A Brief Philosophy of Ministry
Biblical ministry is centered on Christ and Him crucified1. Without the message of reconciliation2 offered by God3 to sinners4, there is nothing for us to minister. “Christ is the center of Christianity; all else is circumference.”5
A ministry centered on Christ will take a certain shape: namely, that of prayer and of the Word6. Paul asks the Ephesians to pray for him that he may speak boldly7, turns his every thought of the Philippians vertical in prayer8, and asks the Romans to join him in the struggle of prayer.9 The same apostle commends to his protégé Timothy the preaching of the Word as a right response to the decaying nature of humanity and the sufficiency of God’s revelation in Scripture to save and transform.10 Paul also makes clear that those called and gifted by God to minister are to do so for the purpose of building and equipping the body of Christ11, and such an endeavor will be futile and ultimately unsuccessful if not dependent upon God’s revealed truth and supernatural enabling by the Spirit. So it seems apparent that from New Testament precept and example, Word and prayer take preeminence in gospel ministry.
It also seems clear, though, that life matters. The life of the minister is closely tied to the message12, because those in the pews, as well as the watching world13, aren’t going to be able to neatly separate the two. And this leads to what I would see as an important implication, namely, that the minister lives a life seen and shared with the members of the body. Peter exhorts elders to shepherd the flock of God among them14, being examples to them. The specific language of being an example, as well as the metaphor of the shepherd with sheep, speaks to the proximity and familiarity which Peter assumes. There is a sense in which the dinner table15 is as important as the pulpit in ministering to people.
The last point I’ll make here is tied closely to the preceding one. That is that New Testament ministry is in its nature more organic than programmatic. The main metaphors and descriptions in Scripture referring to the Church, (eg, body16, temple17, house18, people19, etc) speak to an intimate unity and interdependence that is to display itself in love.20 Such love exists only within the context of real and honest relationships, and while programs may certainly have a place in fostering or facilitating them, programs can never replace such relationships. There is a danger that can come from slipping into a “Church, Inc” mindset, that views programs and numbers as indicators of spiritual health, when our Lord places primary value on love and faithfulness.21
Perhaps this could be encapsulated in four D’s:
- Dependence: Ministry must be ever dependent upon the Sovereign Lord of all, and we acknowledge this in our commitment to prayer. In the words of the hymn, “I need Thee, O I need Thee; Every hour I need Thee.”22
- Doctrine: Ministry must be devoted to the doctrine laid down in the Scriptures, for the Word of God alone is the foundation upon which we must build our life, rest our hope, and form our thought. It is here we hear the Gospel, here we find truth, here we see God. True and biblical doctrine must not be replaced or subverted.
- Daily: Ministry must consist of a daily obedience to the Lord lived out before His people, and before the watching world. Holiness is not optional for any believer, but this is even more true in one called to teach.
- Dirty: (stretching to keep the alliteration? Perhaps.) Ministry can’t be contained entirely within neat programs or the four walls of any building. Biblical ministry is a ministry to people, which inevitably involves relationships that will help us understand why the Biblical writers must so often say, “love the brotherhood.”23
In conclusion, the most important aim of any human action, including ministry, is the glory of God.24 It is for this reason we have been saved25, and it is this truth, that He alone is glorious and wise26, that we will sing through all the ages.27 Soli Deo Gloria.
1 1 Corinthians 2:2
2 Colossians 1:20, 2 Corinthians 5:18
3 John 3:16
4 Romans 5:8
5 John Stott, Basic Christianity. I gave away my copy, otherwise I’d have the page number, publisher, etc.
6 Acts 6:4
7 Ephesians 6:19
8 Philippians 1:3-4
9 Romans 15:30
10 1 Timothy 3:1-4:6
11 Ephesians 4:11-12
12 1 Timothy 4:16
13 1 Timothy 3:7
14 1 Peter 5:1-3
15 1 Timothy 3:2
16 Colossians 3:15
17 1 Corinthians 3:16
18 1 Peter 2:5
19 1 Peter 2:9
20 John 13:34-35
21 Revelation 2:2-5
22 “I Need Thee Every Hour,” Annie S. Hawks
23 1 Peter 2:17
24 1 Corinthians 10:31
25 Romans 1:5
26 Romans 16:27
27 Revelation 5:11-14