The Doctor-Minister Team in the Church

The health evangelism program now being developed by the General Conference Health Department and the Ministerial Association actually calls for the joint efforts of every member of the church to accomplish a great forward thrust in soul winning. No one is counted out. All are embraced in this total effort for Christ. . .

-an associate secretary of the General Conference Health Department at the time this article was written

THE Seventh-day Adventist Church is blessed with many professional people in its member ship. Among these, the healthcare professionals are especially well represented. This is due to the fact that early in the history of the church, through work of Ellen White, much counsel was given pertaining to health-care work and the relationship healthcare workers sustain to the proclamation of the gospel of Christ the Lord. She was inspired to write that "the gospel of health is to be firmly linked with the ministry of the Word. It is the Lord's design that the restoring influence of health reform shall be a part of the last great effort to proclaim the gospel message." --Evangelism, p. 515.

The health evangelism program now being developed by the General Conference Health Department and the Ministerial Association actually calls for the joint efforts of every member of the church to accomplish a great forward thrust in soul winning. No one is counted out. All are embraced in this total effort for Christ.

This article will focus primarily on the doctor's part in this all-inclusive endeavor of the church. The term doctor is defined in this instance as one who has responsibility for the patient in the given instance of professional need.

In speaking of "the doctor's role" we do not infer that these are responsibilities he carries alone. No more than we can compartmentalize a person into spiritual, emotional, intellectual, or physical components, can the ministry of one member of the gospel team be compartmentalized from the ministry of the rest of the team.

The Doctor Represents a Power Beyond Himself

The doctor points beyond him self to God, who is ultimate in truth and love. As a member in the household of God and the body of Christ on earth, the doctor sustains a truly great responsibility to the people who hold him in such high esteem. First of all, his responsibility is to focus the very latest and best available in the healing arts on the problems for which they are seeking his professional help, physically or mentally.

More than that, he sustains a very real responsibility to minister to their spiritual needs as well. Commenting upon the physician as a worker for God, Mrs. White says, "Those who engage in this work should be consecrated to Cod and not make it their only object to treat the body merely to cure disease, thus working from the popular physician's standpoint." --Testimonies, vol. 3, p. 168.

The work of easing suffering and managing physical and mental illness is part of the ministry of God. "Christ identifies His interests with those of suffering humanity, and He tells us that what ever we do to relieve a sufferer, we do for Him." --Medical Ministry, p. 121. No work is complete, however, without including ministering to the patient's spiritual needs as well.

Enabled by the fragrance of the grace and Spirit of Christ in the life, the doctor is empowered to provide the dimension of a spiritual ministry in his practice that will bring relief from spiritually induced suffering. "Many carry a violated conscience and can be reached only by the principles of Bible religion." --Testimonies, vol. 3, p. 168.

On the other hand, many in every community "do not listen to the preaching of God's word or attend any religious service." The Ministry of Healing, p. 144. They turn off religious programs on the radio or television, for they cannot appreciate them out of the background of their existence. "Often the relief of their physical needs is the only avenue by which they can be approached." --Ibid.

The Doctor as a Teacher of the Word

When the doctor takes time for Bible study with those whom he is called to treat, their confidence in him professionally will often carry over to his ministry to them in spiritual things.

By the grace of God dwelling in the heart, men and women dedicated to the ministry of healing may give "so pure and righteous a representation of God that the world will see Him in His beauty." --Medical Ministry, p. 179. They may "be so filled with the Spirit that dwelt in Him that worldly policy will have no power to divert their minds from the work of presenting to men the grand, wonderful possibilities before every soul who receives and believes in Christ." --Ibid., pp. 179, 180.

The Doctor as a Health Educator

With heart disease and vascular disease on the increase and the general health condition of the nation on the wane, the doctor will see his role in bringing wellbalanced, effective programs in health education to the members of the church as well as to the people of the community. In addition to caring for those who have already fallen victim to poor health and disease as the result of the modern way of life, the doc tor's concept of his role increasingly will be to help people to prevent the breakdown of health.

His concern will be to help motivate people, thus enabling them to change habits, practices, and attitudes that lead to the deterioration of mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical health. In the words of George James, late dean of the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine: "The major causes of death cancer, heart disease, and stroke are bound up with the individual's way of life. If he became less fat he would be less likely to develop heart disease or trigger his diabetes. If we could really reach people with these lessons, we might save hundreds of thousands of lives each year. They are lives that in the main are not saved by present medical techniques, even when the patient receives them." --Proceedings of the White House Conference on Health, November 3-4, 1965 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office), pp. 405, 406.

