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Today in the Mission Yearbook

Is healing at the core of our congregations?


Jesus’ ministry was about more than preaching and teaching

February 20, 2021

the Rev. Dr. N. Graham Standish

As a seminary student I heard a constant refrain from our professors: Jesus came to preach and teach. It was the pretext underlying our whole seminary education as they trained us to preach and teach.

It made sense to me. Isn’t that what pastors do, spending our weeks preparing to preach on Sundays? Isn’t our mandate to offer Bible studies, small groups and classes to nurture faith? We might lead boards and committees and offer pastoral care to those in need and in crisis, but our primary role is to preach and to teach.

Something happened early in my ministry to change my perspective. I was an associate pastor at the time, and a youth group member spoke with me about his recent experience. He prefaced it with, “Graham, do you believe in healing prayer?” I told him that I wasn’t sure. He proceeded to tell me about something amazing that had happened over the previous few weeks. His girlfriend, a champion high school swimmer, was set to race in the state finals. That week she tore her hamstring and her doctor told her it would be impossible to race. She was devastated.

Listening to her despair, he told her that he had been reading in the Bible how Jesus healed someone who couldn’t walk. He said that perhaps they could pray for her healing. They agreed. Not knowing how to actually pray for healing, he improvised. He stretched out his hand, asking Jesus to let it be a channel for healing. He then placed it on her leg as they continued to pray. Nothing happened.

The next morning, though, something did happen. She got up, took a shower, and while drying off realized that all her pain was gone. Her leg had been healed. She ended up competing in the state finals and won.

Over the ensuing months others told me of their healing experiences. It was disorienting. We Presbyterians are rational people who don’t easily succumb to tales of prayer and miraculous healings. So, I decided to learn more about it.

I discovered a remarkable book by John Wilkinson, “The Bible and Healing.” He started by researching healing in the gospels. He found that 25% of the stories in Matthew’s gospel dealt with healing, while in Mark it was 50%, Luke 34%, and John 36%. Further, 75% of Jesus’ teachings in Matthew dealt with healing, 50% in Mark, 66% in Luke and 64% in John.

This completely changed how I saw the church. I was awakening to the fact that Jesus came primarily to heal, and that preaching and teaching were part of that healing. He not only healed people physically, he healed the breach between us and God that formed whenever we turned possessions, law, rituals, traditions, and even beliefs, into false gods.

Subsequent research led me to study the world “salvation,” in both its Latin and Greek origins. When we think of “salvation,” we typically think of it as Jesus rescuing us from sin. There’s more there, though. The Latin root, “salvus” (the root of both “save” and “salve”), as well as the Greek word for it, “sozo,” mean both “to rescue” and “to heal.”

The radical change in my understanding of church was my realization that the healthiest congregations are ones who see themselves as healing communities. The early church saw themselves as places of healing. Why else would James suggest that the sick person call on the elders to pray?

What would it take to transform our congregations into places of healing? I believe it starts with reconceiving everything we do as a church. Do we see ourselves as helping heal the separation most of us experience with God, making it hard to pray, grow and live lives the way God calls us to? Do we see ourselves as helping to heal the pain of living in a divided, dysfunctional nation and world? Do we see ourselves as teaching people how to heal the conflict they experience in their lives? Do we see ourselves as being communities that offer compassionate healing for those with mental issues? Are we prayerful communities where people can find healing love, support and prayers?

Rev. N. Graham Standish, executive director of Samaritan Counseling, Guidance, Consulting in Sewickley, Pennsylvania, and director of its Caring for Clergy and Congregations program

Today’s Focus:  Jesus’ Ministry

Let us join in prayer for: 

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff

Chelsea De Lisser, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Sheldon Dennis, Board of Pensions

Let us pray:

Gracious and loving God, you call us together as the body of Christ to love one another, serve those in need, and proclaim the good news to all. Help us encourage one another as we answer your call in our own congregations and as a denomination, that we may not simply conduct business but spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Through Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.