A Brief Theology of Ministry

Ministry Function and Anticipated Involvement

The ministry area I will focus on for this paper is the field of Christian education with a specific emphasis on teaching theology to high school students.  I have no current involvement in this kind of role, and therefore this is an anticipated area of ministry involvement for me.  Since this is meant to be a working theology of ministry paper, I will include some insights from my previous teaching experience as Youth Director at First Presbyterian Church in the conclusion of the paper, but I will focus primarily on how my theological commitments relate to an anticipated teaching role at a Christian high school.

Issues, Challenges, and Opportunities

Perhaps the central issue in a ministry role such as this is properly teaching Christian doctrine to young students.  While this may sound self-evident, it is no less important for being obvious.  Following several biblical patterns derived from passages like Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 2 Timothy 4:1-5, my work as a teacher is to faithfully preach and teach not only “the word” (2 Timothy 4:2) but also “what accords with sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1).  Biblically, there are at least three important reasons for this.  First, Christ “gave…teachers to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-12).  The spiritual gifts listed in Ephesians 4 actually refer to the offices and persons Christ has given to the church to ensure its spiritual health.  Second, “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).  If we push this text as far as it will possibly go, an argument should be made that no one believes in Christ apart from being taught “the word of Christ,” and this sets the work of the teacher in its proper context.  Third, in Christ “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3).  The implications and applications of this text are nearly infinite, but I want to point out here that when we speak and teach of Christ, we are speaking and teaching of the one in whom are all (not some, but all) of the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.  Therefore, I conclude that the primary issue for a teacher of theology is to faithfully teach of the one for whom all things were created (Colossians 1:16).

With the primary issue in mind, I think we can rightfully say that the primary challenge in this ministry function is that there is a dearth of faithful, accurate teaching in evangelical churches, homes, and schools.  Teaching to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3) has given way to more popular, “relevant,” and entertaining forms of communicating “truths.”  As I see it, both the church and the surrounding culture have had a hand in the demise of the importance of faithful teaching.  The surrounding culture presents us with a plethora of competing worldviews, all of which oppose the truth of the Christian worldview, and this has led to either outright rejection of the Christian worldview on the one hand, or to a kind of syncretistic combination of some elements of Christianity with some elements of entirely different worldviews on the other.  But the more sinister element in this is that some churches and leaders who profess Christ depart from the historic faith in their explicit teaching.  One need not look very hard to realize that Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer are false teachers, but there is a more subtle version of their prosperity “gospel” which I call the “self-esteem gospel.”  The basic message is that God loves you and wants you to feel good about yourself and have a healthy self-esteem.  I have seen this incipient prosperity gospel taught at more churches than I can count.  Therefore, I think the primary challenge for any faithful Christian teacher will be to communicate the biblical and historical faith in such a way that our hearers see and know it for what it truly is while also coming to a knowledge and understanding of the various errors of false teachers or opposing worldviews.

The primary opportunity I will have as a teacher is to disciple students to know and love the supremacy and glory of Christ.  I say this is the primary opportunity not only because it seems to be the end goal of my ministry function but also because it is the way to combat the primary challenge of any kind of teaching ministry.  The opportunity to disciple is one that must be taken with a humble boldness, acknowledging both my own insufficiencies for this task as well as the sufficiency of the person and work of Christ for the lives of all of his disciples.  I prefer to think of teaching primarily in terms of discipleship so that it has a fuller meaning and a wider variety of implications.  I think authentic discipleship is that process by which the Christian worldview is formed in our disciples, and at the very center of the Christian worldview stands the preeminent Christ.  Thus, Christian worldview formation is the primary opportunity I will have as a teacher.

