Section 3: Power, responsibility and gospel ministry
- Application of power, agency, responsibility and duty to the ministry of the gospel
7.1 Limits to our responsibility and accountability
- There are 4 ways in which we are unable to perfectly take full responsibility or be held entirely accountable for our ministry activity and outcome:
- “If God wills” — God, as the sovereign ruler of the world is in ultimate, providential control of all things that take place in church and ministry — we cannot do anything in ministry that is not a gift from him and in his sovereign will.
- “As much as people are willing” — Because ministry involves people, we are unable to predict or control their beliefs and behaviour.
- “As much as is possible” — Because ministry takes place in this complex and fallen world, we are unable to predict and control what might happen which will influence our ministry activities.
- “According to God’s election and intervention” — because conversion and genuine spiritual maturity requires the miraculous work of God’s Spirit, we are unable to bring it about apart from his sovereign will.
7.2 Human Causality in Ministry
- There are many duties and outcomes associated with Christian ministry that do not depend on God’s supernatural, regenerating and sanctifying word: managing church finances and property, recruiting ministry team leaders, inviting non-Christians to attend Christian events, playing music that is appropriate accompaniment, speaking in a manner which is clear and comprehensible and engaging.
- In such matters, our responsibility is limited by all the factors mentioned above: our ability, intention and duty. For God in his providential will, through natural forces and other human decisions, contributes to the outcomes in ways we cannot control.
- As in all things in life, including our daily bread, we rightly call on God to bless us in prayer, realising that apart from his general grace sustaining us in all we do and all we have become, we cannot do anything or achieve anything.
- Nevertheless, this is different from the intervening, supernatural, saving grace of election, regeneration and sanctification. We often blur our talk about God’s general grace with God’s saving grace. And so we might talk as if persuading someone to come to church is as completely outside of our human control as much as new birth is completely outside of our human control.
7.3 Human Causality in Conversion
- Only God’s supernatural work can enable a sinner to call Jesus Lord, to truly repent and believe. This is the work of the Spirit.
- However, God’s regenerating accompanies the preaching of gospel and enables conscious human response to the gospel. The sinner hears it, understands it, is persuaded and convicted by it, recognises its glory and delights in it. These are the appropriate human responses to the truths of the gospel.
- The process of conversion does not operate separately from human listening, comprehension, and persuasion, through some kind of direct revelation. Rather, it operates through a sinner being enabled to be understand and be persuaded by a comprehensible and persuasive communication of the gospel.
- When God shines his light in our heart to see the gospel, we are able to see, understand and respond to the gospel as it truly is. In that sense, his illuminating work removes the barriers to us seeing that gospel as it truly is, not merely human words, but the word of God.
- 1Corinthians chapters 1 to 2 does not contradict this. For this passage does not forbid any use of wisdom or rhetoric, but rather a proud, worldly rhetoric, form and technique, based on human power and vanity. Likewise, 2 Corinthians chapter 4 does not forbid the use of thoughtful persuasion, but rather forbids any methods which are deceptive or manipulative.
- To bring about the calling of his elect, then, God providentially brings them into contact with the clear and persuasive preaching of the gospel, and supernaturally regenerates them to be able to receive it as such.
- God may choose to work through a combination of supernatural and providential means to make gospel preaching that is not the most intelligent, articulate, compelling or attractive nevertheless effective for conversion. Persuasion does not depend entirely on perfect logic, social status or rhetorical skill.
- Therefore, we are responsible to a certain extent for the many things we do to bring about the outcome of people coming into contact with the gospel (invitation, promotion, mobilising Christians), and we are also responsible to a certain extent for how clear and persuasive our presentation of the gospel is, which brings about the outcome of understanding, repentance and faith.
7.4 Human Causality in Spiritual Maturity
- Our growth in godliness is only possible by the inward work of the Holy Spirit, as he continually renews us, overcomes our natural sinful thoughts and desires, and deepens our capacity to know, love and obey God.
- Unlike conversion, however, Christians are more actively involved in this process. We work as God works powerfully in us, as Philippians 2 says, as we work out our salvation in fear and trembling as God works in us.
- Therefore, we are responsible for our own godliness to a certain extent, even as we pray that God continues to work powerfully in us.
- We are also responsible to a certain extent for the outcome of others growing in godliness, for are a given the duty or teaching, warning, urging and encouraging others in the church to live lives worthy of the calling we have received.
- Avoid a naïve pattern of ministry thinking and planning which thinks we can entirely control all the outcomes of ministry. This can lead to
- trusting in current human technique and reason that is inadequate.
- The risk of putting more focus on current matters of technique and reason rather than the clear emphasis of Scripture on preaching, prayer and love.
- Discouragement for those seeing little fruit from their ministry, when there are many worldly and supernatural matters beyond their control.
- Boasting and pride among those seeing much fruit in their ministry, thinking that their wisdom and skill has entirely produced the fruit of their ministry.
- Avoid a naïve pattern of ministry thinking and planning which downplays or denies our influence on the outcomes of ministry. This can lead to
- justifying negligence or laziness in ministry.
- The risk of not putting appropriately diligent effort into learning what matters of knowledge and technique might help the work of ministry.
- Strangely celebrating ministry work that is ‘intuitive’ and ‘organic’ and ‘muddles’ along, even if this hampers effective ministry.
- Strangely judging ministry work that is deliberate and careful on practical matters, even if its overall doctrine, ministry practice and ethics is good and right.
- Maintain God’s supremacy in all things, so that our contribution to his work is always considered supplementary and dependent upon his past grace, providential work and supernatural operation. We are not equal partners with God in the work and outcomes of ministry, but instruments in his purposes.