Engage Your Church: Outside the Walls

Engage Your Church: Outside the Walls

A few months ago, a student came up after our CMDA weekly campus luncheon and exclaimed, “I am so glad for CMDA! This is my church.” That statement is great affirmation of the work God is doing in our local groups and in the lives of students. However, it also raises an important question about

by Kellie Hooker and Paul Gerritson, MDiv

A few months ago, a student came up after our CMDA weekly campus luncheon and exclaimed, “I am so glad for CMDA! This is my church.” That statement is great affirmation of the work God is doing in our local groups and in the lives of students. However, it also raises an important question about the role of CMDA within the broader body of Christ—the church.

All parachurch (“helping” ministry alongside a local church) organizations like CMDA face an inherent tension: how do we come alongside a local church to undergird and extend its ministry in a spiritually healthy, biblically supportable way, without being perceived as a replacement for the church? As we serve as leaders in CMDA’s Campus & Community Ministries, it behooves us to be biblically sound with our definition of local church and sensitive to our own articulation of the legitimacy of our particular role (CMDA) within the larger church. In articulating that role, it’s helpful to remember that CMDA is non-denominational; CMDA groups usually include members from different churches across our individual communities.

It’s also helpful to recognize that CMDA has a specific missionary calling to the distinctive culture of the healthcare professions. We need to recognize this distinctive as a strength and be able to articulate effectively the ways we can walk alongside local churches as they try to reach the healthcare professionals (and those they influence) within their communities. Rather than risk being perceived as rivals for the same pool of potential participants in our separate ministries, then, a local CMDA can invite the participation of local churches in their campus and community ministry in ways that will augment both ministries and at the same time embody together what it means to be Christ’s body, the church. As you read through the following suggestions for ways CMDA groups can work together with local congregations, hopefully you’ll find some suitable to your CMDA situation. Maybe these ideas will also spark fresh ones of your own.


One of the most rewarding ways a church and campus ministry can partner is through hospitality. Generous hospitality is essential for community building—and a major ingredient of hospitality is food! To illustrate, a local campus CMDA can invite folks from a local church to help with the food for a meal that would accompany a talk, Bible study or worship time; and a group from that church can come to serve and participate in the fellowship over the meal. A good place to begin cultivating that kind of relationship is with the churches of the student leaders and participants in a campus ministry, or you could start with churches of the local professionals in a community CMDA group or council. A specific example is the weekly luncheon on the University of Texas Health Science Center campus in San Antonio, Texas, where 16 churches of all denominations currently take turns providing the food. Often, that church’s pastor or a local healthcare professional in the same church will bring a timely message. Local churches have also participated with providing food for smaller Bible studies or events such as welcome parties.

Mission Trips

Going “on mission” together is another way to forge a rewarding partnership. For example, mission teams from the CMDA chapter in San Antonio have taken groups of people from local churches, including Spanish-speaking members, on their mission trips to the Texas border to do children’s ministry and help with translation and logistics. Conversely, local churches trying to be missional with the gospel can host a CMDA team. Together, the congregation and the CMDA participants reach into their community with the gospel in the form of compassionate, free healthcare and a message of hope in Christ.

Sharing Facilities

Many congregations take pride in their facilities and are eager to use them for Christian fellowship or education. At the same time, CMDA members could benefit in a number of ways from using those church facilities in their own ministries. The following are a few ideas:

  • Open CMDA speaker-events to a congregation or their community in exchange for using their space to hold the event.
  • Resilience coaching (learning to cope with repeated trauma or stress) is an important part of training for missionaries and residents, so hold joint resident and missionary training at a missionary-sending church.
  • Ask missionary-sending or supporting congregations to host your next healthcare missions informational or enrollment event.

Community Education

One important way to foster cooperation and improved whole-person care is to devote time to clergy and elder education. This is particularly important, as these are the shepherds of the flock commonly called upon when a congregant’s health is failing. Helping church leaders understand more about the challenges and opportunities patients, loved ones and healthcare professionals face at such times can go a long way toward enhancing clergy support for them. It also reduces potential confusion or misunderstanding in high-stress dialogues between concerned parties.

Clergy Resources

A great way to educate is to offer a half-day or full-day community-wide conference for clergy and elders, hosted and taught by healthcare professionals. A terrific resource to develop the conference around is Dr. Robert Orr’s Medical Ethics and the Faith Factor: A Handbook for Clergy and Health-Care Professionals. (This resource is available in the CMDA Bookstore at www.cmda.org/bookstore.) After the presentations, sharing a meal allows time to address questions and build relationships between clergy and healthcare professionals.

Additionally, congregations and CMDA chapters could develop a pool of healthcare professionals who are able and willing to have clergy and elders shadow them in a variety of locations. These might include family practice, ICU, oncology, cardiac, geriatric and hospice settings. Hearing patients’ concerns and seeing the healthcare professionals in action would help clergy be more informed when their flock asks for counsel. There would likely be plenty to draw from for meaningful sermon material as well.

Being a resource for and having relationships with clergy opens doors to further opportunities. Educating congregations and communities is an important one, as you work with the church as the facility and conduit. Presenting material as a Christian who practices healthcare helps address spiritual and physical concerns many people have. Here are just a few topics healthcare professionals could speak on which would be meaningful to a general audience:

  • Recent research on improving personal and community health
  • Patient Autonomy and Right of Conscience – Clash or Cooperation?
  • Suffering – Theological Considerations as a Christian in Healthcare
  • Suffering – Pain Management and Palliative Care
  • Hospice Care Doesn’t Mean Quitting Care
  • Putting More Life in Your Days – transitioning from extending life to not prolonging dying means helping patients gain fresh perspectives and adding great value to their remaining time
  • Dying Well – what to expect, optimizing dignity and creating momentous memories
  • Physician-Assisted Suicide – a Terrible Non-Solution

Developing Relationships

One challenge of healthcare is isolation, or “silos,” of practice. It is surprising and sad how many Christians in North Carolina, for example, are involved in healthcare and yet they don’t know others who are. It turns out many even attend the same churches in a community but don’t know about each other.

Having created a trust between clergy and healthcare professionals, CMDA members could do several things to break down these silos of isolation, in cooperation with congregations. Host a group event in your own fellowship to introduce healthcare professionals and students. Work with the pastoral and membership leaders to facilitate the networking of existing and newly arriving students with healthcare professionals. Multiple clergy could be invited to come introduce themselves at a student lunch meeting early in the new academic year. A pastor could be invited to give a single or short series of talks at campus events. The only caveat would be that the talk be ecumenical, not denominational or for the purpose of recruiting sheep, and be consistent with the CMDA Statement of Faith.

As affirming as it is to hear a CMDA student and professional describe our meetings as “being in church,” it is even more exciting to see them join the congregation of a local church partner or bring their own church congregation on board as a CMDA partner. Each time that happens, it highlights the privilege we have of nurturing within our members a thoroughly biblical picture of what it means to be fully engaged with a local body of believers in a church even as they participate in their local CMDA group to reach their peers and colleagues in their own profession for Christ. It also illustrates vividly the opportunity, indeed the unique calling, we have with CMDA to bring churches in our communities together with CMDA ministry in ways that model service and unity within the church. May we embrace that calling and bring Him the glory!

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