Theological Themes and Commitments

There are a few theological “load-bearing walls,” if you will, which support my approach to ministry as a teacher.  The first of these is the doctrine of the Trinity.  The one God who exists as three co-equal and co-eternal Persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, is not merely an idea of academic inquiry or doctrinal debate.  Rather, the Trinity pervades the entirety of the Christian life since to talk of the Trinity is to talk of nothing less than the one and only true God who is the creator of all things.  It would be precisely backwards to say that we can think of ministry and then think of the triune God.  Therefore, in some ways it is a misstatement to say that the doctrine of the Trinity informs my approach to ministry.  On the contrary, the work of ministry is only possible when it is done through the power of the Spirit, in the name of the Son, and for the glory of the Father.  Therefore, the Trinity is the ultimate foundation for my approach to ministry.

The second theological anchor of my approach to ministry is the sufficiency of Scripture.  The testimony of Scripture is that “man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD” (Deuteronomy 8:3; cf. Matthew 4:4).  The implication of this text is that the word of God is as equally important to human sustenance as food.  And we read elsewhere that “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching…that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16).  Considering the inadequacies of human language compared to divine speech, one author writes, “The human word is itself a response created by the divine Word.  Without the divine Word there is no possibility of a human word.  Without the divine speech there is no possibility of human hearing.”[1]  The implication of this is the total insufficiency of human speech when compared with the complete sufficiency of divine speech, which is now found exclusively in Scripture.  To give this a Trinitarian flavor, we can say that Scripture is the Word of the Father spoken through the Spirit with the Son as its primary content and that the purpose of Scripture is to instruct humans in the knowledge necessary for salvation, so that we may be equipped for every good work.

A third theological commitment I have which informs my approach to ministry is the centrality of the gospel.  I grew up in a context in which most children could quote many Bible verses at quite an early age, but these seemingly free-standing verses were not accountable to any “higher” reality, namely the gospel.  It does our hearers and students no good whatsoever if they know all the biblical or theological minutiae but miss the point of it all: the supremacy and sufficiency of the person and work of Jesus Christ.  Or as one author put it: “ministry must be understood to be built not upon human striving for growth, well-being, and health but upon the grace of God.”[2]  Connecting the previous two theological pillars with this one, we should say that the work of the triune God in graciously redeeming a sinful people for his own glory and their joy at the cost of the life of Jesus Christ, revealed to us exclusively and sufficiently in Scripture, should be the explicit focus and content of our teaching.  It is insufficient to merely imply the gospel.  Since faith comes by hearing, the gospel must be proclaimed and taught to all without distinction or exception.

I am also committed to the idea that the Christian worldview must compete and ultimately gain its rightful place as supreme atop the so-called “market place of ideas.”  Since it is true that “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7) and that “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden” in Christ (Colossians 2:3), unbelievers, then, do not have any fully true wisdom or knowledge whatsoever.  They do not fear the Lord, nor do they love or seek to know Jesus Christ, and therefore we should say that those who reject Christ have an entirely different worldview than Christians.  It is not simply that we have disagreements over supposedly minor issues; rather, believer and unbeliever part ways at the very beginning, at the worldview level.  Therefore, one of my theological commitments is to seek to form the Christian worldview in all of my students in order that they can rightly understand the world and proclaim the gospel clearly to those who see literally everything in a different light than they do.

Finally, and perhaps surprisingly, I place great weight on the doctrine of ecclesiology when it comes to my approach to ministry.  My hope is to teach in a Christian high school and not necessarily in an “official” church setting, but that need not detract from the importance of the church in my thinking.  The church is the primary community of discipleship, and therefore my own work as a teacher “outside” of the church should be seen underneath that.  There is no substitute for meeting together with the people of God to hear from God by his Word preached and to partake in the sacraments which have been given to us to establish and confirm our faith.  Too often parachurch ministries and schools, which are not bad or wrong in themselves, take the place of the church functionally.  But my theological commitment here means that I see my work as an aid to the church, not as a competing role or task.

Approaches, Plans, and Theological Reflection

Singing together at the start of all of Dr. Chung’s classes is one of my favorite parts of seminary and a practice which I will seek to continue in my own teaching ministry.  This semester we began every class by singing some popular Christian tune such as “Jesus Loves You” or “Amazing Grace.”  It was awkward at first, but its impact has been tremendous.  It “resets” the class and focuses our minds on what is most important, and there can be no better way to start class than that.  I think this practice has shed some light on one of my own commitments and intended approaches to the teaching ministry: theology comes by hearing.  I am sure that the primary medium I will use to teach will be lectures and discussion, but I also want to explore the use of singing as I teach theology.  Perhaps this would be good way to help students remember and recall important doctrines and themes in my class.  There is no perfect alternative to lectures, but I think singing could be an effective way to teach of the supremacy of our triune God.

