Theology of Ministry - Lesson 17


It’s important for your theology to inform your ministry and for your ministry to apply your theology. Reflecting on your theology of ministry helps you understand your identity and your task as a minister. All ministries should have some continuity with the past and also be flexible enough to adapt to present situations.

John  Johnson
Theology of Ministry
Lesson 17
Watching Now


I. Review

II. Gregory

A. Leadership (order)

B. Therapy (healing)

C. Mediator (reconciliation)

III. Importance of articulating and practicing your own theology of ministry

IV. Traditional vs. Emergent church

V. Question and Answer

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.


Okay, what I’m going to do here is wrap up with a few thoughts in this course and then maybe we’ll have some time to just talk about ministry, theologically. Things maybe we have left out or need clarification. What I’ve tried to say especially in this class is: That when it comes to doing ministry we think critically, carefully and we always think theologically about ministry. Again what I, I want to start off by saying and I want to end saying that the theology ministry are like two people walking. They must walk arm in arm down the same road.

What that means is then that our methodology is constantly under the light, the discerning penetrating lamp of theology. And conversely, that the theology is constantly asking itself, “Okay, so what will this look like flashed out in ministry?” If we can’t answer that question, then what’s the point of that theology. Theology eventually has to find its way out into ministry and ministry must find its way always back to theology. They should never be separated.

Part of what we did is we went back to… intentionally, we went back to some early pastors. Why don't we go back to them again? As our working examples. Yeah?

Male Speaker 2: Most of the theologians are ministers.

Yeah, they were ministers and they were theologians. So we went back to them because it never entered into their minds to separate the two but eventually, as I’ve mentioned I think in one of the early lectures, the two were separated into academic theology and practical theology. Something that happened somewhere in Europe around the Enlightenment and the draw… the lines were drawn between the academic institution and ministry. What happened in Europe was imported to America and into the curriculum of Divinity Schools and seminaries but I think that’s changing. I think there’s a new breed and I like to think that you are part of that breed. I hope anyway of pastoral theologians, ministerial theologians who refused to draw the lines between theory and practice, who in doing ministry constantly reflect on Word, reflect on theology, reflect on Church History so that whether we’re preaching, or counseling or leading, we’re filtering it all through theology.

Now as I’ve mentioned, we went back to some of these earlier guys because they didn't draw those lines and we went to several… and I want to go back just for a moment to review one of them and that was Gregory of Nazianzus. Remember him? He was one of those chapters in Pegasus book and I was reading about his life from another theologian. He gave me another slam on his ministry. I'm using him again as, as we kind of wrap up just to say, “Okay, so what does that look like again?” cause what he did was he went back to Gregory and said. “Okay.” Because Gregory thought about ministry theologically, it defined therefore his ministry and described it in these three ways. Because of what Gregory understood Scripture to teach, he went out in ministry. First of all, defining ministry as leadership. That is, ministry is a form of rule that is, … were, taking on the leadership of souls which is using again a work example instead of drawing the lines, you bring the two together. He saw the minister as one that is called to bring order into the community. His theology drove his practice and so his practice was: this is my role. I need to bring order into the community. A community that is disordered because of sin. A community that is messed up because of pride and self-centeredness and individualism. Because it is, right?

You get upfront and you, you speak to the congregation and you want it to see themselves as the Body of Christ but a lot of them look at you with a blank face cause they, especially in our culture, are so steep in individualism that they don't see themselves as a community; as a Body of Christ. So, Gregory, thinking through his theology, says “Who am I?” What is this task, this role of ministry? Well he said, well first of all, it’s leadership and what it is: It’s bringing order into this disorder. As he put it in another way is, my task is to domesticate this ‘wild beast’ and bring it back to some conformity; to be the image of God; to be the Body of Christ. So that defined his ministry. Defined his ministry because his theology drove him to that.

Here was a second, he saw ministry as largely about therapy. He studied, he looked at theology and he said. “What is ministry? What is a minister?” And then he centered… he circled it around first of all, leader; secondly,… and that was all about bringing order and then second key word that defined his ministry was therapy: To bring healing. He looked at his theology, he looked at the nature of ministry and he realized his fundamental task is to be a ‘physician’ of the soul, doing interior operational work. Largely, dealing with two primary issues: People centrality [phonetics] out of control and alienation from God. And he saw this as a skill that must be carefully, carefully developed more so than an ordinary doctor because a ‘physician’ of the soul is dealing with the care of something that is immortal, eternal versus the body that is not. So he saw in his ministry this high calling of being a therapist, if you will, to bring healing to the soul and he was profoundly moved by the high task of that because of the immortality.

