Friday, September 4, 2009

The Need for Theologically-Driven Ministry

The Need for Theologically-Driven Ministry

One of the projects our church's leadership team has undertaken is a complete rewrite of our core documents. This process rightly calls everything into question & discussion--our beliefs, mission, identity, and processes.

I list them in this order because only when we fully understand what we believe can we begin to accomplish what we are supposed to do. Far too often Evangelical Christians and congregations find themselves believing rightly but practicing in such a way that is not informed by those beliefs. Yet theology was designed to be inherently practical. It is no accident that so often in Paul's letters he spends the first half discussing theology (e.g. Eph 1-3) and the second half working out the implications of that theology (e.g. Eph 4-6). Thus, whenever churches begin to assess what to do or how to do it, we must look first and foremost at our beliefs. Over the next few days I will try to tease out implications of how our theology must drive our ministry.

Christology - The implications of the incarnation:
The incarnational aspect of our Lord’s ministry went beyond the theological truth that Christ was literally God in flesh. It means that he localized himself in a particular place, culture, and time in order to "seek and save the lost". He did not camp in Jerusalem and build a ministry around a physical building or campus. Instead, he met people where they were at, spoke a language they could understand, and taught in a way that connected to their lives. Perhaps the biggest failure of the modern American church is that we have stopped being Christlike in our approach to ministry. Most church services are disconnected from culture both in belief (which is supposed to be counter-cultural) as well as in style (which was never intended to be so).

The missional church, by contrast, is an assembly of Christ’s followers that understands that they must penetrate the culture with their presence. We are called to take God's unchanging truth and apply it to changing cultures. Certainly we are to be counter-cultural, and Scripture clearly calls us to separate from the evil practices of the world. The doctrine of Christ's divinity (and therefore his holiness) drives us towards a radical rejection of evil and a refusal to tolerate it within our own lives. But a fully embraced doctrine of the incarnation should drive us to recognize we are in the world even as we understand we are not of it. Jesus was out among the people, going to their parties and reaching out to them in love. During his teaching ministry he connected with his audience in ways to which they could relate and understand. The missional church sees its mission as the same as the Lord’s. Christians should be spiritually distinct from the world, but we are not called to be socially segregated from it. God wants us to be a living Christ-like influence in this world, and to do that our personal lifestyles as well as our Sunday morning services must be embedded within our specific cultural context.

Taken together, these theological truths must drive every congregation back to the fundamental question: How can we best impact our specific local culture with the Gospel? Does our current methods, programs, church name, style of worship/preaching, order of service, and even church decor aid us in our theologically-driven ministry? Too often Bible-centered church focus solely on the questions, "Is our style theologically deep?" or "Are we being deeply biblical ?" This is, of course, wonderful and necessary. But if we are to truly engage our biblical mission we must also ask "is this particular form or method the best way to engage the local culture which surrounds us--which includes both the redeemed and unredeemed?" The theological commitments of the apostles must be held along with their missional commitments.

Key questions:
How should an incarnation/missional approach impact:
a. preaching styles?
b. music styles?
c. song selection?
d. service times?
e. "atmosphere"?
f. order of service?
g. ministry programs?

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