Philosophy of Ministry
A Word About Philosophy of Ministry
Every church has a unique identity, a DNA if you will, which is formed by the interaction of theology, philosophy and practice. It all starts with theology as a church’s understanding of God and His Word. This theology affects the philosophy of ministry, by which each church operates. Finally, this philosophy, founded upon the theological beliefs, affects the practical outworking of a local body. To understand our identity, it is helpful to describe contrasting approaches to ministry. Our desire is not to condemn or scold churches which minister differently from us, but rather to affirm our identity as our theology impacts our philosophy. This contrast will be seen in the following methodologies:
- Attractional vs. Incarnational
- Width vs. Depth
- Marketing vs. Mission
- Staff vs. Servants
- Entitlement vs. Sacrifice
Attractional vs. Incarnational
Attractional approaches to ministry are those which basically take the “if we build it, they will come” direction. These churches are typically known for their varied resources often including beautiful church buildings in nice neighborhoods, rock walls, coffee shops, big ministry “splashes,” trendy events, etc. The idea that drives this approach is that if you can just get the people in the doors, you can keep them. We prefer to view things not from an attractional, but incarnational perspective. Instead of ministering on the basis of people coming to us, our approach is to take the ministry to the people. Like the Son of God condescending to leave His heavenly home and dwell among those whom He loved, we want to be known for our willingness to take the gospel from within the walls of our building to affect the lives of those we come into contact.
Width vs. Depth
In polling various churches, the vast majority cite numeric growth as their driving evidence of success. Success is measured by quantifiable numbers of weekly attendance, small group attendance, Sunday school attendance, etc. But the primary purpose of the local church is to make disciples. Not mere attendees or even converts, but disciples – mature followers of Jesus Christ. In the end, the “Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be [Christ’s] disciples.” There is actually very little said in the New Testament about local church size or growth, other than that God causes the growth (1 Corinthians 2:7). But there are mountains of material on holiness, obedience, character, godliness and true spirituality. We prefer to concentrate on the qualitative matters and leave the quantitative aspect to God.
Marketing vs. Mission
Some churches exercise a marketing approach to ministry in which they hope to create a brand name to fit in a certain niche. Perhaps they are the church with good music, or a great drama team or a really excellent children’s ministry or a strong appeal to a certain generational segment. Like the attractional approach, the hope is to market the church to bring people in. The problem that we see with this approach is that it is generally true that “what you win them with is what you keep them with.” If you win people with lights and smoke, then next year you need more lights and more smoke. You are always forced to better your resources and marketing of those resources to distinguish yourself. The challenge is that the culture is always changing and when you market a specific segment or ministry, then you inevitably teach that your church is not for everyone. We hope to win people by the gospel of Jesus Christ. If we can do this, then all we have to do to keep them is continue to preach the gospel -- what we should be doing anyway. We hope to accomplish this through challenging our people to have a missional perspective as they live a gospel-centered life. So, the church will experience growth because of mission rather than marketing.
Staff vs. Servants
It has become quite common for churches, particularly in cities and larger ministries to hire large numbers of staff workers. It is an easy thing to fall into. Recruiting Christians to give generously of their time in today’s fast paced culture has proven to be a burden. So it is easier to simply offer money to people to (1) Work in nurseries (2) Play or sing (3) Oversee ministries and so forth. Of course there is both biblical and historical precedent for pastors and Christian workers to make their living on gospel work, but have we gone too far in today’s church? It seems that many ministries are paying people to do things today that for years and years were done by devoted, committed, joyful volunteer servants. Our philosophy is to train people in the New Testament understanding of “doulos” or bond-servant. All believer-priests of the church are servants of the Lord Jesus and called to serve Him in and out of His body. There will be a place in our ministry for paid workers but this will not be the rule or the emphasis. Many staff dominated churches prove to be a house of cards – when the staff worker is gone, the ministry is gone. That is not scriptural and fails to inculcate the “doulos” relationship each believer is to have with the Lord Jesus
Entitlement vs. Sacrifice
A deep and pervasive sense of entitlement exists in much of the evangelical community. Those who have such an attitude, though they might not articulate it, assume that the church exists merely to meet one’s needs. They intuitively respond to the church as customers would to any other service-oriented business. Therefore, the church that caters to such an ideology is forced to create multiple programs to meet those ever-changing desires. However the Bible does not teach that the church exists to meet our needs, but rather that we exist to meet the needs of others. We are gospel workers commissioned by the Lord Jesus not customers of a religious enterprise. A heart of humility does not say “meet my needs,” but instead “do not cater to me. I am here to serve” and “what Lord do you want me to do for you?” In the end, the greatest need, felt or not, is for the gospel. If we spend our time meeting peripheral issues, all we have done is dealt with symptoms without addressing the disease. Certainly we recognize the legitimacy of needs and are here to serve those in need, but an attitude of entitlement and true service are at odds. Given that we believe in an incarnational, missional, sacrificial model, which seeks depth over width, we hope our practice lines up with those beliefs.
What does that mean for us?
One of the immediate implications of this is the need as a church to always reexamine each of our ministries to see if they correspond to our theology and consequent philosophy. And to examine ourselves to see what kind of disciple have I become? Have you done this? As we do so, we may find that our approach has not been consistent with our theology. Ministries can become like self-contained silos, competing for the limited resources of staffing, time and finances while awe fight for the attention and affection of people. Christians can grow cold and selfish. We can become much more like the prevailing culture around us rather than the New Testament ideal. We can develop a “what’s in it for me” attitude toward our church and its ministry. But the driving force of our ministry must be the body of Christ in sharing life together, serving Jesus. Have you examined your philosophy of ministry lately?
With Thanks to the Village Church of Flower Mound, TX, adapted from a document presented on their website. Used with permission.