A Philosophy of Ministry
by Pastor Scott Hecht
What is the Church to be? Why do we exist? Sometimes such basic questions are not easily answered. But such questions are clearly answered in God’s Word. He has called the Church into being for a reason, and though God’s purposes for the church can be described Biblically in different ways, one that I believe accurately summarizes the Biblical data is threefold: Exaltation, Evangelism, and Edification. Each local church should both determine her future and measure her present activities, ministries, goals and plans in light of what God has called her to accomplish.
Exaltation is proclaiming, by both word and deed, the excellencies of Him who has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Peter 1:9; cf. Ephesians 1:6, 12, 14; 3:20). God’s excellencies are His attributes, things like love, goodness, justice, wisdom, might, sovereignty—the glorious qualities true of God. However, His excellencies are not only His attributes. They also include His glorious actions throughout history: creating the world, redeeming Israel out of slavery in Egypt, and bringing them back from captivity. But most importantly, His excellency is seen in redeeming lost sinners, by sending His own beloved Son into the world to die for them, and then raising Him from the dead.
Practically, the church should seek to accomplish this purpose both in a corporate setting and in the daily lives of the individual members. When the church is gathered, she proclaims His excellencies in her singing. The words of many church songs and hymns proclaim His excellencies; i.e., “How Great Thou Art,” “Immortal, Invisible, God only Wise,” “Holy, Holy, Holy,” “And Can it Be,” etc. The church proclaims His excellencies when she proclaims His Word, exalting Him and His glorious deeds and promises and will. The church proclaims His excellencies in her times of thanksgiving and praise and prayer to Him.
His excellencies are proclaimed not only when the church is gathered corporately but also when scattered. As individuals before a watching world, His excellencies are proclaimed in both bad times and good. In bad times, His excellencies are proclaimed when individuals still point to God’s sufficiency and care and goodness despite outward difficulties. In good times, His excellencies are proclaimed when they point to God’s blessing, and not good luck, or simply their own skill as the source of all they have and are.
Earlier, the purpose of the church was said to be threefold, but exaltation is primary among those three. The fact that both edification and evangelism are means by which God is also exalted serves to demonstrate exaltation’s priority. Edification, in that as believers are built up, men may see our good works, and glorify our father in heaven (Matthew 5:16). As John Piper has noted, “When we act out the excellencies of God, people will hear them with even greater eagerness; which is just another way of saying that our identity—who we are—is for the sake of God. God made us who we are to show the world who He is (“Christian Identity and Christian Destiny,” Sermon preached at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis on 17 April 1994). Evangelism, in that His excellencies are proclaimed when the gospel is proclaimed. And as people are saved, this causes “the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God” (2 Corinthians 4:15).
With the connection between these different purposes in mind, the latter two can now be discussed.
A concise, biblical definition of evangelism is given by J. I. Packer. It is “going out in love, as Christ's agent in the world, to teach sinners the truth of the gospel with a view to converting and saving them” (Evangelism & the Sovereignty of God, p. 53). Jesus’ command to the church before His ascension highlights this as one of the purposes of the church on this earth (Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15; Luke 24:47; Acts 1:8).
There are many practical ways that the church can carry out this mission. Some possible suggestions follow. Although Christ’s call is to make disciples of “all the nations,” and that is a necessary aspect of the church’s evangelistic purpose, the following paragraphs will focus only on practical ways the precious gospel can be lovingly communicated to those within our local sphere of influence.
Individuals who primarily serve in evangelistic ministries would be encouraged first to do the work of an evangelist (2 Timothy 4:5) by seeking to develop relationships that would allow opportunities to share the gospel with friends and neighbors. They could also seek to welcome new families in the area with a welcome pack from our church and speak with them about their relationship with Christ. Another potential opportunity for those serving in this area of ministry is in connection with mercy ministries. In seeking to help those with material needs that contact the church, their ultimate need, a relationship with Christ, should also be lovingly addressed.
Christ gave gifted men to the church to equip the saints for the work of ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12). Those involved in equipping the saints should encourage all the members to be evangelizing, not out of guilt, but out of obedience and love for Christ as well as love for their neighbors. Historically, it can be seen that one of the primary means that God used to cause the rapid spread of the early church was this very thing: Individual members of the church all proclaiming the gospel throughout the course of their daily activities—to their friends, neighbors, coworkers, and whomever they came into contact with. Therefore, the hope would be that all the saints would be equipped so that they could be well able to seize any opportunities for sharing Christ that God grants them.
This equipping ministry could be twofold: evangelistic training, and different evangelistic options. Some evangelistic options could be starting evangelistic home Bible Studies and also providing materials for these studies; as well as encouraging evangelistic get-togethers near the holidays in which the true message of Christmas or Easter could be proclaimed.
“Friendship Sundays” are another evangelistic option. They have been effective means of communicating the gospel of Christ to unbelievers in many different churches. These would be times when the members of the church are encouraged to bring an unbelieving friend to the regular worship service and then join them in a luncheon afterwards in which the gospel would be shared.
Finally, some special events could be sponsored throughout the year. These would have an evangelistic thrust and may or may not be held within the church itself; i.e., concerts, seminars, special speakers, etc.
