The Fullness of Ministry

REDEEMER VISION PAPER #5

THE FULLNESS OF MINISTRY

 

From Redeemer’s understanding of the gospel and commitment to the city (paper’s #1 and #2) flows an unusually balanced and full understanding of the ministry of every local congregation.  We call them the Five Ministry Fronts. It is difficult to stay equally engaged along each of these fronts, but we believe that we must stay committed to all five or we will become unbalanced.

1. Churches must be “outward facing.” First, churches must be highly effective in helping skeptical and secular people to find faith. It is not enough to only reach already conservative and traditional-minded people. The gospel (unlike religious moralism) produces people who do not disdain those who disagree with them. Rather than simply confront those who disbelieve, the gospel leads us to sympathetically, but effectively, find ways to answer secular cultural hopes and aspirations with Christ and his saving work.

Each church must expect to have people in its midst who are exploring and trying to understand Christianity. The people must be welcomed and embraced in a hundred small but significant ways. The church should constantly anticipate and address the concerns, objections, and reservations of skeptics and 'spiritual pilgrims' with the greatest respect and sympathy. Our church should not avoid the use of Biblical terminology, but take great pains to explain such terms in ways that are readily understandable to those without theological background. Our church must avoid sentimental, pompous, austere, archaic, colloquial, or emotionally manipulative talk. We should avoid 'tribal' language--unnecessarily stylized religious jargon and archaic language that seeks to set a 'spiritual tone.'

Instead, we must engage skeptics with the gentle, self-deprecating but joyful irony the gospel creates. There is a true 'gospel-irony' and realism that is a mixture of humility and joy. We must also work to not 'run ahead' of non-believers in being so emotionally expressive that we 'leave them behind' or scare them. And unless all this is the outflow of truly gospel-changed hearts, it will be all just marketing and 'spin.'

2. Churches must produce rich Christian community. The gospel creates a new community which is a sign and foretaste of God’s future new humanity, the city of God. Individuals are shaped not primarily through classes or personal experience but by practices of their community. Americans like to think that they have made themselves who they are, but we are much more the product of how we have been treated by our families and friends than we are of our own choices. So Christians cannot develop the unique character that the gospel creates simply through having a one-on-one relationship with God. They must be part of a Christian community whose life patterns are not assimilated to the values of the world around it.

Churches must provide a counter-cultural community that does not simply give emotional support to Christians but models the alternate human society that the gospel creates, showing how, through the gospel, sex, money, and power are used in life-giving and non-destructive ways.

  • Regarding sex: we must avoid both the secular society's idolization of sex and traditional society's fear of sex. We must also exhibit love rather than hostility or fear toward those whose sexual life-patterns are different.
  • Regarding money: We must promote a radically generous commitment of time, money, relationships, and living space to social justice and the needs of the poor, the immigrant, the economically and physically weak. We also must do radical economic sharing with one another—so ‘there are no needy among us.’
  • Regarding power: We must be committed to power-sharing and relationship-building between races and classes that are alienated outside of the Body of Christ. The practical evidence of this is that we need to be as multi-ethnic a body as possible. And yet, though this community must be different than the world around it, it must equip and encourage Christians to be deeply engaged in the life of the city and, especially in ministry, to its neediest parts. That leads us to the next point.

3. Churches must be committed to justice in the city. Churches must minister in both word and deed. We’ve said elsewhere that the purpose of God’s redemption is to restore creation. God created both soul and body and the resurrection of Jesus shows that he is going to redeem both the spiritual and the material. Therefore God is not just concerned for the salvation of souls but also for the removal of poverty, hunger, and injustice. In the Old Testament, the ‘righteous’ man is the man who uses his wealth for the good of the whole community; the wicked man is the man who uses his wealth for himself (For example, see Bruce Waltke, The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 1-15 (Eerdmans, 2004) p.97, 103-104.) The ‘wicked’ man who does not radically give away his own hard-earned wealth is not merely lacking in compassion, but is unrighteous and unjust. In the New Testament, the cross proclaims a complete reversal of the values of the world--power, recognition, status, wealth. The gospel is for the poor, both the economically poor and the poor in spirit, those who give up their pride and know their need. (Luke 4:18- He has anointed me…to preach the gospel to the poor." Cf. also Luke 7:22).

