The second reason is that I think people need to understand more of what the Rockbridge seminary experience is about. The world is changing, friends, and education is changing right along with it. I certainly have valued my "bricks and mortar" experiences at Mercer and NOBTS, but the Rockbridge journey has been a real blessing and a help. This class is filled with people in ministry across the nation in churches big and small, so the perspectives they bring, and the discussions that ensue are really fascinating and engaging. Really challenges your preconceived notions and makes you think and grow.
So below is an assignment I completed this week. We aren't allowed to use quotes in these papers, so these are my thoughts, beliefs and convictions, not a cut and paste.
1. What I believe about the biblical purpose of ministry
The Scriptures say that we are to do whatever we do - in word or action, to expand the glory of God. The model we have to accomplish that is two fold – a personal commitment in living our lives out loud for Jesus, and in community with other Christ-followers in the Church.
The functional aspects of that would include evangelism of those who have not heard the message and responded in faith, and teaching those who have responded how to relate rightly to God and to each other. I like the idea of thinking through these issues while envisioning the church “gathered” and “scattered” because that recognizes both the normal way people look at the church as the people who are gathered in a building every Sunday, but also recognizes that real work – valuable Christ exalting work – also takes place in the community out in the workplaces, neighborhoods, and schools.
The Scriptures also point us toward living life together. The litany of the “one another”, the heart cry of Jesus that we would all be one, His pointing toward the ‘sign” that the world would recognize us by our love for one another all solidify the concept that community is the means God uses to not just gather, but scatter His disciples into a world in sore need. So when we read that we belong to each other, that we are to bear each other’s burdens and meet each other’s needs it is not just another programmed slogan but the very pulse of the church. When Augustine quipped that we preached in more ways that just words he was clearly pointing to ministry as an effective evangelistic tool in God’s hands.
The practice of ministry has to include that religion that Micah referred to as well. For too long we have not done very much more than give lip service to the biblical concepts of justice and mercy as part of the life lived out loud for God both individually and in community.
One of the areas I have been interested in as we’ve progressed through this course is how open some are to ministry being done by people who are not believers. One of the foundation convictions I have about ministry is that it is an every believer gift best returned to God in the everyday, so I wonder about whether or when such work done by unbelievers turns from a good deed to ministry. If God has prepared in advance some things for us to do, what role do the efforts of those who haven’t started their journey play in His plans. And does this practice of allowing those outside to work “inside” with us contribute to an earlier and better “launch” into the deeper waters of life with Christ and life together in a church?
My beliefs are moving toward the affirmative. As we welcome people into ministry even before their coming to faith I seem to see God at work all around them and creating an expectation in them of ministry and an excitement in their friends who bring them.
2. What I believe about the practice of ministry in the local church
I look upon these as efforts in: Missional Practice, Spiritual Formation, Fellowship, and Worship. I hold along with that a definite conviction that every member must be involved in ministry, and try to consider what we do within the gathered and scattered circles.
The local church must build bridges with the community in every way we can. Not forcing our way in, but using the connections we already have within the “networks” such as schools, home-schoolers, Little Leaguers, Soccer, etc. as well as opening their facilities to groups and creating bridges to them as well. We need to use “affinity groups” lead by our people in areas of their interest to create “front porches” for our neighbors to come and “sit a spell” in. Men and women’s groups are to be involved in constantly looking for ways to invite and invest in people. The children’s and youth ministries need to begin teaching their charges that they too can have a part in God’s Big Story.
Building bridges, making connections leads to conversations. When God’s people are asked for a reason they have such hope, now we are really fulfilling our calling as missionaries.
Once a person becomes a follower of Jesus, the part of the Great Commission that deals with discipleship needs to kick in and kick in big. We have to teach them how to follow. So in my view the church has to turn the key in the lock on church membership with mandatory new membership classes, a signed membership covenant, and a personal interview with the pastors. That doesn’t mean that we don’t welcome anyone as we gather, but it means (especially in a congregational leadership model) that we are as sure as we can be that they are serious about their practice.
People need to know that we care enough about them to invest in their spiritual growth. As churches, we have to create the expectation that a Christ-follower… follows. Grace does not mean you don’t have to work. It takes effort to grow. But that effort has to be placed in helping people learn the disciplines that will help them grow, not just giving them a heaping helping of facts each week. So we have to make sure everyone knows where they are in the process and continually encourage and measure growth. People should find themselves growing away from just inhaling God’s grace and mercy, and growing toward exhaling both in service to Him.
Quite frankly, I used to think fellowship was highly overrated. You know, dinner on the grounds, Sunday School picnic, friendship banquet – fellowship. But that’s not what fellowship really is. It is loving your neighbor as yourself. It’s following in the tradition of those early believers who held all things in common and no one had need. It’s being that group of believers who were so fearless that when the plagues came, they went into the cities when others came out. It is halving the suffering of your brother and sister. It is helping others find their places of service, living within their SHAPE and rejoicing as God uses them to glorify Himself.
When the church is gathered for the purpose of glorifying God in worship of Him, it needs to be out of the Body, not out of Variety magazine. Too many of our churches put on performances and call it worship. The number of people involved is reduced to the trained and the pretty. In my view of the local church’s ministry, we would stress congregational worship at the expense of individual soloists.
That worship needs to include prayer, reading and teaching of the Word, and be aimed at God, not man. While we do not want to put any unnecessary barriers in front of a sincere seeker of Truth, and ruthlessly eliminate Churchianity wherever it rears its ugly head, when we gather it is for worship, not publicity.
3. What I believe about the responsibility of church leadership in leading others to serve
The old saw about equipping the saints still holds true for me as a pastor. My biggest thrill is to see people grow as they step out in their gifts and serve the King. So we should be working hard to grow people. We should be collaborative, want lots of opinions and input, and enjoy it when the team wins. I’d describe my concept of pastoral ministry as shepherd like in that I think the pastor should be constantly running the ideas and concepts that God is working with them on through the grid of their love and care for the people He has given them. The goal is to help them discover Christ and develop as Christ-followers so that they in turn can use their gifts for ministry to glorify God.
The goal for the pastor of a local church should be to see empowered people using their gifts in community with each other to the glory of God. We help people find where they can serve with passion and then equip and encourage them in that. It’s build on shared convictions, fueled by a shared passion to please God, and held together by trust. You should find people coming to the table with ideas for enlarging the Kingdom, being encouraged and affirmed when the community catches the vision. When we fail, we fail forward and keep learning and becoming more effective. When we win, we celebrate with each other and credit God.
So the pastor is a visionary, a resource, a coach, and a coworker with others who are themselves passionate about the vision that God has given.