Ministry on God’s Terms
by Jon Payne
Why are so many of our churches a mile wide and an inch deep spiritually? Why do so many of our denominations eventually drift from biblical orthodoxy? Why do the fires of faith often turn to embers? It’s largely because our profession does not match our practice. Our ministry is not on God’s terms.
We profess the Bible to be the inspired, authoritative, efficacious, and all-sufficient Word of God, and yet we hear so little of it read or plainly preached from our pulpits. We boldly declare our belief that God hears and answers prayer through the high priestly mediation of Christ, and yet prayer meetings and pastoral prayers in worship are increasingly scarce. We confess that baptism and the Lord’s Supper are primary means of grace designed to cultivate Christ-centered unity and piety; nevertheless, our approach to the sacraments is as infrequent as it is superficial. We declare allegiance to Christ, and yet His person and redemptive work are eclipsed in Lord’s Day worship by our polished productions.
In short, our churches and denominations grow unhealthy because we make much of ourselves and little of God. We celebrate our strategies for numerical growth and yawn at God’s strategy for discipleship. We amuse ourselves unto spiritual death while setting aside the divinely ordained means that lead to spiritual life in Christ (Isa. 55:10–11; John 6:35–51; 1 Peter 1:23–25). For things to change, we must renew our commitment to ministry on God’s terms.
It is important to recognize, however, that God’s way of building healthy churches is counterintuitive. It is contrary to common sense. It does not fit into worldly paradigms. Indeed, God’s appointed means for kingdom growth and ministry do not fit into the Harvard Business School’s strategy for corporate expansion. God’s wisdom is not of this world (1 Cor. 1:18–2:5). To the world, God’s wisdom seems foolish. But God has promised to use the ordinary and unadorned means of Word, prayer, water, bread, and wine to save, by grace through faith, those for whom Christ died. The world has never been impressed with these means, nor will it ever be. But God promises to use them for His own glory and the salvation of His people. In and through them we receive and abide in Christ. The Westminster Shorter Catechism explains it this way:
The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption, are his ordinances, especially the word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for salvation. (WSC 88)
Church health and long-term denominational fidelity begin, therefore, with a blood-earnest commitment to the ordinary means of grace—the Word, sacraments, and prayer. Pray that this would be the unyielding commitment of our churches. May God renew in us a passion to do ministry on His terms.