BIBLICAL PHILOSOPHY OF MINISTRY
Ministry can be and is being done in various ways. Each church ministry differs from the next. So which way is right? How do we go about biblical ministry in such a way that it brings honor to Christ, the Head of the Church, and exemplifies faithfulness to God’s revealed will in Scripture? The Bible spells out what the minister is to do and how he is to do it. The Bible gives the pattern for the church’s mandates and traditions through divine precept or example.
Moses was instructed in the Old Testament on how to accomplish God’s plan through His people. And in the New Testament Paul wrote to Timothy on how the church is supposed to operate (1 Tim. 3:14-16). Paul often urged the church to have customs and traditions such as were handed down by him (1 Cor. 11:2, 16; 2 Thess. 2:15; 3:6). Though ministry is practiced in many ways by pastors, it needs to be done in a way that strives to receive the Savior’s commendation of “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”. Thus, in order to gain the accolades of the Lord, ministry must be conducted according to Scripture. Ministry is not something that should—or even could—be reinvented. It should be vitally connected to the rich history of ministry laid down in Scripture. Biblical ministry is not something new, nor is it disconnected from the past. The church does not need to seek new marketing principles for church growth. Neither does it need to emphasize new techniques, like drama or music, at the expense of the preaching and teaching ministry that the church should always maintain at its core. Pastors are responsible to hammer out both a thorough doctrinal statement (what we believe) and a thoroughly biblical philosophy of ministry (how we practice what we believe). We need to know what we are seeking to accomplish and how we will bring those goals to pass.
A philosophy of ministry should not only be biblically-based but structured to give the pastor and people a sense of purpose. Paul was certain of what he wanted to accomplish and applied himself to the ministry without reservation (1 Cor. 9:26; Eccles. 9:10).
A structured philosophy of ministry also gives the pastor and congregation a sense of accomplishment. He can be fulfilled if he sets goals and meets them (Acts 20:24; 1 Cor. 9:24; 2 Tim. 4:7).
All that takes place in the name of ministry should be carried out from biblical mandates, biblical principles, and biblical examples. The following principles will provide the big picture or blueprint of how all ministry should be accomplished that takes place in the name of Christ. Work that is built on the following biblical principles will be sure to stand the test of time and eternity. God’s “foolishness” is wiser than man, thus it is His insight on ministry that must be sought (1 Cor. 1).
The first and fundamental foundation that all biblical ministries should be built upon is a proper view of Scripture.
I. High View of Scripture
A high view of Scripture first of all affirms its inspiration. The Bible teaches verbal, plenary (i.e.., every word) inspiration of itself (2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:20-21). It has literally been “breathed out” by God, a source outside the human authors, though He moved them along.
A high view of Scripture, second of all, affirms inerrancy; the Bible is free from any errors and is unable to fail (infallible). As God conveyed His truth to divinely chosen instruments, He made sure that what they wrote was a faithful transferal of the original formulation of truth as it existed in the mind of God (Ps. 19). Since the Bible’s source is God, its truthfulness, accuracy, and inerrancy are anchored in the character of God, who cannot lie (Titus 1:2).
Furthermore, a high view of Scripture affirms its authority. In order to have a biblical ministry, man must obey what the Bible says (Ps. 119). God said it…that settles it. It is absolutely binding on man if he desires to honor Christ. The Christian makes obedience to the Word an obsession, not an option.
A high view of Scripture also includes an affirmation of its sufficiency (2 Pet. 1:3-4; Ps. 19; 2 Tim. 3:17; Heb. 4:12). A true belief in the sufficiency of Scripture prohibits any attempt to mingle it with psychology or worldly philosophy. Paul makes it clear in 1 Corinthians 1, as well as James in his fourth chapter, that man is to choose God’s wisdom rather than man’s.
Finally, a high view of Scripture is one that believes it to be relevant and applicable for every situation of life (Ps. 19; 2 Tim. 3:17; Ps. 119:105; Is. 40:8). Man is to live by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God (Matt. 4).
Nowhere will a pastor’s view of Scripture be made more apparent than in his preaching and counseling ministry. If he truly has a high view of Scripture, he will be an expository preacher. He will not deviate from declaring the whole counsel of God as he exposes and explains God’s truth to His people one verse at a time in its historical-grammatical context (Acts 20:20,27). He will not bother his hearers with his own thoughts or the opinions of man. His ministry is a ministry of the Word, in that the better his congregation understands and applies the Bible, the more protected from error they are. He will emphasize growth in holiness and Christ-likeness over programs or pragmatic church-growth strategies.
