Don’t Allow Theology to Stall Ministry

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Too many church leaders allow theological debates to interfere with strategic model improvements. Theology and ministry are not the same, but they do work together. 

It’s inevitable…

You’re in a meeting. Perhaps with the staff, elders, or maybe core volunteers. Your church isn’t dying, but you know it could and should be better. It MUST be better. There’s too much at stake. Too many lives in your community lived far from God. And you have a passion and desire to do something about it.

From this place, you begin to address how you do church. Not what you do or who you do it for, but how.

How is a strategy conversation. Your strategy, ministry model, and plans represent the how of your mission and vision.

Then it happens. It’s basically inevitable.

Someone in the meeting can sit still no longer. They blurt out,

“I thought we existed for the Gospel!!!  We’re not a business!!!  We aren’t an organization!!!”

Happens nearly every time.

It’s happened to me from time to time.

Theology vs. Ministry in a Church Cage Match

It’s fun to interpret and discuss theology. Well, for some, it’s fun.

As far as I can tell, this is the work of seminaries. Seminary professors and students spend their day discussing, interpreting, and evaluating their interpretation of Scripture against all the other (wrong) interpretations.

You’ve probably heard the saying, “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” It comes from George Bernard Shaw’s 1905 stage play Man and Superman.

That statement is not wholly accurate. Somewhat accurate, but not entirely true.

I went to a seminary for my master’s and doctorate, and I bumped into several professors who functioned as practitioners and professors. But I also met several who defined the “those who can’t, teach” sentiment.

Let’s admit the obvious: It’s easier to ponder than to practice. Of course, teaching is challenging. I teach pastors, church leaders, and marketplace leaders all the time. From personal experience, though, teaching these leaders is easier than sitting in their leadership seat as they attempt to lead in real-time.

So we end up with theorists and practitioners. Even in our churches. Or perhaps especially in our churches. The theorist tends to be very critical of practitioners. But theorists aren’t in the game. They are sitting in the meetings, but they’re not the ones getting phone calls on the other side of tragedies. They’re not meeting with the parent whose son just came out gay. They’re not navigating the complexities of “truth and love.”

They’re just the truth. All truth, and often nothing but the truth — as far as they interpret it. 

But ask any of these theoretical theology professors to take their teaching into church practice. It’s not that simple. Theory is not practicality. Theology is not ministry.

Theology informs ministry, but they are different.

The Gospel is Not a Strategy

The “Good News” is what Jesus followers are called to live and share. As a church, we collectively live with the same calling. The Gospel is our what, not our how.

If we hope to spread the Gospel to the best of our ability, we must design, implement, evaluate, and re-orchestrate our approach. Your theology may not change, but your model always must.

We see this throughout Scripture: The first church business meeting in Acts 15, the Disciples entering Gentile homes for the first time, and nearly all of Paul’s adventures and conversations.

It’s our job as pastors to pair the Great Commandment with the Great Commission. We do that by getting out of the classroom and into the community.

Let’s Spread the Gospel

If you’re really serious about overpopulating heaven, it’s time to evaluate your approach and design a model that fits today’s culture. We are all missionaries, meaning we should always examine the people we’re hoping to reach and adjust our approach accordingly. That’s good ministry. 

But HOW? That’s the burning question.

Churches can’t force a personal faith journey but can create conducive conditions.

Your success in reaching (evangelizing) and growing (edifying) is founded upon creating conducive conditions. That means we begin where lost in your community are (felt needs, not just locations) and intentionally engage them on a discipleship journey. That’s how the Gospel spreads.

NOTE: I talked about this a lot more in THIS POST.

So I’ll ask you again: How do you plan to do it?

I would love to help, but in the meantime, do this:

  1. What is your mission in eight words or less?
  2. What do you value, really? Don’t list what’s written on the wall, but rather examine what behaviors are common and the values they represent.
  3. Against your mission and values, evaluate what’s working, not working, missing, and confusing.

With these answers in mind, you’re positioned to build (or remodel) your ministry model with the mission in mind.

Working On It Together

One thing I know for sure about ministry is working on it feels impossible. There is so much to do you get sucked into working in it non-stop. I’d love to come alongside you and help. That can happen in a few different ways.

1. Done For You: As a leadership coach and church consultant, I spend a great deal of time working directly with churches executing the Church Engagement Model framework. I limit these engagements, but if you’d prefer someone to come alongside you and your team as a strategic advisor, let me know. These engagements are a combination of in-person and online.
If you’d like to learn more about these engagements, just reply to this email or message me, and we’ll find a time to chat. 

2. Done With You: I offer MASTERCLASS EXPERIENCES for like-minded leaders on a rotation. I lead these experiences, but we leave time for dialog and discussion. Plus, I offer each MASTERCLASS participant a personal session to address specific needs.

3. Done By You: I offer COURSES, the BLOG, and FREE RESOURCES for this purpose. If you’re trying to make progress in your church, don’t start from scratch. Borrow what I’ve learned and implement it in your context.


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