Theology of Ministry - Lesson 9

Context of Ministry (part 2)

Our ministry is to be done in the context of community. Structure is necessary today, just like it was in the early church. We can't avoid institutions, but we can avoid institutionalism.

John  Johnson
Theology of Ministry
Lesson 9
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Context of Ministry (part 2)

Context of Ministry (part 2)

I. A movement toward missional churches

II. Theology guides us

A. Ministry is to be done in the context of community

B. The New Testament is largely the record of communities and localized gatherings

C. In these communities, structure is necessary


1. Keep the function (mission) always out in front

2. Make the structures serve the body of Christ, not the body serving the structures

3. Constantly check that the wineskins can accommodate the fermenting Jesus

Class Resources
  • 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.


We expect to see believers choosing a proliferation of options is how he puts it. We expect to see believers choosing a proliferation of options, in this context of ministry, which will lead to a reduction in the number of churches presently configured and a decline in the professional clergy —

Sorry to give you the news. [Laughter] That's this little book by Barner, Revolution — subtitle: "Worn Out on Church." I don't know if I recommend it so much as just to say you should be aware of it and what it's saying.

And it'll be interesting to see what its impact is. Another book that raises similar questions, and one that I've liked a lot — in fact I've liked so much I invited Michael Frost to come and teach a [inaudible][01:16] course, which he did about 3 weeks ago, and I found to be a really interesting, good guy.

The Shaping of Things to Come, perhaps you've seen this book or read it. It's a really valuable and important book to [01:30] read, in part because he does grapple with theology more than most people who write in these kinds of themes and also because he's Australian.

So he is outside of our immediate culture looking at broader culture. He and a guy named Hirsh also see an end of Christendom, or I should say the end of a Christendom-style church as we know it today — that is the church [02:00] institutional, and the emergence of what he calls the church missional.

So the end of the Christendom style of church, the church institutional and the emergence of the church missional, a movement church replacing the existing church. Because the existing church, particularly as we're talking about this institutional church as he would put it — three major flaws.

And here they are. The first flaw is that it focuses on being attractional versus incarnational. What does he mean by that? — Attractional versus incarnational.

Audience Member: [02:44] Drawing people in but not necessarily [inaudible][02:47].

[02:48] Yes, partially. It's more of an approach to the mission of "Let's get them here rather than us going out there." So it is more of a "come to us" ministry versus a [03:00] "go out to them ministry." Attractional is mobilizing believers to attract unbelievers to the church.

"Okay, we're going to have friendship Sunday in 4 weeks, okay? Everybody know who you're praying for? Invite them to church." That's all you gotta do. Just get 'em here. We'll do the rest. Just get them in the door. That would be attractional ministry.

So you see that is the first flaw. The second flaw is what he calls dualistic — [03:30] dualistic. That is a mindset that separates sacred from secular. So we [phonetic] made us the church to protect the sacred, but we don't any of the secular.

We don't want anything profane getting in so we've got these separations, this dualism we've created. Here's the sacred. Here's the secular. And they don't have a relationship to one another. And then the third major flaw of this [04:00] Christendom church that is going its way and dying is that it's hierarchical [04:11] hierarchical.

That is it tends to be bureaucratic, top-down as a model of leadership. The shaping of things to come is saying it's what it is to come, sort of like Barner. What's coming is a different age and age of the church that's [04:30] largely about not being attractional but incarnational, of getting out into the communities, infiltrating, dissipating and starting church there if you will.

If you play sunset tennis club, then that's your community of pagans and that's where you're seeking to reach people for Christ, then that's what church should be, so to speak. Start church there at some point.

That becomes the [05:00] incarnational versus the "come to us over here on this block where this church building meets."

Audience Member: [05:06] [inaudible][05:08] about the [phonetic] skydiving problem [inaudible][05:13 - 05:29]

[05:30] Yes, that's what he would say is getting back to what initially we were called to do and to be, taking his model would be Jesus. And I had dinner with him 3 weeks ago or so, and he — it's a place where artists meet. And he's just started to engage.

And that's where he's probably going to land and create church, even do communion with mostly unbelievers, because they've asked for that. They want to have that experience. It doesn't mean anything to them except that it seems to be [06:00] a spiritual experience.

Because he's tapping in to something that a lot of people are hungry for, and that is spirituality. So I mean that's where you can get at least on the same page with people. Though, is that really spirituality? Frost would say what this would do is give me a wonderful opportunity, because they want to have, say, a communion experience.

That would be my moment to share with the elements do [06:30] mean. So in a very incarnational way, I'm trying to be Jesus to this group. This is where church in a sense is forming. And it gives me great opportunity to share the gospel.

