The Ministry of the Church

Lesson 1997?
Tags: Church; Ministry; Christian liberty
Excerpted from An Introduction to Local Church Ministry
Related Resources: Serving God: A Plan for Success A Theology of Tradition Bridging the Generation Gap

How is the church to minister? In other words, how it is to carry out its mission and objectives? We have already considered the issue of mandate (the church’s God-given purpose), but we have yet to discuss that of method (the procedures implemented by the church in order to fulfill its purpose). The mandate of the church is not subject to human debate or opinion; it has been established by God and does not change. The method of the church is somewhat more flexible, however. Indeed, certain aspects of ministry methodology have been defined by God and remain the same in all places at all times. Other aspects are subject to human design. It is the purpose of this lesson to distinguish and discuss both ends of the methodology spectrum.

Total Membership Involvement

The New Testament both prescribes and models total membership involvement in the ministry of the local church. In other words, 100 percent member participation in the ministry of the church is both desirable and possible. Much as a human body can only survive and thrive if all its parts fulfill their respective functions, so the church, which is referred to as the body of Christ.

“For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also [is] Christ. . . . But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. And if they were all one member, where [were] the body? But now [are they] many members, yet but one body. . . . Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular” (1 Cor 12.12, 18-20, 27).

Richardson observes:

“There are no ‘lay’ members of the Church who are without a ministry in it; the Church is a ministerial priesthood of the laity or people of God. . . . [E]very layman has his part in the total ministry of the body of Christ, which corporately through the empowerment of the Spirit constitutes an organic ministry that renders service . . . to God.” Richardson, Alan. An Introduction to the Theology of the New Testament. London: SCM Press, 1958, pp. 304-05.

God does not expect the objectives of the church to be accomplished through the efforts of a mere portion of the church membership. On the contrary, he has gifted every believer with different spiritual abilities for the purpose of building up the church. Saucy notes that

“each member of the church has a ministry of some type. Each has a ‘manifestation of the Spirit’ (1 Co 12:7). Some may share similar gifts but these would reveal themselves through different personalities in a great variety of ministries. Nor is there anything in Scripture prohibiting the thought of one person having more than one, producing the possibility of many combinations. No member, however, unites all of the gifts in himself. . . . The point to be noted with all of the gifts is that they are ‘varieties of ministries’ for the edification of the body (1 Co 12:5, NASB).” Saucy, Robert L. The Church in God’s Program. Chicago: Moody Press, 1972, p. 133.

He goes on to explain:

“In reality, the ministry of the church is the ministry of the Spirit which is divided among the various members, each contributing his gift to the total work of the church.” Saucy, Robert L. The Church in God’s Program. Chicago: Moody Press, 1972, p. 128.

But local church ministry is not strictly a function of spiritual gifts; there are other factors involved, such as personal interests, characteristics, and style. Bugbee explains:

“Several years ago I began to explore the relationship of our personal styles (personality/temperament) to our spiritual gifts. . . . I discovered that it’s the combination of our spiritual gifts, God-given passsion, and personal style—what I call our servant profile ... —that indicates the best way to be fruitful and fulfilled in a place of ministry.” Bugbee, Bruce, and Lueders, Beth. “Maximum Ministry.” Discipleship Journal Issue 90 (1995): 60+, p. 62.

In other words, one a believer will find his most satisfying involvement in the ministry of a church when his activities are in line with his gifts, vision, energies, talents, personality, and style.

Note: The above is by no means a summation of all the prerequisites for effective church involvement. For example, effective ministry must be the outgrowth of a life that is both morally separate and spiritually alive. In addition, genuine acts of service must be motivated by love (1 Cor 13.1-3). It is not sufficient simply to exercise one’s gifts, drives, and talents. Real service to God involves wholehearted devotion to him, and outward ministry is merely the end-product of a surrendered life.

Form and Function

To what extent may churches and Christians employ the methods of their choice for the fulfillment of their ministries? There is a spectrum of responses to this question. Some allow themselves only what the Bible specifically commands or exemplifies. On the other extreme, some allow (at least in theory) everything that the Scriptures do not specifically forbid. There are other, middle-of-the-road positions as well. Newman comments on form and function in the early church:

“Why did the earliest disciples act as they did in the conduct of their Christian affairs? . . . Their conduct was . . . the effect of dynamic faith operating within their own Christian situation. Thus a valid distinction can be made between what they did to meet the needs of their times and the timeless principles that guided their actions.” Newman, S. A. “The Ministry in the New Testament Churches!” What Is the Church?: A Symposium of Baptist Thought. Ed. Duke K. McCall. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1958: 46-61, p. 46.

Schaeffer contributes his view of liberty and constraint in the modern church:

“It is my thesis that . . . anything the New Testament does not command in regard to church form is a freedom to be exercised under the leadership of the Holy Spirit for that particular time and place. In other words, the New Testament sets boundary conditions, but within these boundary conditions there is much freedom to meet the changes that arise both in different places and different times.” Schaeffer, Francis A. The Church at the End of the Twentieth Century. Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1970, p. 67.

The New Testament obviously allows for divergence of church practice in different cultural situations. The key to using this liberty without abusing it is found in maintaining an intimate relationship with the Lord. Haskell explains:

“A heart that seeks after the Lord . . . will direct the use of methodologies in two ways: 1) If a person is seeking God and honoring him, he will be aware enough of God’s ways to know what kinds of methodologies will have adverse effects on the divine agenda. This is wisdom. 2) If his heart is committed to God, he will not be seeking to avoid uncomfortable situations by making recourse to human schemes. This is faithfulness.” Haskell, Rob. “The Use of Secular Methods in Ministry.” The Covenant Quarterly 55.1 (1997): 3-13, p. 12.

To summarize: God’s plan for ministry is that every true believer be involved in a local church, using his or her gifts, abilities, and interests; and that the church’s ministry be a balance of conformity to the normative designs of the New Testament and the subjective nuances of the cultural medium in which the church is situated.