Philosophy of Ministry for Today
“Preach Jesus. And if necessary, use words.”
- Anonymous, but attributed to St. Francis of Assisi
To follow Jesus is to live out the Gospel of Jesus. As the quote above indicates, words say little if what they mean is not lived out in tangible, helpful, redemptive ways. I like to categorize the resulting philosophy of ministry into three areas: Sacred Leadership; Practical Leadership; Prophetic Leadership.
My philosophy of ministry begins with what I understand to be the priorities and principles of Jesus. Jesus taught and lived compassion for the hurting, outreach to the lonely, welcome of the stranger, love and prayer for friends as well as enemies, and forgiveness with one another even as we have been forgiven. Jesus charged his followers to share the good news of God’s salvation available to all and my call is to carry out that charge with grace and humility in the contexts in which I serve.
These represent tall orders and highly sacred callings. And the goal of every minister and layperson seeking to follow Jesus shares this same job description. We never need to lower the standards, but we must be practical, realistically assessing our engagement with the world and involvement with one another.
Any philosophy of ministry therefore necessitates a very practical understanding of oneself in relation to one’s surrounding community and co-workers in living and sharing the Gospel of Jesus. Practical leadership, then, as a philosophy of ministry, understands the tremendous value of colleagues on staff, lay leaders in the congregation, everyday people in the pews and neighbors from the broader community who contribute to a wider corporate wisdom. This is essential to my own leadership style and my way of conducting ministry and life. It is never a weakness to listen carefully to what others offer. Strength, courage, positive leadership and helpful collaboration emerges from the voices and insights God offers through the community that surrounds us. Discernment then becomes essential – for what is right, holy, and Christ-centered while considering carefully the collaborative efforts of others. In the end, decisions must be made, stands need to be taken and sometimes, prophetic leadership becomes essential.
Jesus often said what others were unready to hear. Wise counsel sometimes runs counter to popular opinion. Prophetic leadership takes into account both the sacred and practical, the expected and the necessary. Prophetic leadership also requires a keen understanding of where the audience is and how much they can truly absorb. Defensive walls are difficult to communicate through. Understanding the congregation’s pulse, how much can be said, when and under what circumstances is key for any pastor to make headway against the trends of complacency or disengagement. Barriers to justice, kindness and humility are many and widespread in our time just as it was in the early church and beyond. Yet the call to prophetic ministry and the gentle but consistent work on behalf of God’s Kingdom continues.
Whether it is combatting racism, sexism, materialism or any other ism that distracts us from the power of the Gospel and the callings of Jesus, prophetic leadership remains the essential but always risky final component to the task of the pastor.
In seminary, our preaching classes emphasized the task of proclaiming the Gospel: “To comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comforted.” I am better and more comfortable personally with the first; I continue to be challenged by the second. And I know I am called to both.
Sacred leadership, practical leadership and prophetic leadership stand for me as the essential goals of a strong, wise pastor whose philosophy of ministry is centered on Christ and ready for the real world.
I grew up in a church setting surrounded by numerous committed and faithful folks. They reminded me almost everyday what a good place a church can be. My father was also pastor of this church where I grew up. And I watched his leadership and pastoral interactions with these good people in our community of faith. Our church was not without it stresses and strains. But often, I saw how a congregation could share the burdens of difficult times and ease the pain of losses. I also experienced a multiplication of joys by being part of a shared community focused on loving, learning and growing in faith.
So committing my life to follow Jesus made a lot of sense to me from an early age. I had moments and times of emotional reactions, of God’s movement in my life and of a heart strangely warmed leading me to further commitment and deeper reflection.
But practically, I had also witnessed what being a disciple could mean in person’s life. I began to understand that a growing faith generates vital hope. But faith and hope are nothing without the power of love that comes from the very heart of God. This I sought then, and still seek on a daily basis.
In college, later in graduate school and then living and studying for a time in Europe, my faith was challenged in multiple ways. Ultimately, these challenges created new questions, initiated better insights and profoundly benefitted my spiritual growth and personal development.
I considered a variety of career options. As a European History major at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina, I wondered about other places and possibilities, but I kept feeling “called,” compelled even, to a life devoted to shepherding good people in ways similar to what I experienced in my early years. Seminary seemed the logical step to reach that goal.
These urges to full-time Christian service have been confirmed on numerous occasions and in multiple ways. From international settings to inner city ministry and a suburban pastorate just outside of Washington, D.C., to a small town in North Carolina and then to the large and corporate culture of Charlotte. In each place and from a variety of circumstances, my faith has been pushed, stretched and deepened while my call to ministry has been broadened and sharpened.
Over the years, I have continued to be changed. As a husband, a father of three grown children, and a pastor of innumerable good and special church members, I continue to learn and grow and find my faith still challenged, and still strengthened. Warmed by the sometimes gentle, and sometimes not so subtle movements of God’s spirit in me, with patience and tenderness, through hard times and better times, God has guided my journey. Along the way, countless have assisted me, laypeople, colleagues, family, co-strugglers along the pathways of life. They offer gifts to me still, from their wisdom, experience, mistakes and successes. And I am the glad beneficiary of these good gifts from God.
I remain truly thankful to be in this Christian service of the Gospel, to have pastored and to still be pastoring a multitude of good and faithful people that I am truly glad to call friends and fellow journeyers in faith.
Statement of Faith
“If I were a preacher, I would preach nothing but the practice of the presence of God.”
- Brother Lawrence
Following Jesus, Son of God, Lord of our lives.
Following Jesus is the essence of the Christian faith – what he said, what he did and who he was. As his disciples, we are called every day to do the best we can to live as Jesus lived. And to recognize further, that what Jesus proclaimed is the fulfillment of God’s hope and dream for all of us from the very beginning. Starting with Abraham’s journey of faith and his initial calling in Genesis 12, we like Abraham, are blessed to be a blessing. Abraham was to be a “blessing to all the families of the earth” (Genesis 12:3). And Jesus calls us to the same task now. Going “unto the ends of the earth” for most of us simply means to live out what Jesus teaches today where we are, to speak of what God is doing in our lives, to invite others to faith, to invite others to church, to offer help and hope and compassion in a world desperate for kindness, humility and love.
Understanding the Bible
The Bible is God’s authoritative voice to our world and all it’s needs. It conveys the story of God’s people, of God’s work in the world, what God hopes for in the Law and the Prophets. And the Bible tells us the incarnation story of Jesus, why his coming into the world and into our lives is so essential – for our ultimate fulfillment and for the ultimate healing of all the earth.
Being the Church
The Church, in the midst of our sinful lives and a largely selfish world, is God’s additional gift to us, a place of connection, of inspiration for better and deeper faith through Bible study, prayer and worship, of lives transformed and living for Jesus each day. And the church can be that very place that serves as the ongoing channel of blessing – blessed to be a blessing so that with Abraham and through Jesus, all the families of the earth might be blessed.
Living the Faith
Attending church, studying the Bible, and following Jesus should be finally expressed in how we live our faith. When the prophet Micah was concerned with how the people of his day were living, he had a lesson for them: “What does the Lord require of you?” he asked. “But to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). This vital summary serves as the starting point for Jesus’ ministry, and it remains the bedrock for how we are to live our lives as Jesus’ followers. So everyday, each of us has the responsibility to do the best we can as consistently as we can, to live out the example of Jesus and to follow the imperative of Micah. Or, to put it in the words of Brother Lawrence whom I quoted earlier, “If I were a preacher, I would preach nothing but the practice of the presence of God.”
We could state our faith no better way.