Know Your Philosophy of Ministry

One of the most important things I ever did was to write out my philosophy of ministry. It was an assignment for a refresher course I took at a Bible school in Penang. By then, I had been in the pastoral ministry for 14 years; doing ministry from out of convictions that were being developed during those early years in the full-time ministry. In fact, some of the convictions had already begun to form while I was studying in a Bible school in Singapore, and even going further back to the time as a new Christian that was influenced by both the Charismatic renewal in New Zealand (where I was converted) and the Navigators (that I had been a part of for a while).

Sometimes I was conscious of my philosophy of ministry. Other times it was operating at my sub-conscious level. Writing it down was immensely helpful because it made me see more fully and clearly my philosophy of ministry.

What is a Philosophy of Ministry? Simply put, it tells us why we do what we do in the way we do it.

All Christians who have been serving for some years (paid and volunteer) do it from out of their philosophy of ministry. Whether they are conscious of it or not, whether they have thought through it or not, it is there. It guides them when they make ministry decisions and it directs them on how they do ministry. Where did it come from? General speaking, it was likely passed on to them by their church and ministry leaders and/or picked up from books they read which influenced them, and eventually internalised along the way of service.

Unfortunately most Christians have not thought about their philosophy of ministry, much less worked through it. At no point did they consider whether it is Biblical or not, and whether it is the best approach to their service or not. This becomes critical for those who are in positions of influence like leaders of a ministry or a church; more so if they are the lead pastors or the key leaders of a Christian organisation.

Why is knowing your philosophy of ministry important? For starters, knowing why is critical for clarity; not only just for yourself but also for those who are working with you. If you are clear, it will help you to be consistent in applying your philosophy of ministry in every situation. In fact, this is one of the most important keys to help you work through difficult situations; because you know why you are doing what you are doing in the way you are doing it. When you are consistent your fellow-workers will value you as a person of integrity and likely, to be happy to follow your lead. On the other hand, if your philosophy of ministry is fuzzy and you are often flip-flopping, they will be very uncertain about how you make ministry decisions and eventually you will lose their trust in you.

This does not mean that a Philosophy of Ministry is written in concrete. It can be modified or even overhauled if you are convinced that another philosophy is better (and “more” Biblical). Mine has not significantly changed since that time when I wrote it down, but it has certainly developed further.

If you are a ministry or church leader, and especially, if you are the lead pastor or a leader in a Christian organisation, you need to write down your philosophy of ministry. You may begin with something broad and general vis-à-vis your approach to ministry. Then, you may single out some specific areas of ministry to work through. If you are a pastor of a church you will want to look at the role of the pastor, leadership structure, finance, church growth and discipleship, to name a few.

Start working on it and enjoy the journey. I know for a fact that the value that you will get from doing this will far outweigh the effort you put into it.

A Critical Factor When Engaging New Staff

The usual things that church leaderships look into when getting a new pastoral staff is his (or her) character, his beliefs vis-à-vis the doctrinal distinctives of the church, and the match between his giftings with the specific role to be filled. Let’s just call them Character, Convictions and Competencies. If these are rated at a good level, the new staff is engaged and then, thrusted upon the Pastor to manage. In some cases, over time, it becomes clear that the new staff cannot work with the Pastor. This could be due to a number of reasons, such as differences in vision and philosophy of ministry, and a fourth “C” element, Chemistry.

This must be avoided. A gifted staff who cannot “flow” with the Pastor is counterproductive.

To pre-empt this, it is critical that the candidate understands and accepts the church’s direction and way of doing ministry. Which, presupposes that the church leadership have already worked out, agreed on and are clear about where the church is going and how it’s going to get there. The potential staff’s recruitment is to help the church meet those goals, not to go cross grain to them. If he does not buy into it, it is suicidal to recruit him. A staff disaster is simply waiting to happen.

Furthermore (and this is hardly ever taken into consideration in most churches), since the vision and philosophy of ministry of the church are largely shaped and communicated by the Pastor, it follows that he should have the determining say in the recruitment of a team member. Another reason is because the Pastor is the primary person who will be relating, working and managing the new staff; not the church leaders. He must feel that he is able to work with the prospective staff and vice-versa.

This does not mean that the Pastor alone has the responsibility and authority to hire and fire. The input and opinions of the other leaders are equally important, but the Pastor should never be pushed to accept a candidate whom he views negatively. To force a staff on the Pastor will inevitably lead to poor staff relationships and poor ministry performances all round; and eventually a crisis in the church when things blow up.

If you are a Pastor, don’t take on a new pastoral staff out of desperation. You have to make sure that he (or she) is a good fit with your team, and with you in particular; that he is able to flow with you. If you are a church leader, don’t compel your Pastor to take on a person whom he has reservations. Finally, if you are a candidate for a pastoral staff position be very certain that you can flow with the Pastor’s vision and philosophy of ministry. If you can’t, then don’t accept the position even if it is offered to you. It will save everyone, including yourself, a lot of headache and heartache.