Toward a God-Centered Philosophy of Christian Ministry

Preliminary Statement: This statement of faith and philosophy of ministry is written in the first person plural as the statement of my own convictions for the church. It is written as if I speak for the church I am (theoretically) apart of.

PHILOSOPHY OF MINISTRY

Dennis Wretlind observes, “From [Mark 1:38] we conclude (1) that Mark 1:21–45 is a unit, (2) that Christ had a well-defined philosophy of ministry, and (3) that Christ was in a constant fight to maintain his philosophy of ministry.”[1] It our conviction that we should emulate Christ in this. Part 1, therefore, attempts to delineate a “well-defined” (we take this to mean ‘biblically informed’) philosophy of ministry. Part 2 seeks to plot out a strategy for implementing this philosophy of ministry in the local church.

Part One: Priorities and Purposes (A Biblical Philosophy of Ministry)

The first thing that needs to be stated in a philosophy of ministry is its priorities. This presupposes that the Bible is the sole basis for determining how the church should do ministry. The Bible is the authority and so biblical priorities must be kept at the forefront.

Biblical Priorities

Jesus is clear, the greatest commandment that we, as believer’s, can fulfill is to love God and to love others (Mark 12:30-31). This provides a paradigm for constructing a biblical priority matrix. It is our first and foremost priority to love God and all that that entails. Accordingly, our second priority is to love others. This second priority transpires at two levels: the church and the world. Paul says in Galatians 6:10 “Therefore, as we have opportunity, do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.” Thus, as regards the second half of the great commandment, it is the body of Christ that takes preeminence in our biblical priority matrix. The priorities, then, can be summarized in order of importance as follows: (1) Love and exalt God (2) Love and serve the body (3) Love and reach out to the world. These three priorities provide the backdrop against which our purpose as a church can be stated: We exist to exalt the greatness and supremacy of God in all things, to spread a passion for this vision in all peoples, and to proclaim this vision in all places.

(1) Love and Exalt God: Exalting the Greatness and Supremacy of God in All Things

True biblical priorities should always translate into purposes for our life and church. Thus, the first biblical priority can be translated into the language of purpose as exalting the greatness of and supremacy of God in all things. Paul exhorts believers to do all that they do to the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31). Yet Jesus says that the most fundamental thing in the Christian life is loving God and loving others. How are the two to be reconciled? There seems to be somewhat of a tension. Is the primary goal of the Christian to glorify God or to love him? Perhaps reflection on a few additional passages will bring clarity to this issue. In Galatians 5:22, Paul says the fruit of the spirit is love. Hebrews 6:10 says that “God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love” (cf. 1 Thes 1:3). From these two texts it is concluded that love is a fruit and a work. Jesus say in John 15:8 “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be my disciples.” Similarly, in Mathew 5:16 Jesus says “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good work and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” Herein lies the reconciliation. The key distinction here is between teleology and instrumentality or, in other words, between purpose and means. The chief goal of all the church’s fruit and work is the glory of God. Love, therefore, is emphasized as the means most fit for achieving that goal. The exaltation of the glory of God is the chief purpose of the church while love for God and for others remains the primary vehicle through which this purpose is mediated. Thus love is the principal praxis of the church; God’s glory is its principal purpose. Our purpose statement, therefore, is aimed at reflecting this reality. The purpose of the church is not to love God and to love others. Those are the priorities. And the reason they are the priorities is because they are the richest expression of the purpose of the church. In other words, when the church of God loves the pleasure they find in His presence more than the pain they find in their suffering, God is exalted. When the light of the glory of God shines into his church as his chosen vessel, that light is prizimed to reflect the worth and excellence of his beauty to the degree that the church is effective in loving him through worship and service. So the purpose of the church is to exalt the greatness and supremacy of God. Therefore, it will view love for God as its first priority. As Raymond Urtlund points out, “Primarily—first and foremost—the church is to be for the Lord. He is the Head, and He must be the focus, the first priority. Churches —and individual believers—are to be committed first to Christ, then to one another in Christ, and then to the world.”[2]

