Let me say up front, I don't like the word holistic much when it comes to ministry. As if holistic ministry were an option or a special kind of ministry. No! Holistic ministry is really Jesus ministry that ministers to the whole person: body, mind and soul. All ministry to Jesus was holistic. He always cared about the whole person. So I simply prefer Jesus ministry.
I am delighted that there is a new emphasis on ministry to the needs of people today and much of the focus from the West to the Majority (poor) world focuses on those needs. This includes medical ministry, micro enterprise, clean water, orphan ministries, poverty alleviation and the list could go on. It is refreshing to see the church minister to the needs of people rather than simply doing evangelism.
However, and this is where the caution lies: If in the past we neglected the needs of the whole person for the needs of the heart, today we run the risk of neglecting the needs of the heart for the physical needs alone. This is not Jesus ministry. He never ministered to physical needs without caring for the needs of the heart. It was always both, never one or the other. If I give people clean water without the living water of Jesus I have solved a physical problem but neglected the greater eternal problem.
In a poor world there are many opportunities to minister to the physical and spiritual needs of people. Let's not relive the mistakes of the past where we neglected the physical needs for the spiritual by neglecting the spiritual needs for the physical. Jesus simply ministered to the whole person and so should we.
If your church is involved in meeting physical needs among the poor, ask the question whether you are also meeting the spiritual needs of the heart. Is the balance right? What will you answer the one who says on the brink of eternity that you gave them clean water but never told them about living water?
Clean water is the number one way we can directly impact a majority of those living in poverty globally. Living water is the number one way we can impact them for eternity. The greatest need for every man, woman and child on our planet is a spiritual need so as we minister to physical needs, lets be sure that we are also meeting spiritual needs. Lets take our cues from Jesus where ministry was always about the whole person.