Strategies: Clarifying the Call: Called to an Issue or to Minister to People?

By Dr. Beth Grant

Dr. Beth Grant has served as chairperson for the national Assemblies of God Network for Women in Ministry and is the first female executive presbyter for the Assemblies of God. She and her husband, David, have served as Assemblies of God missionaries to Southern Asia for 28 years. While focused on India, their heart for missions has carried them to over 30 nations of the world. Beth is the U.S. liaison for Project Rescue, an AGWM ministry in Eurasia to girl victims of forced prostitution. Beth earned an M.A. in Cultural Anthropology from the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, and a Ph.D. in Intercultural Education from Biola School in Intercultural Studies in Los Angeles, California. One of Beth’s most treasured roles is that of mother of two daughters, Rebecca and Jennifer.

Poverty, HIV/AIDS, substance abuse, homelessness, sexual exploitation, trafficking, rape as a weapon of war, domestic violence — each represents a pressing 21st-century global issue that conjures powerful images and emotions as well as challenges to action for those who know that ultimately hope and healing can only be found in Jesus Christ. The good news is that people of faith globally have frequently been on the front edge of responding to these pressing needs. Some years ago, liberal Jewish social activist Michael Horowitz documented in an open letter in Christianity Today that compassion and social action toward the poor and outcasts have historically been part of the very DNA and theology of evangelical Christians, and for good reason. The mission Jesus announced for His own ministry in Luke 4:18 to the poor, enslaved, oppressed, and sick mandates that we as His 21st -century disciples carry out the same ministry in the anointing of the Holy Spirit. 

Yet, as more and more people — a high percentage of them women — respond to engage their faith and professional skills in responding to the world's poor, dying, orphaned, trafficked, and exploited, a question emerges: "Am I called to an issue or to ministry to people, or to both?" The response to this question has implications for what we do and how we do it. 

Responses to the Needs of People

During the 13 years of Project Rescue, an Assemblies of God World Missions ministry to women and child survivors of sexual exploitation in India and Nepal, we have noted an interesting phenomenon. Many people want to come to India to see the staggering need in the red light districts and visit the aftercare homes where women and children are finding healing and new life. However, we have noticed that people tend to have one of two very distinctly different reactions.

Yet, as more and more people ... respond to engage their faith and professional skills in responding to the world's poor, dying, orphaned, trafficked, and exploited, a question emerges: "Am I called to an issue or to ministry to people, or to both?"

  • Some are deeply stirred by what they see and are drawn in the moment to engage personally and prayerfully with the women and children around them. They respond to individuals as people. These responders may return home to try to begin or participate in some kind of outreach to sexually-exploited women or children out of their own churches. Others give and/or intercede.
  • Some guests are stirred by what they see, but display no desire to connect personally with the women and children as persons or to minister to them. Some in this category return home to speak to the issue as an advocate, or help raise funds to help victims of trafficking. Others seem overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the numbers of exploited, and because of the corruption and danger, they feel there is nothing they can do to help.

Until the last several years, conservative Pentecostal churches could have been faulted in the United States for maintaining a safe distance from the worlds of HIV/AIDS, prostitution, and homelessness. Thankfully, there is now a greater realization that these painful pulse points in our 21st -century world provide meaningful opportunities for the church to express the unconditional love of God and His power to transform lives to those without hope. A younger generation is especially conscious of social justice issues and, to their credit, are ready to engage and act. But there is a need to take time to reflect as to their call. Who has called them? And to what? 

Exploring Mission and Approach to Meet Needs

As followers of Jesus, it is appropriate to explore His mission and approach to those with whom He interacted in His earthly ministry. What was Jesus' primary mission? While He reached out to what His society would have considered immoral women (John 4:1-42), the chronically ill (Mark 5:25-34), beggars (Mark 10:46-52), the spiritually enslaved (Mark 9:14-27), Jesus' focus seems to have been on ministering to the individual out of His love and life-changing power to bring each one to new life. Jesus saw people for who they were, not representatives of an issue. It was the encounter with Jesus, the Son of God, which brought healing, forgiveness, freedom, and a very different future. Jesus came, sent by God, to reconcile men, women, and children to the Father. Through that encounter and reconciliation, their spiritual, physical, emotional, and psychological needs were met.

Is the issue our priority focus — or the person for whom Jesus died?

There are pressing issues in our world today that deserve the attention of Jesus' followers and His church through which they can introduce people — the oppressed, diseased, and marginalized — to the One who died for them. Jesus is their and our only hope. But clarity of call and purpose is critical as we engage. Is the issue our priority focus — or the person for whom Jesus died? 

This point of distinction became most striking for me several years ago. My husband and I were invited to a White House roundtable on sex trafficking sponsored by the George W. Bush administration. Growing out of the work of Project Rescue and training caregivers for trafficking survivors, we were invited to be one of ten presenters. At the end, I was approached by a woman lawyer from a Muslim background who had tears in her eyes. She said emotionally, "I am so tired of coming to events where the issue of sex trafficking and programs are the focus. Thank you for passionately caring about the women and children who've been exploited. It is obvious that for you, this is not a program. It is about caring for each individual woman and child."

I was so thankful for her words, but privately challenged myself to make sure we would never get lost in the issue and forget about loving people with Christ's love. 
Perhaps it is important that we engage as Christ's followers on two simultaneous levels:

  • Christian leaders and ministers need to be aware of the issues in our world. They need to recognize the staggering numbers of the world's population that are affected by particular issues. Ministry and change locally and globally grow out of believers who are aware and sensitive to what is happening in our world and can strategically connect God's life-changing Truth to it.
  • Men and women of faith are needed who know they are called to strategically minister Christ's love. This includes the prostituted, the sick, the addicted, the tormented, marginalized, the impoverished, the orphaned, and victims of domestic violence. 

Issues awareness is the first step in the engagement of individuals and the church — but only the first step. In 2 Corinthians 5:17, Paul reminds us, "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" (NIV). Advocates and hands-on ministers are called by God to collaborate together to see the ultimate freedom and reconciliation of all men, women, and children to God.

Copyright 2016 The General Council of the Assemblies of God

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Strategies, All BlogsKimberly Bui