The third piece that defined his ministry and defined him was a mediator: To bring reconciliation. That is, he saw in this task that he was called to; that he stands between the dazzling brilliance of the heavenly realm and the darkness of the earth. And his first ministry in this realm, in this role is to bring Word, proclamation, to speak about God. Now I’m just giving this again as just an example of what we’ve tried to do in this course and to say, “Okay what is this task of ministry? I think through my theology, I come up with an understanding of what my identity is, what my task is.” So this is what Gregory did. He looked at his whole theology and ministry and said, “Well, here’s what my task is. I’m here to bring order. I’m here to bring healing. I’m here to bring reconciliation.” So everything defined him that way. Defined his ministry that way. Just as I think I gave you early on in my own experience of wrestling through this question that came up with, in the pastoral anyway, pastors, prophet, priest, sage, king [phonetics] and that has really given me a theology of ministry that flows out of theology of identity.

I think more and more… hopefully more and more of us are going come to the place of owning a theology in ministry that defines our practice but we still have ways to go because our tendency is to still let the practical dominate ministry. It’s going to be a pull. Ray Anderson from Fuller put it this way. Most theology as well as the tools of critical biblical study are thrown out when the student returns to take up their post on the front lines of ministry. They’re under pressure to be successful leaders of their organizational church. They are easily attracted to pragmatic strategies for church growth, conflict management, pastoral counsel and he’s right. It’ll be easy to be attracted to just what works and become pragmatic in orientation because our culture values that which is pragmatic.

In this class, I hope anyway we got a little bit more understanding of the importance of theology, its place in defining ministry that what we do methodologically, just need always through that filter. We looked a little bit at Carson’s book as just one working example of someone trying to look at a ministry that maybe sometimes doesn't take the care it needs to, to think theologically whether you agree with Carson or not, at least he gives us a picture of what it means to do theology and evaluate ministry in light… in light of theology which I think he especially does in the last chapter. I got to thinking about this, just interesting thought throughout all these as I close here. You know, I think about the Emerging Church, the traditional church today and I was reading something by Ray Anderson that made me think about and say and thought about… in a certain sense, there has always been a sort of, a feud between these two kinds of groups. Let me tell you what I mean. This is how he puts it: “There is always tension between ecclesial theology and mission theology. There's always been a tension between ecclesial theology and mission theology.” What do you think he means by that?

Male Speaker 3: How we do church when we’re in the church and then the other is that how does a church reach out to those who are not yet have that.


Male Speaker 3: There is always that aspect that, hey we’re believers, we’re here. How do we relate with God within that community? The other one is how do we go out and reach out to those who are not yet in that community.

Yeah. What I think Anderson is saying, I don't think he would draw that tension quite that way. Let me explain a little bit how he puts it. Let’s see if this makes sense. He says, “There is always been a tension between the ecclesial and mission theology”. Then he says, “Think of it another way. There’s always been a tension between Jerusalem and Pentecost.” I got to think about this a little bit. “There’s always been a tension between Jerusalem and Pentecost.” Between say, Peter and James who Paul has to rebuked who more of a traditionalist (Acts 15, Galatians 2:12) and Paul, the more missional, driven more by Pentecost (Acts 2). Here we got to think about it a little bit. Do you see what he’s saying? That there’s always been this sort of one intention. Paul’s out there. It seems like James and Peter are more in there and sometimes I think I’ve… the traditional over here, the emergent over here and what’s happening: What is it about that tension? Could it be that every now and then, God raises an emergent movement, let’s say, to kind of help correct the course of the ecclesial or the traditional that starts to become a little bit too in-grown, that starts to let institutions and things get it off from mission.

And the reality is, both need each other. It's not either or. Ecclesial and missional really should always work together in a certain sense. So let me develop a little bit more and then tell me what you think. All ministry is practiced in some context of tradition. Another words, all ministry should have anyway, some continuity with the past. I mean somebody said, “We’re starting whole new ministry, unlike anything that’s ever been done.” It has no relationship with anything except starting today. You play god. I don't think I want to be part of that. So all ministry has lines that go back that has some continuity with the past but the danger of tradition is that the tradition can become closed and turn in on itself, like that phrase, cause I think that’s true. Tradition can begin to close. It can begin to turn in on itself.