(2) Love and Serve the Body: Spreading a Passion for this Vision in All Peoples

Once again, priorities should always inform our purposes. Our highest priorities should be based on the primary purposes of our ministry. As J. Gary Inrig emphasizes, “A biblical philosophy of ministry can help determine one’s priorities and shape his activities.”[3] The purpose of the church is worship (Eph 1:4-6). Thus, to spread a passion for the greatness and supremacy of God in the people of God is to spread a passion for worship, a passion for fulfilling the primary purpose of the church. The primary God-appointed means for accomplishing this task, furthermore, is through the love and service of other believers. In particular, a passion for the greatness and supremacy of God is mobilized in the body of Christ when believers’ are properly exercising their spiritual gifts for its edification and strengthening. Along these lines, Thomas Smith, in his article “Reforming the Pastoral Care of the Church,” makes a series of telling comments regarding 1 Corinthians 1:24. He says,

Paul describes himself as “working with them for their joy.” How unexpectedly Pauline! Paul can here sum up his whole purpose in ministry, his consummate goal in dealing with the Corinthians (a difficult church if there ever was one) in this word: “I want, more than anything else, to promote your joy in the Lord.” For many pastors and preachers this is a concept that is so foreign, so alien, so strange, that it never seems to enter their heads! They want to help their people in obedience, in holiness, in witnessing, in Christian living in the home, in giving, etc. But to sum up one’s whole philosophy of ministry as being “helpers of their joy”—it just doesn’t figure.[4]

He’ right, Paul’s use of his own spiritual gifts was for the advancement of the believer’s joy in God (i.e. for their edification). Each believer has been blessed with spiritual gifts and consequently with a capacity to magnify the excellence of Christ through loving and edifying others. They are endowed, moreover, with a responsibility as a steward of those gifts, to invest them in other believers in order to bring strength and encouragement to the body of Christ (cf. Eph 4:29). Furthermore, these gifts themselves must be invested with purpose by the giver of the gifts. And His purpose, the Giver’s, is to receive glory from the gifts he has entrusted to the members of His church. Simply put, “The Giver gets the glory.” 1 Peter 4:10-11 encapsulates this thought perfectly, “As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. 11 Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever.” The reason for which we love and serve the body is to promote greatness and beauty of God in the body. And God’s program for the church in this way is a global program—this is the significance of the phrase, “all peoples,” in the purpose statement which is meant to specify the diversity of the body which is (or will be, at least) made up of people from every tribe, nation, and tongue (Rev 5:9). It is to express sensitivity and non-discrimination against any people groups (Col 3:11).

(3) Love and Reach Out to the World: Proclaiming this Vision in All Places

Our third priority for the church also informs the third element of the purpose of the church. John Piper observes correctly that, “Missions is not the purpose of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t.”[5] He’s right, missions is not an end in itself. The fuel and focus of missions is the glory of God. A bit more precisely, the aim of missions is to engender a true and appropriate response to God’s glory in all people in all places—worship. And so this is what is  meant by “Proclaiming this Vision in all Places.” That is, proclaiming the greatness and supremacy of God in all places, locally and globally, to all cultures. It means not only proclaiming the worth and majesty of God and the worshipful response which these great truths require, but it is also the means through which unbelievers may come into contact with them, the gospel. That Jesus Christ has paid for the sins of the who believe in Him and so paved the way for worship for all who will come to Him in faith is the central theme of evangelism. Now this endeavor is not exclusive to cross-cultural outreach. Loving and reaching to the world occurs at two levels: locally and globally (or cross-culturally). As a church we are committed to evangelism in our local community as well as in the communities abroad. We believe that there is no better way to love the world than to reach them with the Gospel and love of Christ by bringing them a vision of the Greatness of God that mandates a worshipful response. The great commission makes this abundantly clear. Missions and outreach are to be one of the primary tasks of the Christian church until the Christ return. Peter O’Brien and Andreas Kostenberger argue this forcefully in their book Salvation to the Ends of the Earth: “Together with 10:23 and 24:14 [of Mathew], the concluding commission of 28:16-20 also places the Christian mission firmly within an eschatological framework: mission is the church’s primary task between Christ’s first coming and his return. The striking open-endedness of the commissioning scene, similar to the open-endedness of the book of Acts, is pregnant with anticipation and potential.”[6]

