SODAMany people today claim to be Christians but are not on mission for God.

They attend church as if it is a social activity. Sadly, the church has moved into entertaining Christians, rather than mobilizing Christ followers to fulfill God’s designed purpose for their lives. This has happened for several reasons:

  1. We have a lost view of the biblical purpose of ministry.
  2. We do not understand the church’s role in fulfilling that purpose.
  3. Our church leaders have assumed more activity instead of empowering others to accomplish God’s purposes as a whole body.

If we are going to return the heart of God to the hearts of His people, we must avoid mere activism and engage in His eternal purposes. In this article I will strive to biblically define what it is that the church should be busy doing, as well as, the role Christian leaders play in empowering others to move on to God’s agenda.

The biblical purpose of ministry

Christian ministry is one of the most unique calls to leadership and service. It is the call to abandon our life to serve God by serving other people, just as Christ served us. No person has ever modeled biblical ministry better than Jesus Christ Himself. He came to serve all men on behalf of God (Matt. 2:28) and expecting nothing in return for anything He did. In Mark 10:45 it is written, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” His model of sacrificial service gives us the ultimate model of biblical ministry. We can learn several specific lessons from the life of Jesus about the biblical purpose of ministry.

First, we learn that biblical ministry is for the glorification of God. Jesus never did anything that took away from the Father’s magnificence. All of His healing, teaching and disciple-making was to glorify God and spread His fame throughout the whole earth. Just as He glorified God, so also we must live to give exaltation to God by doing the work of ministry. In John 15:8 Jesus said, “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples” (NIV). Discipleship is to diligently follow God’s will and in turn bring Him honor through steadfast obedience. Adrian VanKaam reminds us that to do well in our work we ought to stand in awe of the eternal wisdom and love of God revealed in space and time.[1] His glorification begins in our hearts and extends through our actions.

Second, we can learn from Jesus’ life that biblical ministry is serving others selflessly. Jesus was never weak as a leader, yet He was never prideful or domineering. He always had others in mind. Even in moments of physical thirst or pangs, He thought of those in front of him with a spiritual mindset and a servant’s heart. For example, at the well, when longing for water, He was willing to deny himself by having a conversation with the woman about her life and relationship with God (John 4). In the same way, on the Cross, when thirsty and in agony, he cared for His mother (John 19). He served others until His last breath, never letting preference or pain stand in His way. Suffering usually causes a person to increase in their selfishness for the sake of survival, yet for Christ He remained perfectly selfless and servant-hearted throughout His whole life.

As we serve in ministry, we are to emulate the posture of our Savior and serve without reservation. Oswald Sanders wrote, “Christ taught that the kingdom of God was a community where each member serves the other.”[2] Our chief end is to glorify God and we do this by being a body that is bound by love (Col. 3:14) in all our action. We serve selflessly just as Christ did, who is the head of the church (Col. 1:18).

Third, we can learn from Jesus’ model that biblical ministry calls for a commitment of our will to God’s will. Jesus submitted His desires to God through the final hours of His life. In the Garden of Gethsemane, He made His desire known to God—“Please let this cup pass from me.”—but as He always resolved, “Not my will but your will be done” (Luke 22:42). We too must ensure we are available and willing to do what God the Father asks of us as we serve in His ministry. Our availability is key; although, education is important, our effective spiritual ministry does not just come as a result of theological training or a seminary degree. Jesus told His disciples, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you” (John 15:16). The sovereign selection of God gives great confidence to Christian workers. We can truly say, ‘I am here neither by selection of an individual nor selection of a group but by the almighty appointment of God.’[3]

This type of availability requires a deep commitment to prayer. Jesus modeled this throughout His entire ministry. He was not just about doing the work of God without seeking God. He was continually praying and seeking God’s will before acting. This must be true for us as well. Susan Muto wrote, “Receptivity to the will of God in prayer must revitalize the activity required of us in any ministerial situation. Mere activism must be avoided at all cost.”[4] If we act for the sake of being active about nice things we are no better than a good moralist. However, to act in good behavior with spiritual guidance in the will of God, we will be engaging in true ministry—the work of God.

Finally, we can learn from Jesus’ model that biblical ministry is to equip others to make disciples. Jesus modeled a ministry of multiplication; it went far beyond the simple addition of one man doing ministry to intentionally equipping many men to do the work of the Lord. He trained, taught, modeled and prayed for those He hand selected to do work with Him. In His leaving, Jesus told the disciples to go and do likewise, multiplying their ministry by investing in others. We see this modeled throughout the book of Acts as well. The Apostles devoted themselves to prayer and teaching and allowed other people to do the work of the ministry with them (Acts 6:4). This became the mission of the church.