Alongside these options designed to give the body many opportunities for evangelism, an emphasis would be placed upon prayer. Times of both corporate and individual prayer for those who don’t know Christ are essential to evangelism since it is God who opens the hearts of unbelievers to respond to the gospel (Acts 16:14). So in addition to corporately praying for the needs of the body, prayer for the salvation of unbelieving friends, relatives, and coworkers should also be emphasized. Requests should also be made that God would grant personal boldness and open doors for the proclamation of the gospel (Romans 10:1; Colossians 4:3-4; 2 Thessalonians 3:1-2; 1 Timothy 2:1-6). The same holds true as individuals. Our consistent practice should be to have times of prayer both for the salvation of those within our personal sphere of influence and for God to grant opportunities to share the gospel with them.
As for evangelistic training, some helpful resources that could be used include Bill Fay's How to Share Christ without an Argument and the training material “Discipleship Evangelism” produced by Grace Community Church of the Valley.
Wayne Grudem accurately defines edification as “growth of the church toward Christian maturity” (Systematic Theology, p. 875). This is the third and final purpose of the church (Acts 2:42; Ephesians 4:11-16; 1 Corinthians 14:12, 26b). In Ephesians chapter 4, Paul goes into great detail about this last and certainly not least of the purposes for the church’s existence.
He begins in verses 11 and 12 by giving the reason that Christ gave certain men (for the church today, Pastor-Teachers, and Evangelists) as gifts to the church: Building up the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:12c). This verse is packed full of instruction for the church, but only two points will be emphasized here. First, the primary role of the pastor-teachers and evangelists is to be equipping the saints through the public and private ministry of the Word, fervent prayer, and godly example. Second, the ministry, the work of service, is not reserved for just a few; is to be engaged in by all the members of the body, and it is with this combination the ultimate goal of edification is reached. Paul will later spell out practically how every member participates in this process (Ephesians 4:15-16).
Next, Paul indicates not only how long the process of edification is to continue but also concrete goals to shoot for in this process: unity, maturity, and Christlikeness (Ephesians 4:13-14). These goals should be behind all ministries primarily focused on edifying the church. Ministry effectiveness should be analyzed not in terms of numbers but rather in terms of seeing growth toward these goals.
Finally, Paul both literally (Ephesians 4:15) and figuratively (Ephesians 4:16) describes how the church as a whole can reach these goals.
The body grows by speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). I take it this refers primarily to speaking the truth about God, His will, and warnings and promises to one another with an attitude of love. One simple application here is to encourage prayerful Scripture memory by all, so that they have deep reserves of truth with which to lovingly encourage and exhort one another.
The body grows in dependence upon the Head, Jesus Christ (Ephesians 4:16a). Prayer, both corporate and private, is an essential way of drawing upon His strength. Therefore prayer should undergird all ministries. Prayer for one another’s spiritual growth should be greatly encouraged and emphasized. Paul’s prayers for the different churches are excellent examples of what this kind of prayer looks like (Ephesians 1:15ff; 3:14ff; Philippians 1:9-11; Colossians 1:9ff; 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13; 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12; etc.). And his consistent request for others to pray for him also demonstrate its importance (Ephesians 6:19; Philippians 1:19; 1 Thessalonians 5:25).
The body grows in connection with one another (Ephesians 4:16b). Opportunities for meaningful fellowship should be sought out. One great resource in this area is home Bible Studies. Concerns can be shared, counsel can be given, spiritual gifts can be used—many rich possibilities exist for growing in edification for those who take advantage of these opportunities.
The body grows in proportion to the working of each individual part (Ephesians 4:16c). An emphasis on every member serving in some area of ministry is essential to the health of the body. But equally important is their seeking to serve in areas of primary giftedness. Helpful ways of accomplishing this are periodically teaching about spiritual gifts, keeping people informed of ministry opportunities, and giving freedom for new ministries to develop as the Spirit leads.
The body grows by means of love (Ephesians 4:16d). Jay Adams correctly emphasizes that love should be seen in concrete actions, not just in platitudes (The Christian Counselor’s Manual, p. 151). Love in the body should be a matter of prayer, since this is a fruit of the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 3:12). The leadership should seek to lead by example in expressing such love, and it should be encouraged among the body. There are almost endless ways of expressing such love for one another. A few concrete ideas include inviting someone over for supper, sending encouragement cards, helping out with yard work for those with physical needs, giving a call of encouragement and concern to someone going through a trial, asking others how you can pray for them, resolving not to hold grudges, etc. Jesus emphasized just how important practical love is among his followers when he said, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love one for another” (John 13:35).
Why does the church exist? To exalt the living and true God, to evangelize a lost and dying world, and to edify one another in the body of Christ. So what? As the church keeps her God-given mission before her, she can direct her precious time and resources towards each of these goals rather than simply focusing on one of them or missing the boat completely. But above all, when the church seeks to function in light of God’s purposes for her, she can joyfully and confidently rest in the promise of her Head, Jesus Christ: “I will build My church” (Matthew 16:18).