Theology of Ministry - Lesson 8

Context of Ministry (part 1)

There is no ministry without church and no church without ministry. Any ministry finds its legitimacy as it relates to the local church. Is it possible to be communal without being institutional?

John  Johnson
Theology of Ministry
Lesson 8
Watching Now
Context of Ministry (part 1)

Context of Ministry (part 1)

I. Introduction

II. Church vs. para-church ministries

A. John White

B. Questions

1. Is the local institutional church a legitimate context for ministry?

2. Can we carry out the mission without the institutional church?

3. Is a non-institutional form of church possible?

C. Barna

  • Theology is the clarification of convictions by which we engage in ministry.

  • During the Renaissance, some people began making a distinction between academic theology and practical theology.

  • The incarnation is the prism through which we view our entire missional task.

  • Christ embodied the OT offices of prophet, priest and king.

  • Ministry is a paradox of leading by serving.

  • We need to hear what God is saying through his word and proclaim it. A ministry of grace is characterized by a heart of forgiveness and reconciliation.

  • Ministry is participation in God’s work of transforming the community of faith until it is blameless at the coming of Christ.

  • There is no ministry without church and no church without ministry.

  • Our ministry is to be done in the context of community. We can't avoid institutions, but we can avoid institutionalism.

  • Each of us is called to God, then to serve the body with the gifts we receive from the Spirit. Some have a special call to leadership.

  • Character is what validates our ministry. We earn integrity by having a rigorous devotion to the truth.

  • Giftedness should reflect in your passion for ministry, what God is blessing in your life and what other people are affirming.

  • Our mission is to advance the kingdom of God, so we are in conflict with Satan trying to advance his kingdom. God has given us authority. We need to exercise it and stand against sin.

  • When people begin a new movement, it can create an opportunity for you to re-evaluate your theology and practice to determine if your ideas are biblical or based solely on tradition.
  • It’s important to have a theological basis for evaluating the effectiveness of your ministry.

  • Much of the daily work of ministry involves menial and mundane tasks. The glorious side of ministry overshadows the inglorious.

  • It’s important for your theology to inform your ministry and for your ministry to apply your theology.

Ministry is built upon sound biblical, theological and cultural foundations. Each generation of the Church must understand and build on these foundations, as well as discover relevant contemporary innovations and applications. This course intends to help you integrate an understanding of the Word and the world with the development of a personal philosophy of ministry.

At the end, it's a good exercise to write out you own theology of ministry that you could present to a board and/or articulate as situations in your ministry come up.


There is a series that was put out some years ago by Multnomah Press in which they condensed some of these major works and they did it with reformed pastor. It would be worth looking at. It’s called [00:30] The Reformed pastor put out by Multnomah Press. Maybe it’s about 180 pages but it distills a lot of what Baxter said and his philosophy of ministry and it gives a nice introduction to it as well.

What I want to do with Purvis before I leave this here is that in the schedule, I had you read the conclusion. I’d like you go back and read the conclusion one more time, the summary at the end and I want to take next week and talk a little bit about kind of [01:00] bringing this all together, some things from Purvis. 

Context of ministry, now again, we’ve been trying to take piece by piece and think about ministry theologically and think about identity, nature of ministry, the mission of ministry, which we talked about last week and made the point that we’re all called into this mission, a mission that is a mission that what were some of the [01:30] key words we used? Incarnational, okay. What were my major points?

Audience: [01:39] Intentional.

[01:40] It’s first of all intentional by the very nature of the term mission, Apostille sent. Secondly?

Audience: [01:49] [inaudible][01:49-01:50].

[01:51] It is a mission that is perpetuation. We’re not here to invent the mission but to continue the mission. What’s a key verse again we keep going back to? [02:00] John 20:21. Then as we begin to see that mission unfold, what is it we found in scripture? Ministry as a mission has a redemptive side to it and what’s the other side? Edification, building up the same, reaching lost people is our mission. Building up people who have been found is the other side of it.

