A ministry manifesto

We had a talkfest here in Sydney recently called ‘The Festival of Dangerous Ideas’, at which participants could experience the frisson of discussing daring and explosive concepts with a soy latte in hand. Most of the ideas were in fact rather conventionally dangerous in a green-left sort of way, although gay activist Dan Savage received special marks for his dangerous idea that abortion should be made mandatory for 30 years to make a dent in the worldwide population problem. (The audience, having escaped the womb safely themselves, felt confident to clap.)

However, at one point in one of the debates, something remarkable happened. In a moment of real courage, Peter Hitchens (brother of Christopher) suggested that the most dangerous idea in the world was that “Jesus Christ was the son of God and rose from the dead”.1

The audience cheered, thinking that Hitchens was channelling his late brother in a religion-poisons-everything sort of way. But when asked why Jesus’ resurrection was dangerous, Hitchens said this:

Because it alters the whole of human behaviour and all our responsibilities. It turns the universe from a meaningless chaos into a designed place in which there is justice and there is hope and, therefore, we all have a duty to discover the nature of that justice and work towards that hope. It alters us all. If we reject it, it alters us all as well. It is incredibly dangerous. It’s why so many people turn against it.2

The audience lapsed into a deathly silence. It was as if someone had just praised Margaret Thatcher.

The whole incident (and festival) was sobering and encouraging at the same time. It showed very graphically just how despised and marginal the Christian gospel is, and how far gone our public intellectual conversation is from a biblical world view. But it also showed, just fleetingly, how daring and explosive the Christian gospel is; how shocking, how confronting, how dangerous.

It’s the kind of message that comes with a manifesto.

With the launch of our new online platform GoThereFor.com, we thought it would be an excellent time to issue just such a manifesto—to make a fresh statement about the dangerous, urgent, world-changing task that Christian ministry really is. It’s a task that we all share, and which the GoThereFor.com platform is seeking to promote and facilitate.

Admittedly, ‘ministry’ and ‘manifesto’ are not words that immediately look like they belong together. A ‘manifesto’ is the clarion call to action of a revolutionary movement or political party; it sets out the ideas that this group stands for, and by which they seek to change society and the world. ‘Ministry’ on the other hand evokes the mostly harmless set of tasks that a ‘minister’ does. It conjures up thoughts of church services, pastoral visitation, small group Bible studies and possibly cucumber sandwiches.

But if the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is indeed the most explosive news in the world—if he has died for sins and risen to be Saving Lord of the world—then the work he has given us to do in his service (the ‘ministry’3) is a dynamic, world-changing task. And it is not optional.

If Jesus is the holder of all authority in heaven and on earth, then our service of him is an act of obedience. Ministry in Jesus’ name is a joy and privilege, which we undertake gladly and gratefully; but it is also an act of submission. Our slavery to him is perfect freedom, but it is slavery all the same. It is a life spent at the bidding of Another.

In the Manifesto we pick up the language of the Great Commission to express this truth—but it could have been drawn from numerous other parts of the New Testament, such as Paul’s solemn final charge to Timothy in 2 Timothy 3 and 4. We’ve been given a job to do. There is a “work of the Lord” in which we should all be “abounding” (1 Cor 15:58).

What is this work?

The Manifesto describes it in a few ways: “to make new disciples and to teach them to obey all that Christ has commanded”; “evangelizing the world and edifying the church”; “to make disciples, to plant new churches and ministries, to revitalize and grow existing churches, to see by God’s blessing multitudes of new and growing believers giving glory to his name”.

To say that this is the nature of the ministry or service that the Lord has commissioned us with is, in one sense, uncontroversial. It’s what Christians have been working away at for 2000 years, after all. We might wonder why we need a manifesto to call us to do what most of us agree we should be doing anyway.

For at least three reasons that I can think of.

The first is clarity. In the midst of everything that clamours for our attention, and with multiple gurus giving us the benefit of their advice, it is very easy to become vague or muddled about what we’re actually supposed to be doing as God’s people. Clarity of purpose starts to disappear in a fog of competing voices, competing ministry models, competing interest groups in our churches, not to mention competing needs crying out for attention.

It was interesting (and encouraging) after writing The Trellis and the Vine to be told repeatedly: “Yes, that’s exactly what I’ve always believed about ministry, but you’ve managed just to say it in a clear, coherent, compelling way”. The great strength of that book was in fact its intense ordinariness. In God’s kindness, we managed to make a statement of the bleeding obvious at a time when people needed to hear it.

That’s what a manifesto can be good for. It can clear out the cobwebs and the fuzziness, and provide some bracing, head-clearing clarity about the task at hand.

