Ministry: Cultivating Gospel People

Here is an interesting thought to ponder for ministry. In the introduction of his book Exclusion and Embrace, theologian Miroslav Volf writes, “…theologians should concentrate less on social arrangements and more on fostering the kind of social agents capable of envisioning and creating just, truthful, and peaceful societies, and on shaping a cultural climate in which such agents will thrive” (p. 21). For Volf, social arrangements are the way that societies organize and function politically and the social agents are the people who shape the political function and organization of society.

As a minister, I immediately thought of how this idea would work in churches. It’s easy for ministers, or pastors, to focus on the church as an organization and how the church should function. We focus on what sort of ministries should the church engage in, what sort of structure is necessary so that the church can fulfill its vision, and what sort of changes are necessary for the church to thrive. That isn’t wrong either, so long as we keep it in perspective. But it is also possible that we can become so focused on the church as an organization that we lose sight of the organic aspect of the church, which is the people. When this happens, we end up cultivating (or attempt) a church that functions with a particular structure in a certain way and then expect the people to fit into that organization. The only problem is that the people may not so easily fit into that organization because we have not taken the time to cultivate the sort of character that wants to belong in that church we have cultivated or are trying to cultivate.

What if the thrust of ministry was focused fostering the kind of Christians who are capable of envisioning how to embody the gospel within their particular context?

In this aspect, the focus is on the organic side of the church. The focus is on people, not programs. This doesn’t mean that we should completely ignore the organization aspect (which is impossible to do), especially since in applying Volf’s statement our focus on shaping the lives of Christians includes shaping the cultural environment that will allow the people to thrive as Christians. By way of example, in focusing on the people the shift goes from creating a new ministry to care for the poor to cultivating the sort of character in people that loves the homeless the way God does. Or by way of another example, the shift goes from focusing on what changes must happen in the worship gathering to improve the worship experience to cultivating the sort of character in people that desires to passionately worship God in spirit and truth.

It seems that once we have cultivated the sort of character in the people of the church so that they are capable of envisioning how to embody the gospel within their own context, then the organizational changes will organically begin happening. The people will begin forming new ministries or changing existing ministries so that they are able to embody the gospel as they now envision it. This is where the need for giving attention to structure and function is necessary but it only is because of what has happened organically within the church, particularly within the lives of the people who make up the church.

As I thought about this, I also had the thought of what happens if the way the people begin envisioning how they embody the gospel differs from how we, the minister, have in mind. This is where humility is needed. Because such a thought is really about control, which is something that I think most ministers wrestle with. We’re the ones with the seminary education, we’re the ones usually attending the conferences where we here the next latest great ideas, we’re the ones probably reading the latests books on all things missional, worship, etc… So we know what is best, or at least we think we do. Yet at the end of the day we must, with humility, admit that we are simply called to plant seed and cultivate it. It is up to God to bring the increase of that seed, including what that plant will look like in full bloom. So I ask one final question…

Can we let God be in control of deciding what the embodiment of the gospel will look like in our churches by focusing on fostering the kind of Christians who are capable of envisioning how to embody the gospel within their particular context rather than focusing on what the embodiment of the gospel should look like?

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3 responses to “Ministry: Cultivating Gospel People

  1. I think the answer to your question is no, because the ecclesiology and epistemology of the children of Martin Luther are semi-Pelagianism. In his narrative, the Church failed under God´s control and needed individual exegetical get the failed Church back on track. What else could men do if the ‘ground and pillar of the Truth-the Church, failed. Men had to takeover and resuscitate the resurrected Body of Christ that had died again. God needed some help. The resurrection was not enough.

    • Ben,

      Although the denominational divisions since the Protestant Revolution have certainly become something that neither the Lord nor Martin Luther desired, another view is that God was actually at work in Luther and the other Reformers to reinvigorate a zealous movement of people seeking to follow Jesus. I say that because unless I have completely misunderstood Christian history, the church had in many ways lost sight of what it means to embody the gospel as the way of life. And that goes for the Eastern Orthodox Church as well, which was a contributor itself in the first schism of the body of Christ.

      So I would say that the answer to the question is yes, not because of a Rsemi-Pelagiansim approach where we are pursuing an individualistic ecclesiology and epistemology… nor because we are forcing a monolithic ecclesiology that has developed in other historical contexts upon our own context. I say yes, it is possible, when a community of Christians gather together in humility and prayer with scripture, Christian tradition, and culture so that they may discern how God, through the work of the Holy Spirit who dwells among them, is calling them to embody the gospel of Jesus Christ within their own context as a living witness of King Jesus.

      Grace and Peace,

      Rex

  2. keijo leppioja

    Yes to working hard are very fruitful to living for God and be glory to God in many cultivation process in life the reap later harvest enjoy always and be oved of the Father in heaven in Jesus name ,thanks and bless,keijo

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