Now what I want to talk about here today is the context. [02:30] And I think this is a pretty important theme today because a lot of people are writing about the context of where ministry is done. Now, a number of years ago, in fact it was about 1991 when I was early on doing some adjunct teaching here, I was asked to put together a theology of ministry course, which is largely different than what I’m doing today but I did deal with context then.

[03:00] Back in ’91, the big debate subject was church versus para-church. Okay, so when you talk about context of ministry, you raise that question. It was ingrained in me in seminary that the local church is the central agency for ministry. I mean it is where ministry legitimately takes place and any other context of ministry, if you will, finds its legitimacy, [03:30] how would you complete that sentence?

Audience: [03:33] As it relates.

[03:34] As it relates to the local church. Any ministry, any agency that’s doing ministry finds its legitimacy as it relates to the local church, as they work closely and the work of the local church is channeled through it. Now that was a prevailing position on context of ministry. Back in the ‘70s when I came to seminary [04:00] everything centered about the local church. And it was interesting, many of us who came to seminary in the ‘70s were products of the para-church however.

Most of my peers, there was a large surge. It was almost like a wave that went through in the early ‘70s, Campus Crusade, Youth for Christ, Young Life. Most of my peers going to school at Western back then were products of that and we came and we were schooled in the centrality of the [04:30] local church. And of course, part of that is because Earl Radmacker was the president and he taught ecclesiology and he wrote the book on ecclesiology. It was his textbook, which was his dissertation at Dallas Seminary and these in fact are his words. “The local church is the central agency of God for the work of ministry on Earth. All other Christian agencies find legitimacy only as they work closely with [05:00] this divine institution and channel their work through it.”

To an extreme you would meet some people who would say unless it’s the local church, ministry has no legitimacy. That would be in a pretty extreme but that wasn’t that hard to find back then. There’s still remnants of that I think but because of the success of parachurch ministries, there was also a recognition that the parachurch was doing what the local church was failing to do. So, Youth for Christ was reaching a lot [05:30] of kids that the local church was failing to reach and I was one of them.

If it wasn’t for Youth for Christ I don’t know if I would’ve come to Jesus. I don’t know if I’d be in ministry today because the local church just did not attract me at all when I was 16, 17 years of age. It was in that time a guy named John White wrote a book on the church and the parachurch. He described back then the relationship [06:00] of church and parachurch.

Now, stay with me because I’m building something here that you’ll see where I’m going in a moment. As he looked at the prevailing positions, and this pretty well reflects the ‘60s and ‘70s, he said there were four positions and here they are. You’ve got them listed there, temporary legitimacy, that is the local church is the primary agency for ministry. By temporary legitimacy, what he was saying is that the local church is the primary agency [06:30]. Parachurch ministries are the temporary corrective, okay?

Local church is the primary context, if you will, for ministry. Parachurch ministries are the temporary corrective until the local church gets its act together. In other words, seminary is a seminary local church? No, of course not. It is a parachurch. John White, in this position, [07:00] would say that a seminary was created because the local church began to fail at its task of training future leaders.

So, seminaries emerged to fill that gap. And so a seminary has temporary legitimacy until the church one day says, “Hey, we need to get back to training pastors,” or “Campus Crusade has temporary legitimacy until the church gets back to reaching lost [07:30] people, particularly college students,” let’s say. The second position is two structure. What he meant by that is that there are two biblical structures. The local church’s role is edification and the parachurch’s role is evangelism. This is how some people define the context of ministry.

The local church is there to build up the saint. The parachurch is out there to win people to Jesus. It would be an attitude that goes something like this, [08:00] back in the ‘60s, yeah, I worked for Youth for Christ. What I’m doing is out there on campus reaching people for Jesus and as soon as we see them come to Christ, we get them into a local church where they’ll get built up because that’s a role of the local church. We’re out here winning people to Jesus. They’re building the saints up. So, that would be the two structure.

The third, third position in this church/parachurch relationship is what he calls church planting. That is parachurch ministries [08:30] have legitimacy so long as their goal is simply to be an arm of the church planting churches. So the role of parachurch ministries are to plant churches. They simply serve the local church by planting other local churches.