You listen and you think about it. And he would say that's a lot more effective that trying to get those people to church who probably may never go to an institutional church out of fear or out of maybe the fact that they went and they found [07:00] religion but didn't find spirituality —

Just one more example on blog site "Next Reformation." You guys, you're familiar with Leonard — and I'm not sure — is it Hjalmarson? You're familiar with that name? — H-J-A-L-M-A-R-SO-N. He writes a number of articles on this particular blog site which —

By the way, just out of curiously, how many of [07:30] you read on a pretty regular basis a number of different blog sites just to read what people are thinking and seeing. I'm finding something pretty interesting that actually some of the most stimulating things I'm reading nowadays are not in books but are on blog sites.

They're just thousands of them now. But take some time and begin to say "Okay, what are some sites that I really should try to be reading?" — Whether [08:00] it's Andrew Jones or all the way to an Al Moller from Southern Seminary.

For example, Al Moller and his blog site wrote, I think, a wonderful piece today on what is true spirituality. And he basically just takes to task the empty spirituality a lot of people are pursuing, a lot of Christians are pursuing. He's going to be pretty much on one extreme as opposed to [08:30] guys on another side.

Anyone wanna share two or three blog sites that you find quite stimulating and informative? — And just this whole idea of thinking about ministry... Troy’s? Yes? Yes. What's your blog site? What is it?

Audience Member: [08:52] [inaudible][08:53]

[08:56] Okay.

Audience Member: [08:57] [inaudible][08:57 - 09:06]

[09:06] Yes, if you go to Next Reformation — go to that blog site — and you scroll down, you'll find an article entitled "Toward a Theology of Public Presence" in which he — he writes a pretty length article on this whole question of context for ministry and raises these kinds of questions —

What kind of presence is redemptive presence? What kind of presence is [09:30] redemptive presence? How did we choose the attractional over incarnational? Is non-institutional form of church possible? How does theology guide us?

Does it guide us? I think it does. Should we address these pretty significant questions? So let's see if we can just put a few pieces together. And I try to always just go back and think of "Okay, what are the things I know for sure?"

And here's what I know for sure: number one, our [10:00] mission, our theology, declares that it's to be done in the context of community. This is just foundational, but I know that's true, right? You know that to be true.

You believe that? Our mission, our theology, of ministry is to be done in the context of community. We're not saved to be individuals. We're saved and formed into community. What would be a central text that underscores that?

Audience Member: [10:30] Acts II.

[10:30] Acts II, okay — one that seems central would be 1 Corinthians 12:13. We have all been baptized into one body. We've all been incorporated into a community. Coming to Christ, we were not only invited. Far more than invited, we were baptized into community.

First Corinthians 12:13: The spirit has [11:00] formed to [inaudible][11:00] us into one community, one body so that we can then do the mission of redemption and this mission of building up saints.

So first of all, when I think about context — and I read a lot of this thinking today — I want to go back and say "Okay, what are some bedrock issues?" I know this, that first of all there's no place for individualism, that we are called into community.

And not that I've read it, but I think it would be interesting to [11:30] read "Work Through Some Days," Stanley [phonetic] Grenzi's theology of community. It's a pretty massive work, which probably is built around this whole theme.

Here's a second thing. The second thing I know is that the New Testament is largely the record of communities in localized gatherings. Okay, so let's just think about that. Is that a fair [12:00] statement? The New Testament is largely the record of communities in a localized gathering.

Is that fair? So we see it in seed form in Acts 1 as they are waiting, and [phonetic] Pentecost comes in Act II. And we begin to see at its earliest expressions people again and community and localized [12:30] gatherings — Acts 2, Acts 6 — well, pretty much the rest of the book of Acts, Acts 6 in particular.

It's also evidenced in Paul's letters. Paul is writing to communities, to gatherings, to people in localized places, whether it's [phonetic] Colossi or Rome or the region in [13:00] Galatia or Corinth. So what we're not finding, at least in our theology, is isolated believers or ministers.

In fact what we find is to not be a part of a community is disobedience, Hebrews 10:24-26, where — what does it say? We're not to forsake the what? — [Crosstalk] The gathering, the assembling of [13:30] the saints.

So there is a direct admonition there to be part of a community. Here's the third thing. And this is the thing I want us to really think about here. Third thing is that, in these communities, structure is necessary. And I'll put it another [14:00] way. Institution is unavoidable.

Institution is unavoidable. A non-institutional form of church is impossible. Okay, you've got to think about that. Is that true? Can it be challenged? — [Crosstalk] Initially, okay. Paul into a what...?

Audience Member: [14:25] [inaudible][14:25] that have those values that [phonetic] you spoke about.