Preaching the gospel and healing people's bodies are closely associated (Luke 9:6). Jesus didn’t save us just with words, but mainly through his deeds and his work. The gospel demands that every recipient of God’s grace surrender the illusion of self-sufficiency. We cannot look at the poor and call them to pull themselves out of their own difficulty. Jesus did not treat us that way! The gospel removes all superiority toward the poor. It empowers us to meet individual needs in the city and also to work for justice for the powerless. Christian churches must work for justice and peace in their neighborhoods through service, even as they call individuals to conversion and the new birth. We must work for the common good and show our neighbors we love them sacrificially whether they believe as we do or not. Indifference to the poor and disadvantaged means there has not been a true grasp of one’s salvation by sheer grace.

4. Churches must equip believers to integrate their faith with their work. Most American Christians have been taught to seal off their faith-beliefs from the way they work in their vocation. The gospel is seen as a means of finding individual peace and not as a ‘world-view’-- a comprehensive interpretation of reality that affects all we do. But the gospel has a deep and vital impact on how we do art, business, government, media, and scholarship. Churches must be highly committed to support Christians’ engagement with culture, helping them work with excellence, distinctiveness, and accountability in their professions and in ‘secular work.’ Developing humane, yet creative and excellent business environments out of our understanding of the gospel can be part of the work of restoring creation in the power of the Spirit. Bringing Christian joy, hope, and truth to embodiment in the arts is also part of this work.

Learning to integrate faith and work is a tall order. Christians need at least the following from their churches:

  • First, theological education about how to 'think Christianly' about all of life, public and private, and about how to work with Christian distinctiveness. They need to know what cultural practices are ‘common grace’ and can be embraced, what practices are antithetical to the gospel and must be rejected, and what practices can be adapted/revised for use by believers.
  • Second, they need to be practically mentored, placed, and positioned in their vocations in the most advantageous way. They need cooperation with others in the field who can encourage, advise, and advocate for them. They need help to do their work with excellence and in a way that really helps others and strengthens social cohesiveness rather than weakening it. Third, they need spiritual support for the ups and downs of their work and accountability for living and working with Christian integrity.

 

5. Churches must routinely plant other churches with the same ministry balance and fullness. The only way to permanently influence the city is through multiplying movements of churches with this same gospel balance. For more on the necessity of new churches, see the next paper (#5).

We must do all these kinds of ministry because they are all required by the gospel. They are not optional, and they are inter-dependent. Holistic ministry, in which Christians work sacrificially for the common good, is the necessary context for any convincing evangelistic call to believe in Jesus. After all, why should the people of the city listen to us if we are simply out to increase our own tribe and its power? Nor can culture be changed simply through faith-work integration. It also requires counter-cultural community that displays an alternate society to the world (see paper #3). Only if we do all of these ministries at once will any of them be effective. They are interdependent and inter-locking.

Sadly, the normal state of the church is to concentrate on one of these to the exclusion of the others. People with a strong passion for evangelism and adding new people are often at loggerheads with people who stress deep community and spiritual maturity. People with a vision for cultural renewal who want to work with professionals and the ‘elites’ are often at logger-heads with people who stress the work of justice with the marginalized and weak. Yet these ministries must be kept together. Churches that stress one or two of these ministries to the exclusion of the others tend to be ideologically narrow. For example, the evangelists often tend to be Republican, while those Christians working most intensely for social justice tend to be Democrats. The divisions that fragment our society can and must be overcome with the gospel.

If (and only if) we produce thousands of new church communities which regularly win secular people to Christ, which build deep community, which seek the common good of the whole city (especially the poor), and produce thousands of Christians who write plays, make movies, do creative journalism, begin effective and productive new businesses, use their money for others, and produce cutting-edge scholarship and literature--will see our vision for NYC realized and our whole society changed as a result.