Thursday, August 9, 2012

My Ministry Manifesto

The way we perceive the Kingdom of Heaven informs how we practice ministry. Not only must we have sound theology when we participate in the ministry of the Kingdom, but we also must put this theology into practice. Any ministry must be lived out through the life lived by the Spirit, which means that we must maintain a right relationship with God and with those around us. If we wish to be satisfied in ministry, we must first begin with the upkeep of our own spiritual lives, both on a personal level as well as on a corporate level. Ministry should never be done alone. In one way or another, ministry is something that is shared by the community in which the same Spirit – the Spirit of Christ – dwells.
My Theological Understanding of the Life of the Kingdom
In the Via Salutis, or the Way of Salvation, we see Christ’s redemption of fallen humanity at work within us. Before we are saved, we have no desire to serve God. God speaks to us through His Holy Spirit before we are saved in an act that a number of people call prevenient grace, or grace that goes before. This means that before we were seeking God, God was seeking us. Before we were calling to Him, He was calling to us. Without this act of prevenient grace in our lives, we would not seek God. We would be left in our natural state imparted to us by our first parents, doomed to sin and death, without even understanding our need of salvation. But through His prevenient grace God calls out to us, though we may not recognize Him at first.
Salvation is a process. Many people have a difficult time knowing at what exact point they were saved. This is especially true of individuals who have grown up in Christian families and in the church. These people can often identify key points where they made significant progress in their salvation journey. It is good, especially in cases where the individual cannot remember a time in their lives when they did not believe in God or even when they weren’t a Christian, to think of salvation as something that is continuous. Salvation is not limited to one moment in time. It is a progression of one coming closer to God. In this way, salvation includes the time before the person prayed “the sinner’s prayer” when they were willingly moving towards God as well as the time afterwards when they continue to make choices that reflect their devotion to God and the guidance of the Holy Spirit in their lives.
Part of a person’s salvation process is the coming to a realization that they need to be saved. They recognize the great peril they are in and are distressed by it. Through prevenient grace, the Holy Spirit causes the individual to recognize that they need to make a choice about whether or not they are going to follow God.
We eventually come to an understanding of our need of a Savior, and we surrender our lives to Jesus in repentance so that we may be saved. God is faithful, and He saves us. This can be called the act of justification, meaning that we are no longer condemned for our sins because we have surrendered them to God through Christ and have been forgiven.
We experience justification through faith. It is not by works that we are pardoned and saved, but by faith. God makes us spotless in His sight through faith which comes by His grace working within us. We are made righteous through faith. We believe God and have faith in Him whom we cannot see directly, and God declares us to be righteous. The Bible says the same thing of Abraham. It says that “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness” (Gen. 15:6; Rom. 4:3).
We are made new in Christ so that we no longer live for ourselves and for the sinful nature. We continue to die daily to the self and the sinful nature by the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit through the salvation we have found in Christ. We experience regeneration.
We are made new day after day as we grow in our relationship with God. As we continue on in our now redeemed lives, we have many opportunities to turn back to the old way of living in sin. The Holy Spirit works within us letting us know what is pleasing to Him. As we go on living, the Holy Spirit reveals to us even more areas of our lives we were not aware of that we need to surrender over to Him. If we continue to surrender these areas of our lives over to God as He reveals them to us, we eventually come to the point where we decide by God’s grace that we will always surrender everything over to God – both the known as well as the unknown. We choose that we will always say “yes” to God no matter what. This point of experience is referred to by a number of people as “entire sanctification.” Sanctification is a process that continues for the rest of our lives, and even in the afterlife, where our salvation will be made complete. The apostle Paul wrote of the future day of salvation as well as the present day. In the future day of salvation, we will be made like Christ in His glory. Our selves having been restored to the people Christ created us to be. In the meantime, we must remember that Christ’s salvation is also at work in us today. Our life does not begin when we die and go to Heaven. The Kingdom of Heaven breaking into the kingdom of this world is an important element of our present faith in Christ as well as our eschatology. The way we perceive the Kingdom of Heaven informs the way we practice our ministry. Our ministries should not have the sole-goal of getting people to say the sinner’s prayer so that they can go to Heaven. There is more to Christianity than this. The mentality of getting people to "accept Jesus" so that they can go to heaven is actually off-center of what we are called to be as Christians. That view is one that is escapist. It is almost as though we were all just waiting to get into heaven because that is when life really begins. But this is not true. Life is also now, and we must live for more than an escapist feeling that all we need to do is pray so we can go to heaven. We cannot minister to people in this way. The Kingdom of Heaven is now, not just in the eschaton. We need to remember this when we evangelize people. We are not just getting them ready for Heaven. We are equipping them for life in this world as well, recognizing that Heaven starts now, not when we die.