[14:30] Yes, yeah.

Audience Member: ...and that are feeling that way and want to move away from [inaudible][14:34]. But [inaudible][14:37] is a perfect example of that. They started with [inaudible][14:40 - 14:48]

You've got to make some decisions. Either we stop growing — you know we chase kind of the [phonetic] stroke away and move away so they don't have to [phonetic] make these decisions to [inaudible][15:00] and create these structures in which they organize our people in [inaudible][15:04].

If you define institution by bringing on those kinds of things [inaudible][15:13].

[15:15] Yes. If we define institution in terms of structure — structure is unavoidable. In fact, it may be fair to say it's unbiblical. Because when we look at the church, if we all are saying "Well, the church, if it's to be a legitimate context for ministry, it needs to look like the early church..." —

The early church had a lot of structure. And what would be some of that structure?

Audience Member: [15:41] [inaudible][15:42]

[15:45] Yes. So we see a church structure for care. And when did that happen? Well that happened right at the very start, Acts Chapter 6. They were grappling with this kind of decision. What are we going to do in terms of [16:00] caring for this people?

So we see the body of Christ needing to structure itself for care right from the start in order to be effective. And we find even by 1 Timothy 5 they're dealing with mundane issues, it would seem, of [phonetic] Weadle's list, 1 Timothy 5. So we see this church right from the very beginning as it emerges, as [16:30] a [phonetic] plants emerges growth.

It's dealing with the structures for care. What are other structures emerging?

Audience Member: [16:37] [Phonetic] Leisure goals,

[16:38] Sure.

Audience Member: [16:39] [inaudible][16:39]

[16:42] Right.

Audience Member: [16:43] Well, very early on, the [inaudible][16:46] as well. [Phonetic] They felt there was a mandate [inaudible][16:53].

[16:54] Yes, good point. Even in Acts 1, they're dealing with this — they're structuring themselves for leadership. And when we see structuring for leadership, just some of the passages that underscore this is Paul reminding the Romans of the gifting of leadership, Romans 12:8.

Ephesians 4 is the classic passage where Paul is telling the church why God has given gifted leaders and what role they play. 1 Thes 5:12, Paul refers to those [17:30] who "have charge over you." And one can include 1 Timothy 3, the characteristics, qualities of elders, deacons.

First Timothy 5:17; Hebrews 13:17 obey those who one will one day give an account. And probably another classic passage is 1 Peter 5:1-4, where [18:00] Peter gives instructions to those who are under-shepherds in terms of how they are to be, not lording it over those allotted to your charge.

Some of these terms here describe a fairly hierarchical structure, right? — From the beginning. See, what I'm just trying to point out is that some of the assumptions, I think, that some people that these are things that, say, were created] 300 years later [18:30] with Constantin were there right from the very beginning when the church was structured —

Structured for leadership, structured for care, structured for accountability and instruction and discipline. So there is already in place a structure Pall calls the church of [phonetic] Thessalonica in 2 Thessalonians 3:6 to deal with the unruly.

And one can add here [19:00] Act 2:42-27 as the — we see the early church in its formative stages structuring for what they did when they gather together. I'm trying to remember — I think it's in Timothy, or it might also be in Thessalonians, where Paul talks about what you do with divisive people.

There's some kind of structural form, institutional form, pretty much taking place right from the start. I'd also say you could argue from the metaphors here, the [19:30] metaphors that God uses to describe the church's call for structures. So if it's going to be the body, it needs to act as the body.

So structures will have to be in place for it to be the body of Christ. If it's to be a priesthood, which is another metaphor for the church, it implies a certain structure. If it's going to be a holy bride, then it implies a certain structure to keep it [20:00] holy.

And you can maybe add one here. If the church is to be a place that gathers, it's going to have to have a place. It requires some structure.

Audience Member: [20:11] [inaudible][20:12]

[20:15] Yes. What I see a lot and being thrown around a lot — this word "institution" is not necessarily a bad word or an unbiblical word. In fact, it's hard to escape it [20:30] being a necessary part of the church.

I gave this quote earlier from Newhouse, Richard Newhouse. But he puts it this way: "Even the most spontaneous and prophetic of movements cannot last until they find institutional form." I mean, I find it with my small group. My small group meets.

How are we going to lead this? What are we going to discuss? Where are we going to meet? Who's going to bring what? Institutional church is a [21:00] easy target today. But where I turn sideways with it is where I find myself asking the question, "Well then, what would an institutional church look like? And is there any such thing as that?"