This leads to a second and related reason for a manifesto: focus. Even if we are clear in our own minds about the work that God has given us to do, it is extraordinary how easy it is to still not get around to actually doing it! We get distracted. Like the disciples, our eyelids become heavy. The bright lights beckon, and we find ourselves meandering into worldliness.

But it’s not just laziness or our sinful frailty. It’s also possible to lose our focus simply by focusing somewhere else. There are so many sorts of good works that we will (and should) do as Christ’s people—in our families, in our neighbourhoods, in our church relationships, in our workplaces, in our society. These godly works show forth the fruit of the Spirit, and adorn the gospel, and bless our communities. There is also a Christian character that we should exhibit, and that God grows in us by his Spirit as he transforms us to be like Christ. The ongoing fruit of repentance and faith in Christ is that we become a new kind of person—with new thoughts, instincts, and attitudes—and we carry this new ‘self’ with us into every sphere and situation of life.

However, within the framework of these many and varied ‘good works’ that we are to practice, there is a particular “work of the Lord” for us to be abounding in. This is the work that has been entrusted to us, and that we are commissioned and commanded to be doing; a work for which we have a mandate and a responsibility, and which draws its overriding importance from the purposes of God for our world.

This is why the manifesto makes the statement that “our involvement in this work of God should be the central priority of our lives as disciples of Jesus and of our churches as loving fellowships of disciple-making disciples”.

Among the many competing activities and priorities of our lives and churches, and among the many good causes and ventures we can be part of, we cannot neglect what is central and abiding—the work of making disciples.

The third reason for a manifesto follows on from this. If we can find clarity and focus, then this is an excellent basis for unity. Christians will never agree on everything. You only have to belong to a church for more than five minutes to experience that. But if we can agree together on the basic and essential nature of the ministry that the Lord has given us to do, then our disagreements and differing views on secondary matters can be put in their rightful place.

There is nothing like a common, agreed task to bring people together—especially when it is a task that is life-and-death urgent, that challenges and stretches us, that utilizes our various strengths and different gifts, and that we work at together, shoulder to shoulder, in the strength God provides.

These three reasons for a manifesto in the end devolve back to one root problem, which is sin. Because of sin—in the world, in our hearts, in our churches, in our families—we are constantly drawn away from obedience to the ministry that our Lord has given us, just as we lapse from praying and from putting to death what is earthly in our lives, and so much more. Because of sin, there is a constant slippage in our lives and churches—away from the ministry that God wants us to do. We see this degradation in multiple ways—in distractions, alternatives, opposition, quarrels about priorities, worldliness, laziness, entropy, personal insecurity, incompetence, the hunger for novelty, or just forgetfulness. At many times and in various ways, our participation in the work of the Lord diminishes rather than abounds. It ceases to be the central unifying priority and becomes one priority among many.

This Ministry Manifesto, then, aims to draw us back to the main game by clearly re-stating the ‘first things’ that our ministries should focus on but from which we are easily diverted.

In doing so, the Manifesto highlights some important aspects of the Bible’s vision of gospel ministry that are easy to miss or forget or neglect. You might notice some of the following as you read through the Manifesto:

  • Up front and from the top, there is a note of urgency. It’s so easy to become complacent and accepting of our church not growing, of conversions being minimal or non-existent, or of actual evangelistic activity dropping off the agenda. But under God, and acknowledging that he is sovereign, we should be honestly looking at our churches (and lives) and asking why people aren’t being reached and converted through our ministries.
  • The death and resurrection of Jesus get equal billing in our basic gospel convictions. The gospel is not that Jesus died for the forgiveness of our sins; it is that Jesus died and rose to be the Saving Lord before whom we repent in faith for the forgiveness of our sins. We proclaim Jesus as Lord and Judge and Saviour, not just as Saviour.
  • We need clarity about the basic goals of all ministry (to make mature disciples of Jesus) but also about the basic methodology (the prayerful speaking of the biblical word in the power of the Spirit by God’s people). While we rightly want to be flexible and creative at the personal and tactical level in how we engage in Christian ministry, the essential goals, message, strategies and methodologies of ministry are not for us to devise. They are given to us by God. Are these basic goals and methodologies driving the day-to-day activity of your church and your Christian life?
  • The ‘work of the Lord’ is the shared ministry of all God’s people. However, one of the essential tasks that churches often neglect is the maturing and equipping of all their people for this task. This lowering of the bar for the everyday Christian disciple-maker is one of our key problems. And correspondingly, re-thinking and re-organizing so that we might “revolutionize and equip all Christians to be holy, prayerful, Spirit-filled disciple-makers” is a key priority.
  • Our challenge, then, is not simply to recruit more full-time gospel workers, nor even to persuade and equip existing leaders for the task, but to build a fellowship of “sacrificial, gospel-hearted disciple-makers” who work together in the ministry of the gospel.

