By Derek Lane, Washington Conference Outreach Ministries director


Give ye them to eat.

Luke 9:13

This text marks a transition in the story of the feeding of the 5,000 and introduces us to what I call “the fourth key for developing a community-based ministry.” The first key tells us that roles must be clarified. The second key suggests that needs must be identified. The third key says that decisions must be unified. The fourth key proposes that our mission must be magnified.

To accomplish great things for God, we must believe that God is indeed a great God, and His desire and will for us is much greater than we can ever ask or imagine.

The disciples had a very narrow and limited perspective of ministry and what encompasses Christian service. They, like the multitude, had been in the desert all day, watching Jesus teach and heal the congregation which had assembled there to listen and be blessed. At the end of a full day of ministry, the disciples were ready to share a closing benediction with the crowd and send them on their way. The disciples rightly recognized an additional need that was not necessarily “spiritual” in nature. The crowd had been there all day without food, and they entreated Jesus to send them away so they could get their physical needs met elsewhere.

The disciples, in some respects like the church today, had a narrow and restricted view of Christian service.

They wanted to compartmentalize needs into their own self-appointed categories. Jesus took the time to preach and offer physical healing from various diseases and abnormalities. Why physical healing from disease was not categorized along with hunger as a “non-spiritual” need is anyone’s guess.

If the disciples sought to send the congregation to the market to satisfy their appetite, why not send them to the local physicians to alleviate their medical challenges? It seems that the multitude had a clearer understanding of the breath and scope of Jesus’ ministry than His own disciples.

The multitude followed Him to the desert because He offered much more than the typical religious leader of His day.

They recognized Him as the One who could alleviate the needs and heal the pains of the spirit, soul, mind, and body. They followed Him because of His engagement in holistic ministry, something the disciples themselves failed to see. When Jesus finished teaching and preaching to the multitude, the disciples assumed that the service was over. Once their spiritual needs were met, they assumed it was time for the benediction. But Jesus used this opportunity as a teaching moment for His disciples. He wanted to expand their understanding of the true mission of the gospel. He wanted to magnify the mission in the minds of His followers. When encouraged to dismiss the congregation and send them away to satisfy their hunger Jesus said,

They need not depart; give ye them to eat.

With this challenge, Jesus sought to stretch their faith and embrace a mission that seeks to provide for both the spiritual and temporal needs of humankind.

What a powerful lesson for us today! How many times have we concluded a time of worship or service and assumed that once the teaching or preaching was over that ministry was over? How many have assumed that once the final word is spoken, it’s time to send the multitude away?

In this account Jesus challenges us to expand our understanding of the gospel and engage in holistic ministry.

Jesus said to His disciples and followers,

They need not depart: give ye them to eat.

Why do we send the multitude away with only a portion of their needs met? Has not the Scriptures challenged us to engage in holistic ministry when it describes the kind of discipline and sacrifice expected of His followers when it declares;

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

Isaiah 58:6,7 NIV

In the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000, Jesus was only reinforcing a perspective of ministry which the church had long neglected. Ministry is not limited to the spiritual disciplines of preaching and Bible studies. It involves a holistic approach that assumes responsibility for wholeness and wellness in every aspect of our lives whether it is physical, mental, relational, or even financial.

There isn’t one place of brokenness in our lives where the gospel cannot penetrate and facilitate healing.

He is able to “save to the uttermost…” (Hebrews 7:25). Let’s believe like it, let’s act like it, let’s work like it. Don’t prematurely cut short the service…because service is not over until God says so! Until we plant our swords in the sands of time…until He “says to the north give up and to the south keep not back,” until time is swallowed up in eternity…until the saints stand triumphant on the sea of glass.

Until that day, keep praying. Let us not give up on one another. Receive His righteousness and work for the full restoration of others. Until He comes, “give ye them to eat.”