One of the many things I am passionate about in my leadership and ministry with The Salvation Army is facilitating integrated ministry opportunities between our church and social service programs. Most of the conversation I engage in about integrated ministry has centred around how we integrate our social programs with the activities of the local Corps (church). In other words, how do we get the people we serve through our social programs into our church?
Generally speaking, effective integrated ministry has been measured by the number of people from the surrounding community who have integrated into the worshiping community. While it is the desire of every church leader to see the people we serve coming into Christian faith and the church, I wonder whether we have missed the full scope of integration by viewing it through a one-way lens. That is, a lens that views integration as primarily them coming to us. I've recently been rethinking integration from the other direction. Instead of seeing integrated ministry only as a pathway to connect the people we serve into the faith community, maybe it is more or as much about connecting the faith community with the people we serve?! What's the difference?
The current approach of integrated ministry is an 'attractional' model where we provide intentional activities and programs to create pathways from social programs into the local church.
The inverse approach to integrated ministry is an 'incarnational' model where we mobilise the body of Christ through pathways from the local church into social programs.
Imagine the local church, full of the Holy Spirit, mobilising church members to step out of the church and use their gifts and abilities to engage with those who are serving and whom we serve through our social programs by forming life transforming relationships. Now that's integrated ministry!
When we consider that Jesus commanded the disciples to "go" (Matthew 28:19) and Holy Spirit empowered the disciples to "witness" (Acts 1:8), inverse integration isn't that hard to imagine in the context of the early church. In fact, the "Incarnation" (God taking on flesh and becoming one of us through the person of Jesus Christ) is the ultimate demonstration of integrated ministry where Jesus left the security of heaven, bypassed the temple, and "made his dwelling among us" (John 1:14).
Far from advocating for an abandonment of current models of integration that play a critical role in facilitating partnerships in mission and ministry, rethinking integration from the other direction opens up all sorts of possibilities to explore the full scope of integrated ministry. This also expands the measurement of the effectiveness of integrated ministry through a two-way lens to include how many disciples are actively engaging with social programs as well as how many people from social programs are engaging with the local church. What an awesome picture we would get of the potential and power of the local church fully engaged in integrated ministry!