Developing a Biblical Theology of Ministry – part 2

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In my previous post, I spoke about the need to develop a biblical theology of ministry and the extremes of modality and sodality. I alluded to some specific theologies of ministry that are expressions of either a modalistic or sodalistic framework. There are two primary theologies of ministry being fleshed out in local churches today that are built on one or another or these frameworks: a circumstantial and an intentional theology of ministry. Generally speaking, a circumstantial theology of ministry will adopt a more modalistic implementation, while an intentional theology will adopt a more sodalistic approach.

CIRCUMSTANTIAL THEOLOGY OF MINISTRY

A circumstantial theology of ministry is ministry oriented. It is a reverse-engineered way of establishing a theology of ministry. A circumstantial theology of ministry assesses what the church is already doing and asks, “What ministries currently exist in our local community of faith?” It has at its core a needs-based method for deriving one’s theology of ministry. The basis for a circumstantial theology of ministry becomes the needs of those to whom they wish to, or are already, minister. A church employing a circumstantial theology has examined what it is already doing, or what the strongest perceived needs of the community are, and derived its purpose, vision, or mission from its pre-existing ministry structure.

Let me offer an example of a popular circumstantial theology of ministry to elucidate my point. The vision statement for Saddleback Valley Community Church reads,

Our vision is to help make a big place small. Saddleback Church certainly is a big place! But thousands of people have found that they can become part of a true spiritual family as they follow God’s plan for developing relationships.

Saddleback’s theology of ministry revolves around an existing problem – how to make a large ministry feel smaller and more accommodating to those already attending. They seek to make their big group feel smaller and help those already attending become part of the larger community through inter-personal relationship development. Saddleback’s stated vision clearly illustrates a classic example of a circumstantially developed theology of ministry; one forged from their current situation.

With some research anyone can determine whether a local church has adopted a circumstantial theology of ministry. Ever-increasing ministries from weight loss groups, various support groups, and even 12-step programs abound in churches with circumstantial ministry theologies. Such needs-based ministries are often indicative of a circumstantial theology of ministry.

A circumstantial theology of ministry is often attractive, and quite regularly results in explosive church growth. However, two negative results typically flow from a circumstantial theology of ministry. Most often, the leadership within churches of a circumstantial bent are plagued with forever rethinking, tweaking, and broadening their mission and/or vision statements to meet the changing ebb and flow of people’s needs. The church’s vision and mission are not the biblical constant upon which ministry expressions are gauged. In circumstantially driven ministry theologies, as the needs of people change so must the vision and mission of the church.  Another result is the ever-expanding octopus. Some circumstantial churches attempt to state their circumstantial theology of ministry in terms that, hopefully, keep them from the need for continually changing it. The problem is still the changing needs of people. As those needs change, so must the ministry expressions of the church. Within a short amount of time, the number of needs-based ministries is so broad and all-inclusive that the church can lose sight of its biblical focus and purpose.

INTENTIONAL THEOLOGY OF MINISTRY

Over against the circumstantial theology of ministry is the intentional approach to developing a theology of ministry. The intentional theology of ministry typically finds its foundation in a sound exegesis of Scripture and shapes its ministry expression accordingly. The intentional approach to developing a theology of ministry endeavors to form a God-centered and God-glorifying framework for ministry. The development of this theocentric and doxological ministry grid allows the local church to scrutinize and validate its ministry expression according to an unchanging core value system.

Sounds good, doesn’t it? It is. The intentional ministry theology is a self-limiting and self-evaluating ingredient for the way church is done. No longer is the theology of ministry for the church determined by the needs of the community, but the ministry expression of the church is initiated in accordance with its theology of ministry. It can be fleshed out as follows. The church’s theology of ministry dictates its vision and mission. Both new and existing ministries are scrutinized according to the church’s vision and mission. Only those ministries which directly contribute to the successful accomplishment of the church’s vision and mission are initiated or remain viable.

I could point to several examples of an intentional theology of ministry. The church I currently pastor expresses it very succinctly,

Northland Community Church exists to enable believers to live Christ-centered, productive lives while impacting their personal, relational communities with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Churches that opt for an intentional theology of ministry derive it from their understanding that Christianity, and by extension, the Church, should have at its center the mandate given by Jesus Christ to the Church to make and mature disciples (Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 1:8). This exegetical understanding becomes the theological cornerstone determining who these churches are and how they do church. A concentratedly biblical theology of ministry affords such churches the ability to evaluate every ministry expression in light of their biblically intentional theology of ministry. They can qualitatively evaluate the specific ministries of the church to determine whether or not they are contributing to the successful accomplishment of their mission.  This allows them to become focused, streamlined, and lean in ministry in such a way that can make them much more effective than their circumstantial counterparts.

An objection to an intentional theology of ministry is that it fails to meet the needs of people. On the surface, this can seem legitimate. However, churches that employ an intentional theology of ministry are not insensitive to the needs of people. The needs of people are quite readily met when disciples are being matured in such a way that they function as the Body has been mandated to function. When ministries are scrutinized in light of an intentional theology of ministry the church can design specific ministry expressions that help it not only win but mature disciples. As disciples are maturing, their needs will be addressed. People are being discipled strategically with the mission of the church always in mind. They are being matured so that they will become fully-mature believers who are personally living on-mission for Jesus Christ. No church can ignore its people’s needs if they are discipling them biblically, but that does not mean the church’s ministry expressions are driven by or centered upon those needs. Rather, believers are encouraged to allow the Spirit to transform them to align with the church’s mission in such a way that their needs are not paramount; the mission of the Lord is.

In the next post, I will discuss the various benefits of adopting an intentional theology of ministry.

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