The fourth position is what he called dual-legitimacy and that is the church and the parachurch both are legitimate expressions. [09:00] They both have their own legitimacy and context for doing ministry. Each of them have a little bit of a distinction from one another. When White wrote this book, he simply said, “Okay, to this whole question of context for ministry, here’s the local church. Here’s the parachurch and they have some relationship.” And people found themselves in one of those four generally.

But times have changed, haven’t they? It’s not quite that way today. [09:30] In fact, I’d go so far as to say this. I’ll throw this out on the table. Say what you think about this. The issue today is not whether the parachurch is legitimate. Actually, the question has more turn to is the local church legitimate? And that’s a huge shift from 30 years ago. That question would’ve seldom been even raised but it is [10:00] actually a question that’s out on the table raised so much today that it doesn’t raise anyone’s eyebrows, I think.

When I think it first kind of hit me in the face was a couple of years ago I was in Beirut and I was with Grant Porter who heads up Operation Mobilization. And we were talking about his ministry. I was involved with him and one day we were talking about ministry and I referred to his [10:30] ministry as a parachurch ministry and he said, “Wait a minute. What did you just say?” I said, “You know, we talked about Operation Mobilization as a, as a parachurch.” And he said, “No, we-we’re not a parachurch. We are the church.” Why did Grant say that?

Audience: [10:46] [inaudible][10:46-10:56]

[10:56] Exactly but it’s more than that.

Audience: [11:00] There is no church.

[11:01] Yes, we are the church because frankly, the church that is the institutional church here in Beirut has lost its mission, lost its way, is into simply trying to maintain traditions, would even really question its role. And has seen, in his case, the need for Operation Mobilization to in effect fill the vacuum. So, it’s raised a number of questions that I’d like to throw out and here are some of the questions. [11:30] because I think these are questions today as we think about context for ministry we need to think about. 

The first one is this, is the local institutional church a legitimate context for ministry anymore? Is the local institutional church a legitimate context for ministry anymore? That is, and I’ll expand on this question a little bit. [12:00] Is the institution, this institution of brick, and mortar, and clergy, of carryover of a different dispensation? Are we kind of trying to keep propped up something that really gave way when Jesus came, that we’re still trying to continue on a temple spirituality, if you will, with its established priesthood, that Jesus came and replaced, so to speak?

Are we funding out legitimacy in something that’s really not-not legitimate anymore? [12:30] In this first question, here’s another way to ask it. Is what we see largely today in an institutional church a product of Christendom, Christendom? I think you know what I mean by this word. 

[writing on chalkboard]

[12:48] Christendom is generally equated with Constantine.

[writing on chalkboard]

[12:55] And going back into 300s, what to about 360, 370 AD when Christianity [13:00] became legitimized and more than legitimized, it became almost linked inseparately as the religion and eventually as the government of the day. And the question is, is what we see large in institutional church just the product of this? When the church became official, when it was no longer a group of persecuted people who were subversives because they had to to survive, to now an institution [13:30] where now it was legitimate to be public, to be in buildings, to build buildings that were largely, if you look architecturally, were what? They were the replicas of the civil institutions of the day. If you go into the great cathedrals in Europe, and I’ve been in many of them having lived there for seven years, and you look back architecturally, they are largely [14:00] reflections of the civil buildings of the day going back to 300.

So, this line of argument would say well when we look at institutional church today, isn’t it just a carryover going back to Constantine, which maybe was not such a great thing? Did all of that veer us off of the path of incarnational to attractional might be another way to put it? The reality is Constantine for all of the nice things [14:30] that it was great that, you know, Christianity was Christians were no longer persecuted. It really screwed up the church and is the institutional church today largely a hangover carryover of that? Heather?

Heather: [14:45] Do you mean by [inaudible][14:46] do you mean like the whole worldwide like [inaudible][14:50] including all of the [inaudible][14:52].

[14:52] No, the church that takes the form of institution, building, structure. Going back again to the church that began to shift from the scattered communities out there to where now Christianity became legitimate and official. So now there were official buildings and now there were clergy and trained clergy and Bishops and all of that.