It follows that a pastor with a high view of Scripture will be a nouthetic (or biblical) counselor. Such a counselor is one who is characterized by constant growth and true spirituality (Gal. 6:1-2) and complete trust in the Holy Spirit as he brings the Word to bear on the counselee’s life (Matt. 18:15 ff.; Col. 1:28; 1 Thess. 5:14). He will diagnose man’s biggest problem not as being a “poor cultural conformity” but as sin that must be confessed and forsaken (Prov. 28:13). He will always be on the watch lest his sheep be spoiled through man’s philosophy instead of being conformed to Christ’s likeness (Col. 2:8). Through Scriptural instruction, he helps discern the issues of the times. For instance, homosexuality is not genetic but is a sinful lifestyle. Abortion is not a choice but is murder. Therapeutic labels from secular psychology are avoided and instead pursuing our responsibility in progressive sanctification and embracing our completeness in Christ is taught.
Thus, his ministry will be bibline, always asking the question, “But what does the Bible have to say about this situation?” His ministry will concern itself with doctrine— God’s truth. A true shepherd who is concerned with guarding the sheep will fervently establish them in sound theology rather than mystical feelings (Eph. 4:14-15; 2 Tim. 2:10; Tit. 1:9; 2:1).
A high view of the Word of God leads us to a proper view of the God of the Word.
II. High View of God
A high view of God leads man to glorify Him for His absolute holiness, righteousness, justice, etc. God demands to be worshipped through man’s lips and life as he testifies of God’s attributes by demonstrating those qualities in his own life. A high view of God also leads to a God-centered ministry as opposed to a man-centered ministry. A God-centered ministry is one that concerns itself with only pleasing Him. This kind of ministry exalts God for His goodness rather than reducing Him to man’s terms in idolatry (Rom. 1:21 ff.). Man-centered ministry, however, is more concerned with the fear of man and with meeting man’s felt needs rather than fearing God in amazement at His utter holiness (Is. 6; Heb. 12:28-29).
Though the church is supposed to be concerned with the needs of others and horizontal relationships with each other, the worship service is not the time for that emphasis. Even though they can enjoy fellowship before and after the service, the participants are to be primarily focused on God. A constant attitude of reverence and godly awe should be maintained. The Sunday worship service exists to put God on display in all of His glorious splendor through the public reading of Scripture, the pastoral prayer, the preaching, etc. The man of God must pursue being an exaltational expositor. The music should be done with excellence for God’s glory, always including good doctrinal hymns and spiritual songs (Eph 5:19).
A high view of God includes a constant dependence on the Spirit of God. This man’s ministry should be characterized by continual prayer. A dependence on the Spirit assures that He is the one who builds the house.
Finally, a high view of God takes into account Christ’s proper place of preeminence in the church. The ministry is all about Him. It is His church and His day that has been specifically set aside for corporate worship. The Lord’s Day is the beginning of the week for the believer, enabling him to orient his whole week around the Lord and His will. Thus, there is to be a focus and regular reflection on the Lord’s Supper, as it memorializes His finished sacrifice on the cross.
A proper view of God leads to a proper view of man.
III. Accurate View of Man
When man considers God enthroned above, high and lifted up in all of His glorious splendor, man sees himself woefully undone as Isaiah did in Isaiah 6.
First of all, man is totally depraved, not simply deprived. Some would believe that man has been deprived of the optimum environment to fan the flame of his own innate goodness. This “goodness of man” theology craves self-significance and selfish vainglory. On his own, man cannot do good or seek after God (Rom. 3:10-18). Man’s heart is deceitfully wicked (Jer. 17:9-10). His goal in life is selfishness and only evil continually (Gen. 6:5).
Second, man was created for the sole purpose of glorifying God, but because of sin, he seeks to glorify himself (Rom. 3:23). He is constantly interested in enthroning self, rather than God. The sinner is alienated from God, and as a result, he will seek fulfillment from the world’s evil system (1 Jn. 2:15-17).
The significance of an accurate view of man is seen in how the pastor presents the Gospel of salvation. When we see the spiritual condition of man as Scripture describes him (dead, dumb, deaf, blind, hard of heart, and not seeking God), we can’t help but see the sovereignty of God in salvation. Man is utterly unable to commend himself to God. God is the One who awakens man’s heart to repent of his evil ways and embrace Christ as Savior. It is God who grants the gifts of repentance and faith, not man who chooses to get right with God. Salvation is wholly a work of God, so that He alone gets all the praise, glory, and honor for His sovereign work of grace in salvation.
The preacher may follow many different kinds of methods to evangelize the world, but God’s methods will never downplay the Gospel. He will not emphasize the number of converts (knowing we cannot convert a soul) over faithfulness as we live and proclaim the Gospel. He will not appeal to man’s felt needs to make the message fit the man, but he will always proclaim that man needs to be conformed to the Gospel standards of repentance and faith. The church should never be guilty of polling the unsaved community to see what they want in the church. Unbelievers are merely onlookers to what the church does.
Once all these views are in alignment with the Bible it is important to gain a correct view of the church.
