Theology Thursday: Ministry Above Health, or Health Above Ministry?

Silhouette of Woman Praying at Sunset

In 2012, I started doctoral studies while pastoring the Grand Canyon Assembly of God Church on the beautiful South Rim of the Grand Canyon National Park. My family and I went through a challenging period. Unrecognized exposure to toxic mold underneath our parsonage wreaked havoc on us emotionally and physically.

God led us out of our ministry to salvage our family’s health and safety. A few could not understand and felt we were leaving the ministry prematurely. Through this, a few questions came to surface:

  • How could choosing health over lead pastoring in ministry be biblical? 
  • Were we supposed to endure all the health problems? 
  • How could God call us to a place where ministry flourished, but then call us to leave after only being there for three and a half years? 

In This Article:

Physical Health Is a Biblical Concept

Striving toward good health matters. When discussing health and God’s will for our lives, spiritual, physical and emotional health was a biblical concept from the beginning. Quite often, Genesis is viewed only in the grand narrative of humanity or in terms of behavior (good versus evil).

Surprisingly, both within the creation story (Genesis 1) and the fall of humanity (Genesis 3), God gives specific directives to Adam and Eve regarding their flourishing, which included a holistic look at health.

Flourishing Health: God’s Original Intent

Genesis 2:8-9 states, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will surely die,” (Genesis 2:8-9).

God created humanity to flourish, providing healthy and sustainable food. In doing so, he produced humanity with a mandate to steward their health. His specific instructions shared what to eat, which would ultimately help them take care of themselves.

Impoverished Health: The Root of the Problem

After the fall of humanity in Genesis 3, God’s standard of stewarding health never changed. Rather, when the curse of sin entered the world, it made it difficult to maintain God’s standard, subsequently impoverishing health for generations to come.

Adam and Eve’s choice to eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil was a choice toward autonomy apart from God. Much like cancer, the curse of sin through this one act proliferated, adapted and mutated into all parts of their lives to ultimately bring about a physical and spiritual death.

Although God never placed a curse on Adam or Eve (God only placed a curse on the serpent and the ground), the curse of sin commenced by wreaking havoc on the human body. Sin impacted God’s good world. Sin’s effect from the fall impacted everything on God’s good earth. This included storms, earthquakes, diseases and natural disasters because humanity now existed in an imperfect world.

Stewarding Health: Interdependence on God

No longer were Adam and Eve interdependent or reliant on God for their health. The curse of sin touched everything. Throughout the Bible, humanity’s choice consistently leans toward autonomy apart from flourishing under God’s plan. They were still to steward the earth as well as their physical health. But as sin marred everything around them, they became more and more dependent on self as opposed to an interdependence on God.

Biblical Examples of Stewarding Health

In the midst of this, there were examples of men and women of faith such as Enoch (Gen 5:21-24), Naomi (Ruth 1:6), Methuselah (Gen 5:25-27) and Moses (Deut 34:7). Although none were perfect, they all relied on God. They experienced pockets of flourishing health within a fractured world.

They stewarded their health under God’s guidance, through communal practices and through following God in varying and difficult circumstances. There were even instances of God’s divine healing and provision through people such as Elijah (a prophet who struggled with depression) to a widow and her son in times of need (1 Kings 17:17-24).

God’s Provision in Our Health

After my family and I left our pastorate, we chose to rely on God to help us navigate the difficult circumstances of homelessness. During this time, my family and I saw God’s hand and experienced his provision in caring for our health. He repeatedly showed his faithfulness through our larger faith community, family and friends. We felt much like the children of Israel in the wilderness being led by God in a cloud by day and fire by night.

Although it took us three years to find a home, our health improved. We took intentional steps to steward our bodies with more exercise, eating right and working toward better mental health practices. This included the help of mental health practitioners. God remained faithful, and in addition to all of this, I experienced a divine healing of an injury on my wrists, during a time of prayer in one of my doctoral classes.

Biblical Principles Gained

Through it all, the biblical principles I gained, learned and experienced remain with me today. These principles include:

  • Physical health, along with spiritual, emotional and mental health, was God’s idea from the beginning.
  • God shows principles of caring for my body to help me flourish. 
  • I am healthier in a godly community instead of isolation. 
  • Community can be a source of healing.
  • God can still bring physical healing to people’s bodies.

God desires all people to be intentional about health as he created us body, mind and spirit. Stewarding health consequently matters for our whole selves: spiritual, physical and emotional (mental). No matter the context, God wants us to put him first. Intentionally following biblical principles can ultimately aid in stewarding personal health to flourish amid this fallen world.

If you want to read more Theology Thursday blogs or explore ministry and theology degrees at Grand Canyon University, fill out the form on this page. Check out other degree programs and visit GCU’s College of Theology to learn more. 

Approved by faculty for the College of Theology on Nov. 11, 2023.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.