In 1974 the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization declared, "We affirm that evangelism and socio-political involvement are both part of our Christian duty," thus emphasizing social ministry as an important part of missions.
Many Christians now stress Holistic ministry; that is evangelism and physical/social care go hand in hand. We encourage the connection of spiritual and physical, loving each other and sharing the good news, soup kitchens and proclaiming God's glory, health care for the needy and advancing the Kingdom of God. Franklin Graham has said, "Holistic ministry (Medical Missions) just plain works."
But the idea of holistic ministry was introduced far before this declaration in 1974. Luke 4:18-19 explains what Jesus was sent to do:
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed.
Some say this (preaching, setting captives free, healing, and standing up for the oppressed) should be the goal of the church and the main thrust of missions (note; preaching the good news is included). Others stress that the Great Commission in Matthew 28 should be our thrust:
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in
the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and
teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.
That is (discipleship, baptizing, and teaching the Gospel) is our mission. In the history of Christianity we have seen the pendulum swing back and forth. Some time it leans too far towards social action (let's give food to the hungry healthcare to the sick, and fight for the oppressed but let's avoid words like Jesus or God's love; those terms are too loaded and controversial these days). Then the pendulum can tip too far in the other direction (The Bible tells us we will always have the poor with us. We can't get distracted by this world, we must focus on the next Kingdom. We just need more churches, more preachers, and more getting people saved.) These extremes are easy to recognize, but in real life I think missions and the role of the church is more subtle.
See how DeYoung writes:
When you love, you love the whole person, right? So why do so many churches seem disinterested in the human problems in their community and around the world? Didn’t Jesus heal the sick? Didn’t the Good Samaritan help the beaten man just because it was the neighborly thing to do? He didn’t give him a gospel tract first. Look, I’m in a city with crime, homelessness, poverty, broken families, and a failing education system. If we love God and we love people, how can we not care about these problems? Yes, I want to see people come to know Christ. People need the gospel more than anything else. Hell is real. They need reconciliation with God above all else. But they also need food and a job. Christians should care about these needs too. We are supposed to seek the peace of the city. Therefore, our vision needs to be bigger than providing a safe church for middle class people to have a safe experience of God so they can drive back to their safe neighborhoods and ignore a world of problems around them. The Bible has too much to say about loving the poor and caring about justice for us to simply save souls. Heaven is not a place for ghosts to fly around. It’s an earthly place with resurrected bodies where matter matters. We don’t reflect the reality of heaven if we turn a blind eye to the flesh-and-blood world in which we live.
and to the other direction:
Yes, we agree that the Christians should love people in word and deed. We too want to see our communities flourish. We think it is good and right to support relief work in Haiti or build an orphanage in Africa or repair a park in our city. But we are jealous not to lose or de-emphasize in any way what makes the church unique. The goal is not to make the world honor us for our good works, but honor God in their hearts. There are any number of institutions or humanitarian organizations or even members of other religions devoted to the problems of poverty and suffering. But what about eternal suffering? Who will give the perishing the words of life except the church? If we truly love people we will share the gospel and disciple them in Christ. Of course we want the peace of the city. Who wouldn’t? But biblical shalom is not simply human flourishing, it is also, and irreducibly, faith and repentance. There is no kingdom without worship of the King. Besides, we aren’t going to change the world or transform the culture, at least not by our efforts and strategies. It’s too complicated and we’re too ignorant. Only God builds the kingdom. The church is not the custodian of the culture. The church’s role is to be the church. This means preaching and sacraments, discipline and membership, and displaying a counter-cultural community. We’ll influence the world, but do so as we live our regular lives, pursue our specific vocation, and love the people as God puts in our path. So absolutely I want to help people. But the church can only do so many things. And the main thing we must do is testify to the work of Christ and raise up disciples of Christ.
The current trend is that churches and denominations are pulling a way from medical missions (a holistic ministry). Medical missions has been accused of forgetting the spiritual component of healing (we would say they are intrinsically linked). But I think sometimes they are right. We can get so wrapped up in medicine that we forget the main thing. You can see a lot of prescriptions, surgeries, and clinic visits at a mission hospital and sometimes very little open Bibles, praying, or preaching. There are many mission hospitals that have taken a slow decline to becoming just another hospital.
Is this lack of spiritual ministry intentional by missionary doctors and the hospital staff? Are they nominal Christians? I don't think so. Some aren't good multitaskers (I'm not good at taking a sexual history and transitioning into prayer). Some find it awkward (while we straighten your teeth lets straighten your walk with the Lord). Some are just too plain busy (with a Queue of 50 patients, a lecture to give, and hysterectomy on schedule.... trying to explain Salvation in another language is the last thing I have time for) . And language and culture are real barriers to sharing (even after being in Kenya over 19 months).
My observations are still optimistic. I see that holistic ministry is happening here at mission hospitals in Kenya (hospital wide but perhaps not doctor specific). The doctor may do the life saving surgery... and the chaplain is present to see a life reconciled by Jesus. A team approach: physical and spiritual healing inseparable.