Late last year we had a talkfest here in Sydney called “The Festival of Dangerous Ideas,” at which participants could experience the frisson of discussing daring and explosive concepts with a soy latte in hand. Most of the ideas were in fact rather conventionally dangerous in a green-left sort of way, although gay activist Dan Savage received special marks for his dangerous idea that abortion should be made mandatory for 30 years to make a dent in the worldwide population problem. (The audience, having escaped the womb safely themselves, felt confident to clap.)
However, at one point in one of the debates, something remarkable happened. In a moment of real courage, Peter Hitchens (brother of Christopher) suggested that the most dangerous idea in the world was that “Jesus Christ was the son of God and rose from the dead.” 
The audience cheered, thinking that Hitchens was channelling his late brother in a religion-poisons-everything sort of way. But when asked why Jesus’ resurrection was dangerous, Hitchens said this:
Because it alters the whole of human behavior and all our responsibilities. It turns the universe from a meaningless chaos into a designed place in which there is justice and there is hope and, therefore, we all have a duty to discover the nature of that justice and work towards that hope. It alters us all. If we reject it, it alters us all as well. It is incredibly dangerous. It’s why so many people turn against it.
The audience lapsed into a deathly silence. It was as if someone had just praised Margaret Thatcher.
Daring and Explosive
The whole incident (and festival) was sobering and encouraging at the same time. It showed graphically just how despised and marginal the Christian gospel is, and how far gone our public intellectual conversation has strayed from a biblical worldview. But it also showed, just fleetingly, how daring and explosive the Christian gospel is; how shocking, how confronting, how dangerous.
It’s the kind of message that comes with a manifesto.
With the launch of our new online platform GoThereFor.com, we thought it would be an excellent time to issue just such a manifesto—to make a fresh statement about the dangerous, urgent, world-changing task of Christian ministry. It’s a task that we all share, and which the GoThereFor.com platform is seeking to promote and facilitate.
Admittedly, ministry and manifesto aren’t words that immediately look like they belong together. A manifesto is the clarion call to action of a revolutionary movement or political party; it sets out the ideas that this group stands for, and by which they seek to change society and the world. Ministry on the other hand evokes the mostly harmless set of tasks that a minister does. It conjures up thoughts of church services, pastoral visitation, small group Bible studies, and possibly cucumber sandwiches.
But if the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is indeed the most explosive news in the world—if he has died for sins and risen to be Saving Lord of the world—then the work he has given us to do in his service is a dynamic, world-changing task. And it is not optional.
If Jesus holds all authority in heaven and on earth, then our service is an act of obedience. Ministry in Jesus’ name is a joy and privilege that we undertake gladly and gratefully; but it is also an act of submission. Our slavery to him is perfect freedom, but it is slavery all the same. It is a life spent at the bidding of Another.
In the manifesto we pick up the language of the Great Commission to express this truth—but it could have been drawn from numerous other parts of the New Testament, such as Paul’s solemn final charge to Timothy in 2 Timothy 3 and 4. We’ve been given a job to do. There is a “work of the Lord” in which we should all be “abounding” (1 Cor 15:58).
What is this work?
The manifesto describes it in a few ways: “to make new disciples and to teach them to obey all that Christ has commanded”; “evangelizing the world and edifying the church”; “to make disciples, to plant new churches and ministries, to revitalize and grow existing churches, to see by God’s blessing multitudes of new and growing believers giving glory to his name.”
In one sense what we’re saying is uncontroversial. It’s what Christians have been working away at for 2,000 years, after all. We might wonder why we need a manifesto to call us to do what most of us agree we should be doing anyway.
For at least three reasons that I can identify.
The first is clarity. In the midst of everything that clamors for our attention, and with multiple gurus giving us the benefit of their advice, it’s easy to become vague or muddled about what we’re actually supposed to be doing as God’s people. Clarity of purpose starts to disappear in a fog of competing voices, competing ministry models, competing interest groups in our churches, not to mention competing needs crying out for attention.