Another way to put still under this first question, is it fair to say Christianity started out in Palestine as a fellowship, moved to Greece, became a philosophy, went to Rome, became an [15:30] institution, went to Europe and became a government, and came to America and became an enterprise? See? Some people raising these kind of questions are looking at the church, the local church, the institutional church and saying, “You know, is this thing really legitimate,” which is a huge step from the day when the question went the other way, is anything but the local church legitimate?

[16:00] You see how far we’ve come? Which then almost leads to, and this is the last part of the first question, would we be faithful to our mission by selling our properties, disbanding our organizations, and getting out of the business so to speak? Would we be faithful to our mission, more faithful to our mission by selling our properties, disbanding our organizations, getting out of the business of church so that we can go back [16:30] and fulfill the mission that we’ve been called to do?

These are big questions, aren’t they? These are important questions and it’s going to be the kind of questions that we’re going to need to think through. Do we have answer for them? Here’s a second major question. It goes a lot with what I’ve already said and that is can we carry out the mission without the institutional church? Not only is the issue is is it legitimate but that leads then to the second question. [17:00] Can we carry out the mission without the institutional church?

Can other context for ministry fill the gap? So, can we carry out the mission without the institutional church? Can other gap context fill the gap or here’s another way to put it under number two. Do we need a public presence? Do we need a public presence or can the church be purely subversive and infiltrative?

[17:30] Do we need these gathered structured places or would we be better off without them? And then number three, is a non-institutional form of church possible anyway? Is a non-institutional form of church possible anyway? [18:00] Can you be communal without institutional? See, by what I’m reading today would almost suggest yes, you can. In fact, you must but I’m just raising a question here but can you? Is that really possible? Can you be communal without being institutional? Is a non-institutional form of church possible?

Now, who are some of the voices? Well, let me ask you. Are you familiar with these questions, the questions you hear out there, think about, and if so, [18:30] where do you hear these questions being raised? Heather?

Heather: [18:35] I hear them [inaudible][18:37].

[18:37] Really? Yes, at your church?

Heather: [18:40] At my church and by the like people.

[18:44] Theology on tap?

Heather: [18:45] [inaudible][18:45-18:48] and there’s the section of the [inaudible][18:52-18:54] and they say the bottle and [inaudible][18:56-19:00] Now they bring him back looking for churches because what he-what he, you were talking [inaudible][19:05-19:22].

Audience: [19:22] [inaudible][19:22].

[19:23] Yes, the interesting thing in some of those is speaking out against the institutional church for example and calling for needed reform of being much more incarnational but at the same time calling for something of profound community. How does that all relate to the institutional church? I think these are some of the questions that are out there and some of the people raising those questions, I’ll give you a couple of [19:53] names anyway. One that I’ve recently read is Barnes’s book, Revolution.

[20:00] Let me just give you a few soundbites from his book and just to give you a flavor. These are people who are influencers out there. He refers to our age as the Revolutionary Age. You know, he talks about all of these different ages through history but he says now we’re in what he calls the Revolutionary Age in which there’s a revolution.

[20:30] There’s a revolution against established systems, among them the established church. To put it another way, a radical shift of context for ministry is taking place. As he puts it, to place our hope in the local church as a context for ministry is a, and these are his words, a mis-placed hope today. To place our hope in the [21:00] local church as a context for ministry is a mis-placed hope. As he puts it, if the local church is the hope of the world, then the world has no hope, page 36.

If the local church is the hope of the world, then the world has no hope. Now his rationale is that the context of local church as we define it today, and he’s really addressing the local church in its form, in it’s structure. As he sees the local [21:30] church and he, you have to keep in mind, and this is what makes Barner at least a voice worth listening to, he’s been studying, surveying the local church for 20 years. So, at the end of 20 years, he’s had a huge turn in his life.

What he’s basically says here is the context of local church for ministry as we define it today, is abiblical, abiblical. [22:00] What does he mean abiblical?

Audience: [22:03] [inaudible][22:03-22:06].

