Developing a philosophy of ministry is similar to developing a philosophy of Christian living. There are many different ways of looking at it, but as long as the object of our gaze is the same, the minor differences should not matter much. For example, four people can gather around Mt. Everest, one on each side. As long as all four people look up at the mountain, each of them will be amazed and awestruck, despite their differing angles of view. However, the moment one of them looks down at the ground they are standing on or a smaller hill or mountain nearby, the adoration and amazement is lost because the object has changed, not the perspective.
In ministry and in Christian living, we have an awesome and majestic God of wonders who has called us by his grace into his family and his mission despite our plight in sin. From the point of our calling onward, we all will develop a philosophy of how we should gaze upon, adore, love, obey, and ultimately glorify the God and Father of our salvation in Christ Jesus through the Holy Spirit. As long as the object of our adoration remains God, our differing perspectives will diminish under the unity we have in Christ Jesus.
Nevertheless, differing perspectives and philosophies of ministry and Christian living exist. There is no single perspective or philosophy that is correct with all others being heresies. We do have those primary doctrines that are needed to call a ministry “Christian.” However, different philosophies of ministry exist just as different perspectives in theology. Faithful Calvinists and faithful Arminians are both Christians. They both adore God and desire to glorify and obey him, but their perspectives are strikingly different—one stands in front of Mt. Everest with the other behind it (I will let you decide who is where!). All philosophies of ministry that are rooted in the inerrant word of God and founded on the salvation found by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, to the glory of God alone are legitimate.
In developing a personal philosophy, many things must be considered and many questions arise. What is ultimate? What is central? What is effective? And in all of the answers to these questions, what biblical-theological perspective or thought undergirds them? Each Christian needs to have a mission statement that guides him or her throughout his or her life. Likewise, each minister of the gospel needs a mission statement that guides him in all of his endeavors in the ministry whether it is pastoral ministry, church planting ministry, or full-time missions ministry. A personal philosophy of ministry is an anthem that should be heralded each day by a minister as his own personal creed that motivates his ministerial decisions and actions.
With that said, a personal philosophy of ministry must be biblically saturated, theologically rich, and practically relevant.
1. Biblical Saturation
A personal philosophy must be soaked with Scripture. It must ooze Bible. If a pastor grounds his philosophy of ministry in anything other than the Bible, he is sadly mistaken. History and theology are very important in understanding the ministry and very helpful in deciding what kind of ministry you would desire to have, but if it is absent of biblical truths and principles, it is sure to fail. Any ministry that is opposed to, or is antithetical to the Word of God is no ministry of the one true God. And there are many of these so-called “ministries” poisoning our culture.
2. Theological Richness
A personal philosophy of ministry must be theologically rich. Not only does our philosophy need to be saturated with Bible, it must be filled with theological thought. We must ask ourselves what thinkers and theologians have thought about God, the Bible, and ministry throughout church history. How did Calvin conduct ministry? What was Jonathan Edwards mainly concerned about in his ministry? Many of our understandings on countless doctrines are due to the countless hours put in by godly men from the past. We would do well to listen to them and model our ministries after them. Of course, this is all predicated on their consistency with the word of God.
3. Practical Relevance
A personal philosophy of ministry must be practically relevant. We can know what we should do or what we need to do, but if we cannot tangibly put these doctrines and thoughts into practice we need to come up with something else. In other words, how will we tangibly make disciples? How will we glorify God by enjoying him forever? How will we increase Bible literacy and understanding? How often will we conduct the Lord’s Supper? All of those ministerial decisions fall under this category. An effective philosophy of ministry needs to account for these daily decisions that make up the greater portion of our work.
All philosophies of ministry are different in one way or another. But all philosophies of ministry that gaze upon the glory of God in Jesus are legitimate. As long as he is our goal and he is our object of adoration, our philosophies will be unified despite their diversity. A good philosophy will be biblically saturated, theologically rich, and practically relevant. An effective philosophy that will honor God must come from biblical and theological frameworks that are relevant for ministerial practice.
Mathew Gilbert is a student at Boyce College (B.A. Biblical and Theological Studies). He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (CrossBooks). Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their dog, Simba. You can follow him on Twitter @Mat_Gilbert.