Please feel free to make use of our Manifesto in your church or fellowship. Read and discuss it in your Bible study group, your church leadership group, or around the dinner table. Does it reflect your own ‘manifesto’ of what Christian ministry essentially is? Does it provide the kind of clarity your group or church or fellowship could use to re-focus and reboot what you’re doing together?

And if it does reflect the heart of what you believe about ministry, are those beliefs being reflected in what actually happens? What is distracting or stopping or hindering you? What needs to change?

Our hope and prayer is that this Manifesto, and the GoThereFor.com site in general, will help to stimulate, build and encourage a fellowship of disciple-makers from churches all over God’s world.

A Ministry Manifesto

GoThereFor.com is a platform where gospel-minded Christians can find ideas, encouragement and resources for fulfilling Christ’s commission to make disciples of all peoples.

The team behind GoThereFor.com longs to see the fruit of the great commission in our lives and churches; we want to see Christ’s disciples go out with urgent love to the communities and peoples around them, to make new disciples and to teach them to obey all that Christ has commanded. This is our vision because we believe it is God’s great plan and mission as revealed in Scripture, and we hold the Scriptures as our supreme and sufficient authority.

In particular, we are driven by the following biblical convictions:

  • That the crucified and risen Jesus Christ reigns over all as the Saviour, Lord and Judge of the world;
  • That the most pressing problem facing humanity is our total lostness in sin, and our guilt before the judgement throne of God;
  • That God’s climactic purpose in history is to glorify his Son by delivering forgiven sinners out of darkness into his kingdom and transforming them into his image; in the words of the Great Commission, it is to see people from every nation become disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ and learn to obey all that he has commanded;
  • That God’s chosen method for both conversion and growth is the prayerful, Spirit-backed speaking of the Word of the Cross—the biblical message that centres on the penal substitutionary atonement of Jesus, and his universal rule as the Risen Lord and Christ;
  • That this task of evangelizing the world and edifying the church is not only the role of preachers, pastors and evangelists, but of all God’s people as they are trained and equipped to speak God’s word to others;
  • That our involvement in this work of God should be the central priority of our lives as disciples of Jesus and of our churches as loving fellowships of disciple-making disciples;
  • That as we seek to fulfil this commission, the theology of the all-sufficient Scriptures should shape and drive all that we do, especially as we utilize methods and structures derived from wisdom;
  • That our joy in this work will come in the midst of suffering, conflict and opposition from the world and the devil, as we await the return of Christ at the end of the age.

However, looking around us, even among those who would lay claim to most or all of the above convictions, we are concerned to see:

  • Millions lost in sin and facing God’s judgement; and yet a widespread lack of evangelistic vision and urgency in many churches, where much of the available energy and resources are expended in various worthy programs to improve church life or to bless society, but where a lack of conversions is accepted with complacency;
  • A lowering of the bar for everyday Christians, who are not being radicalized and equipped as godly disciple-makers but often simply served as spiritual consumers, or deployed to help run programs that produce little gospel fruit;
  • A loss of momentum in recruiting and training the next generation of full-time gospel-workers;
  • Among leaders, a lack of vision, boldness, flexibility and skill to plan and grow ministries around disciple-making;
  • A theologically undiscerning pragmatism that takes core evangelical truths for granted, fails to see the link between theology and practice, and falls captive to the latest trends.

So under God, and in fellowship with one another, we want to provide ideas, encouragement and resources to achieve the following:

  • A renewed urgency among Christ’s people to reach out with the gospel to our neighbourhoods, communities and beyond—to make disciples, to plant new churches and ministries, to revitalize and grow existing churches, to see by God’s blessing multitudes of new and growing believers giving glory to his name;
  • To revolutionize and equip all Christians to be holy, prayerful, Spirit-filled disciple-makers; who abound in love and good works, who speak God’s truth to those around them, and who work hard to see God’s kingdom grow in both breadth and depth, whatever the cost;
  • To persuade ministry leaders to embrace this Bible-centred, prayerful, disciple-making vision, and to express that commitment in their personal lives and in their ministries;
  • To equip ministry leaders with fresh enthusiasm, knowledge and skills, not only to preach the cross, but to train their people as disciple-makers, and to change church culture, structures and practices in order to make disciples;
  • To see a new generation of appropriately gifted leaders recruited and equipped with the vision and skills to lead God’s people in this task;
  • To build a fellowship of passionate, sacrificial, gospel-hearted disciple-makers who continue to urge, stimulate and encourage one another in this ministry.
  1. Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Q&A: From the Festival of Dangerous Ideas, Monday 4th November, 2013, accessed 24/12/2013, http://www.abc.net.au/tv/qanda/txt/s3868791.htm
  2. Ibid.
  3. I am using the word ‘ministry’ fairly broadly here to refer to the service or task that the Lord has commissioned and entrusted us with as his people.

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