The world of Christian scholarship has experienced many paradigm shifts in how we view ministry and how we “do” ministry. The most radical, necessary, and deeply corrective of these changes is in the way we view the concept of ministry itself. Previously, we have viewed ministry as something that we do to people for God. Frequently, this view is either employed in evangelism or social justice. This view is rapidly changing to one that views ministry as something that God does and that He desires for us to want to partner with Him in what He is doing in the world to redeem the whole of creation. This leads to a better understanding of missions. God has His own mission to redeem creation, missions are the efforts that we do in order to partner with Him, and being missional involves being intentional in the way that we keep our eyes open to those Divine encounters that let us know how to partner with Him. There are several ways this new view of ministry is corrective in theology.
One of the ways this new view corrects our theology is in us having a better understanding of who is in control. It takes a human-centered perspective of ministry and turns it on its head. With this corrected view, we begin to see that ministry really is God-centered. Where does this corrected theology lead? It defeats the idea that we are ministering to others in our own strength. It prevents us for taking the glory for ourselves or considering a ministry “ours” to possess, control, and manipulate. It squelches pride and allows room for humility and for the minister to listen closely for the movement of God. Another way this new view corrects our theology is that we gain an accurate understanding of success. By whom is success measured and on whom is it dependent? We learn that the answer is not us. This new understanding frees us for joyful work along God’s side because we find that success depends on Him and cannot be marred by our inadequacy, nor do we have to decide what qualifies success or worry about whether or not we have attained it.
Having a better view of the dynamics of mission and ministry also helps correct our practice of ministry in many ways. One of the most essential ways this new understanding is shifting the paradigm of how we practice missions is in one of the most repeated mandates for God’s people: take care of “the least of these”–the people who are most at risk and in need in society. We have had static models of ministry to those in poverty for quite some time. How have they been working out? So many ministries have become charities, and those ultimately become hand-out centers that are largely taken advantage of without really helping the people they seek to serve. It is a self-perpetuating system that is clearly broken. The difference between promoting handouts and promoting healing, wholeness, and growth is in moving people from being a ministry to being a minister. How does our new understanding of God’s mission in the world affect the way we might approach the poor?The first step to shifting people from being a ministry to being a minister is to change our view of them. It is good to meet people’s physical needs when they are in crisis, but when it is chronic, we must look to a deeper problem. Are we meeting that person’s’ psychological and spiritual need to feel like they have a place and a purpose? Are we feeding their physical need for food, but walking away from feeding their emotional need to be known? Are we taking care of their need to be clothed on their body, but neglecting their need to be clothed in dignity? Are we giving them shelter from the weather, but not shelter from injustice? What is to be done?
There are many new models of ministry emerging, in which the person in need is given worth through participation in volunteer programs with “thank you” gifts which allow them to volunteer and earn points which can then be redeemed for items they need. This gives them a purpose and shifts them from being a consumer to a contributor. They do away with handouts and giveaways and promote cooperation and giving. They also emphasize the worth of the person, transforming them from a recipient who only takes, into a participant who has something worth giving. This is just one example of how our new understanding of the theology of ministry and mission is changing the way we approach the brokenness of creation. I am excited as we enter a new way of partnering with God in His mission to redeem creation, give hope to the hopeless, bind up the broken, and set prisoners free. Remember! We need to be mindful about the way we do things and the things that we believe. We need to daily ask the Lord to open our eyes to truth and measure what we believe by the plumb-line of Who God is. Pay attention to where the theology leads!