending the Hillsong conference, and major issues that were to be dealt with by all of them included AIDS and poverty in Africa, according to opening remarks by Gary Skinner, leader of Kampala Pentecostal Church and founder of Watoto Child Care Ministries.

But, as Hillsong pastor Brian Houston pointed out, the church has always been concerned for justice and the well-being of everyone.

"God tells us that standing against injustice and speaking up for the disenfranchised is the responsibility of every Christian," said Houston at the event.

But for some, such as the National Baptist Convention USA, Inc., the nation's largest African American religious organization, issues such as HIV/AIDS have only begun to reach the spotlight.

Last month, the Nashville-based Baptist body for the first time placed HIV/AIDS on the agenda of its annual Congress of Christian Education.

Greater involvement in the HIV/AIDS fight was also on the agenda this year for larger denominations, such as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).

It's a movement that Christian leaders such as megachurch pastor Rick Warren have been hoping for. Warren, who has for some time emphasized the necessity of bringing in the church to stop the HIV pandemic, reiterated his sentiments at the most recent triennial Urbana conference in St. Louis, Mo. He said while there are secular approaches to preventing HIV/AIDS, they only slow the pandemic.

"If you want to stop it, now you have to bring in the church," he said.

"Churches have the largest volunteer labor force on the planet – 2.1 billion members," Warren has noted in the past. "What if just half of those could be mobilized? There aren't enough professionals in the world to teach prevention, administer treatment, and offer care to those who need it. There is an enormous pool of untapped talent, energy, and relationships sitting unused in churches."

And when you listen to the numbers of those suffering from war, poverty, famine, and disease, it's staggering – whether they're from Sudan's Darfur region, North Korea, or even here in the United States.

But churches need to reach the world with the Gospel, some might argue. Whatever time, people, and money that they have should primarily be invested in the Mission, they might say.

While ultimately and undoubtedly the solutions to the world's problems come as more people come to know God and go out to make Him known, there are physical sufferings in the world that should not be ignored.

Some believers need to be reminded that many of those in need of spiritual aid are also in desperate need of physical aid right now.

And as Bruce Smith, Wycliffe Associates president and CEO, has pointed out, "It is really not possible to impact people with the idea of the Gospel unless you are meeting their needs on a physical and social level."

"They are not even able to consider the impact of spiritual things when they are trying to survive physically," he said in an interview with The Christian Post last December.

Simply put, churches need to see that the humanitarian efforts often associated with more liberal and secular groups are efforts that need to be made by Christians as well – and even more so – but with the Great Commission as the central motivator.

Thankfully, churches are increasingly stepping up to the challenges facing the world, realizing that in order to save souls, bodies must be saved.

More churches are strategizing, mobilizing, and putting into action the faith they have.

And what's encouraging about this growing trend is that as churches take greater action, a clearer image of God's love will be revealed, replacing the image of judgment and exclusiveness that often come to the minds of many unbelievers when they see or hear the word "Christian." And, conclusively, greater glory will be given to God.

With the Great Commission in their hearts, believers need to more fervently expand their reach beyond the walls of the church and truly become the salt and the light to this world – for the salvation of lives and souls.

And until the whole world comes into the Church, the Church needs to continue going out into the whole world – to the ends of the earth, as Jesus commanded.