[22:06] Yes, it’s non-biblical. That is if we define church as a definable group of people who meet regularly at the same place to engage in religious routines and programs under a paid clergy who provide teaching and leadership, it is not in scripture. That’s his statement. It is not in scripture. The church, the local institutional church as largely defined is abiblical. [22:30] That is it doesn’t have any grounding because you can’t find it in scripture.

What we see as church was developed long after scripture was written, which if you said, “Well, how long after?” He’d probably say, what would be your guess? How many years? About 300, yeah. Probably again, back to that bad guy [23:00] Constantine. And what we have today as church is just as he would say is one interpretation. So, where’s he going? Well, you can start to see where he’s going. He’s basically building a case that the context of local church for ministry doesn’t really have a lot of credibility or legitimacy and even if it does, it doesn’t mean it’s the only place for ministry.

There are a lot of other places for ministry [23:30] and actually those better places for ministry, those other contexts, are really better. So, he goes on to say in effect, the days of the institutional church are over. I didn’t say the days of ethnos are over. The days of this institutional church are over giving way to other expressions. That is people are moving to other contexts for ministry.

[24:00] Which he as an example gives or like house-churches, small aggregations, which is an interesting phrase, small aggregations versus congregations. In fact, sometimes when I read on different blog sites, some people really say well, that’s the word we should be using today, aggregations versus congregations. I’m not sure exactly what that means because when I look at least definitionally, [24:30] an aggregation is just a composition of a lot of different parts whereas a congregation is composed of people who largely come for an intended purpose.

So, I don’t know what that distinction is except to say, well, one is just a grouping of people all over the place, which is what it should be versus this institutional place that’s largely about worshippers. [25:00] Other expressions can include family, where the family now is the gathering place, the spiritual unit. The father is the pastor or the mother or it can be cyber-churches, a church that’s experienced on the Internet, communities developed by way of chatrooms. Yes?

Audience: [25:25] Does he give any specific examples of what is going on in the church right now that makes it abiblical?

[25:31] In terms of institutional church?

Audience: [25:33] Yes, yeah.

[25:33] Yes, I’m sure that if you asked him he’d say, “Why don’t you just look at my data right here. Here’s my date. Okay, and here’s what my data basically shows is that what you’re largely interested in is measuring numbers and giving but you’re not measuring transformation.” I think this is where he turned was saying, you know, “I have studied. I’ve researched the local church for [26:00] the last 20 years and found that by and large, almost all of them are not interested in measuring transformation.

So, in other words, they’re doing lots of activity and lots of ministry but they’re really not doing what counts. Their methodology is all messed up. They’ve got these paid guys who are trying to be CEO’s or whatever and this thing called local church just isn’t changing people. It’s gathering people but it’s not changing lives.

[26:30] And in effect, he’s saying it’s time for a revolution. I think that’s where he’s coming from if I understand. Yes?

Audience: [26:37] A good reference to this is Barnes’s other book, the Second Coming of the Church. I think he wrote it about 10 years ago but it basically is the presentation of the Christ that he sees and I think this is sort of his…

[26:49] Yes, or this might be saying the second coming didn’t come.

Audience: [26:52] Yes, have you heard [inaudible][26:54]?

[26:56] Yes, I have.

Audience: [26:57] [inaudible][27:01].

[27:01] Yes, and I think Barnes would just say this is the new monasticism that all of these are just part of this revolution that’s going on. If our eyes our open, we-we need to realize that the revolution is at hand and what the implications are for the local church and so he says, for example, and I’ll give you a break in just a second here, that by 2025, this is part of what Barnes does is he looks out into the future, he says, “By 2025, only about [27:30] a third of the population will rely upon the local church.” At best, a third will have really any relationship with the local church.

Audience: [27:43] Christian population?

[27:44] Yes because the other two-thirds are also, a third are going to be related to local congregation. A third through these many or faith-based communities, whatever they, and it can take lots of different forms, and then a third through his other categories through media arts. I suppose it’s back to cyber-church. I need to give you a 10 minute break so let’s come back at 4:20 and we’ll finish out a little [28:14] of Barnes thinking and give you a couple of others and then we’ll start to think theologically about all of this.