The emergent churches of today will be the traditional churches of tomorrow, some anyway. And by turning in on itself, comes to a place where it says, “We don't need to change anything.” And in fact look at change with suspicion. Now, on the other side, is this missional theology that if it’s not careful can lose its center by being so reactive to the traditional that it finds itself too far over here, away from the center where it needs to get to. Anderson sort of puts it this way: “What’s needed are churches driven by a mission theology, guided by a foundation of systematic and historical theology. Churches ministries driven by a mission theology guided by a foundation of systematic and historical theology such that the church will not be held captive to the structures of its own creation because if its paying attention to theology, it will continue to revision like old wineskins that never really become old, they just keep giving way to new and creative forms of ministry.”

So you see, that’s what happens with institutionalism. It’s you create the necessary structures, but then you become held captive to those structures. Instead of always freshly reading theology, always seeing what God is doing, how the Spirit of God is moving, so that ministry continues to revision, and wineskins never in a certain sense have a chance to harden because they almost always are becoming new which is necessary to hold this fermenting Jesus inside who will not stay inside of old wineskins.

How does theology and ministry help us? We look at say, this Emergent movement today. We look at traditional church. What does their theology tell us? Who's right? Well, my theology says they are both right. Their both necessary; they both need each other; need to pay attention to each other and find both maybe at the center point here where ecclesial and missional theology work really together in a strong way. Does that make sense?

Male Speaker 4: Okay, you’re saying that you know, the traditional church, emergent church then there are also kind of like the ‘seeker’ church that doesn't really fit either category.

Yeah, I mean I just put a… I put ‘seeker’ probably as another category like Emergent Church that’s reacting to that inner sense, sometimes it can be movement from God to wake up, you know, “Hey, don’t forget we’re here to reach lost people but don't forget we’re here to be incarnational, to get out of the walls” But rather than alienate one another to see that these become the necessary correctives but they can only go so far. Some of these correctives can sometimes get off course themselves by not paying attention to the theology that the traditional church also stop paying attention to cause if it was paying attention to theology, it would not have lead the structures begin to define itself. So when I look at traditional churches, institutionalize churches, they also lost their theology cause my argument is that theology keeps us back centered, always changing, always growing, always balanced.

I love a lot of what I see some of my Emergent brothers doing in ministry and I’m also a bit fearful of some of the theology that they may not be paying attention to, that could take them off course but then I’m also mindful of the theology that the traditional churches missing too, to gets it off-course. What else? Free fall or anything that you want to talk about ministry, theology of ministry. Anything we’ve not really addressed that you feel we should? Yeah.

Male Speaker 5: I think any ministry just has its pros and cons. You will eventually find within it and the different movements that we see are sort of one group just reacting with the other because they don't like the things their cons and so they will try to form their own remedy to that which ends up having it’s own cause of agenda, you know. Spotting enough screw pin. It seems to me that a lot of it is reciprocal to its own history. That you end up with a lot of people making the same sorts of new break-aways, new break-aways and I’m just wondering if there’s really anyway to try to create a church or movement that will … that can really appeal to across the border that will successful instead of having this sort of new break away.

I don't know how to answer that to well. I mean maybe in a certain sense, you can’t. We all face reality so when we get older, we may not as we want to make a meat generations, meet the needs of the rich or which maybe next generations but I also go back to this that I find at the end of the day, still nonetheless, what everybody, no matter what regeneration or time period wants ultimately whether they realized it or not, a sound theology that flows out of solid ministry.

I mean at the end of the day, what I’ve find people hunger for no matter who they are, is that they just want to know that God has spoke and they’ve heard His Voice and their lives are radically changed and different because of that and I think whatever we do, if we can be that voice, we’ll always have ministry.

Male Speaker 5: God make ministry where there is context of border in existing position where with those things come new situation and they are maybe discrepancy and you’ve lost the ministry in the churches and you talk about some of the rule. Is there a rule in forming and growing in churches last few ministry or is it a matter of finding the best fit or… ? [crosstalk]

Or for yourself before you enter in?

Male Speaker 5: Yeah, seeing that there is a dual process of understanding you philosophy and understanding that the churches also are informing and growing in churches, so it’s more theologically true.

Yeah. Right. I think a lot of that… that’s have to be discerned right at the beginning by the kind of questions that you’ve asked that says, How willing are you to grow and change? And not just ask that simple question but have some things behind that you specifically you want to know and if they flinch or if they are unwilling then that probably is a signal from God, maybe that’s not the road to go because you might get very frustrated but if you find the people that say you know, we have gotten a little bit in-grown. We’ve started to let these structures eclipse truth and we need someone to help us through the wilderness. We’re not saying that it’s going to be easy but we’re willing to come to Scripture together and we need someone help guide us there. Would you be wiling? That might be God saying, go for it.