IV. Accurate View of the Church
First and foremost in understanding the purpose of the church is to recognize the preeminence of evangelism. Above all other endeavors, the only thing the church can do here and not in heaven is evangelism. That is the supreme reason that God has left His church in the world. The church is not to be like the world, but it exists to be a light in this dark world for the worldwide evangelization of God’s elect (Matt. 5:13-16; 28:18-20; Tit. 2:11-15). Included in the mandate to evangelize is the call to guard the treasure of the Gospel. That is, the preacher must uphold the tenets of the true Gospel, especially with so many deficient calls to salvation. He must urge his congregation to consider whether or not they are in the faith and their need to excel in Gospel virtues that manifest regeneration (2 Cor. 13:5; 2 Pet. 1:5-11).
Following hard on the heels of evangelism is discipleship. Jesus’s call to come after Him for salvation is a call to be His committed disciple and follower (Lk. 9:23). The same call that exists for repentance is the same call God offers for service. Following after Christ begins at salvation and continues through progressive sanctification. Therefore, it is the duty of the church to actively and accurately teach what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. Great discipleship messages are taught from the pulpit, but nothing can replace the significance of one life affecting change in another’s life. The best type of discipleship is life on life (Prov. 27:17). The first lesson on following Christ should be reviewing the Gospel and Christ’s finished work for sinners, followed by instruction of the importance of believer’s baptism. Baptism is the first step of obedience that signifies the believer’s break with the world and sin, and it expresses his desire to live a life consecrated to doing God’s will. Following such instruction, there should be equipping of the saints with knowledge of the giftedness that the Spirit has empowered them with for service. Each believer is entrusted with spiritual gifting like no other believer and they need to prioritize the local church to their corporate life of service and their individual lives of sanctification.
The church also exists for fellowship. It provides a place for service to God in the utilization of spiritual gifts and a place to practice the “one anothers” of Scripture. Salvation brings about the privilege to be reconciled to God, as well as the opportunity to be rightly related to other members of the body of Christ (Matt 18).
The church should keep ever before its eyes the hope of Christ’s imminent return in order to maintain purity (1 Jn. 3:2-3). No other doctrine motivates towards holiness and service as knowing that Jesus Christ could return in glorious splendor at any moment. When He returns He will either find His bride, the Church, spotless, without wrinkle, in obedient service, or she will shrink back from Him in shame as she is caught in rebellion and sin. This reality brings about the importance of self-examination regularly at the Lord’s Table and also the necessity to take drastic steps in church discipline to maintain the purity of the Body of Christ.
God has given us so many rich ways to keep connected to our rich past: hymns, expository preaching, public reading of Scripture, and the ordinances of the Lord’s Supper and baptism.
The pastor needs to make sure he maintains the similar narrowness of the Gospel call that we find from Christ and His apostles in order to not give people false assurance of a salvation they do not genuinely possess.
The pastor should begin his ministry with a local church by picking out choice servants of God on the leadership team that will assist him in shepherding and modeling Christlikeness (2 Tim. 2:2; Eph. 4:11-12).
Times of fellowship are essential in order to come apart from the world with all of its concerns. These times are essential in order to have the opportunity to edify and build up the fallen and exhort others of like precious faith. Believers should never be found guilty of forsaking the assembling together with other believers but should be found meeting as often as possible for mutual edification (Heb. 10:24-25).
An accurate view of the church shows the need for the right kind of leadership to shepherd it.
V. Accurate View of Leadership
Godly, qualified leadership is essential to every biblical ministry. The concept for biblical leadership is emphasized throughout both the Old and New Testaments. When Moses was overwhelmed with the responsibility for leading Israel, his father-in-law offered great wisdom as he urged Moses to choose leaders to assist him (Ex. 18:13-27).
The New Testament continues with this concept as Paul commands Titus to “appoint elders in every city” (Titus 1:5). Paul himself appointed elders in each city on his missionary journeys (Acts 14:23). The elders were responsible for the church’s monetary receipts (Acts 11:29-30). They also were chosen by the Holy Spirit to oversee and shepherd God’s flock (Acts 20:28), protecting it from false teachers (Acts 28:29-30). God’s plan is to have a plurality of godly men lead and protect each local assembly of believers. The writer of Hebrews instructs us about the congregation’s obedience to their leaders (Heb. 13:17). This plurality of godly men is not to lord authority over the flock but to serve them and be an example (1 Pet. 5:2-3). Their only authority, at best, is a derived authority, as God speaks to His Church through His Word and as it is taught and applied. To be examples to the flock, leaders must reflect the character of Christ and fulfill the qualifications set forth in Scripture (1 Thess. 2:4-12; 1 Tim. 3:1-13; Tit. 1:5-9; 1 Pet. 5:1-5; Ps. 15).
Leaders also must be faithful to equip their people to do the work of the ministry (Eph. 4:11-12). From the moment a person embraces Christ as Savior, leaders who serve in the church should help him determine his Spirit-giftedness and help him get involved in utilizing that gift for the benefit of the Body of Christ (Heb. 10:24-25).
Some helpful resources to enhance a biblical view toward ministry are:
John MacArthur, Jr., Rediscovering Pastoral Ministry (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995).
John MacArthur, The Master’s Plan for the Church (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2008).
George Zemek, Doing God’s Business God’s Way, A Biblical Theology of Ministry (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2004).