The Biblical Vision of Christian Ministry

We're at Bethlehem's North Campus for the first of a 2-day Trellis & the Vine workshop with Col Marshall and Tony Payne (authors of the book by the same title). We found out at the beginning of this morning's session that there are attendees here from not only the 5-state region (Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, and the Dakotas) but also as far as New Hampshire, south Texas, and Oregon.

Tony Payne led us through the first session on the biblical vision of Christian ministry.

God's Agenda for the World: The Gospel

Payne began by asking, "What is God's agenda in the world?" It is not political transformation or social liberation (the liberal agenda) or a gospel of personal fixes for our life now (the prosperity agenda)—extremes are often obvious to many evangelicals. But Payne said that often our churches are being distracted by subtle forms of the social and therapeutic agendas.

So what it is God's agenda? The whole Bible. The announcement of God's great plan for the world, and its unfolding in history. Or, in a nutshell: the gospel.

The gospel, Payne said, is "the momentous announcement of God's cosmic plans fulfilled in Jesus." He walked us through Paul's first sermon in Acts 13:13–49, highlighting that what God is doing in the world is "fulfilling his age-long plans to install Jesus as the Savior of the world and draw men and women from every nation into his kingdom."

How God Pursues His Agenda: Preaching, Prayer, and People

Payne then turned to Colossians 1:3–14 and talked about how God's agenda drives Christian ministry—the nature of our ministry work. Put in terms of Colossians 1, what God is doing is transferring people into his kingdom and transforming them into the image of his Son.

How God's agenda comes into fruition among us is the proclamation of the gospel, through human agency—the gospel spoken by people in prayerful dependence on God to give growth in his Spirit. And it is "him [Jesus] we proclaim" (Colossians 1:28), not just for conversion, but for everyday Christian growth. We don't move on from Jesus and the gospel, but stick with him (Colossians 2:6–7).

This gets at what Payne calls "the three p's of Christian ministry":

  1. Proclamation - preaching the gospel
  2. Prayer that God would work through the gospel and awaken hearts by the Spirit
  3. People

"We are the third p," Payne said. "Christian ministry is simply our sharing of the gospel with others in the prayer that God would give growth through it, to transfer them and transform them. It's the gospel that brings growth, in prayerful dependence, by people as God's agents. It's a humbling and exalting privilege."

Moving to the Right: Growing Self and Others in the Gospel

Next Payne discussed how God's agenda advances in Christian lives through what he called "moving people to the right."

He showed a picture of an arrow, going from left to right on the page. The left side being the kingdom of darkness, the right side being the kingdom of Jesus, with steps of movement along the way (from far away from the gospel, to being in contact with a Christian, to talking with a Christian, to hearing the gospel, to conversion, to growth, to struggles, to training).

The goal of Christian ministry is then "moving people to the right"—not only ourselves, but also others, both believing and nonbelieving.

Which People? All of Them

Payne then asked which people are the ones doing this ministry of gospel and prayer. He pointed in Colossians to Paul (1:23–28), Epaphras (1:7), and also Paul's band (4:7–18); but Paul also assumes that all of the Colossians are ministering to each other (3:15–17) as well as to outsiders (4:2–6).

He also pointed out elsewhere in the New Testament that all the people (not just the pastors) are to move themselves and others "to the right" in gospel growth:

  • All disciples are to make disciples (Matthew 28:18–20)
  • All are "prophets" (Acts 2)
  • All teach one another (Romans 15:14)
  • All edify through words (1 Corinthians 14)
  • All are partners in the gospel (Philippians 1:27–30)
  • All exhort each other daily (Hebrews 3:12–13)

As we encourage all the people to engage in gospel ministry, two errors to avoid are clericalism (only the ordained ministers can do the work) and anti-clericalism (no distinction of official pastors and teachers). The pastor/teacher is coach of the team, but the whole team is working together on the mission of gospel advance in individuals' lives and in the corporate whole.

"This is not a clever new model," Payne insisted. "We're trying to think through a biblical understanding of the Christian life, how every Christian disciple is involved, and how ‘moving others to the right' is part of the normal Christian life."

Which Word? The Gospel in the Bible

It's clear in Colossians that "the word" is the message of the gospel. It's the gospel message, empowered by the Holy Spirit, that "moves people to the right," whether believers or nonbelievers.

And this gospel is an inscripturated message. It comes through the words of the Scripture. This is why Christian ministry is a Bible-reading movement. The gospel is found in the Scriptures.

It's the gospel and prayer that really makes Christian ministry happen. And so our aim is to have the Bible open with as many people as possible in as many contexts as possible.


Notes from Other Sessions