If you are an engaged, commitment member of a local church then you have probably at some point said to yourself or a friend, “We should do this ministry.” Often times these types of thoughts and ideas give birth to very fruitful and faithful ministries. As church leaders pastors pray for increasingly burdened and active church members.
But, there is more to it than this.
Let’s say that an entire church membership of 200 people are all burdened for new ministry expressions. Some want to work with international students, others with children in the congregation, still others with women in the church, and others with the poor in the community. And, for the sake of the illustration, they all are bringing these ideas to the pastors. How should the church leaders think through this ideas?
I have found three questions to be very helpful in evaluating ministry. These questions are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but rather they represent a process for working through faithful ministry in the local church.
(1) What do we need to do?
This is the question of what the Bible clearly says we as a church are called to do. The Bible is actually quite simple. The church is to assemble together, preach and teach the Bible, pray, read the Scriptures, encourage and admonish one another, observe the Lord’s Supper, baptize new converts, disciple one another, and spend time together. We often complicate things by elevating things that we have seen in other churches or ministry contexts to this level, but at its core, the church is very simple. Before affixing the “we need to do this” label to something we really need to make sure that biblically speaking, we really do need to it.
(2) What do we want to do?
Obviously the categories listed above are quite broad. We have some flexibility and liberty in how we go about doing what we need to do. The Bible doesn’t tell us what time we are to meet, how often to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, or how a church should specifically structure their discipleship. But this does not mean that we should not carefully evaluate what we want to do in light of what we need to do. For example, let’s say that someone said that the church needed to begin a college ministry to evangelize and disciple college students. Does this fall into the category of “need to do”? I would say no. The Bible does not say that we need to have a college ministry. A church is still a church even if they do not have a ministry directly dedicated to university students. However, does this mean that it is unbiblical to start such a ministry? Of course not. One can see how it is an expression of evangelism and discipleship to do this. But, it is important to keep our categories right when we are thinking about this; there is a difference between need to and want to.
(3) What should we do?
If the first question is one of faithfulness and the second of desire, this question is about opportunity. We know what we are called to do, and we see opportunities to do this, now, what should we do in light of this?
In our context the Lord has placed us in a community that has a large number of Spanish speaking families without having many (any?) evangelical witness in the area. When we evaluate what we are called to do and what we want to do it becomes clear that we should work to bring the gospel to this community. This decision became easier and clearer when God brought a Spanish-speaking, mature guy to us who shared this burden. We are pursuing this opportunity but not without working through first what God has called us to do and given us a desire to do.
These questions will prove helpful when you consider that for everything you add to you ministry calendar you impact something else. If you add a church event on a weeknight then you will impact your families’ rhythms and lives. It will doubtless impact other ministries as well. Therefore, church leaders and members must be careful to consider not only the question of what they want to do but what they can do. Sometimes ministries need to be shut down and other times ideas need to be put on hold. Working through our calling and context is clarifying and liberating. It keeps us from feeling like we have do everything while reminding us of what we need to do.
I will also say that I have not always done this perfectly (I wish I had!). There are times when I have felt the pressure to ask another question, “What will make people happy?” But this is neither the faithful nor helpful question. We have to ensure we are doing what is right for the church in light of what we read in the Bible. It takes patience and discipline, but it is very much worth it.