Part of the sanctifying process is that we become the disciples of Jesus. Becoming a disciple of Jesus means more than simply being taught to do good things, though that certainly is a part of it. Discipleship involves taking on the same spirit as that of the teacher – becoming like the teacher, and exercising the same kind of authority as that of the teacher. Jesus told his disciples that they would do even greater miracles than what they had seen Him do. Christ gave the believers His own authority when He breathed on them and they received the Holy Spirit (John 20:21-2). He placed all authority that has been given to Him into the hands of his disciples (Matt. 28:18-20), and we are His disciples. We live by the same Spirit, the Holy Spirit of God Who proceeds from both the Father and the Son and who dwells within us. The filling of the Spirit and the sanctification process are parts of being a disciple.
God’s prevenient grace works in our lives before we are saved, and His sanctifying grace works in our lives once we are saved. It continues to work in us throughout our lives. When we do something that goes against God’s will, the Holy Spirit lets us know, and gives us the opportunity to surrender this part of our lives back to God. God’s saving grace is present in the act of salvation. However, God’s saving grace is also present both before and after salvation. It is what makes both prevenient and sanctifying grace possible.
My Understanding of Core Values for Ministry
Our central goal in ministry is to always place God first in our lives. This is the most important thing we can do. Before we can minister to others, we must love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Deut. 6:5; Matt. 22:37; Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27). In order to be successful ministers we must maintain a daily devotional life and be consistent in prayer. As a couple engaged in ministry together we must also continue to set aside regular times to pray together, for each other and our ministry.
Another goal in our ministry is to love people and to minister to them. The second most important part of ministry is to love our neighbor (Lev. 19:18; Matt. 19:19; 22:39; Mark. 12:31; Luke 10:27; Rom. 13:9; Gal. 5:14). We must reach out to those in need around us regardless of their ethnic background, lifestyle, or religious beliefs. We must learn to see people as Jesus would and to treat everyone we meet with the love of Jesus. We must be imitators of God in our life and conduct, remembering that it was God’s kindness that led us to repentance (Rom. 2:4). We must serve both the physical as well as the spiritual needs of the people we encounter. Jesus came not only to redeem the spiritual aspect of mankind, but the physical aspect as well. The physical and the spiritual are deeply connected. When we minister to someone, we minister to the whole person.
In ministry, we must be ready to develop disciples. We must realize that any ministry we are a part of does not depend on us, it is God’s work; therefore, any ministry we start or obtain should not end when we move on to a different assignment. We must train up other people to minister as we have done and to minister in whatever way they feel God is calling them to serve. We are not to make carbon copies of ourselves. We must invest in the gifts and strengths of others and let them use them to the best of their abilities without forcing our own particular interests upon them. We must also be willing to work as a team and in community, both with each other as well as with other ministers of Christ. We must also allow other people to minister to our needs and not allow ourselves to think that we can do it all on our own. We must be willing to accept gifts and generosity from others. In a very real way, refusing to accept gifts from others as a way of showing your unworthiness is actually an arrogant response. It sends a message that you do not need or want anyone but yourself.
My Succinct Summary of the Gospel
As a result of the original sin of Adam and Eve, all of mankind is fallen. Not only do we carry the burden of Adam and Eve’s original sin, but we also carry the weight of our own personal sins. Adam and Eve also serve as types of who we are as people – people who have been separated from God through rebellion. By our fallen nature, we are prone to depravity, meaning that all who have been given the opportunity to choose between what is right and what is wrong have chosen the wrong over the right. Our sin means that we are no longer in a right relationship with God. We are separated from Him (before salvation) and stand condemned to die in our sins and then be separated from God for eternity in hell. In order to restore a right relationship with us, God sent His only Son into the world to die for us and pay the penalty that our sins deserved. Because of Christ’s sacrifice, we can now enter into a right relationship with God. Our burden of guilt is removed. We can be set free from the works of the devil in our lives. God assumed human form, taking on the role of servant. What He assumed, He redeemed. He became mortal so that we might become immortal. He died so that those of us who die will be saved. He lowered Himself to the lowest reaches of human experience so that the lowest reaches of human experience might be redeemed. We are called to be imitators of Christ, filled with His Spirit.
Ministry Vision
