The Local Church as Immune System
A 10-month-old with a compromised immune system recently contracted a life-threatening infection. Doctors saved the boy's life by administering immunoglobulin, a concentrated dose of antibodies derived from the plasma from more than 1,000 blood donors.
In reflecting on the experience, Bill Wilson, friend of the Clergy Health Initiative and the boy's grandfather, describes immunoglobulin as a metaphor for the health potential of being a congregating Christian. The local church is like an immune system: each of us contributes to it in our times of strength, and each of us benefits from it in times of need. He writes:
You may not get an IV bag with antibodies attached, but you get something very similar from being in a healthy congregation. Somehow, you get stronger, healthier and become more of the person God intended you to be when you are immersed in that community. Regular involvement in acts of worship, discipleship, mission, volunteering your time and energy, study and devotion all build up your spiritual, emotional, social and potentially physical well-being.
Of course, the reverse is true as well. As you live out your life as a Christ-follower in the midst of a community of faith, you share your own health and vitality with others. 1 Corinthians 12 describes a community that benefits from the gifts, talents, and abilities of everyone, not just the most overtly talented. A kind of spiritual immunity builds within us as we all journey together into the future Christ has for us.
Together, we become healthier than we could ever be alone. We are able to fight off disabling infections, overcome spiritual diseases, and achieve a level of spiritual health that is indicative of the work of the Holy Spirit among us.
In Wilson’s view, health is not merely feeling good, nor is it merely good numbers on some medical chart. Health means "fulfilling God's dream for our life."
We hope that Spirited Life will function as a communal, collective "immune system" for participants, defending against risk factors and reinforcing pastors' efforts to make positive changes in their own lives. But a program of improved wellness is also an opportunity to exert leadership in the congregation. By modeling a healthier way of living, you will be an example and a blessing to others.
John James, M.A.
Research Analyst, Clergy Health Initiative