Ministry is simple
Over the last few weeks in the Moore College chapel [Nov. ’13] Peter Bolt has reminded us from the parable of the sower that ministry is simple. It is about proclaiming the Word of God. In Matthew 13 Jesus describes ministry as hearing the Word, that they might see the truth and so understand reality and in doing so turn from their ways and be healed by God.
This is so refreshingly clear. Ministry is God’s work. He does it at a human level through His word proclaimed, and as the Spirit takes that Word, it transforms a person’s heart and mind so they repent from their sins and are liberated from the power and destruction of sin.
While God could bring about this healing in any way he wished; in His great goodness God permits we frail human beings to work alongside Him in what He is doing in moving people from death to life. So we must remember that proclaiming the Word is our central, simple task, as it is God’s authorized means of re-creating people.
So in proclaiming the Word to people, there is both the divine and human aspect to consider. It is from the human side that the complexities arise. These come as we think about such things as what hinders people from hearing, seeing, understanding, turning and being healed? Matters as basic as the language of communication to issues of background that cloud and shape the way we think and respond.
And then there is the complexity that arises from ministry being a team effort. The body metaphor in 1 Corinthians 12 is helpful here. The church has many parts but God has brought everyone, with their diversity of gifts, in his church together for the common good. But there are difficulties in this; some of the parts saying I don t belong and am not needed and other parts saying I am independent and don t need others . This means that working well together has to come into play: another complicating factor.
So what are the complexities and how do we deal with them?
Three realms and three areas of advance
I think we need to consider three realms of relationships, and three areas of advance or growth. The diagram below is an attempt to capture this.
The three realms are the self – that is the Christian themself; the setting, which is usually the church with its members that we are part of; and the world that we seek to bring the gospel to and from which we seek to gather believers, which itself functions to try to convince us to think and act its way.
The three areas of advance or growth are in moving from one realm to the wider one, and relating well within each realm. These are represented in the diagram by the arrows.
Everyone wants to protect themself from harm. This is not wrong and quite normal. When kicked while lying on the ground a person naturally assumes the fetal position where the most vulnerable parts of the body are protected by the more resilient parts. It is the same in relationships – we protect ourselves. Our challenge is to become willing to expose ourselves to the wider setting even though it leaves us vulnerable. The reason for doing this is it creates an environment where we are more likely to grow in maturity. I heard of a leader of a particular ministry in a church who kept lots of operational information to himself and the reason he gave for this was so that no one could take the job that gave him such self satisfaction from him. We need to move from self to setting; a move that is sometimes very painful.
Within the setting there are many people in many relationships with even more ways of relating, desires to fulfil and reasons for their actions. This certainly adds complexity! This is represented by arrows between people in their setting. Too often we think that relationships are just between two people, but that is not the case in church. Every relationship between two people has an impact on every other relationship in a church setting. The way an individual acts affects everyone else in the church system. Sometimes these ways of operating are helpful and constructive and sometimes not. Every way of functioning not only develops or hinders the individual, but also everyone else. So in ministry, we need to be aware of this and take some responsibility for developing healthier systems of functioning.
Our churches (our setting) also must to be challenged to move outside of themselves to engage with our world. This is represented by the arrow from setting to world. Again, moving to the next realm is painful and anxiety creating. We love being with each other in church. We think alike. Our beliefs are often unchallenged or if they are challenged it is usually only on the finer points. When we think of moving out of the comfort zone of our setting there are the fears that I will be exposed, that I will be challenged by something I have no answer to, that I will be asked to do something that will be difficult. So we often resort to doing our setting ministry better in the hope that this will attract the world to us so that we will not be required to move outside our setting.
The challenge in the simple complexity of church life is to continually affirm that God is the evangelist, and He promises to work by His Word proclaimed, but also we must work to set up the systems and personal support so that individuals and groups will extend and operate outside of the setting. Of course this move is a two way street. It is foolish to think that engagement with the outside world will not have an influence on those striving to change it, so we will need to support and resource those in our setting to think wisely and theologically about the world that they inhabit.
Navigating the Complexities
There is no space here to give solutions to all these issues, but I think they can be categorized into three groups that we must all take some responsibility for in influences change and growth. The three groups are vision, relationships and structure.
Secular leadership material is saturated with the need for vision statements. I am not talking about that. The vision we need to promote is that given us in the gospel. Our marching orders and the reason for them are given there. We are to stand firm, not be moved, always giving ourselves to the work of the Lord. And the reason is that God is at work in us so that our labour is not in vain (1 Cor 15:58). That is what we must remind ourselves and each other of, in as many ways as possible and as often as possible so that this becomes the conviction of our lives. This is a level of influence we exert in the lives of others.
And relationships. Each person growing in Christ is our goal. Knowing what makes a person tick – how they instinctively respond, what matters matter to them and what issues foster and what issues hinder growth will help as we minister to one another. Every person relates to others in particular ways as well. To know how these interactions operate will also help everyone to grow to maturity. This is also a level of influence we may have in the lives of others.
And structure. The structures we live in and establish give us ways of thinking and acting, often without even realizing it. Our structures must align, as far as possible, to promote Christlikeness through hearing and obedience to the Word of God. This is another area of influence we may have.
Archie Poulos is the Head of Moore’s Department of Ministry and lectures in Ministry.