We must keep in mind our mission statement – to love God, to love people, to make disciples – essentially, to bring Heaven to earth. We must maintain a daily devotional life and be consistent in prayer. We must take part in the fellowship of believers, ministering and being ministered to. We must find the correct spiritual disciplines for us to practice on a personal level in order to draw closer to God and to hear His voice more clearly. The spiritual disciplines are not to be seen as something to be feared or as a way of earning favor with God. They are to be seen as one of the ways we are able to better connect with God and be in tune with His Spirit. [1]
We must not be distracted by abstract scenarios based on how we think our lives ought to be lived in a sort of Jesus-mindset. We must instead learn what Jesus actually did in his own life-situation. When we do so, we learn that Jesus was a rabbi. He knew the entire Hebrew Scriptures by heart, and he had learned this through intense studying and memorizing since he was a child. One of the first things we must do if we truly wish to be like Jesus is to study the Scriptures and to know them and the message of God within them in our hearts.
Jesus fasted, and through the act of fasting one can see how Jesus was strengthened by this. Instead of relying on food to feed ones appetite, when fasting one is forced into recognizing a hunger within them of a different sort – a spiritual hunger. When this spiritual hunger is recognized and fed, then one has the ability to endure temptation and be victorious. Worship is both personal and corporate. Jesus also practiced the discipline of solitude. This was not just during his forty day fast in the wilderness where he was tempted by the devil. Jesus is also seen practicing solitude with prayer during His actual ministry. Jesus is recorded as having gone off into the hills by Himself away from all of the crowds and commotion in order to pray and to be alone with God. This was beneficial to Him and may be beneficial to the Christian in their walk. This is especially true for those involved in ministry. While we need to spend alone time worshiping God, we also need to take part in worship services with others, with those to whom we will minister and with those who will minister to us.
We must learn to see people as Jesus would and to treat everyone we meet with the love of Jesus. We must reach out to those in need around us regardless of their ethnic background, lifestyle, or religious beliefs. We must serve both the physical as well as the spiritual needs of the people we encounter. We must be able to preach and teach the word of God in a way that people can understand. We must be able to relate to those to whom we minister on a personal level and not be disconnected from them. We must speak truth into their lives, and we can do this best by knowing them on a personal level. We must be friends with those we minister to, not only speaking the truth of God to them with our words, but demonstrating the attitude of Christ in our life and actions. We must minister to all people: the poor, the rich; the well, the sick; the mentally challenged, the intellectually brilliant; the beautiful, the ugly; the evil, the righteous.
As we lead people into right relationship with Christ, we must keep in mind that conversion is a process that last a person’s entire life. We tend to think of conversion as being at a specific point in time, and while it is helpful to look back and take notice of pivotal points in one’s own salvation journey, we must also keep in mind that our faith is something that grows and develops as we grow closer to God. It should never be stagnant. In ministry, we must remember that getting people to pray the sinner’s prayer is not adequate. While it is good and is an important part of the conversion experience, it is not all there is. Conversion should not be viewed through a linear perspective where at one point one becomes converted. The conversion process is one in which an individual makes many steps in coming closer to Christ.[2] A conversion is not complete after “the second blessing” either. It is moving toward completeness. We must train up people in the faith and the knowledge of God, teaching them what God expects and showing them by example the life lived by the power of the Spirit. We must train up other people to minister as we have done and to minister in whatever way they feel God is calling them to serve. We must also be willing to work as a team and in community, both with each other as well as with other ministers of Christ. We must teach them salvation through Christ as revealed in the Bible, and the life of the Spirit.
Within our ministry, we must always seek to maintain the mind of Christ within us. Just as Christ made time to study the Scriptures thoroughly, we must also take the Scriptures to heart and know them. Just as Christ did not discriminate in those to whom He ministered, reaching out to both the rich and the poor, we must also do the same, recognizing that it is not those who are well who have need of a doctor (Matt. 9:12; Mark 2:17; Luke 5:31). God reaches out to all people. Also, just as Christ took time to practice the spiritual disciplines, we must also do the same, being renewed in mind and spirit through prayer, self-examination, meditation, fasting, silence, and solitude, among others. We must recognize that while we are Christ’s ambassadors, we are not superheroes. We can do nothing without Christ, and we will not truly display the life of the Kingdom if we do not share the responsibilities of our ministries with those in the community of believers who are equipped to partake in the ministry we share. God has not called us to be isolated in life or in ministry. The life of the Kingdom and in ministry is one lived in community.

[1] Willard, Dallas. The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives. Harper Collins Publishers: New York. 1988. 265 pages.

[2] Smith, Gordon T. Beginning Well: Christian Conversion and Authentic Transformation. InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove, IL. 2001. 233 pages.

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