Saturday, May 11, 2013

Therapeutic Ministry

I've come again across a thread of thought within Christian ministry that I struggle with.

It's the "ministry as therapy" concept.

On the one hand, ministry can get muddled with therapeutic interventions.  Pastoring can become so focused on counseling and the psycho-social dynamics of community that it can almost cease to be a spiritual enterprise entirely.

But on the other hand, there's a tendency to belittle "therapeutic" approaches as craven and consumeristic.  The only reason people go to church, folks will opine, is that they want to be bettered.  People showing up at church looking for "therapy" are just being selfish consumers, church shoppers looking for affirmation.  It's just a product, argue the leftists, part of the capitalist pharmacopeia, that makes us good little cogs in the vast consumerist machine.  What about Justice?!   What about caring for the least and the last and the lost?

It's just a sign of our lack of spiritual integrity, say the conservatives.  Come to be washed in the Blood of the Lamb!  Not seeking some squishy liberal talk-therapy hoohah, or some name-it-and-claim-it self-help twaddle.

As I was thinking about this today, I found myself wondering why it is that coming to Jesus desiring well-being and personal wholeness would be in any way antithetical to what Jesus wanted for us.

I mean, sure, there was the desire for the wrongs of our social systems to be righted.   And Lord knows, we can get selfish sometimes, and muddle "well-being" with the false whispers of Mammon.  But I also seem to recall a story or two in which broken people came to Jesus to be made whole.  They were beset with demons.  They bled.  They were a mass of sores.

And Jesus did not tell them to piss off for being such selfish, rabbi-shopping consumers.  Or question their theological motivations.  He healed them.

As I was looking at those stories, something occurred to me.

The word "therapeutic."  It's got some familiar components.  They'  So I looked in the Bible, and then into one of my Greek/English interlinears.

There it is, in a bunch of different places, like Luke 9:11.  When Jesus "heals," the Gospel writers are using the word therapeias.

So I suppose, if we're taking Jesus seriously, that we shouldn't be quite so glib about setting that aside.