A Framework for Local Church Ministry

mission    |   vision    |    process    |    boundaries    |    strategy

Every church needs an organizational framework to focus and govern its ministry.  These are some thoughts I developed shortly before accepting the Lead Pastorate at Harvest EFC in Branson, MO.  I invite your questions and reflections on these ideas, most of which should apply to any and every church, regardless of context.

I. Define the Mission: Broadly speaking, why do we exist and what is God compelling us to do?
     A. Why do we (created beings) exist?
          1. To glorify and enjoy God forever (Ps. 27:4; Isa. 26:8, NIV)
     B. What is the mission of God?
          1. To be knownrelationally, not merely intellectually (Exod. 6:7; 20:2-7; 29:45-46; Ps. 27:8; Jer. 24:6-7; Ezek. 16:59-63; 20:42-44; 37:13-14; John 20:31; Php. 3:10; Eph. 4:13)
     C. Why does the Church exist? To be, show & tell the Good News among all peoples
          1.  To be a Gospel Community who embodies shalom (John 13:34-35; Acts 2:44-47; 4:32-35; Rom. 12:9-21; Eph. 4:15-16; Col. 3:12-16).
          2.  To demonstrate a Gospel Witness through ministry that promotes human flourishing and reduces human suffering (Isa. 1:16-17; Jer. 22:3; 29:4-7; Mic. 6:8; Matt. 5:13-16; 11:4-5; Luke 4:18; Jas. 1:27).
          3.  To proclaim the Gospel Message of salvation through King Jesus (Isa. 61:1; Matt. 4:17; 11:5; Mark 3:14; Luke 4:43-44; 9:6; Acts 5:42; 6:2; 8:4; 20:27; Rom. 10:14-15; 1 Cor. 15:3-4; Jude 3).
     D. For what purpose does this local congregation exist?  To be, show & tell the Good News among the people to whom God has sent us:
          1. Primary: local impact (Branson, MO area community) 
          2. Secondary: regional impact (SWMO, northern AR)
          3. Tertiary: national impact (American society at large) 
          4. Ultimate: global impact
* Note: Mission/missions is expressed at every level of reach (Acts 1:8).
The church doesn’t have a missions program. The church is God’s missions program!
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II. Distill the Vision (the “Win”): What are the tangible results we’re asking God to produce through our participation in the gospel ministry of Jesus?
Redemption transformation shalom human flourishing
          1.  Reconciliation with God / people turning from sin and toward Jesus in faith
          2.  Reconciliation with fellow man; relational healing & wholeness
          3.  Passionate obedience to God motivated by the glory of God
          4.  Freedom from bondage to sin and addictions
          5.  Spiritual, psychological, physical wholeness
          6.  A “divine economy” in which all people can progress toward socio-economic flourishing
          7.  People engaged in meaningful, productive work
          8.  The Church as a hospitable home:
               a. Mercy for the sinner
               b. Justice for the oppressed
               c. Embrace of the marginalized
               d. Safety for the abused & exploited e. Nurture for the neglected
               f. Rest for the weary
               g. Patience with the seeking skeptic 
               h. Dignity for all
          9.  A Kingdom counterculture that shines brightly amidst the darkness of pagan culture
     B. Levels of transformation:
          1.  Individual (personal transformation)
          2.  Family
          3.  Congregation (corporate transformation)
          4.  Community (neighborhoods, Branson area at large)
          5.  Society
          6.  Any intermediate levels between local community & society
          7.  World: “filled with the glory of God”

