Developing a Biblical Theology of Ministry – part 3

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In Part 1 and part 2 of this topic, I examined the two predominant frameworks for a theology of ministry – modality and sodality – and the two predominant expressions of these frameworks – circumstantial and intentional ministry theologies. I endeavored to clarify their differences and demonstrate the need for embracing an intentional theology of ministry built on a sodalistic framework.  Why? Why is an intentional ministry theology the best and most biblical way to “do church” in the 21st century?

AN INTENTIONAL THEOLOGY OF MINISTRY PROVIDES KEY DESIRABLE BENEFITS TO THE CHURCH

There are three key benefits inherent in an intentional theology of ministry. These three, when combined, provide a good reason why an intentional theology should be embraced.

  1. Intentional ministry theologies provide direction to a local congregation.

An intentional theology of ministry answers the question, “Why?” Aristotle taught that ‘Why?’ is the most important question we ask. It can also be the most difficult. If we cannot adequately answer “Why?” we likely cannot answer “Who?” “What?” “Where?” “When?” or “How?” Yet, many leaders just assume that the “Why?” has been answered and that the organization is far beyond such basics (Leith Anderson, Dying for Change [Grand Rapids: Bethany House, 1990], p. 150).

Intentional ministry theology helps the local church congregation know who they are and provides direction for what they do. Aubrey Malphurs suggests that ministries that lack intentional theologies of ministry fall into one of three categories: [1] the visionless ministry that doesn’t know who it is and where it is going, [2] the multiple-direction ministry that has too many varying theologies of ministry resulting in division and ineffectiveness, and [3] ministries with the wrong vision, a vision not founded on a clear theology of ministry (Aubrey Malphurs, Developing a Vision for Ministry in the 21st Century 7th printing, [Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2005], p. 19).

  1. Intentional ministry theologies provide a clear decision-making ability.

When the church’s theology of ministry is unclear, or even too broad, its leaders have difficulty in making decisions that will best aid in the accomplishment of its mission. Decisions take too much time, are often framed within individual preferences or felt-needs, often get made independently of other decisions in the organization and are made in isolation from the church’s overall theology only to later be forced into practice circumstantially. However, “When the vision is clearly communicated, people can make difficult decisions without having to appeal to higher levels in the organization each time because they know what end results are desired.” (Warren G. Bennis and Burt Nanus, Leaders: Strategies for Taking Charge, [New York: Harper & Row, 1985], p. 92). Those churches that pursue an intentional theology of ministry enable their leadership to prioritize and analyze specific ministry expressions in light of clearly defined criteria.  Thus, the effectiveness and efficiency of church ministry is readily judged and excellence in the pursuit of the mission is achieved.

  1. Intentional ministry theologies produce dedication among the leadership and participants within the ministry.

The dedication that is produced within intentionally missional churches comes through the culture and cohesiveness of the ministry team. Every local church is composed of different individuals with differing talents and gifts given them by God from a variety of backgrounds, economic statuses, family structures and cultural histories. The uniting factor in such widely varied groups must be a common allegiance to a singular ministry mission. A great example of this truth is the shrewd American politician. A good political operative can take a large group of people with a wide variety of differences and unite their base around a common mission. Abraham Lincoln’s 1860 presidential slogan was “Vote yourself a farm.” In 1896, William McKinley ran on “Patriotism, protection, and prosperity.” Richard Nixon ran on, “For the future” in 1960 and Gerald Ford ran on “He’s making us proud again” in 1976. For Bill Clinton it was, “Putting people first” in 1992, “Yes, America can!” for George W. Bush in 2004, “Change we can believe in” for Barack Obama in 2008, and “Make American great again” for Donald Trump in 2016. I’m not saying a biblically-based, intentional theology of ministry is nothing more than a campaign slogan. Yet, adopting an intentional theology of ministry does produce solidly biblical church ministry expressions around which believers can unite. “Vision functions as a cohesive factor; it holds the team together. The team consists of people who are creatively different, but a major reason they joined the team initially is because they passionately held to the same vision.” (Malphurs, p. 21).

AN INTENTIONAL THEOLOGY OF MINISTRY CREATES HEALTHY BYPRODUCTS FOR THE CHURCH

There are two very important by-products of adopting an intentional theology of ministry.  I call them by-products to bring to the surface the reality that they are inevitable, they will happen, and to afford us the opportunity to examine whether these are desirable or undesirable.

  1. An intentional theology of ministry tends to narrow the team to those who are committed to your direction and philosophy.

Organizations are comprised of a variety of individuals. Individuality and variety is the genius of the Church (Rom. 9:24; 1 Cor. 12:13). It is seen in the cultural and gifted makeup of local churches. But individuality, when it turns into agenda imposing, is not beneficial to any organization, let alone a church. When a local church adopts an intentional theology of ministry some people will simply not agree with the mission of the church and others will realize they cannot push their agenda-specific ideologies. Such individuals will normally move on to other ministries. Thus, the by-product of an intentional theology of ministry is a more narrowed and focused ministry team, i.e. congregation, unified toward the accomplishment of its mission and vision. Churches committed to a more intentional theology of ministry may not experience rapid growth, but the growth that is experienced will tend to be more committed and focused growth.

  1. An intentional theology of ministry keeps people focused on work rather than infighting.

Disharmony within the body is the nightmare of every pastor. It is divisive and destructive. Left unchecked, it is ultimately catastrophic. A circumstantial theology of ministry, driven by the ebb and flow of needs, is a riper breeding ground for the promoting of agenda-specific ideologies. If the circumstantially based ministry is large enough, this is generally not a problem because of the natural segmentation of larger circumstantial structures. That is, people gravitate toward the ministry arms that best meet their felt needs without a great deal of consideration for the overall success of church’s mission. Their agendas, within the context of their preferred ministry arm, can be freely entertained or more keenly imposed.  A matrix of ministry founded upon an intentional theology of ministry tends to produce participants and leaders that are less preoccupied with incidentals and individual agendas and more focused on the mission at hand. As Malphurs puts it, “A compelling clear vision fuels passion.” (Malphurs, p. 24). People who are ignited by a common passion tend not to be distracted by insignificant trivia and do not become pushers of agendas that can cause friction within the body. Thus, a more harmonious, unified team, focused on a common goal, is more often produced.

The truth that an intentional theology of ministry provides certain desirable benefits and carries with it certain inherent by-products makes it a much better choice. Every pastor and church leader should give adequate time, prayerful searching, and careful Bible study to the purpose and mission of the church and then commit to an intentional ministry theology. The benefits and by-products an intentional theology of ministry creates will help the local church become and remain healthier in the long-term.

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