A Biblical Philosophy of Ministry
By Pastor M. Scott Bashoor
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The church is a most precious institution to God. He paid for it the ultimate price, the blood of His dear Son. Since God so highly values the church, it is essential for its leaders to prayerfully discern and practice the principles of church life laid down in His Word. Toward that end the following pages present in brief form a biblical philosophy of ministry. This paper is not meant to be an exhaustive theology of the church or of the gospel ministry. Rather it attempts to provide a basic outline of the major issues pertaining to church ministry. Five headings dealing with the church's purpose and mission are discussed below.
1. FOUNDATIONAL PRINCIPLES OF CHURCH MINISTRY
The Lordship of Jesus Christ
Jesus Christ is Lord of all, and in this era of God's redemptive plan (the Church Age), Christ's lordship is to be seen most of all in the church. Everything the church does is to be done to the praise and glory of Jesus Christ. He is to be the center of attention, the object of adoration, the Master to whom all honor and obedience is due. Christ's lordship is not merely a doctrine to be upheld but a reality to which each member of the church must be personally committed. The church's leaders in particular must be wholeheartedly in love with Jesus Christ, having embraced Him as Saving Lord and having committed themselves to obey His Word.
The Authority of Gods Word
The source of all inspired knowledge about Christ and His will for the church is the Holy Scriptures. God's inerrant Word is the final authority for everything the church does, and it is the definitive standard by which church ministry must be compared. Through the illuminating and guiding power of the Holy Spirit, the Word when believed and obeyed provides every principle and produces all wisdom needed for the church's direction and decisions. It is the all-sufficient guide for faith and practice, and for life and godliness.
The Primacy of the Gospel Mission
The primary mission of Christ's church is to spread and live the gospel throughout the world until Christ comes again. The work of the gospel includes evangelism and missions, discipleship training, the nurturing of the church, and all other aspects of church life taught in the Scriptures.
Any worthy involvement by the church in the secular structures of society (e.g., humanitarian relief, community involvement, and social activism) must be secondary and subservient to the primary mission of proclaiming the gospel. As the church fulfills its gospel mandate, there ought to be an overflow of biblical mercy that impacts society's concerns.
The Centrality of the Local Church
The chief institution which God has ordained to bear the gospel around the world and to accomplish His kingdom purposes in this age is the church, God's redeemed community in the world. Every born-again Christian ought to be personally committed and accountable to a local, Bible-believing church. The church is the ideal source and center of all Christian ministry.
Para-church ministries (mission boards, Christian colleges and seminaries, etc.) are often helpful in assisting the church in fulfilling its mission, but these organizations must never be competitors of the local church. The church can never be replaced and will never become obsolete, for it is the pillar and platform supporting God's truth in the world.
2. CENTRAL FUNCTIONS OF CHURCH LIFE
There are many worthy ministries and activities in which the church may engage, but there are several central functions which must be the heart of everything the church does. These basic functions may be summarized under three headings: the worship of God, the discipleship of mankind, and the fellowship of saints.
The Worship of God
While the work of the gospel is the church's primary mission, the church's ultimate purpose and everlasting function is the true worship of God. Absolutely everything done in the church is to be for the pleasure of God and the glory of Jesus Christ. A significant means by which the church remains God-centered is its assembly each Lord's Day (and at other times) to publicly celebrate its worship of Christ. These services to God normally include the offerings of worshipful song, public prayer, gifts for God's work, the reverent preaching and hearing of God's Word, the observance of the Lord's table (with some regularity), and the baptism of new believers (as the church has opportunity). Worship is intended mostly for God's pleasure, not the Christian's; yet as the Christian worships in spirit and truth, he finds that the Holy Spirit ministers to his innermost needs.
The Discipleship of Mankind
The chief means by which the church grows and nurtures true worshippers of God is the discipling of all men unto Jesus Christ. Discipleship includes evangelism along with the baptism and training of believers. Evangelism is all about making disciples, not just winning numbers of converts. The training of believers takes place by the faithful teaching of the whole counsel of God's word and the support and guidance of other Christians who model Christ-likeness. The church assembly is to be a training ground for every member so that each may be equipped to share his faith and minister in the church according to his spiritual giftedness.
