‘Preach and Heal’ by Charles Fielding

cs-preachmThere is much in Fielding’s work, Preach and Heal: A Biblical Model for Missions, to commend it as a helpful resource for missionary work.  Fielding’s observations on the differing opinions between the “Preachers,” and the “Healers,” was clever, insightful, and at times stinging.  Yet this sting grew into conviction and then hearty agreement as Fielding brought the two together in the Person of Christ, demonstrating that like Jesus, and in obedience to Jesus, we are called to both preach and heal.  The desire to care for souls and care for bodies should be the natural outflow from a heart that knows the love of Christ.  There is no contradiction between preaching and healing-they are complimentary aspects of one ministry of Christ-like love to others.

There are also several other principles in Fielding’s work that transcend cultural differences and make this book valuable to the world-wide Church in any situation.  Drawing from Paul’s missionary pattern, Fielding shows us the three priorities of a missionary: he must (1) enter the community; (2) make disciples and (3) empower the church.  As Fielding points out, Paul’s goal was not to remain in any area for an extended amount of time, but rather to create authentic disciples and establish a church that would inevitably reproduce itself in subsequent missionary work.  Thus, we should seek to make this our goal: we must use our resources to enter the community, create authentic disciples, and return periodically or provide resources to encourage and strengthen the recently planted church. We should, as Fielding suggests, seek to spark a church planting movement across great swaths of a particular geographical area.

However, having said that, I think we must be careful that we do not push Paul’s missionary example to the point where we are discouraging the establishment of permanent pastors in these new churches. Although Paul did not set up permanent pastoral residence in any church, he did establish leaders-leaders who would remain at that particular church and entrust what they have learned to faithful men “who will be able to teach others also” (II Timothy 2:2). I think Fielding is right to encourage missionaries to promote large-scale church planting endeavors, but this cannot be done at the expense of the long-term health of these newly planted churches.

Fielding’s strategies for “Entering the community,” were helpful, especially as they related to caring for the needy and the sick.  Entering communities by offering competent and loving health care, disaster relief, and other kinds of “healing” ministries tangibly demonstrates the love of Christ, which in turn provides a context for the gospel.  I also think there is great wisdom in using the model Jesus established in Luke 10:5-7 with the “Person of Peace.”  This person, though not a believer, can help a missionary team enter a community, gain the respect of that community’s leaders, and provide valuable information about cultural norms and taboos.  And this “Person of Peace,” is not someone who is useful only to those seeking to enter an unreached community in foreign lands; they can be found in the ghettos of New York and the gang-infested streets of Los Angeles where hostile sub-cultures exist with their own social customs and their own opposition to the gospel.  Though initially skeptical about the idea (thinking it only applied to Jesus’ disciples at that time), I am now beginning to see that it is essential to establish relationships with such people as we pursue our missionary task.

American churches will also benefit from Fielding’s strategy of using “healing” ministries to enter these local sub-cultures and communities. Demonstrating the love of Christ by providing hospice care for the dying, medical care for underprivileged families, tutoring for struggling, inner-city students, even drug rehabilitation, would open doors for the gospel as the people in those communities personally observe the genuine concern these disciples of Christ have for their well-being.

Fielding’s counsel on professional integrity is also a very important principle that all missionaries alike would do well to heed.  Fielding’s stories of missionaries who lost the respect of the local community because they did not diligently attend to their profession are tragic.  If we tell the citizens and leaders of a community that we are there to do business or medical work or disaster relief, we best make sure that we are doing those things with great attentiveness and competence, or we will actually hurt the gospel while thinking we are advancing it.

However, although there are many positive aspects to Fielding’s book, I did find a few problems throughout.  One dilemma I find in promoting the use of this book (model) universally is its reliance on Western medical advances and wealth.  Churches in third-world countries do not have the resources or the knowledge to provide the kind of “healing” ministries that churches in the West are able to provide.

Although churches in poorer countries are able to embrace Fielding’s use of the apostle Paul’s church-planting strategy, I wonder how much of the latter half of Preach and Heal would be relevant to these churches, especially the sections on specific community development, medical care, and disaster relief strategies.  It seems like the latter sections of the book are written primarily to Christians in countries in which the Church has major financial, educational, and medical resources available.

Secondly, although I appreciated Fielding’s overall presentation of the gospel in Appendix E, if I were the editor, I would have encouraged Fielding to use greater precision when discussing the deity of Christ: referring to Christ as “The Spirit of God in a man’s body” (239), is a confusing way to refer to Christ’s eternal deity and the joining of his two natures.  Since we will often be dealing with false religion in our missionary endeavors, precision in theological language is essential.  Overall, however, I was challenged and helped by Fielding’s work, and I appreciated his two-fold, complementary approach to missions.

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