Newhouse goes on to say "We can't get away from church and all its sweaty, smelly concreteness. However, we can avoid institutionalism." We can't avoid institution, but we can [21:30] avoid institutionalism if by institutionalism we mean two things.

And here they are: If form becomes more important than function or if structure becomes an end rather than a means to an end. I think a lot of the criticism of the institutional church today is directed at institutionalism where [22:00] form has become more important than function and structure becomes the end rather than the means.

How does that play itself out? It creeps in in subtle ways. It's like when somebody comes up to you at the end of worship and says "Why did we have to sing that verse three times?" And you're saying to yourself "Why are you focused on form rather than function?"

Or, you know, "your style of preaching [22:30] is..." Yes, but I thought we were here to hear the voice of God. So it can start really subtly. It settles in. Every church has its tendency once it gives birth and moves to move to institutionalism. We all understand that.

Institutionalism is dangerous for the church because it's in our DNA, cos we all do it ourselves. We start to get older. I know you can't imagine this, but one day you will. And you start [23:00] letting structure become more important, form over function.

Well, I do this because I do this at this time every day. This is my order. This is when I do it. And we become more and more rigid rather than flexible. In my first church that I mentioned to you where I first pastored, it was a highly institutional church that had become deeply afflicted with institutionalism.

So when we [23:30] at one point said, "You know, it would make a lot of sense for us to move to a different place over here where we could be more effective in who we're trying to reach," the response was: "Wait pastor, you don't realize this building was where I was married."

Okay, so? Well, we can't leave the building. The form, the structure was more important. As much as I at times would try to say "It's just a [24:00] means. It's just the facilitation of ministry." Now I'm dealing with it from another angle where we're on the form of building a new sanctuary.

And what do you think happens with that? What gets lost? — The vision. The building is just to facilitate the vision. The vision's more important. But what do people want to talk about? They want to talk about the building?

As much as you say "It's not about the building. It's our vision of the [24:30] kind of church we want to be where we're going," people want to go to bricks and mortar. Why do we do that? It's just something in us. I don't know what it is.

You can talk to people about vision and they sort of look at you with a little bit of haze. And then you start talking about the building and "[Excited] Wow, yeah, okay, we need this kind of square footage. And, you know, how much is it gonna cost?"

And that's when people get really, you [laughter] know, "How much is it gonna cost?" I thought we were talking [25:00] about — gosh, it would have been nice to see this passion when we were talking about the vision, what we want to try to do with this.

Why do we do that? I don't know. It's just — it's just part of human nature I suppose. So sometimes when people make all these shots at the institutional church, part of me wants to go "Well, wait a minute. We're all institutional."

And if you're not institutional, you're not even a church. We're all institutional. And I [25:30] hate to say this but if you're taking shots over here, it's in your DNA too. Potentially you'll be there too, like Bob. You know, Bob and I are really good friends at Evergreen.

But I say — I kid Bob all the time. I go "You'll be institutional before you know it. Oh no, yeah, you will Bob. [Laughter] You're going to have to figure out leadership at some point. What are you going to do with the youth? What are you going to do with the kids?"

At a certain point, yes, you're going to grow to this point. And then you're going to face a real hard decision. Okay, well at this [26:00] point we just go out and plant. Well, what happens if people go "Well, we don't — No, we don't want to leave each other.

And Bob, you're our shepherd. We don't want to leave you. What are you gonna do?" These are all questions we face. So how do we avoid this institutionalism? Here are a couple things. Keep the function always out in front. Keep the function always out in front as much as you can.

Preach it. Live [26:30] it. Keep it out in front. Keep the mission always out in front. And when people try to draw you back from that, resist like crazy. So if somebody comes up to you and says "Why did we sing that verse four times?"

Just — you need to say not "Well, I'm sorry. We'll try to do it just two times next time." No, but something like "You know, I thought this was about [27:00] worshipping God. I mean that's what the whole intent of this — Could we talk about your worship of God?" — See?

We need to help people see that we're about the function, not the form. So we have to model that. Number two: always keep the structures as servants. Always keep the structures as servants, not serve the structures. Here’s a [27:30] third thing is constantly check the wine skins, you know?

Just kinda every now and then do a periodic check. Are they still kinda soft and able to encase the fermenting Jesus? — Whatever that means. [Laughter] Or if Jesus really truly came into your forms, would it [28:00] explode, the wine skins? That's a good question, every now and then.

Can we accommodate Jesus? Or have our structures become so rigid that he just, actually if he was here he'd explode them? Cos that was the issue in Mark Chapter 2. See, here's the interesting thing. I haven't thought too much about this.

But, you know, Jesus didn't come and just say "Man, I'm really down with the institutional church. It just [28:30] sucks." I don't see Jesus saying that. "[Loudly] You know, we've got to get rid of the temple. Get rid of these paid clergy. Come on let's get back."

