Summary: Thoughts from Isaiah 35 on the context, content and centrality of Christ to ministry.
A framework for ministry.
(As found in Isaiah chapter 35)
Text: Hebrew’s 12:24 "You have come to Jesus"
Address delivered at Aberystwyth Theological College, Preaching Service, 20th November 1987
Why have I come tonight? Why have you come tonight? Why have we’ve been doing all this singing and praying and what have we been reading God’s word for? One answer may be found in the words of our text in Hebrew’s chapter 12:24. It is these words on to which I will be hanging everything else I will be saying; the first part of the verse as it reads in the Good News Bible, "You have come to Jesus".
What I would like to share with you is some thoughts upon "A framework for ministry", as found in Isaiah chapter 35. This won’t be an all embracing framework as it is focusing upon only one book from one of the great prophets. But, God willing, it will give us some pointers and directions in which to meditate.
Now if you’re not training to be an ordained minister, please don’t switch off. All who have come to Jesus have a ministry. Whoever you are, whatever you will be doing, who ever you will be meeting, tonight, tomorrow , next week, whatever:- that is your ministry. Peter writes "You are a royal priesthood". All Christians are called the serve their Lord. One of the most basic meanings of "minister" is simply to serve. We all need a framework for ministry.
Like the Presbyterian I am, I naturally have three points to raise.
Firstly - the context of our ministry.
Secondly - the content of our ministry.
Thirdly - the centrality of Christ to ministry.
The context of our ministry
The context of our ministry is people.
Simply that... People.
Some, who have come to Jesus.
Some who are coming to Jesus.
Some who have come to Jesus and gone away again.
Many who have never, and may never, come to him.
Ministry is primarily about people. Does that sound like stating the obvious? Well, actions speak louder than words. You could get the impression that ministry is about all sorts of things. Some act as though local church ministry was primarily about maintenance. I heard one lady in a church threatened with closure speak in defiance, saying "I swore to my father that whilst I lived on this earth the doors of this church would never close".
The church was costing a fortune to keep open. One hundred and fifty yards down the road was a Methodist church whose pattern of worship differed hardly an iota. The church had no plans for outreach, it just wanted to maintain itself against the odds. Why? Certainly not for the sake of those outside its walls. They had lost sight of the ideal that the church should exist primarily for those who are not its members.
Ministry can so easily become maintenance; keep the old thing ticking over as long as we can. We must keep in sight that people are more important than traditions or buildings or denominations or many other things we associate with the word church. You have come to Jesus. He came to be a saviour, not to be a caretaker. Ministry is not about maintenance.
Neither is ministry primarily about personalities. We all need role models and heroes. It is part of the discipleship program instituted by Jesus who said "Follow me", and of Paul who said "Imitate me " . But some people get fixed on an idea or a person to such an extent that they have to be this or have to be that. They find a preacher they admire and set themselves up as the next Billy Graham or Luis Palau or whoever. If our imitation of another, other than Christ, goes beyond our concern for others, then we are on shaky ground.
It is very important to know who we are in Christ, but if in the process of self discovery, we obscure the fact that ministry is about people over than just ourselves, then we cannot minister in the way Christ would wish us to. Jesus said " Whoever wants to find himself, most lose himself". You have come to Jesus.
Ministry isn’t about miracles. Personally, I take the charismatic movement seriously despite some of its excesses and eccentricities. As a denomination we need to re-discover the revival power of the Holy Spirit to heal and deliver, to convict and recreate.
I have a few people in one of my churches, who I’m sure would not mind me sticking the label "charismatic" on them. They go off to meetings all over the place and come back with tremendous testimony’s of God’s healing power. But occasionally they have become so wrapped up in the spectacular that they have to been reminded that Jesus said "Seek ye first the kingdom..."