“If the question is ministry… the answer is ‘Yes.’” *
1) Proclaim the Gospel – God’s “Good News”
2) Make Disciples of Jesus among all peoples
These two central tasks of The Church are also responsibilities of every local congregation. At their core, they both necessitate regularly dreaming, developing and deploying new ministries.
If “Proclaim the Gospel” is our calling and our goal, then ministry is how we do that – whether preaching, teaching, planning and leading worship, or feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, welcoming the stranger, visiting the sick and those in prison. Through time we will need to develop new ways to do these ancient tasks – as we change and the community around us changes – to meet people’s need and ability to hear and respond.
We “Make Disciples” when we help people respond to the call Jesus places on their lives to follow Him (Matthew 4), and then help them grow toward maturity in him (Ephesians 4). As a result of their response to Jesus, they will engage in ministry, and some (many?) will be led to develop new ministries or expand existing ones in new ways.
So to accomplish these most basic goals of our purpose as a church – “Proclaim the Gospel” and “Make Disciples” – we will need to be developing new ministries.
How does this happen?
- Sometimes we will be brought or become aware of a need, and we will want to respond to it.
- Other times we will go out, explore and ask questions, thus identifying an opportunity for ministry.
- And still other times someone will have an interest or passion, and feel prompted to imagine a new ministry emerging in that area.
Our responsibility as a congregation is to nurture and support these developments.
How do we do this?
- We preach and teach, promote and encourage, that people imagine and explore new ministry opportunities. “Every follower of Christ is ordained to ministry at baptism.”
- We invite people into conversation to think about what they need to be successful.
Some questions we ask early on:
- How does it make stewardship use of our resources and assets?
- How can it make a positive impact in some way?
- How can we support people as they pursue this idea?
- How might it impact our other ministries? Confer with those leaders early.
- How will it help people connect with God, self, each other, their neighbors?
- Who else might want to be a part of this project?
Some questions we hold till later:
- Do we have enough people to make this work?
- Do we have enough knowledge or skill? Do we know how to do it?
- Do we have enough money or other resources to make this work?
- How much will it cost?
- Will everyone want to participate?
- Will everyone be happy about this?
- Will we be able to sustain it long term?
- Did we try it before and it failed? If so, do we know why?
- What are the obstacles that might prevent success?
Our responsibility is not to find obstacles and reasons why something can’t or shouldn’t happen. Our task is to look and listen for the new things that God desires to do among us (Isaiah 43:19).
Some of our ministries are simply “the things churches do” –worship, teach, pray, fellowship, serve others, study scripture and theology. In these areas there is always opportunity for exploring new expressions that will touch hearts, minds and lives in new ways, even while honoring our heritage and the things that have spoken most deeply to our souls through many decades.
Others may fall outside of what we think of as “traditional” ministries. Keep in mind that Sunday School, so central to 20th century church life, was a novel and disruptive innovation in the 19th century.
Let’s remember also that you and I needn’t have any interest or ability in a particular area in order for us to be encouraging and supportive of someone else’s efforts to start a new ministry. Paul’s teaching about the various parts of the Body of Christ is particularly helpful here (Romans 12 & 1 Corinthians 12).
We are surrounded by a culture of scarcity, of limited resources, of win/lose propositions. In contrast, the Bible tells us that “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof” (Psalm 24). There is no real lack of resources. There is more than enough to accomplish all that God desires. If we will do our part, make the contribution that is ours to give, then God promises to do the rest. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. (Malachi 3:10) We have no way of knowing how, when, from whom or where God will make provision. What we do have is this promise: God can do “immeasurably far more than all we can ask or imagine, according to his power that is [already] at work within us.” (Ephesians 3).
Church, as we approach the season of Giving Thanks, and await the Advent of God’s appearing, let us hope and pray that we may be faithful, and in turn that we may…
“Taste and see that the Lord is good.” (Psalm 34:8)
* Thanks to one of my mentors, Rev. Dr. Larry Ross, for the introductory quote. I have heard him say this repeatedly over the last 15 years, and I think it is such an important starting principle for congregations, judicatories, and other ministries.