Is Therapeutic Touching Ministry?

It's a fact that therapeutic touching is not part of mainstream Christianity...even though gospel accounts of Jesus' ministry show him healing great numbers of sick and disabled people.

His healing ministry was an important part of his public persona and the chief reason for his fame (Mk 6:53-56, Mt 8:16).

Though Jesus touched some to cure them (Mk 7:31-35, 8:22-25)... therapeutic touching was not necessary for the miracle.

Why is it important to get that clear?

Because...thought viruses have infected ministry.

A common thought virus holds that hugs...and other kinds of non-sacramental therapeutic touching are holy...healing and life-giving.  

And such non-sacramental touch is thought by many to have great value in ministry...though the value is rarely...if ever...specified.

This arbitrary notion about touching others in ministry creates serious boundary problems that result in loss of ministry... scandal...and ruined lives.

When church authorities receive complaints about these ministers...and send them for evaluation and treatment...the ministers almost always insist they were doing something ministerial.

However...they cannot justify their assertion from scripture because...

  • The healing ministry of Jesus shows …
  • They have not defined ministry
  • They have not shown how it follows that
    therapeutic touching is a necessary kind of ministry.

What is fundamental about healing ministry?

Jesus rarely touched anyone in his healing ministry. Because...

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Jesus emphasized the spiritual nature of healing
  • ...The man with the demons is cured in a dialogue with Jesus (Jn 5:9)
  • ...Jarius makes the honorific gesture of prostrating himself before Jesus and asks him to cure his daughter by laying hands on her.
  • ...Jesus goes to the synogogue official's house to cure his daughter house and in a simple gesture of taking the child's hand...in the presence of her family...tells her to wake up (Mk 5:41). It is one of the few times Jesus touches someone to heal.
  • ...Jesus stayed close to the water (Mk 5:21) so he could escape the crowds jostling him when they pressed him too closely.
  • ...Jesus was startled and annoyed when the woman with the hemorrhage touched him...so much so that she was fearful...and the apostles had to reason with him to calm him (Mk 5:30-31).
  • ...When the scribes and Pharisees brought the woman taken in adultery to him for judgment Jesus invited the sinless one among them to cast the first stone. When no stone flew...and they were alone...Jesus did not utter those fatuous words "You look like you need a hug!" Which the woman probably did need...having just escaped a horrible death. He simply told her no one had condemned her and that she should sin no more (Jn 8:11)

Jesus drove home the point frequently...that it was a man or woman's own faith that performed the miracle -- that healing comes from within the believer (Mt 8:13, 15:21-28) not necessarily from any religious therapeutic touching (Mt 9:27-29).

Faith is so essential...and therapeutic touching so nonessential...that healing may even take place at a distance where touching is impossible (Mt 8:5, 15:28).

The scripture stories make it plain that without faith...nothing would happen at all.

And when therapeutic touching is used...it is only effective when it is based on faith.

Even secular medicine shows the necessity of faith in healing.


Did you know that cancer patients who believe in their treatment -- whether it is mainstream chemotherapy or alternative therapies -- respond better than patients who do not have such active faith?

What about sacraments that use touch?

Even sanctifying rituals involving touch can become abusive when a minister does not respect the careful definitions and boundaries of the particular ministry such as... anointing the sick.

The priest in that anointing example continued to believe that his actions were ministerial even though he was sexually aroused by them...and that was what motivated him to encourage others to seek special anointings with him.

Such ministers fail to take into account that the healing ministry of Jesus took place entirely in public.  So...

What was Jesus like in private?

You can sort all the scenes in the scripture in which Jesus appears into two categories...how he behaved in public and how he behaved in private with his friends.

His actions are starkly different. Aren't they?

In private Jesus reclines...eats...and even argues with his friends (Mt 26:6ff, Mt 26:20ff).

Jesus' friends are physically free with him and anoint him with expensive oil...and Mary wipes the oil from his feet with her hair (Jn 12:3). Even Judas gives Jesus a friendly kiss to identify him for his enemies (Mk 14:44)

So what's a minister to do?

A minister needs to understand two fundamental things about touching other people.

The first is to learn...

What all massage therapists know

The massage therapist understands perfectly well that

people will experience their bodies according to their unconscious and conscious emotional states.

Any massage therapist can tell you that people on the massage table often surprise themselves when they have unexpected emotional reactions to therapeutic touching of the the massage therapist...

  • ...Someone touched on the back of the thigh reports that suddenly she feels sad.
  • ...Someone else touched on the belly begins to cry.
  • ...Another begins to chuckle and laugh when touched in the middle of the back.

The massage therapist is prepared...by her training ...to deal with the fact that ...the body stores unconscious emotional memories that are triggered by touch.

Even when the person being massaged reports that it feels wonderfully sensual...the massage therapist is rarely if ever sued for producing such reactions.


However...it's an entirely different story when people feel sexual or abused during a touching encounter with clergy.

So the second thing a minister needs to understand about touching others is...

By touching someone in ways open to a variety of interpretations...hugs for example...with no training to deal with the consequences when you enter a person's unconscious store of memories...the person may very well resent the intrusion. Or...

the person may love the intrusion!  And interpret it in a way the minister never intended.

This all boils down to...


Five things about therapeutic touching

  • ...The scriptures show that touching others has no necessary relationship to ministry...even so-called healing ministry
  • ...The touch will be interpreted by the emotional state of the person a minister touches...no matter what the minister intended
  • ...The emotional state of all those healed in the scripture was religious faith that they would be healed.
  • ...The one in need of healing initiates the process...it is not imposed at the whim or the discretion of the minister. 
  • ...Even in secular life...professional touchers...like massage therapists and physicians...don't go around touching people without a professional appointment.

While you may think your hugs and kisses are 'life-giving' therapeutic touching...they could be the death of your ministry if you don't know the emotional state of the person you are touching.

Make certain that your beliefs about touching others do not compromise your ministry.

Engage in self-supervision based on what you are understanding here.

From therapeutic touching you can return to personal boundaries.

Or you can...



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