July 7, 2014

System Health

The man at the nerve center of the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s massive global health ministry is as much loved for his modesty and wit as he is admired for his world-class skills as a nuclear cardiologist. A missionary, an ordained pastor, an academician, and a committed believer, Dr. Peter Landless moves easily from medical classrooms to church pulpits to national parliaments, bringing his trademark clarity and public health advocacy to highly diverse settings. Adventist Review editor Bill Knott recently interviewed the man sparking the church’s renewed interest in “blended ministry.”Dr. Peter Landless

I’ve often heard you say that your family environment in South Africa was one of the major reasons you became an advocate for combining the Adventist Church’s wholistic lifestyle message with its proclamation of the gospel.

Long before I had any clear idea of what I wanted to do professionally, I knew my family was asking God that He use me for His purposes. For some years God’s call on my young life seemed to be pointing me toward pastoral ministry: in my teens, that call led me directly and providentially toward medicine. Little did I know that as God shaped me through the years of medical school, residency, and private practice I would end up doing both—preaching the good news of salvation in Jesus and sharing the good news that Jesus wants us to experience an abundant and healthy life on this side of heaven. These are not two different ways of following Jesus: it’s the same healing power of Jesus that mends our broken spirits as mends our broken bodies.

You’ve said publicly that you began years ago to integrate your spiritual convictions with your medical practice wherever your patients seemed open to that approach. What did you discover in your professional experience that made you think of it as a “ministry”?

Years of candid conversations with patients about making better choices in diet and exercise for the sake of their heart health made me realize how much all of us—all of us—are seeking wholeness. Serving as Jesus did isn’t just about professionally caring for the heart in bed 6, the liver in bed 4, the leg in bed 5, or the kidney in bed 3. It’s about bringing wholeness to the entire person! Early in my career I started praying with patients where they allowed it, and I saw what a difference this made to me and to them. Now we were working together—with the Lord—to achieve the wellness for which they were created. Wellness—wholeness—is a powerfully motivating idea both spiritually and physically.

Is “blended ministry” really a new idea for the Seventh-day Adventist Church?

Not at all! Our cofounder Ellen White wrote extensively about a way of sharing Jesus with the world that cares as much about their bodies as about their souls. It’s a comprehensive solution to human brokenness.

I love that phrase “blended” ministry because it really indicates what the recipe or the formula for success is. It’s not the doctor working as a pastor, or the pastor dispensing advice or health information. It is their working together. Clearly each should be trained in the best possible way to understand each other’s work. But they need to be working together! In every aspect of our worldwide outreach, health is a commodity that is common to every need—to women’s ministries, to children’s ministries, to seniors, to young adults—even to the Review readers! At this moment the opportunities for our church are huge. The needs of the world are staggering: we see the broken health-care systems everywhere. Placed in our hands is the best possible tool for the prevention of the noncommunicable diseases, and that is lifestyle change and improvement through the life cycle. Adventists have been uniquely blessed with a message and a delivery system through our many hundreds of health facilities and tens of thousands of local congregations to bring a message of healing and wholeness in Jesus Christ. Every church can be a community health center. This is the right moment to pick up those tools and use them to grow the kingdom.