III. Discern the Process: Broadly speaking, how does God invite us to participate in His mission in the world?
     A. RECEIVE the gospel of Jesus Christ and His Kingdom.
Incarnation: God sent His Son to reveal Himself (John 1:14), to redeem us from our sinfulness, to reconcile us to the Father, to restore His image in us, to rescue us from the eternal wages of our rebellion against Him.
          2. Pentecost: God sent His Spirit to empower the Church (John 20:22; Acts 2). God continues to send Him to glorify Jesus, to thereby draw people to Himself, to then indwell each person who receives Jesus and His gospel, to encourage faith in them and to empower them for His mission.
     B. CONNECT believers to God and one another.          1. Communion: vertical and horizontal          2. Koinonia: “love one another” (in all the ways Christ & the apostles exhort us to do so, i.e., the “one anothers”)
     C. EQUIP (prepare) the saints for the work of ministry (Eph. 4:12-16)...
          1. To serve one another (Eph. 4:15-16).          2. To serve the world (Matt. 5:14-16; Eph. 5:15-17; Col. 4:5-6). 3. To bear witness to the gospel in the world (1 Pet. 3:15).
     D. DEPLOY disciples of Jesus into the mission field (Acts 1:8; Matt 28:18-20).
          1.  God sends us, His church, into the world to show and tell the Good News to the lost (John 17:18; 20:21; Matt. 16:19).
          2.  “Disciple the nations/peoples.”
          3.  Local, regional, national, global scope of mission.
     E. SUPPORT (encourage) these missionaries in the ministries to which God has called them and the church has deployed them.
          1. Gather the resources needed to support the ministry.
          2. Channel resources to the points of need.
          3. Steward the resources wisely for the sake of purposeful and sustainable ministry.
     F. EVALUATE our efforts regularly in light of faithfulness to God’s Word and the outcomes He promises to achieve through us.
          1.  How does this ministry or initiative fit into the big picture of God’s Kingdom and mission?
          2.  What’s the likely long-term, cumulative impact of this ministry?
          3.  Is the ministry sustainable?
          4.  Is God raising up workers to carry this ministry forward?
          5.  Are we relying on God’s strength & wisdom or our own?
          6.  Are we giving Him the glory for successes?
          7.  Are we seeking His mercy and guidance in the “failures”?
          8.  Are there ways we can improve our effectiveness in facilitating this ministry?
          9.  Is this the best use of the resources (time, talent, treasure) God has entrusted to us?

IV. Draw the Boundaries (values & guiding principles)    A. Ministry should be motivated by love for God and compassion for people (theocentric, not just humanitarian).
  1. Ministry must be built upon a robust, comprehensive understanding of the gospel (cosmic, totalizing, not reductionistic).
  2. Approach discipleship as a communal, not merely individual, endeavor (not “me and Jesus”, but “we and Jesus”).
  3. Leaders should “count the cost” before embarking on something new (Luke 14:28-31, proverbial application).
  4. Specific ministry initiatives should be undertaken only after God has called someone(s) to lead them (bottom-up/empowerment-oriented, not top-down).
  5. Prefer the missional & organic to the programmatic & artificial.
    1. Where possible, empower and equip people to minister effectively where they are throughout their daily rhythms and places of life rather than creating programs that keep them busy serving “at church”.
    2. Train people to see the places where (home, school, work, neighborhood, recreational activities, etc.) and people with whom they “do life” (family, coworkers, neighbors, schoolmates, teachers, friends, teammates, coaches, etc.) as their primary mission field.
    3. Community is what happens when we do life together on mission, not primarily in special gatherings for prayer and Bible study. (Those are important, but they’re not a substitute for koinonia.)
  6. Encourage simplicity of lifestyle and ministry style.
       1. Leave “margin” so that we can...
              a. Respond to the spontaneous leading of the Spirit.
              b. Cultivate an awareness of God’s sovereign presence, so we are centered on Him always.
              c.  Give the gift of unhurried, undistracted presence with others.
        2.  Focus on what is most important and impactful.
        3.  Live “lean” to make the best use of the time and resources God has given us.
        4.  No one can (or should try to) “do it all”.
              a.  When we’re spread too thin, we’re ineffective in the short run and unhealthy in the long run.
              b.  The Church is called “the Body of Christ” for a reason. We genuinely need each other. None of us is every body part.
              c.  In humility, we must acknowledge our limitations, ask for help and resist the temptation to be “Yes men and women”.
             5. Learn the art and discipline of saying “No” to good things for the sake of the best things.
                   a. It is better to do a few things really well than to do lots of things of halfway decently.
             6.  Ministry out of overflow is more effective, authentic and sustainable than ministry that depletes our reserves.
             7.  Observing Sabbath—and rest, more generally—communicates our dependence on God, our trust in His sovereignty, and our acceptance that we are not Him.
                  a. It allows us to truly enjoy the gifts He gives us, including life itself and the relationships of those closest to us.
                  b. It refreshes and refuels us for continued service in the world. 
     H.  When granting ministry authority, weigh character more heavily than competence.
             1. Competence is more readily developed than character.
  1. Spiritual growth / character development is cultivated in the soil of authenticity.
    1. We are transformed by mercy and grace.
    2. We experience mercy and grace only as we are vulnerable and
      humble before God and one another.
  2. Encourage intergenerational ministry; discourage generational silos.
    1. Discipleship: “One generation commending God’s mighty acts to another” (Ps. 145:4).
    2. Social order: 1 Tim. 5:1-16
    3. Modeling & teaching: Tit. 2:2-8
    4. Age-based activities important, but not to the exclusion of cross-generational discipleship.
  3. Emphasize & support the family/household as the primary vehicle/context for discipleship (cf. Deut. 6:1-9; Josh. 24:15; Acts 16:31-34; 1 Tim. 3:4-5; 5:8).
        1. The family is God’s “Plan A”—the optimal/ideal environment for discipleship, especially for children, but also for couples, where possible.
              a. Marriage is designed to sanctify us, not just satisfy us.
              b. God gives parents primary responsibility for discipling their children into Christian maturity.
        2.  The family is the primary place:
              a.  Where a child’s worldview is developed
              b.  Where they are socialized
              c.  Where they are “catechized
              d.  Where they are known
              e.  Where character is cultivated
              f.   Where Christian discipleship is modeled for them most tangibly & basically
              g.  Where economics (human productivity & stewardship) are fleshed out
        3.  A strong, healthy family built upon the foundation of a strong, healthy marriage centered on Jesus is the foundation of an ethical, sustainable, flourishing society.
        4.  Church health is likewise affected profoundly by the health of its member families.
        5.  Emphasize the ideal without shaming those who haven’t fulfilled it (which is most of us!). Present it as good news, i.e., a foundational means of reducing human suffering and promoting human flourishing. Offer the hope of redemption through Jesus and restoration through the supportive ministry of the church.
     L. Support other vehicles/contexts for discipleship as auxiliary to the primary context, though no less important.
            1.  Where “Plan A” fails (e.g., severe dysfunction, abuse, divorce, death of spouse, unbelieving spouse) or during transitional periods “between families” (college years), the church must offer generous hospitality (an alternative “home”) that fulfills the role of a family to these “widows, orphans & sojourners” (cf. the above descriptors in point K2).
            2.  Through the pooling of the resources of many members (time, talent, treasure), churches can create some “economies of scale” that may perform certain disciple-making functions more effectively than any one family might be able to do on their own (e.g., education). The operative word here is collaboration (interdependence) rather than production/consumption.
     M. See my Philosophy of Ministry, pp. 7-10, for further reflections on methodology.