I think the mistake today is of us to too quickly dismiss maybe a traditional church over here, a traditional ministry that needs a fresh voice and there’s also a great place for going fresh and starting something new. It’s not that one is better than the other. Both are necessary but what I would say from my personal experience is anyone who goes this traditional side over here, better ask some real hard questions at the beginning to make sure that you don't get into as situation where you find yourself five years later so frustrated and beating your head against the wall and you’re not going anywhere and they are only getting more alienated towards you. But a lot of it could be just also you know how the Spirit of God leads. Not everybody in Scripture goes to ministries they wanted to go to. You know, Jonah will probably say something about that. So God may call some of us to Nineveh. That’s where again our theology of ministry will inform in ways like that. And some of us may need to… It maybe necessary for us to go through Nineveh before we get to Shangri-La, if there is such a place on earth. So yeah.

Male Speaker 6: How early would you say is too early to change something if you’re new to ministry?

A lot of that is just going to be gaged people how ready they are. If they are like from there from day one and say, “Help, please. Let’s go. We want to get through the wilderness but on the other hand and if you find the place that’s pretty entrenched and not ready to make much change, it would be really foolish to change too much. But almost either way I think in any ministry,we need to… and this is part of our humility, I think is to come in and say “You know, I have a lot to learn from you too.” I want to learn this first year. I want to just listen. And then probably you will make a lot better choices. The thing… I think we need to guard from… because sometimes I see a little bit in some of my emergent brothers is, and I’m not saying that it’s just them, I mean there’s… it’s true across the board but there can be an arrogance that sometimes says “We’ve come now with the answers that you’ve all been waiting for. We are the corrective voice. We are the… ” And in a certain sense, that says everything up to now has been bad. Modernity wasn't necessarily bad, I mean there are a lot of good things about modernity. We just need to be careful that we don't come across as arrogant while I’m a sinner but I’m glad I got the answer or I’ve got the theology so you know, for ministry. Let me you know… okay you guys, sit-down please. We need to come as humble servants no matter what ministry we do cause that’s our theology of ministry. That’s a big part of our theology in ministry. So.

Male Speaker 6: I see new pastors coming in functionally and act as if nothing had ever gone wrong before them. They basically trashed everything and the staff what is not going good with the last pastor. All the things that they build and invest and you hear them out and it’s gone and disregarded. It's crushing. I’ve seen that really hurt…

Yeah, and it’s the arrogance of youth and the reality all of us either out there or were there, I mean it’s almost a passage we all go through. I looked at some of the more deep constructionist types out there, ready to change everything and I kind of go, boy, you know, you’re rather arrogant but then I go Jeez, I remember when I was 22, I was in San Diego State University where we were throwing chairs through the windows of the administration buildings because you know, everything was bad, everything that was corporate was bad, you know, during that great Vietnam era when… so it worked enough rebellion in me that now I still have ac certain amount of it to this day.

I hope there is a certain rebellious streak in all of us that kind of stays there. There is a certain part of our rebellious streak that we need to just give to God and repent of but there is a certain rebelliousness that in effect comes in, all reasons says, “I’m not sure if this is the way we should be doing this”. There is a certain rebellious streak in us I think we need to have that when some people traditionalist or others who are holding onto things they shouldn't hold onto that you’re just rebellious enough to say, “Okay, I’m going to change this, you know.” Cause it needs to change.

I don't think Scripture in terms theology in ministry has caused any of us to be conformists. I mean we’re called to change the world, turn the world upside down and that takes a certain amount of rebellion but rebellion to… not against God but against the things that are not of God. Anything else that you want to ask about?

Male Speaker 7: May I ask one thing?


Male Speaker 7: Okay, so we talked a lot about pastoral theology in here and so we go to Scripture and find out what pastors is, what pastors should be…

And I try to use more the broader term of minister here, realizing not all of us here are going to be pastors. Yeah.

Male Speaker 7: Yeah, you go to Scriptures and find out what pastor is. I know a list of you know, apostles, prophets, pastors, evangelists, teachers all the term shepherd yo know, on different passages and most things but Ephesians 4 really specifically stands out to me. I kind of see those and I just… really makes me wonder… well, can you just give me your view on today’s church and the function of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher in relationship to the local church today cause God provided each of those people but basically your view on those roles in the church of today.

