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Church Issues & Christian Living

The Work of Ministry

By Rev. Robert Lynn

Equipping for Worldview Living

This article appeared in the April 2007 BreakPoint WorldView magazine. Subscribe today to the free online BreakPoint WorldView magazine!

In Ephesians 4:11-12, the Apostle Paul says that it is the task of leaders to equip God’s people for the work of ministry (or service, depending on your translation). Now take a little quiz. When you hear the phrase the work of ministry, what comes to mind? Teaching Sunday school or leading the men’s program? Helping in youth group or singing in the choir? My guess is that it is a long list of activities that take place in your church building. Pretty much anything we do together we call a ministry. So, when folks ask us what we do at church, we say, “Oh, I work in the youth ministry.” Or, “I help in the singles’ ministry.” And again, “I’m part of the Sunday morning music ministry.”

On one level, there is nothing wrong with these responses, and I do not want to give you the impression that the speech police should arrest you for such talk. But on another level, there is something profoundly amiss in such language. Is it really the job of leaders to equip folks simply to staff church programs and activities? Given the missional vision of Paul for the Church, that can hardly be the case. If the work of ministry is simply staffing in-house programs, the local church becomes a kind of self-contained, closed system that exists simply to maintain itself.

Give yourself another couple of tests to see where you land on this issue. Think of your church’s new members’ class. Be honest now. Do you tend to see the class as a source of new recruits to replace exhausted workers who are on the verge of bailing?

Or consider the spiritual gift inventories you use in membership classes or discipleship training. The format and content of the tests are oriented to finding your place of “ministry” in the whirl of activity we call the local church. I think it is fair to say that you will never find a test administered in a church class that will ask if you have artistic gifts, surgical gifts, mathematical gifts, scientific gifts, economic gifts, or any of the almost limitless numbers of gifts your members employ in their lives the other six days outside the four walls of the church.

Why is that? There are at least three reasons. First, we typically misunderstand Paul’s discussion of spiritual gifts in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4. We have mistakenly seen these lists as an exhaustive taxonomy of giftedness in the body rather than suggestive lists specific to different situations. We forget the bigger lens through which giftedness is to be understood. In the New Testament, gifts are functional and situational. The question to ask in any situation is, “What is the need here, and how can I address that need?”

Second, spiritual gifts may be a special endowment of the Holy Spirit (think of prophesy or miracles), but they are also any gift we have by virtue of who we are as a unique creation of God. The Spirit is the Creator Spirit, and so every gift has its source in Him. Moreover, as He indwells us He is the One who empowers their use.

Third, our view of gifts is severely distorted because we see them through the lens of the secular/sacred dichotomy. Hence, the gifts I use at church are called spiritual gifts and seen as having a role in God’s kingdom because I use them in “ministry.” The gifts I use at work, for example, are not called spiritual gifts because my work is not ministry but “secular work” that has little or no significance for the kingdom of God.

So what’s the point? As I said, we tend to read Paul as saying the job of church leaders is to prepare God’s people to run lots of programs in the church building, all justified in the name of “ministry.” I think Paul has something rather different in mind in Ephesians 4. Could it be that a lot of the discipling and training activities that go on week by week in our churches are not so much the “work of ministry,” but the necessary preparing or equipping for ministry that must take place in the local church in order for us to go out into the world to pursue the mission of Christ?

That leads, of course, to a couple of obvious questions. What then is this work of ministry, and where does it happen if it does not happen in the church? I would argue that Paul’s answer is found in his missionary theology. This work of ministry does not happen in the church building but in the world—our communities, workplaces, campuses, and all the other places where God has sent us as His missionary people. Borrowing from the missiologist Lesslie Newbigin, the local church equips us for the exercise of our royal priesthood in the marketplace. We follow our great High Priest Jesus into the world as a priesthood who, like Him, give ourselves away in suffering love for the sake of the world that the world might taste the transforming shalom of the kingdom of God. This means, of course, some significant re-engineering of our church programming, because a missional redefining of the work of ministry, by necessity, means redefining what it means to equip for ministry.

All of which brings us to the need for worldview training for worldview discipleship in the local church. If the work of ministry is a work in the world and not in the confines of the church building, what does it mean to equip men and women in the church for that ministry? One of the first things we need to understand is that if the Gospel is the true story of the world and everything in it, then we need to think of ministry in terms of bringing that Gospel to this world. If the curse touches every aspect of human existence and the Gospel addresses the brokenness of that existence, then ministry ranges as far as that curse is found and must be as big as that kingdom Gospel Jesus calls us to announce.