No, he didn't do that. It wasn't the structures that so incensed him. It was the institutionalism. It was the rigidity that those structures took on. I mean he still went into the synagogue. The disciples went into the synagogue. Paul, the first place he went to and preached was [29:00] the synagogue.

It wasn't the structures. It was the encasing of the structures. And what I fear is happening today is we're throwing the baby out with the bath water in a lot of the discussion out there and missing the point. This is what I love to say to our 60-year old church every now and then.

I like to say something like this "You know what? We've got such an advantage." We've got the building. It's paid [29:30] off. Well, [chuckles] till we get going to deep debt here soon. [Laughter] But we've got the building. We've got the staffing.

We've got structures. We've got policies. We've got all this stuff because we've had to have these things that we feel in order to do ministry. Let's let it work for us. Let's not work for them. Let's let it work for us, right?

A church that does that I think is smart. It's gonna — could, should [30:00] have phenomenal ministry. But a lot of churches get all those layers and they don't have phenomenal ministry because they start serving them instead of letting the structures serve them.

I'm just working all this through and thinking all this through. I'm not coming as any expert. So if you wanna just take a shot — you know, your grade's on the line but go ahead. [Laughter] No, really. If there's something, just say "Wait a minute. Okay, I'm not sure."

Please, this [30:30] is —

Audience Member: [30:32] If we're not gonna have the benefit of starting our own church... We're going to go into a situation where, you know, possible a lot of this institutionalism is already present. How can you go about being a change agent and saying "Well look, we have to get back to the here of what this is about and not get crucified for it?"

[30:55] Yes, you ask a really good question. That's a question obviously I asked myself early on. In fact, out of those 10 years, I remember thinking to myself "If I ever teach in seminary and somebody comes up to me and say 'I had this opportunity to go to this,' would I say go for it?"

Or would I say "No, please don't. Don't do that." For me, I invested 10 of my — some of my best years of my life in that. Do I regret it? And I don't think I do, because I think God used it to [31:30] shape a lot in me and help me to understand the church in profound ways I wouldn't have and also to love the church in spite of.

Because you realize the longer you're in ministry that if Jesus died for the church, who am I not to love the church? — That the church is wherever we go, whether it's a startup or it's an older institution, that they'll all have their set of problems.

But if knowing what I know now, what I would say to anyone going into that [32:00] is the first thing you do is right up front really ask the people "Tell me how willing you are to become new wine skins." If you get some indicator that says "Look, institutionalism has killed us.

We've plateaued. We're dead in the water. We're sitting at anchor. We're rusting in the harbor... help," then I think you come in and say okay. Maybe you look at the potential and [32:30] [phonetic] "maybe God."

And then I think you just call for a lot of early-on repentance and renewal and exercise a lot of patience instead of try to be a change agent in the first month, be flamethrowers burning everything out. It takes a lot of wisdom.

That's for sure. But I would say it's possible. I mean there are a lot of [33:00] people today that say it takes a lot more energy to bring something from the dead rather than give birth. So I'd rather put my energy into giving birth than raising something from the dead.

But I would say raising something from the dead has its own powerful witness. For some of you here, you might have that powerful calling, like a Nehemiah. Nehemiah wasn't called to go [33:30] build a new city. He was called to come into a place that was totally devastated and rebuild it from ground level.

And he did. Some of us are going to be Nehemiahs. Some of us are going to go and start things — the point — here's the thing. It doesn't really matter really in a lot of ways which way you go. I think what we've got to get our discussion back to is to give a lot of credibility and respect to [34:00] both ends.

What a lot of our discussion has got to today is right or wrong, sort of like back to institutional church as something wrong. Well no, there's a big umbrella and God's doing a lot of different things. And there's enough room under God's umbrella if you're called to this kind of church or this kind of church —

Whether you're going to start a church or go to an 80-year old church, either one's okay. It's just what you feel uniquely called to and gifted to [34:30] do. And what I'm trying to do into this whole discussion of context is to legitimize the context of the institutional church as well as legitimize the context of peer church ministry — a lot of great ministries out there.

But I fear people are starting to say "This is the legitimate, and this is the illegitimate." And that's where I get real nervous. Were there on or two other questions before we close? — Yes.

Audience Member: [35:03] [inaudible][35:04 - 35:17]

[35:17] Well, I hadn't thought about it that way. But Paul went there because that's where he had the easiest entry point and where he would have a pretty instantaneous audience. He was pretty smart that way.

So I think there's parallel. Okay, we'll see you next week. We'll finish this and then move on.