Yeah. See and that’s a really good theological question I think today. I’m not sure if I have any real defined answer. I mean I grew up more in the tradition that said “Okay, there were these rules for these seasons and so they are gone now, okay. They are like the foundation stones.” I think going back over to Ephesians 2, Ephesians 1 and they serve their purpose and they were foundational to the church and there’s part of me that still believes that that the role of the prophet, the role of the apostle had their particular place for this particular period and yet I also find myself more and more realizing that there’s something of this apostolic church we need to be in. There’s something of this prophetic function that we still need to hang onto. In fact we need to sort of draw it back out of the cupboard where it’s disappeared. I’m finding more and more for example that I think a pastor need to more and more to grab hold of being a prophet. [crosstalk] Yeah, well, I think they were assigned roles in a certain sense historically. I think the nature of that ministry goes on. I’m not saying well, that the day of the prophets is over. I think there’s still the prophetic task. In fact… then I go to Acts 2 where it seems like when the Spirit came at Pentecost, He in effect called the whole community of Christ to be a prophetic community which I think is the point of Joel chapter 2. We all are now the prophets.

So, if you try and take Ephesians 4, lined it up with Acts 2, it’s going to sound like I’m weaseling a little bit but I just find… there’s a lot of things that have a certain mystery to them. They are not just clear cut and dry issues. So I see so to speak those function’s still alive somehow in the church except… [crosstalk] yeah. A person who is the prophet who has the gift of… [crosstalk]

Male Speaker 7: Also a local congregation or…

That’s probably where I’m not quite there. I’m not sure I see that exactly. I see the function more than a person as that defined role. [crosstalk]

Male Speaker 7: Do you remember the conversation you had down in … [crosstalk]

Oh yeah, with… for us… [crosstalk]

Male Speaker 7: At the end of the day, you sort of really going down that they had role of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, teacher. You talked about that. You remember that?

I do but I can't’ … [crosstalk]

Male Speaker 7: That’s what I was talking about.

Yeah. It’s been awhile since I’ve read that. Well, I’m not sure if I can really come in on that. Obviously I don't have as clear thought on that as I should. I think a lot of literature we’re reading today about the church seems to be resurrecting those roles and raising the question: What is their place today? Is there a place of them? And if so, what would they look like? I think the best answer I can give is sort to speak and say that’s exactly what a class like this is about. Thinking through questions like that and try to think them through theologically. That one there I don't think it’s going to be an easy answer. What do you guys think?

Male Speaker 7: Definitely we are moving in that direction. The reason that I came to the question was I… well, first of all started looking at what we want pastor to be and I start moving to Ephesians 4 and started to think that through and been thinking basically the assumptions is that the church maybe a pastor and but I haven't really seen paid elders either and begin to discover. Wow this seems like my understanding has been backwards too and okay so, there seems to be more leadership roles in a church than a pastor. There is just one place in Scripture where the word ‘pastor’ is mentioned and yet there’s so much emphasis on that instead of this list of other people and I always thought pastor was supposed to be all five of these people and then I felt like we are all that kind of evangelistic that we kind of work harder that discipline or even frankly, pastoral the shepherding has been more of a discipline than working attribute but the role of an apostle and that of a teacher ones that are more of who I am. So I started looking at it and began to see other things. There is five different people who are groups of people working together and teaching, instructing and working in kind of side by side to equip the church. Picture someone like Troy being trained by all these different people within you know, the church and equipped for the ministry from all those different perspectives being sent out rather than each trying to throw about you know somebody else… [crosstalk]

Or you might come to a place like this sort of like I did with the Old Testament offices is to say that a dimension of all of those needs is defined as pastor. My gifting will determine which is predominant. While I don't need to be all of those things in one sense to everybody. I may no have the luxury to be one of those. It’s just by the nature of my calling. There needs to be an evangelistic side to my ministry though I’m not gifted that way and I don't seem that it’s a strong suit. Nonetheless, I don't get a pass from that. I have a prophetic side to my ministry. I have a shepherding side to my ministry.

Male Speaker 7: That aspect of all of the qualities of Christ was commanded to each of those areas… [crosstalk]

In a sense but then you go back and realize that God didn't put those in. He does call and I’ll go back again and use that as a passage that there is a calling on some nonetheless that is different. That their task in those functions is to equip saints to the ministry. [crosstalk] In that passage but I go to other passages that would bring in other words like authority. Those who will give account for those we’ve shepherded, we’ve taught.

Male Speaker 7: I’m just trying to match elders with prophets, apostles, evangelist, pastors and teachers and how they work together seen in Acts 15 said that the apostles and the elders come together to make a decision between the two… [crosstalk]

Well, you can see because there is so many different voices that approach those all differently. I don't know if anyone is going to say that here’s the definite answer. You all must come and say as I’ve worked out my theology, this is kind of where I’ve land but it’s a really good question. Probably worthy of a really good paper at some point but it’s not been done. Well, thanks everybody. We’ll see you next week.