What then might worldview training in the local church look like? Well, in one sense that depends on your community, your city, your state. Part of the task is to critically analyze your congregation, your community, and your city to discern what it would mean for your church to exercise its priesthood in the places God has called you. There are no “one size fits all” answers. But think of who your people are and where God has placed them: a teacher in the local high school, a member of city council, an emergency-room nurse, a corporate manager, a community organizer, a CPA, a newspaper reporter, a musician, a university professor. The list could go on.

But here’s the point. The elementary school, the city council, the local hospital, the corporation, the community, the accounting firm, the local newspaper, the studio, and the university are the places where the work of ministry happens, the places where God has called the members of your church to be agents of Good News and kingdom transformation. These are places where they spend more than half their waking hours—more time than they spend at home and much, much more time than they spend at church. And yet, for some strange reason, we focus on church as the central place where ministry happens. To paraphrase Ross Perot, that great sucking sound you hear is the Church creating a whirl of activity that sucks members out of ministry rather than preparing them for ministry. And ironically enough, it’s all done in the name of “every member ministry.”

I will confess that my church is struggling to move in this direction. It’s not easy. But, for example, I recently led a Sunday school class on worldview discipleship. I taught the philosophy and theology of worldview. But that was just the beginning. I asked a newly minted Ph.D. in electrical engineering, who is a cutting-edge researcher, to talk about the challenge of a technological culture; a geneticist to speak about science and ethics; an artist to talk about creativity, art, and the Gospel; and a team of educators to address the challenge of worldview and education. During the final week I taught the last session with a high school literature teacher. We talked about the Gospel, literature, and the power of stories. We wanted to give a foundation for worldview discipleship but also bring, front and center, folks who are struggling with it in their places of ministry. We have other adult courses such as Philosophical Issues in Technology, Survey of World Religions, Justice and the Poor, Theology and the Arts, and Dilbert in the Workplace. We do this so that education in the church is linked to the world in which our people live.

This year we are beginning our Faith@Work initiative. We will start having regular “Reports from the Front” during our worship services. During this time men and women will bring reports of kingdom advance in their workplaces and communities that we will consciously structure along the lines of traditional missionary reports, except these will be from a new breed of missionary with a new kind of mission. We will be working on strategies for discipling men and women to be agents of redemptive transformation at work, viewing the workplace not simply as another arena for evangelism, but where work itself is part of the witness, the strategy of mission, and the source of redemptive blessing. Additionally, we want to nurture and encourage savvy entrepreneurs who will start kingdom businesses and encourage the emerging global mission movement known in mission circles by the label Business as Mission. (I will discuss this movement more in a future issue of BreakPoint WorldView.)

This past Christmas season I led a workshop in the Open for Business track at Urbana ’06, a mission conference for over 22,000 students in St. Louis, Missouri. This track sought to advance the Business as Mission movement by bringing together 1,400 men and women who are hearing God’s call to be involved in advancing the kingdom through business. How did I prepare? Not simply by sitting in my study and presuming that my theological acumen was enough. I met with MBA students who had left the business world for more education in order to reenter it better equipped. I met with our InterVarsity campus minister to graduate students in the professional schools at the University of Michigan. I met with two of our young entrepreneurs who had started tech businesses and one of our women who had left a successful career in business to become the principal of a Christian Montessori school.

It was our wrestling together and the fruit of that wrestling that I call theology, real worldview theology that brings biblical text and context together in order to hear Good News for a hurting world. Together we were equipping one another for the work of ministry. Increasingly, this is my model for theologizing. It acknowledges the vocations of my people and those vocations as central to the question of their discipleship as well as strategic for the advance of the kingdom of God.

This is the tip of the iceberg. There is so much more we want to do—so much more we need to do. For us, the idea of equipping for ministry has become a task bigger than we have ever dreamed. But the Gospel requires it. Indeed, the Gospel demands it. Paul calls us to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5)—not just our thoughts about so-called “spiritual things,” but also our economic thoughts, our political thoughts, our artistic thoughts, every kind of thought. Why? Because minds renewed lead to lives renewed (Romans 12:1-2), and lives renewed can lead to a culture renewed, and a culture renewed points us to the day when all things are renewed (Matthew 19:28). All of this reminds us again that it is the Gospel, and the Gospel alone, that is the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16)—for you, for me, and for the world.

The Rev. Robert Lynn, a Wilberforce Forum fellow, is associate pastor at Knox Presbyterian Church in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He is also a lecturer at Istanbul Reformed Seminary in Istanbul, Turkey.

Articles on the BreakPoint website are the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the opinions of Chuck Colson or PFM. Links to outside articles or websites are for informational purposes only and do not necessarily imply endorsement of their content.

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