Deyoung and Gilbert in their book, “What Is the Mission of the Church?” describe the ministry of the church as being on Mission with God and define it this way:

“The mission of the church is summarized in the great commission passages—the climactic marching order Jesus issues at the end of the Gospels and at the beginning of Acts. We believe the church is sent into the world to witness to Jesus by proclaiming the gospel and making disciples of all nations.”[5]

The practice of ministry in the local church

The local church is one of three divine institutions created by God; family and government are the other two. All of these institutions have their unique purpose, but are under Christ as the head of all things (Col. 1:16). The local church did not come into existence as a man’s idea, but was sovereignly designed to fulfill God’s purposes. God carries out His ministry of multiplication and glorification through the Church, which is the body of Christ. When Jesus rose again and was seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Psalm 110:1, Eph. 1:20), He left the Church to now have a greater impact than one physical human could have on earth. The Church is an organism propelled by the power of the Holy Spirit with Jesus as the goal (Col 2:19, 3:1).

One thing we need to be clear about is that the biblical ministry of the church is not merely being Jesus Christ “Incarnate”. We do not become Christ, but are united with Christ in His power and purposes. Todd Billings, in his article, “The Problem With ‘Incarnational Ministry’”, makes the case that we have over emphasized ministry as just “being Jesus with flesh on” and underemphasized that our ministry is to join with God in His purposes and His power. Billings wrote, “Over the past decade, I have come to see that ‘incarnational ministry’ actually obscures the much richer theology of servant-witness and cross-cultural ministry in the New Testament: ministry in union with Christ by the Spirit.”[6] When ministry is in its purest form of making disciples and equipping the saints, we are able to have greater impact on the cultures we serve. The local church must be preparing the people locally to do ministry relevantly.

The church has two clear areas of responsibility in ministry:

  1. Internal: The church is to provide care, teaching and fellowship for those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ.
  2. External: The church is to provide care, teaching and evangelism for those who have not yet put their faith in Jesus Christ.

Christ-centric ministry has both of these mandates in mind. The church must be conscience about reaching the lost while also equipping the saints. As we are caring for the flock of God, we are to help both saved and unsaved see that their enrolment into the service of God is for their benefit and further discipleship. We care for them by meeting their needs practically and intentionally, but we do not merely allow them to be cared for without mobilizing them to action. A disciple of Christ will be actively involved in Christ’s purposes and serving other even prior to salvation. In some cases, the best way to see a person come to Christ is to help them understand their unique design and contribution to the body of Christ. Andy Stanley said it well when he stated, “When people are convinced you want something FOR them rather than something FROM them, they are less likely to be offended when you challenge them.”[7]

As we care for the church, we help the people understand that ministry is a family matter. Much like a family, all people have a unique role to play. If a dad and mom do everything in a household they are enabling their kids to be lazy, and in turn, denying them the opportunity to play a part. In the same way, if leadership or clergy within the church do all the tasks of ministry they are not giving the laity the God-designed opportunity to contribute. Mark Dever wrote, “When you are born again, you are born into a family. And that family is not only the great extended family of Christians throughout the world, but also the particular nuclear family of a local congregation.”[8] This is why we are instructed in the Bible to have The Body do the work of The Body (Eph. 4:12) with all members helping one another live out our collective goal.

The goal of church ministry is to be on God’s agenda and win souls into a relationship with Him. It is not political transformation or social liberation (the liberal agenda) or a gospel of personal fixes for our life now (the prosperity agenda). Subtle forms of the social and therapeutic agendas are often distracting our churches.[9] God’s design for the church has always been to actively engage with the Holy Spirit to call people to a reconciled relationship with God, and a deeper followership in His truth and teaching (Matt. 28:18).

The responsibility of church leadership in leading others to fulfill the purpose of ministry

So if the purpose of ministry is to engage in Gospel work, by equipping the body to multiply and make disciples, what is the specific role of those in church leadership? In the book, the Trellis and the Vine, the author, Payne, describes “the three p’s of Christian ministry” that apply well to the work of the church leader, as we saw modeled by the Apostles in Act chapter six:

  1. Proclamation: We are to constantly be preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. We do this is both word and deed (Col. 3:17). When we empower others to do the proclaiming of God’s Word, we are to stand guard over the doctrine and ensure that what is being preaching is theologically in alignment with God’s biblical precepts and principles.
  2. Prayer: As Christian leaders we are to steadily seek God, and ask that He would work through the gospel, as well as awaken hearts by the Spirit. We are caring for the people in our church the best when we are seeking God for their spiritual well-being.
  3. People—As Christian ministers, we are the third “p,” Payne said. “Christian ministry is simply our sharing of the gospel with others in the prayer that God would give growth through it, to transfer them and transform them.”[10]