V. Develop the Game Plan (strategy)1:
     A. What is the shape and rhythm of mission you will aim to observe in your church 
            1.  Reach (bring the gospel into the world)
            2.  Gather (celebrate God & His gospel through corporate worship)
            3.  Restore (heal, liberate, transform)
            4.  Encourage (volitional: edify, motivate)
            5.  Equip (practical: train, resource)
            6.  Send (empower & commission for service; support w/ prayer & resources)
     B. How will you specifically facilitate and support the mission?
            1.  Pastors/elders appointed & empowered to shepherd (lead, teach, oversee & spiritually nurture) the congregation (1 Tim. 3:1-7; 5:17- 18; Tit. 1:5-9)
                 a.  Devote themselves to the ministry of the Word and to prayer (Acts 6:1-4)
                 b.  Cast vision
                 c.  Call people to obedience
                 d.  Empower, equip & resource people to fulfill their callings
                 e.  Attend to people’s spiritual needs
            2.  Deacons commissioned for “mercy ministry” to those in need (Acts 6:1-7; 1 Tim. 3:8-13) and governing the logistical aspects of ministry (facilities, communication, administrative support)
                 a. Attend to the practical needs of the “orphan and widow” and others who are unable to fully “help themselves” (e.g., elderly, disabled, ill/injured, new moms?)
                 b. Visit, encourage & pray with the sick or hospitalized
            3.  Staff for ministries requiring substantial planning, oversight & communication
            4.  Facilities suitable for the church gathered for corporate worship, equipping, fellowship, and other ministries as the Lord leads.
            5.  Raise and steward finances in support of the above ministries and infrastructure.
1 Most of the particulars will need to be fleshed out in the midst of ministry, as we learn more about each other and have sought God’s direction regarding specific ministry initiatives.

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