Part Two: Philosophy of Ministry and the Local Church—Evangelistic Concerns

In Acts 2:41, during the embryonic stages of the church, it is clear that the local church was the true church.[7] They were the same. Notice that in Acts 5:14, it says that the numbers were added to the Lord. However, as laxity began to creep into the church and as various local congregations began to emerge, the local church became a mixture of believer’s and non-believer’s. Theologians often refer to this idea as corpus mixtus. The idea is that within the corporate gathering of the saints (corpus) there is a mixture of believers and non-believers (mixtus). As Nash emphasizes, “The passing of the centuries brought the complex situation in which the members of the true Church are mingled with the false professors in the membership of the visible organization. It can be seen readily from such a situation that the relation of the true Church to the visible organization is real and vital, and it is equally clear that the two are not identical.”[8] Several of Jesus’ kingdom parables predict that this would happen (e.g. Matt 13:25-40; cf. Matt 7:14-18). His instruction is that the church should not try and pick out who is of the true church and who is not; rather, the task of the pastoral leadership in the local church is to minister to the cooperate congregation and let the Lord sort out those who are his (and who are not) on the last day (Matt 13:40; cf. 1 Cor 4:3-5). This distinction, therefore, must be kept in mind when consulting texts on building and applying a philosophy of ministry for/to the local church (see Part Three). Walvoord goes so far as to say that “One of the principal causes for confusion in the nature of the church is the application of passages which belong to the body of Christ to the local church.”[9] So the first element that needs to be kept in mind when considering the application of our philosophy of ministry to the local church is that it is a mixed multitude, composed of both believers and non-believers.

Second, if the local church is composed of a mixed multitude, then the obvious implication is evangelism. A philosophy of ministry for the local church must be concerned with what John Stott calls “local church evangelism.”[10] Stott points out that the church of the Thessalonians, for example, had not only received the gospel but that the “word of the Lord…sounded for forth from them.” (1 Thes 1:5-6, 8). Its not enough to simply receive the gospel, Stott argues,[11] it must also “sound forth” from and in the local church. Because our local churches are in fact composed of both believers and non-believers the gospel must be at the center of its ministry. If the local church focuses all of its efforts on gospel ministry outside of the church, it will fail in its mission and ministry. It is imperative that the unbelievers who are apart of our local churches are being confronted by the gospel each time they attend a church service. It would be naïve and thoroughly unbiblical to allow ourselves to fall under the delusion that every person in our congregation is a true follower of Jesus Christ. Jesus said that there will be many on the day of judgment that will be sincerely convinced that they had a relationship with Christ here on earth. Yet his response to the them will be “I never knew you” (Matt 7:21-23). It is the duty and goal of the local church to ensure that the portion of people to which it has been allotted will have a clarity and depth of understanding regarding the gospel that will not allow for this kind of ignorance. It should be the prayer and concern of the local church to ensure that its members and attendants spend eternity with the one whom the profess to know as Lord.

Part Three: The Plan (Implementation in the Local Church)

The philosophy of ministry developed in this paper is intentionally God-centered. It seeks to place God at the center of the church, at the center of worship, and at the center of our priorities. That purpose, therefore, is carried over into practice in the language of exaltation. If the purpose of the church, as a whole, is to exalt God on the earth; the purpose of the church in carrying out its particular day-to-day duties will also manifest this purpose. Up to this point, we’ve talked about the priorities and the purposes of the church. In what follows, I suggest a plan for carrying out these purposes and priorities.

(1) Love and Exalt God: Exalting the Greatness and Supremacy of God in All Things

Expository Exaltation:[12] We believe the Bible to be God’s own self-revelation. Every one of its books is about Him. Therefore we shall exalt Him by exalting His word in the worship service (Psalm 138:2). We believe preaching to be the chief act of worship whereby the preacher unpacks from the Scripture the greatness and beauty of God. It is the purpose of preaching to display the wonder and glory of God for the church to behold so that they may respond in worship and know Him more. The best means of accomplishing this goal, it seems to us, is through the exposition of the Scriptures from week to week. John MacArthur goes so far as to suggest that the concept of expository, verse-by-verse teaching, is organic to the concept of biblical inerrancy. He argues that,

The special attention evangelicalism has given to the inerrancy of Scripture in recent years carries with it a mandate to emphasize expository preaching of the Scriptures. The existence of God and His nature requires the conclusion that He has communicated accurately and that an adequate exegetical process to determine His meaning is required. The Christian commission to preach God’s Word involves the transmitting of that meaning to an audience, a weighty responsibility. A belief in inerrancy thus requires, most important of all, expositional preaching that does not have to do primarily with the homiletical form of the message. In this regard expository preaching differs from what is practiced by non-inerrantists.[13]

