Ministry: Division of Labor or Way of Life?

Many churches (at least the ones in which I grew up) divided up their ministries into categories.  They allocated money to each particular ministry and developed programs in which people could participate in order to do that particular ministry.  I understand the model and appreciate the desire to do ministry; however, I’m concerned that when we divide each of these ministries into categories and subcategories, we destroy true ministry.

Many churches follow Rick Warren’s model for the “Purpose Driven Church.”  Warren provides five purposes for which a church exists and all money, time, and effort should flow into each of these purposes.  They are worship, fellowship, discipleship, ministry, and evangelism.  I have not read the book–this is not meant to be a critique of it.  However, I have been in churches which use this and similar models.  I am critiquing the idea of separating ministries into categories.

When we look at Jesus’ ministry and his teaching to the disciples, do we see such a division of labor?  Is his work based on industrial age efficiency?  When he sent out the 72 missionaries he told them to speak peace, eat meals, and heal people.  They even cast out a few demons (Lk 10:1-23).  We see the modern ideas of fellowship, evangelism, and ministry here, yet they are not divided into categories–into the purposes the disciples must fulfill if they are to do true ministry.  They simply go and live with people, bringing the natural result of the Kingdom of God breaking into a broken world.

I guess what concerns me is the belief that these “ministries” can be separated.  I understand that most churches with this model would say that the “purposes” bleed over into each other and often one task comprises two or three different “purposes.”  Though, even still, they are distinct and separate from each other.  I believe this separation is dangerous and undermines the missionary character of the church.  When we view ministry as “helping people,” and therefore separate from evangelism, we teach people that we are not truly evangelizing unless we provide them with certain, preselected information about a part of what the Bible says.  When we view evangelism as separate from discipleship we teach people that they can be saved and repent from a life of sin apart from the body of Christ.

Are the “purposes” really so distinct from one another that one can be identified apart from the others?  When we help others (what Warren calls “ministry”) are we not also evangelizing (bringing the good news through action–that they may see our good works and glorify our Father in Heaven)?  Is it possible to evangelize without making disciples?  Is it possible to make disciples without fellowship–sharing a table with them?  Should we partake of any meal in which we do not do so to the glory of God (worship)?

Jesus gave his modus operandi in Lk 4:18-19:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Jesus is the Great Apostle, sent by the Father as a missionary.  Jesus didn’t do ministry here and do evangelism there.  He brought and, indeed, embodied the Kingdom of God on Earth.  As a missionary, his bringing of the Good News came in different forms.  For some it came through healing, for others through hearing his teaching.  All of it entailed ministry, discipleship, evangelism, worship, fellowship, and whatever other ministry our churches do.  They are all one and the same: they are the act of gospeling.  “Gospel” is a verb; not a noun.  Jesus sent us to be missionaries in the same way (Jn 20:21).  We are called to gospel.   The narrative of Acts reveals how the first century church fulfilled that callingIt came in as much a variety as it did in the ministry of Jesus–table-fellowship, healing, casting out demons, raising people from the dead, hearing the word of God taught, and so much more.

Commenting on the compartmentalization of ministry, a friend of mine (who blogs here) said,

I think churches would do well to ask questions such as, “what is worship” (most people think it’s singing/music); “what is fellowship?” (potluck?); “what is discipleship?” (memorizing scripture, church attendance, tithing?); “what is ministry?” (that thing that some people are called to, but most aren’t); “what is evangelism?” (telling someone how to “go to heaven” and stay out of hell).

He went on to say that in order to clear up these issues, the church must recover a “Gospel of the Kingdom” rather than a “soterian” gospel (the idea that Jesus came to save you from Hell so you can go to Heaven).  If we view the gospel as a much greater story about cosmic redemption beginning with Israel, climaxing in the person and work of Christ, and continuing in the missionary church who brings his Lordship to Earth, then the need for such categorized programs would no longer exist.  When we ask the above questions in light of the greater picture, our understanding of how they play out individually and in the Church would be drastically different.  (Paraphrased and spiced up with permission.)

When we compartmentalize the Christian life it fosters a theology of doing instead of being.  Our formulas and efficiency-based models of doing ministry undermine the biblical call to be missionaries–to gospel.  I grew up believing that only certain actions constituted “sharing the gospel”–that only certain actions constituted fellowship (etc.).  When we dictate what actions constitute “evangelism” or “discipleship” or “ministry,” we limit other believers’ abilities to use their gifts and follow the Spirit in order to discern what form their gospeling should take as they encounter various people.

Do you think program-based ministry hurts or helps the church?  What could churches do to encourage a theology of being rather than a theology of doing when it comes to ministry?


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