Video Transcript – slightly edited
(From a Steve Childers’ seminary classroom lecture – recorded live)
Philosophy of Ministry is a unique set of integrated ministry purposes, values, styles, and strategies embraced and used in gospel ministry by a particular church in its culture.
You must become a lifelong in-depth student of all three, meaning culture, church, and gospel, if you’re to be effective in church planting. You must be not only a wise interpreter of God’s word but also a wise interpreter of God’s world, particularly as it is uniquely manifested in the culture that your church is serving. Most church leaders are trained to study the word well, but they are rarely trained to study culture well.
In 1 Chronicles, chapter 12, some of you do remember, the men of Issachar, they understood the times and they knew what Israel should do. As a church planter, do you understand the times? Therefore, as the New Israel and a manifestation of that in a church, in light of your understanding of the times, do you know what to do?
Think of why most of the letters, the Pauline Letters of the New Testament, were even written. One of the primary reasons that almost all these letters were written was because as the gospel advanced, it faced different cultural context. It faced different traditions, different beliefs, different ways of doing things.
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The Apostle Paul contextualized; you must continue to contextualize.
The Apostle Paul would write a letter to say that we should not be thinking through culture and then responding to it. Can you imagine the Apostle Paul taking that posture when the church’s report back, like the church at Colossae reported back, what most believed was a form of, kind of a weird syncretism between Judaism and Neo-Gnosticism, where they were talking about supernatural beings and different dimensions of spirituality and that was in the culture. What do we believe about angels and things? Can you believe if Paul the Apostle, didn’t seek to understand or respond to those things? It’s why he wrote Colossians.
You’re in a position that just is continuing. As the gospel advances, questions are being raised. Different cultures are being confronted and certain things in them need to be affirmed and those things that are not godly need to be denied and need to challenged. You cannot not contextualize. It’s not possible. If you are not contextualizing, that means that’s how you’re contextualizing. You’re contextualizing poorly.
Christianity cannot exist without culture.
Usually underneath that is this concept that Christianity can somehow exist without culture. It’s not possible. Then you actually just think of the doctrine of the incarnation. Why didn’t Jesus come as an a-cultural human? He came as a very unique cultural person. Most of us don’t realize God is on the side of culture. Culture will transcend eternity. The actual formula, as kind of strange as that may sound, the actual formula is an understanding of the gospel, plus the centrality of the church, plus an understanding and an exegesis of the culture and the ability to integrate these three. Normally, it’s not so formulaic that you can guarantee it, but normally, God shows up. Normally when you see these three components at work, lives start being changed. Cultures start being changed.
In retrospect, as people have studied this, it’s fascinating when people really know the gospel and they have the centrality of the church and they understand the culture and they understand the cultural stances and things we’ll be getting to, there’s a convergence there. It almost always relates and changed lives and changed cities or changed towns or changed villages.
One of the most common sources of conflict in church planting is regarding philosophy of ministry issues.
One of the most common sources of conflict in church planting is regarding philosophy of ministry issues, a unique style of worship, a particular leadership style. You could put anything. An evangelistic style, a preaching style can be the source of significant church conflict that can greatly damage and even kill a young church.
Because philosophy of ministry is one of, if not the top, issues in conflict, we dare not at least touch on this is a common mistake. Here’s the concept. There are four essential criteria that we teach that should be the criteria of your emerging church leaders:
Number 1, True spirituality. That’s 1 Timothy 3, Titus 1, characteristics of an elder.
Number 2, Sound theology.
Number 3, Proven track record of effective ministry.
Number 4, Essential agreement, not exact, on philosophy of ministry.
This should scare you. You go into a situation and, as a result of this course, you have an amazing philosophy of ministry statement, and there’s this core group that hears you’ve had this training. They bring you in and they say, “Tell us about our philosophy of ministry.” They look at it and they go, “Wow. This is great. We love it, and you’re hired.” Everybody’s excited until several months in when real ministry starts happening that their real philosophy of ministry began to surface as decisions would arise on what these different areas of ministry were actually going to look like.
Then what happens is all of a sudden the church planter realizes he has significant philosophy of ministry issues in critical areas, like worship, outreach, leadership. These people in the core group with whom he has these differences are in positions of authority already in the core group for making decisions. His chances of survival are very low. What actually happens normally is that it becomes really clear. It’s not a problem with spirituality, not a problem with beliefs, not a problem with ministry gifts. All of a sudden, it becomes very clear. “I didn’t have this in mind for what worship would look like. I just assumed you wanted a Sunday evening worship.”
All of a sudden, you see something like that where the church planter is just going, “We don’t have a real fit here, do we?” The church planter has just seen that this person doesn’t fit the fourth of the four criteria.
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