If MacArthur is right, and we believe he is at this point, accurate exposition of the text becomes an absolute necessity for the preacher who desires to be faithful to what God’s character and word demands. However, a critical distinction should be made at this point. This is not to say that “expository preaching” as such is the only to be faithful to inerrancy and the nature of God. It may in fact be the best way, but this is not to diminish other legitimate enterprises of preaching as a means of communicating the truths of Scripture and the glory of God. In fact, textual or topical preaching may even be preferable in certain situations and environments. Macarthur’s primary concern is that the word of God be taught “accurately” and “exegetically” and there doesn’t seem to be anything that would suggest that non-expository messages will, necessarily, lack these two qualities. We also believe that fulfillment of the second and third priorities and purposes ultimately fulfills this first purpose as well (Rom 12:1-8).

(2) Love and Serve the Body: Spreading a Passion for this Vision in All Peoples

Education for Exaltation: In order to fulfill this second priority/purpose statement, it is vital that the body of Christ be equipped (Eph 4:11-18). According to the means and resources of the church, we commit to training believers in evangelism, biblical studies, practical theology, apologetics, worship, and spiritual growth principles. Classes and seminars will be held as often as possible. Members will encouraged to attend these classes so that they will grow in their faith and ability to minister to the body and reach out to the world. Most importantly, however, as the leadership we commit to investing the necessary time and energy into whatever preparations are needed to edify the body as a corporate whole. In particular, time will be invested in study and exegesis so that the sermons that are preached are not only useful for the exhortation of the body but also for its education (i.e. teaching). This philosophy of ministry which exalts the word of God and commits to training and preparing to teach the word of God has in no way been uncommon among protestant evangelicals. Zarchary Eswine traces the American legacy of “preachers who studied with a pen in hand” back to the Princeton era. He suggests that they were preachers who “reflected the view of ministry of other preachers who have been clothed with power from on high. From the “Common-place books” of Perkins and the “Miscellany’s” of Jonathan Edwards, to the “skeletons” of Martyn Lloyd-Jones, this view of the minister’s use of time demonstrates a philosophy of ministry which confronts the modern preacher’s view of his daily task.”[14] So while many preachers in today’s society feel that preparation time is a waist of time, we still strongly believe that one of the  primary roles of the pastor is to teach the congregation, to “feed [them] with knowledge and understanding” (Jer 3:15).

Edification for Exaltation: Not only is preaching to be centered on glorifying God as an act of worship, it should also be centered on edifying the body as an act of service. The Word should be exposited with a view to strengthening and encouraging the body of Christ. But this is not the only way in which edification should take place. Members must be encouraged to exercise their spiritual gifts for the edification of the body (1 Peter 4:10-11). Some have the gift of exhortation, others, the gift of giving, still others, the gift of encouragement (Rom 12:1-8); each believer is called to put his or her gifts to use for the edification and strengthening of the body. In addition to preaching, in order to further promote this aspect of exalting God and edifying the body, we insist on having edification services (1 Cor 14:1ff.) in which believers are encouraged to pray with one another, to worship together, to issue exhortations, to participate in and lead short devotions, to read and recite Scripture together and the like. Home groups and small Bible studies will also be implemented in order to satisfy this aspect of the purpose statement of the church.

(3) Love and Reach the World: Proclaiming this Vision in All Places

Evangelistic Exaltation: One of the primary ways of exalting God is through the proclamation of the gospel. If a church is going to fulfill the great commission, they must be an outreach oriented church. They must labor to reach the lost for the glory of God and for the expansion of His kingdom. This will be carried out in two ways: local outreach and global outreach.

