Who’s on first? Evangelism or Social Ministry

 John R. W. Stott, pictured above, in his renowned work Christian Mission in the Modern World, says that there are basically three options when it comes to understanding the relationship between evangelism and social reponsibility:

  1. Social Action as a Means of Evangelism–By this, Stott means that some see social ministry, such as medicinal helps, education, food, etc, as a means to an end. One helps the poor native physically in order to lead them to Christ. He charges that this leads to “rice-Christians” namely because we are being “rice-evangelists”.
  2. Social Action is a Manifestation of Evangelism–Here, Acts of service are the “sacrament”, the visible sign, of evangelism. They are “signs of the kingdom” in NT categories.  In other words, in helping the poor natively physically one is preaching Christ to them. However, Stott finds that even this motivation is a cloaked “means to an end” motivation. The one doing the service still expects conversion in return.
  3. Social Action as a Partner of Evangelism–This is Stott’s perferred option. Based on a renewed sense of Christian vocation (see especially Gene Edward Veith, Jr.’s God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in all of Life), Stott argues that “As partners the two belong to each other and yet are independent of each other. Each stands on it own feet in its own right alonside the other. Neither is a means to the other, or even a manifestation of the other. For each is an end in itself. Both are expressions of unfeigned love.

My questions to you are the following:

Which of these three best represents your understanding? Or do you think there is another option?

You have been placed in a South Asian village as a missionary, and your mission board strictly prohibits giving money or food articles to nationals. Lately, you have seen a growing harvest of new Christians, but a severe famine strikes your region.  You have plenty of financial resources to keep you and your three children fed. Additionally you have the financial means to easily care for the needs of your growing church and possibly the whole village, but to do so would risk you losing your appointment. What do you do? Why?

If you are interested in reading more on this topic see the following:

David Hesselgrave, Paradigms in Conflict: 10 Key Questions in Christian Missions Today, Chapter 4 “Holism and Prioritism”

David Bosch, Transforming Mission, Chapter 12 “Elements of an Emerging Ecumenical Missionary Paradigm”–Toward a Constructive Understanding of Evangelism.

Lesslie Newbigin, The Open Secret, Chapters 8 and 9 “Mission as Action for God’s Justice” and “Church Growth, Conversion and Culture”

Practically Speaking: 

Jonathan Bonk, Missions and Money: Affluence as a Missionary Problem…Revisited.

John Rowell, To Give or Not to Give: Rethinking Dependency, Restoring Generosity, and Redifining Sustainability

Glenn Schwarz, When Charity Destroys Dignity: Overcoming Unhealthy Dependency in the Christian Movement



Add yours →

  1. Great questions.

    Honestly, I agree with Stott. I don’t think that is any surprise to you.

    To answer your question, I would petition the board. If they doddled or refused…bye-bye board. Find a job and work alongside these people.

    We both know that God can work in that way because you know who I’m referring to with that. Of course, that situation was a little different.

    If the board does not have compassion for the needs of people maybe I shouldn’t be going with that board. Maybe, I should be going from my church! 😉


  2. You wold know by now that I see physical help as a means of making people aware of the love of Christ. Evangelism could be seen as the act of explaining the gospel to someone with the intention of helping that person come to salvation (but what exactly do we mean when we speak of salvation?). Physical help is more aimed at making people realise that God is interested in their entire beings and welfare. This would be Bosch’s definition of “mission.” Evangelism then forms a sub-part of mission. Read Transforming
    Mission pages 409-420.

  3. Arnau,

    It is good to here from you again. Sorry it has been so while since I have been blogging. I was thinking of you the other day. Christopher Wright has a subsection in one of his chapters in The Mission of God on AIDS. I was reminded of your ministry. I’m glad you are continuing to be obedient to God’s work in Swaziland.

    Regarding Bosch’s definition of evangelism, I think he is more thorough than Stott. I’m going to list it here for anyone who may read this blog who doesn’t have a personal copy of Bosch (though they should go out and buy a copy now)

    Evangelism [is] that dimension and activity of the church’s mission which, by word and deed and in the light of particular conditions and a particular context, offers every person and community, everywhere, a valid opportunity to be directly challenged to a radical reorientation of their lives, a reorientation which invovles such things as deliverance from slavery to the world and its powers; embracing Christ as Savior and Lord; becoming a living member of his community, the church; being enlisted into his service of reconciliation, peace and justice on earth; and being committed to God’s purpose of placing all things under the rule of Christ.

    We could fault Stott with being too simplistic, but since his book is really a transcription of lectures rather than a traditional academic work, we can cut him some slack. Bosch, on the other hand, in an extensive academic work, does well in pointing out 18 of the differing aspects of evangelism.

    Personally, I resonate with Bosch on this. He gives a definition that is somewhere between Stott’s #2 and #3–“humble boldness and bold humility”, proclamation and service in the hands of the Holy Spirit.

  4. I agree with Stott, especially regarding his comments referenced in another of your posts, and with Dougald.

    Evangelism is obedience and worship of God. Techniques are man-centered.

    I will build my church


    SUB: Looking Prayer Partners, Ministry partners and affiliation

    Greetings in the name of Lord Jesus Christ!

    Dear Friends in Christ,

    I am happy to visit u website, it’s really a nice and wonderful effort for the glory of god.
    By the grace of God and by the help of few local and little self support churches and their pastors we r holding a missionary movement for revival in Pakistan. Named “THE RIGHTWAY MISSION ASSOCIATION” since this year.
    Brother we have the burden and passion and we are committed for the completion of great commission throughout the country, 18 billion people, b4 the 2nd coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
    We r committed to produce local missionaries and evangelists for Pakistan, So for this purpose we r praying and looking prayer partners and ministry partners around the world, so that u r requested to please join us through u prayers and blessings, and we also need u affiliation for the glory of god, your cooperation in this regard will be highly appreciated, thanks a lot.

    Your Brother in Christ,

    Pastor Victor John,
    Executive Secretary &
    International coordinator,
    Rawalpindi – Pakistan,
    CONTACT: +92 332 5145330

  6. [b]Moral dilemna![/b]

    What’s up? Been just reading for a while and just decided to write!

    Anyways, I had this urge to talk about an event. This is what transpired: When I was done with school one day I headed out, I was starving so I stopped in at this restaurant and picked this sandwitch from the menu and then went off to eat it in a corner when I was done I remembered I didn’t pay!

    Yeah evidently they were super busy and distracted because there was this manager/investor type looking around everywhere and talking to them. So I was just about to go up to the counter and say I hadn’t paid but then I realized if I did that the owner guy might get mad at the employees. So I just left. What should I have done do you think?

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