It was interesting (and encouraging) after writing The Trellis and the Vine to be told repeatedly: “Yes, that’s exactly what I’ve always believed about ministry, but you’ve managed just to say it in a clear, coherent, compelling way.” The great strength of that book was in fact its intense ordinariness. In God’s kindness, we managed to state the obvious at a time when people needed to hear it.
That’s what a manifesto can do. It can clear out the cobwebs and the fuzziness, and provide some bracing, head-clearing clarity about the task at hand.
This point leads to a second and related reason for a manifesto: focus. Even if we are clear in our own minds about the work that God has given us to do, it’s extraordinarily easy to still not get around to actually doing it. We get distracted. Like the disciples, our eyelids become heavy. The bright lights beckon, and we meander into worldliness.
But it’s not just laziness or our sinful frailty. It’s also possible to lose our focus simply by focusing somewhere else. There are so many sorts of good works that we will (and should) do as Christ’s people—in our families, in our neighbourhoods, in our church relationships, in our workplaces, in our society. These godly works show forth the fruit of the Spirit, adorn the gospel, and bless our communities. The ongoing fruit of repentance and faith in Christ is that we become a new kind of person—with new thoughts, instincts, and attitudes—and we carry this new “self” with us into every sphere and situation of life.
However, within the framework of these many and varied “good works,” there is a particular “work of the Lord” for us to be abounding in. This is the work that has been entrusted to us, and that we are commissioned and commanded to be doing; a work for which we have a mandate and a responsibility, and which draws its overriding importance from the purposes of God for our world.
This is why the manifesto says “our involvement in this work of God should be the central priority of our lives as disciples of Jesus and of our churches as loving fellowships of disciple-making disciples.”
Among the many competing activities and priorities of our lives and churches, and among the many good causes and ventures we can be part of, we cannot neglect what is central and abiding—the work of making disciples.
Among the many competing activities and priorities of our lives and churches, and among the many good causes and ventures we can be part of, we cannot neglect what is central and abiding.
The third reason for a manifesto follows. If we can find clarity and focus, then this is an excellent basis for unity. Christians will never agree on everything. You only have to belong to a church for more than five minutes to experience as much. But if we can agree together on the basic and essential nature of the ministry that the Lord has given us to do, then our disagreements and differing views on secondary matters can be put in their rightful place.
There is nothing like a common task to bring people together—especially when that life-and-death task challenges and stretches us, uses our various strengths and different gifts, and demands that we work at together, shoulder to shoulder, in the strength God provides.
These three reasons for a manifesto in the end devolve back to one root problem, which is sin. Because of sin—in the world, in our hearts, in our churches, in our families—we are constantly drawn away from obedience to the ministry our Lord has given us, just as we lapse from praying and from putting to death what is earthly in our lives, and so much more. Because of sin, there is constant slippage in our lives and churches—away from the ministry that God wants us to do. We see this degradation in multiple ways—in distractions, alternatives, opposition, quarrels about priorities, worldliness, laziness, entropy, personal insecurity, incompetence, the hunger for novelty, or just forgetfulness. At many times and in various ways, our participation in the work of the Lord diminishes rather than abounds. It ceases to be the central unifying priority and becomes one priority among many.
This Ministry Manifesto, then, aims to draw us back to the main game by clearly restating the “first things that our ministries should focus on but from which we are easily diverted.”
Feel free to make use of the manifesto in your church or fellowship. Read and discuss it in your Bible study group, your church leadership group, or around the dinner table. Does it reflect your own manifesto of essential Christian ministry? Does it provide the kind of clarity your group or church or fellowship could use to re-focus and reboot what you’re doing together?
And if it does reflect the heart of what you believe about ministry, are those beliefs being reflected in what actually happens? What is distracting or stopping or hindering you? What needs to change?
We hope and pray this manifesto, and the GoThereFor.com site in general, will help to stimulate, build, and encourage a fellowship of disciple-makers from churches all over God’s world.