Local Outreach: Local Church Evangelism

In section two of the development of our philosophy of ministry we went to great lengths to emphasize the difference between the true church and the local church. This has extremely significant implications for ministry in the local church. We must, as a church, commit not only to evangelizing the local and global communities for Christ, but also the intra-local community of our own church. Every local church is composed of a mixed multitude and as such the saving message of the gospel must be preached in the local church with urgency and with consistency. Each sermon should aim at including the major elements of the gospel within its content. Services should be sensitive to the needs of believers and nonbelievers. Some platform for response to the gospel needs to be made available to the unbelieving members of the congregation so that they are allowed a formal opportunity to place saving faith in Christ on a weekly basis (i.e. opportunity to prayer with church leaders at the end of the service, opportunity to speak with someone at an evangelistic-type booth after service, a card to fill out, etc.). Literature should also be circulated and made readily available to the church that is evangelistic in its appeal. Furthermore, there needs to be some way of incorporating new believers into the local church body. Once unbelievers who are attending the church have realized their need of salvation and have placed faith in Jesus Christ, there must be a process in tact that plugs them into the ministries of the local church. Essential to the spiritual growth of every Christian is fellowship (1 John 4:7-11). It is imperative that new believers get situated into a support network of other Christians in the church in order to keep them encouraged and strengthened in their faith. In short, discipleship programs—as much as possible—will be implemented within the church body as means of grafting new converts into the life of the true church.

Local Outreach: Community Evangelism

In the same way that comities (elder communities, et. al.) are formed to run the church, outreach comities (i.e. teams) must be formed to expand the church. Christ desires that his church be expanded in the local community of which it is apart (Acts 1:8). Teams shall be formed whose sole task is reaching the lost. Once the Lord begins to bless these teams with the fruit of faith in the lives of the unbelievers to whom they are ministering, there must be other teams in tact who are ready to bring these new believers into the local church, our local church. This will involve a process of discipleship in obedience to the great commission (Matt 28:18). It will also involve eventual believers baptism and church membership. It is imperative that these new believers are networked into the body of Christ so that they can be supported and strengthened in their new faith. This is where edification for exaltation comes in.

Global Outreach: Missions

In Acts 1 Christ not only commanded the church to reach there local surroundings (Jerusalem and Samaria), he also commanded that we reach the uttermost parts of the earth. While a church can not literally place itself in the utter most parts of the earth without changing its identity all together, it is able to send and support missionaries who can. Our church, therefore, is committed to commissioning missionaries to proclaim the vision of the glory of God through the gospel of Christ at the global level. The funding of full-time missionaries and their families must be at the top of our priorities and our budget. And they must be a top priority i.e. they must be funded well. Missionaries are not second class Christians. In fact, the opposite is true. They are the first class Christians who have sold all to follow Christ. They will receive nothing but the most excellent support, encouragement, and dedication from our church.

Conclusion

The purpose of our church, then, can be summed very simply:: we exist to love and exalt Christ, to love and serve the body, and to love and reach out to the world all to the glory and exaltation of Christ and his kingdom.

[1] Dennis O. Wretlind, “Jesus’ Philosophy of Ministry: Mark 1:38,” JETS 20/ 4 (1977): 321.
[2] Raymond C. Urtlund, “A Biblical Philosophy of Ministry Part 1: Priorities for the Local Church,” BSac vol 138 #549 (January 1981): 5.
[3] J. Gary Inrig, “Called to Serve: Toward a Philosophy of Ministry,” BSac vol 140 #560 (October 1983): 335.
[4] Thomas M. Smith, “Reforming the Pastoral Care of the Church,” Reformation and Revival  1:1 (Winter 1992): 95-96.
[5] John Piper, Let the Nations be Glad!: The Supremacy of God in Missions (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 1993), 43.
[6] Andreas J. Kostenberger and Peter T. O’Brien, Salvation to the Ends of the Earth: A Biblical Theology of Missions, New Studies in Biblical Theology (Downers Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity Press, 2001), 108.
[7] For further, see Charles Nash, “The Scriptural View of Church History,” BSac #39 (Jan 1943): 191.
[8] Ibid.
[9] John Walvoord, “Contemporary Problems in Biblical Interpretation: Part IV The Nature of the Church,” BSac #464 (Oct 1959): 295.
[10] See his article “Christian Ministry in the 21st Century: Part Two The Church’s Ministry to the World,” BSac #145 (July 1988): 244.
[11] Ibid.
[12] I got this name as well as “Education for Exaltation” from John Piper.
[13] John F. MacArthur, “The Mandate of Biblical Inerrancy: Expository Preaching,” in Rediscovering Expository Preaching: Balancing the Science and Art of Biblical Exposition, ed. by. John F. MacArthur (Dallas: Word Pub., ), 21.
[14] “The Secret of Preaching: Wise Counsel from Old Princeton,” Reformation and Revival Volume 9 (Fall 2000): 134.

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