The Fellowship of Saints
The church is to be a place where believers share with each other their ministries, labors, joys, sorrows, victories, and losses. The church is a cooperation of saints who have joined together under the lordship of Jesus Christ to serve God together. They have cast their lot together with one another for the sake of doing God's work. The church is a community of saints who strive to love and care for one another with the love of Christ. Each member must minister to the other, demonstrating the mutual care and unconditional love commanded in the Scripture and exemplified by the Savior. The work of the ministry is not something performed exclusively by the church pastor or leader but by each member of Christ's body. The pastor's function is to help equip the saints for ministry in the church.
3. KEY ROLES OF THE PASTOR
While the pastor is to be neither the only church member who ministers nor the center of attention (a position belonging only to the Chief Shepherd), the pastor's role is a crucial one. Others will follow his lead and walk in his steps. As an under-shepherd of the Lord Jesus, the pastor must strive to faithfully fulfill his ministry. Below is an outline of the pastor's chief tasks as assigned by his Lord and for which he will one day give an account.
Preacher of God's Word
Of paramount importance in the pastor's ministry is the faithful preaching/teaching of God's Word. The pastor must have an expository mindset whereby he seeks to exhaustively study and expound the teachings of the Bible. Such preaching is not for mere academic knowledge but for the enlarging of men's awareness of the awesome character of Almighty God. The preacher must not censor or pervert the Scripture for the sake of relevance. Rather he must labor in the Word and teach so as to demonstrate the God-intended relevance of Scripture. He must not fail to proclaim the whole counsel of God but boldly preach all which God has revealed.
Example of Christ-Likeness
Foundational to all ministry is a personal commitment to godliness and the pursuit of Christ-likeness. Of all people in the church, the pastor should be an example of Jesus Christ in his personal walk. A great portion of the pastor's ministry is simply being a godly man. As he models a biblical lifestyle and follows Christ, others will follow him. Godliness is the root from which all God-blessed ministry grows.
Equipper of the Saints
The pastor is to lead in the spiritual nurturing and equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry. He provides and oversees the needed instruction of the church through the systematic teaching of God's Word and personal interaction with the members of the church. He helps people to think with the mind of Christ and live their lives to the fullest in the will of God.
Guardian of the Flock
As overseer of the flock, the pastor is to be on guard against all forms of false doctrine and practice which may threaten the church as a whole or its members as individuals. Members of the congregation should give special heed to the scriptural warnings and corrections of the pastor, for he watches for their souls as one who must give an account.
Leader among Leaders
While a great deal of responsibility falls upon the shoulders of the senior pastor, he is not to be alone in the leadership of the church. Ideally, there ought to be a concert of elders and other mature men in the church who prayerfully lead and serve the church in the paths of the Lord. While being one elder among others, the pastor does function as a leader among leaders. He provides the bulk of the congregation's teaching. He ideally has been privileged with a high level of training which equips him to deal with weighty theological and biblical issues. He provides vision for the elders and the congregation as the church moves forward in the work of the gospel. Despite his responsibilities and privileged position as pastor, he is not to lord it over the church but rather lead the church in concert with the elders according to the Scriptures.
Servant of the Church
Christ wants leaders in His church to be servants first of all. The pastor ought to be the chief servant in the local church. He ministers to the members as a fellow brother in Christ. In addition to his regular pastoral duties, he will have special opportunities to serve the church through hospital visitation, the presiding of funerals, the performance of weddings, and other ministries of mercy and kindness. It is the pastor's joyful calling to invest himself in the lives of the members.
4. PRIORITIES OF CHURCH MINISTRY
In the busy life of the church, it is all too easy for the most important things to take back seat to peripheral things, for the tyranny of the urgent to raise itself up against the primacy of the essential. In view of that tendency, a ministry must lay out a sequence of its priorities. The proper order of priorities in ministry is principles first, and then people, programs, and property.
The principles of God's Word must be the absolute bedrock and foundation for all ministry. Expediency must never take the place of biblical principle. Without the foundation of God's wisdom, no ministry will stand the test of God's scrutiny.
The needs of Christ's people are important, and they should be examined against the backdrop of Scripture. The ministries and direction of the church should be constructed so as to best meet the real needs of the congregants so that they might fulfill their mission in the world.
