Monday, December 21, 2009

A Working Philosphy of Life and Ministry

In a fast-paced culture where individuals and organizations seek power and success, I want to…

- Structure my life and ministry in a way that identifies with and therefore lifts up those who are lowly in the eyes of the world or in the eyes of the Christian community. This principle will guide such factors as where I live and with whom I spend time.

-Make a conscious effort to be with people whose lives are slowed down by grief and pain. It is important to meet people at the painful places in their lives and show empathy by being there with them and lifting them to the Lord in prayer. Also, filtering ministry through the lens of suffering grounds a leader in reality and constantly calls him or her to connect theology with day-to-day happenings, a task always challenging those who carry regular preaching or teaching responsibilities.

-Live with a posture of humble, prayerful awareness to where and how the Spirit is moving in the greater community where I live and serve, and shape my ministry accordingly. This is not a fast-moving philosophy. It does not offer immediate yields and requires a flexible and available schedule. It also reaches beyond the scope of official ministry carried out as a paid Christian worker to encompass one's entire lifestyle.

-Understand ministry as a process rather than a product and live accordingly. This particularly relates to spiritual formation for the individual. Though a person embraces the truth of Christ’s death and resurrection, repents of his sin, and is thus reconciled to God, it will likely take a lifetime for him to understand how God’s salvation story bears significance to the fear, shame, and insecurity in his own life. Walking with others through this process takes work, prayer, and time.

In a culture of relational shallowness and individualism, I want to …

-Invest in the spiritual formation of others by structuring my life and ministry in a way that always prioritizes relationships above money, projects, programs, security, comfort, and convenience. This approach necessarily leads to a simple lifestyle and long-term focus on a small number of people at a time (a.k.a. discipleship). It also erases the line dividing private and professional life, and it calls for spending more face-time with people than in meetings or in the office planning lessons or sermons. As Bonhoeffer aptly states, “One who cannot listen long and patiently will presently be talking beside the point and be never really speaking to others, albeit he be not conscious of it.”

-Do as much ministry as possible from the home. Hospitality speaks volumes to people. It is an avenue to express Christ-like self-sacrifice and love, and it can break down barriers between lay Christians and leaders. Furthermore, in order to live as an example to the flock (I Peter 5:3), a leader must invite people to be close and see his or her day-to-day behavior.

-Bear witness to unbelievers through the day-to-day conduct of a small Christian community. As the nation of Israel was to be a light to surrounding peoples, the church today is called to speak and to live the message of the Gospel. As the redeemed community of the church age, Christians are called to live as an alien people whose entire lifestyle is markedly different than the world’s way, thus beckoning those around them toward repentance and salvation in Jesus.

In a Christian culture marked by division and factionalism, I want to…

-Live out the fruits of the Spirit, showing humility and love to both parties of any doctrinal or relational dispute while maintaining the integrity of the gospel message.

-Live out the spiritual reality that, in Christ, other believers—regardless of their local church membership status or church attendance—are my family. Thus they require the same kind of patience, devotion, sacrifice, and prayer as my earthly family.

-Embody a lifestyle that encourages others by modeling the two great commandments: loving God and loving others. These two simple commands transcend many areas of life, including time management, vocation, participation in social structures, interpersonal relationships, self-understanding, spiritual disciplines, and more.

-Stay informed about important cultural trends, movements within American religious life, and global issues. The goal is to structure my life and ministry in a way that is biblical and also based on a wide perspective encompassing much more than the happenings of my particular place of ministry.

In a culture of pluralism and tolerance, I want to...

-Share and defend the message of Jesus’ death and resurrection according to the witness of the Old and New Testaments (I Cor.15:1-4). This task requires sufficient time to study and meditate on the Scriptures.

-Actively face the challenge of living an inclusive lifestyle while holding to an exclusive message. As Jesus welcomed and befriended sinners on their own turf, I also should go where unbelievers are. I should offer friendship and offer myself, not merely an invitation to a local church event. In addition, I must be aware of the temptations that accompany close proximity to sinful lifestyles and maintain accountability with other Christians. Approaching evangelism this way also serves as an example to other believers in the flock.

In a Christian culture of racial division, I want to…

-Live in a way that challenges me and others to overcome prejudice and understand structural factors relating to race and poverty.

In a culture of imbalance and instant gratification, I want to…

-Embody regular spiritual disciplines in my life and ministry. A monthly day of prayer and weekly Sabbath is a good starting place. As Bonhoeffer says, the most direct way to others is always through prayer to Christ. Intercessory prayer for the flock is thus foundational, for it is only God who forms and moves his people. Ministry is a formational process for a leader as well as those to whom he or she is ministering; therefore, sufficient time to live out spiritual disciplines, including rest, is paramount. It is not a mark of selfishness or laziness.