As we share in the Gospel ministry with others, we are including them in the lasting impact of God on the world. This is transformational for them, and will in turn, call more men and women to give their life to following Christ. The call to equip others for the ministry is a high calling. Church leaders are desperately needed to continue to grow the church. These leaders are not about building their own kingdoms, but live to enhance God’s Kingdom. In the book, “Made to Count!” the authors Robert Reccord and Randy Singer encourage church leaders to be about God’s ministry:

“God needs more, not fewer, Christians who will respond to His calling into full-time ministry, and prepare to lead doctrinally sound Church by seeking out the theologically training available. Our pastors and their spouses have one of the toughest and most critical roles in the kingdom: equipping the saints for the work of the ministry.”[11]

Church leaders must not increase in their own abilities; become a jack-of-all-trades and a maser of none. Rather, they must be dedicated to doing what only they can do and allowing others to own the ministry with them. This requires a close walk with God, dependence on His Spirit, and an ever-increasing understanding of God’s will. Churches grow in every way when they are led by strong, spiritual leaders with the touch of spiritual radiance in their service. Church leaders today—those who are truly spiritual—must take to heart their responsibility to pass on the torch to other people as a first line duty.[12] This not only is the will of God, but it is the means to greater impact on the lost world for Christ.

A Christian leader in the church must intimately know those in his or her care so that they can outfit them for God’s work. He understands their needs, spiritual health and natural abilities. A good pastor or under shepherd will lead the sheep along in the right pattern of discipleship and in the right timing for service. Christ is our good shepherd and model for leading the sheep along in health and growth (John 10:11). Following His example, the method of biblical leadership is one of tenderness, gentleness and compassion. James Bryant said, “We are never more like Christ than when we are shepherding His people.”[13]

Other great biblical leaders in the Bible modeled for us what it means to lead other in ministry. The greatest examples of biblical leaders all understood that they must be about empowering the people to do the work of the Lord rather than shouldering the weight alone. John MacArthur uses Nehemiah as a prime example of shared and enabled leadership when rebuilding the wall in the book of Nehemiah:

“Nehemiah did not take the responsibility of oversight and labor of the entire wall upon himself. He appointed trustworthy men to oversee sections of his labor, dividing responsibility in accord to their abilities. Nehemiah was not a passive leader. Good leaders never are. They don’t ask others to do what they are unwilling to do themselves.”[14]

Conclusion

We have a high calling to know Christ and to make Him known. This is not to be taken lightly nor is it to be lived out in solitude. God has always intended for His purposes to be carried out corporately. Jesus modeled for us the biblical purpose of ministry as He fulfilled God’s mission on earth. The church has been established on earth in His stead to do His continued work empowered by the Holy Spirit. Church leaders will miss the heart of God if we take it upon ourselves to do what God intends to be accomplished by the whole body of God. We must keep our mission to equip and multiply in ministry in order to have the greatest impact for Jesus on a world who desperately needs His touch.


 

[1] Adrian van Kaam, Fundamental Formation, vol. 1 of Formative Spirituality Series (Pittsburgh, PA: Epiphany Books, 2002), 14.

[2] Sanders, J. Oswald. Spiritual Leadership. Chicago, IL: Moody, 1994. Print.

[3] Sanders, J. Oswald. Spiritual Leadership. Chicago, IL: Moody, 1994. Print.

[4] Muto, Susan. “Living Contemplatively And Serving God In The World: Two Sides Of The Coin Of Christian Ministry.” Journal Of Spiritual Formation & Soul Care 6.1 (2013): 82-92. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials. Web. 21 July 2015. 86.

[5] DeYoung, Kevin, and Greg Gilbert. What Is the Mission of the Church?: Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom, and the Great Commission. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011. Print. 26

[6] Billings, J Todd. “The Problem With ‘Incarnational Ministry’: What If Our Mission Is Not To ‘Be Jesus’ To Other Cultures But To Join With The Holy Spirit?.” Cultural Encounters (Online) 9.2 (2014): ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials. Web. 21 July 2015.

[7] Stanley, Andy. Deep & Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012. Print.

[8] Anyabwile, Thabiti M. What Is a Healthy Church Member? Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008. Print.

[9] Mathis, David. “The Biblical Vision of Christian Ministry.” Desiring God. Desiring God, 02 Nov. 2010. Web. 21 July 2015.

[10] Mathis, David. “The Biblical Vision of Christian Ministry.” Desiring God. Desiring God, 02 Nov. 2010. Web. 21 July 2015.

[11] Reccord, Robert E., and Randy B. Singer. Made to Count!: Discovering What to Do with Your Life. Nashville, TN: W Pub. Group, 2004.

[12] Sanders, J. Oswald. Spiritual Leadership. Chicago, IL: Moody, 1994. Print.

[13] Bryant, James W. The New Guidebook for Pastors. Nashville, TN: B & H Pub. Group, 2007. Print. 75.

[14] MacArthur, John. Called to Lead:. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2010. Print.