The programmed ministries of the church should exist for the sake of serving the real needs of the church, not for the sake of having various programs. No less important than programmed ministries are the unorganized ministries that members of the church are to carry out in their everyday lives. In fact, the un-programmed ministries of the church (the practicing of the “one anothers” of Scripture) are more foundational to true ministry.
Property ought not to be a final determiner of the church's direction. The church is not a building but Christ's people, and thus church facilities ought to facilitate ministry, not dictate it. While the church should be very wise in the stewardship of the things God grants it, it must always remember that people are more important than property. The church can do without programs and property if need be, but its people and its principles are irreplaceable.
5. SPECIAL MATTERS PERTAINING TO CHURCH MINISTRY
Below is a collection of special interest matters for church ministry. Many important issues could be discussed here, but only some have been included: expository preaching, worship styles, the family and youth ministry, and biblical counseling.
The church at large today suffers from a dearth of reliable teaching from the pulpit. The pastor ought to have an expository mindset in the pulpit. He should preach/teach through whole sections of Scripture, through entire books even, so as to most clearly convey the context and sense of God's Word to his people and the world. It is not that the pastor should never preach a topical sermon or give a message of exhortation, but that he should studiously approach the Scripture and seek to uncover all the richness of the Scripture's teaching on a particular issue or passage. Such preaching disciples people in the proper reading and interpretation of the Bible so that they may be able to feed themselves with the Word and discern error when it confronts them.
There is great division today among Christians regarding the proper approach to worship. The Scripture does not lay out specifics for the church as to what styles of music may be used or what order of service may be followed. Many prefer to sing time-tested hymns while others prefer newer choruses or contemporary songs. The basic principles of the Scripture and the real needs of the congregation must be the criteria for deciding such matters.
Worship is to be God-centered, so anything which poses a great obstacle for people's contemplation of God must be re-examined and re-calibrated. The worship service ought not be a place where believers' sensibilities are unduly trampled upon. Not everyone will always be happy with everything in a worship service, but the most important thing is that the church is endeavoring to worship Christ in a God-honoring and biblical fashion.
It has become fashionable in many churches to re-gear services so as to attract large numbers of un-churched people. God can certainly use such services to impact the lives of people, but the basic philosophy behind this methodology is biblically wrong-headed. A church may certainly hold special evangelistic services if it pleases, but God intends the regular gathering of the church to be a believers' meeting centered on worship and edification. Evangelism is primarily a function of the church when it disperses, not when it assembles.
The Family and Youth Ministry
The other great God-ordained institution in the world today is the family. God designed it and wants it to be a place of God-centered peace and joy. To that end believers should guard the sanctity of marriage and take seriously their roles as partners and parents. Youth ministry all too often becomes a spiritual child-care where parents unload their children hoping their youth leader will impart to them spirituality. Any youth ministry ought to work in conjunction with godly parents to aide them in their bringing up their children in the fear and admonition of the Lord.
The Scriptures assure us that God has given his people all things needed for life and godliness. He has given His Spirit who empowers, guides, helps, corrects, and comforts them. He has granted His people the fellowship of the church so that they might be nurtured in a Christ-like community. He has gifted the church with gifted leaders to shepherd God's people. He has deposited the Scriptures which provide all the revealed wisdom and knowledge of God, a perfect source of counsel. Modern psychology is often at variance with the Bible's teachings, and much so-called Christian psychology often fails to comply with the Scripture as well. When properly understood the Bible yields all the essential principles needed for wisely dealing with the problems of life.
Certainly there are individuals whose behavior is adversely affected by genuine medical conditions, and psychiatric treatment may be a real benefit for them. The majority of believers, however, should beware of secular concepts such as "mental illness" and cling to the biblical understandings of sin, responsibility, grace, the love of God, and other spiritual realities. Biblical counseling is a form of discipleship, and a better aide to the believer than psychotherapy.
God cares deeply for the church, and so should His servant-leaders. The preceding pages have attempted to outline some of God's master plan for the church. It is hoped that the result has been a clear exposition of the basic principles needed for a God-honoring church life. Scriptural prudence must see to the best implementation of these principles. May the thoughts expressed in these pages be pleasing to God and helpful to Christ's church which He loves.
© M. Scott Bashoor
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