“Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.”
At the onset of the pandemic, my mentor Dr. Leonard Sweet offered a reflection on Facebook Live about the need for Christians to recover our vocation as healers. There is a section in my latest book “Fresh Expressions in a Digital Age: How the Church Can Prepare for a Post Pandemic World” titled “Where Are the Healers?”
Luke 10 connects entering a space, eating at tables, and curing the sick who are there, all in a single missional movement. But one aspect of the text so often neglected is… “heal the sick who are there” (Luke 10:9).
Jesus of Nazareth healed the sick during his earthly ministry (Matt 9; 10:8; 25:34-26). Christian pioneers who took Jesus’s call to be healers created the first medical systems for those experiencing poverty. St. Basil of Caesarea founded the first hospital to care for the poor and sick in 369. Christian hospitals spread across both the East and the West so rapidly that by the mid-1500s there were thirty-seven thousand Benedictine monasteries alone that cared for the sick. The very conception of medicine, as well as its practice, was deeply shaped by the doctrine and discipline of the Church.
The Church abandoned our role as healers largely due to a diminished understanding of salvation. Church and healing have become largely disconnected in western minds. It seems local churches have defaulted to the business of saving souls, leaving the work of healing to others. The biblical vision of shalom (a world at peace) is much more expansive than saving souls for relocation to heaven when they die. It’s about God’s kingdom breaking into the world now. It’s about the healing, renewal, and well-being of the entire cosmos. It’s a wholistic vision of God’s reign on earth, of which the church is a foretaste.
While people in the healing professions have adapted their methods to utilize emerging technologies, overall, the church has been late to the dance. As psychiatrists, surgeons, physicians, and counselors are using digital tools to spread shalom and healing, establishing best practices around webside manner, telehealth, telepsychiatry, telemedicine, and virtual clinical interactions, we Christians have been fixated on simply streaming worship services.
As a pastor and writer, I was doing my best to protect the flock, discover how to worship in new and creative ways. I was very vocal about wearing masks, social distancing and avoiding indoor crowds to love our neighbor. Yet now as someone who has gone through this terrible virus, I have a different perspective.
The plague came to my house. For the last two weeks I’ve been sitting in the ashes of isolation and sickness. I’m no longer operating as someone talking about a virus happening to others, but now as one of the statistics who contracted it. I am one of the fortunate ones who only had an overnight stay in the hospital and some debilitating but manageable symptoms.
Sitting in the isolation of quarantine, the only connection I had with my children, friends, and family, was digitally mediated connection. My broken brain would not allow me to stay on a screen for long periods of time, but those brief moments of connection with loved ones were life giving. They were real and sustaining. I experienced firsthand the expertise of frontline care workers and the awkward reluctance of a church paralyzed in regards of how to respond in a healing way.
I’ve never been more convinced that digitization can create and sustain authentic relationship. My experience with COVID-19 has rekindled a passion to embrace technology not only as a way to stream content, but as a space where healing and shalom can manifest. There is so much to learn. I want to give myself to this work so that when the world asks the question “where are the healers?” The church is at least part of the answer.