Earlier I mentioned that it does no good for our students to know biblical and theological minutiae without understanding the point of it all, the gospel, but make no mistake that I still believe in the importance of knowing biblical and theological fine points!  It is only that these points must be understood in their proper context, and we can only understand them rightly if we see them in light of the gospel.  So I think one of the most important approaches that I will take in a teaching role is to constantly and perhaps exclusively focus on and develop the meaning of the Scriptures.  My commitments to the supremacy of the triune God and the sufficiency of Scripture control this particular approach to teaching.  The supremacy of God shapes this because it is His Word to which we turn for our theological inquiry, submitting even our own understanding and reason to the primacy of God’s speech.  And there will be an almost extreme focus on the text of the Bible because all of our theology and our knowledge of the gospel arises from Scripture in the first place.  Furthermore, the very purpose of Scripture is to make us complete for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16) and therefore it is more than sufficient for the ministry task of teaching.

Finally, I mentioned previously that the church is the primary community of discipleship, and this informs another approach to my future ministry role.  There is something happening in the community of God that almost defies description.  We have a specific language and a way of doing things that is quite different than the world’s way of doing things.  One of the most striking descriptions of this in Scripture comes from Hebrews 10:32-34:

But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated.  For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. 

The better possession and abiding one is Christ, who is head of the church.  And one of the implications of this text is that, having acknowledged the supremacy of Christ, the church willingly and joyfully celebrated the destruction of their property because of their hope in Christ.  Surely this community of God’s people is completely different and set apart from the world, though they were obviously engaged in the world.  These events certainly shaped how the community thought about God and each other.  I think we can say that in some ways, everything that occurs in the church informs our view of the reality of God and God’s ways; or put another way, all things work to form the Christian worldview.  The faithful preaching of the Word and the right administration of the sacraments are the central aspects of the gathered community on the Lord’s Day, but I do not think Christian worldview formation is restricted to only these two elements.  This means I need not be shy regarding the Christian language or the radical nature of the Christian faith in all its various parts, especially if I am always accountable to the mission and work of the church.

Conclusion

To conclude, my anticipated ministry area is that of Christian high school teacher.  The primary issue and opportunity I have is to faithfully teach the Christian faith, thereby forming the Christian worldview in my students, but the primary challenge I have is to compete with a plethora of opposing worldviews which vie for my students’ attention.  The key theological commitments which shape how I approach this ministerial task are the supremacy of the Trinity, the sufficiency of Scripture, the centrality of the gospel, the necessity of worldview formation, and the importance of the church.

I will close by offering a few insights from my experience as Youth Director at First Presbyterian Church.  I did not have a particularly joyful time at First Pres, and I have concluded that part of the reason for this is that my own theology of ministry was at odds with their theology of ministry in almost every place.  Because of my theological commitments, I wanted to emphasize the supremacy of God, the sufficiency of Scripture, and the importance of the doctrines of grace.  But the other team members with whom I worked wanted broadly to execute our ministry in a similar vein to that of YoungLife.  I mention this because my view of the roles and tasks of effective ministry deepened because of my experience at First Pres.  I am less convinced than ever of the effectiveness of parachurch ministries like YoungLife, and this development has shaped my approach to ministry in more ways than I can count.  I have seen firsthand the importance of having several theological anchors which inform how you do ministry, and I intend to proceed now by keeping my past experience in mind as I continue to develop my theological commitments.


[1] Ray S. Anderson, The Soul of Ministry: Forming Leaders for God’s People (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 1997), 41.

[2] Andrew Purves, Reconstructing Pastoral Theology: A Christological Foundation (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2004), xvi.


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