Then turning to the concept of health education as a preventive measure, Dr. James states, "We have to get away from the present concentration on the patient who is sick in bed. We must get away from this dated concept if we are to meet today's and tomorrow's problems. . . . We have to create a kind of profile of medicine that will fit into the profile of the patient's life." --Ibid.

These principles were very eloquently pointed out by Mrs. White shortly after the turn of the century: "Education in health principles was never more needed than now. Notwithstanding the wonderful progress in so many lines relating to the comforts and conveniences of life, even to sanitary matters and to the treatment of disease, the decline in physical vigor and power of endurance is alarming. It demands the attention of all who have at heart the well-being of their fellow men." --The Ministry of Healing, p. 125.

She then develops the thought, almost as though she were writing today, "Our artificial civilization is encouraging evils destructive of sound principles [pollution of environment possibly?]. . . .

"Many transgress the laws of health through ignorance, and they need instruction. . . . The physician has many opportunities both of imparting a knowledge of health principles and of showing the importance of putting them in practice." --Ibid., pp. 125, 126.

In his role as health educator, the doctor will seek to increase his own limited ability as one individual by training and educating the membership in good eating habits, proper nutrition, and adequate programs of physical activity. Many of the church members can be qualified by careful instruction to participate in such programs, effectively enlarging the scope of the doctor's influence. This will lead the church into acts of practical Christianity, which will be the only way many individuals in the community will become acquainted with the Lord as Saviour.

The Doctor as a Church Leader

As a member of the household of God, the doctor will also be directly and constantly involved in the care and conduct of the church family. His talents will be fused with the talents of all other members of the church, enabling them, collectively, to carry out their functions as the church body in the local congregation and in the broader aspects of the world church.

Heavy practice notwithstanding, like others who carry heavy responsibilities in their work, he sets priorities for himself so that he can have time to mingle his talents with others' to the blessing and benefit of the church. He thus, at least partially, also achieves the change of pace so necessary for his own physical and spiritual well-being.

He joins his influence and talents to the leadership of the church to accomplish its day-to day and week-to-week assignment of finding and winning souls for Christ. His critique is not withheld if there are things that can be improved upon, but he remembers that he too is a fallible human being and so is not loath to see the problem from another's point of view.

He works on the committees that call for his participation. While contributing his best thinking and judgment, he does not insist on his way when the consensus moves in another direction. He is careful within his power to unite and consolidate and build solidly the strength and the influence of the church.

The Doctor and the Minister, a Team in Evangelism

The genius of Adventist theology with regard to the make-up of the ministerial forces of the church has been the recognition of the health worker as part of the central core of the gospel team. The health worker, especially the doc tor, stands in a special relationship to the gospel team. He is most favorably equipped with information and training and has insights into the needs of the people that fit him well for his role as a member of the team whose sole purpose of existence is the proclamation of the good news of salvation in Christ.

Some actions of the past on the part of professional societies, placing restrictions on the doctor in appearing on the public platform, have discouraged such activities on the part of the doctor. But, with so many of our long-standing institutions and accepted ways falling before the critical eye and tongue of nonconformists of our day, these professional organizations have dramatically changed their attitudes about the doctor publicly taking part in health education programs in the community. Health-care professional societies that have been so conservative in this matter are now reversing themselves and advocating active participation in the public forum, as well as dissemination of information on preventive measures in combating the problems of increasing incidence of disease in the population.

For this the church is making preparation. It is investing much time and energy and careful planning to capitalize on this developing phenomenon. In the process of refinement, new approaches to the "health message" are being developed as an integral part of proclaiming the third angel's message.

A new day is dawning in the doctor-minister relationship on the evangelistic platform. Previously, questions were often raised. How can it be done if we do attempt such a program? What do I say? Where can I get the materials that would be suitable to present to the public and would also be scientifically accurate? How can I be sure I will not be embarrassed by statements made by others sharing the platform?

All these questions have been carefully considered. Material for both the doctor and the minister to use is being carefully prepared with a critical eye to the needs and interests of both. Workshops, to be followed by a limited number of evangelistic programs based on this prepared material, are being planned to test out the material and to modify it as needed to make it workable and effective.

The day of the "entering wedge" of the "right arm" of the message is dawning. All who hear the call of God to enter the work of ministering the gospel by this means will have opportunity to participate in workshops and training periods to prepare them for this experience.


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-an associate secretary of the General Conference Health Department at the time this article was written

February 1974

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