Have or Do Ministry?

I think the American church is terribly hampered by institutionalism. Or, to be more precise, I believe the American culture of institutionalism has infected the church with ill-health. I’ll admit that I’m not using institutionalism in a technical sense, but in a simplified way to refer to the tendency to develop structures and organizations to deal with issues. In the church, it tends to show itself programs—everything good that is to be done and everything bad to be overcome is solved by a new program of some sort. Because programs need organization, they are inevitably supported by organizational charts, job descriptions, etc. In order to fill the “staff” needs of the programs, ministry gets defined as a position and everybody needs to “have a ministry” (which really means “have a position within a ministry”).

I am not opposed to organization (at least in principle!). I think the Lord’s work should be done properly and in order. But, I think we need to be very clear about a simple truth: Ministry is not a position; it’s an action. You don’t really “have” a ministry; you minister. A healthy congregation is not built by organizational charts and job descriptions. It develops as God’s people engage themselves is serving Him by using their God-given gifts for the benefit of the Body (Eph 4:11-16). That text highlights spiritual maturity and mutual ministry, not organizational efficiency. Sound doctrine and godly relationships are God’s priorities.

That the institutional mindset has crept into the church is most clearly evident by the way people think about going to church (and I’m tempted to put those last three words in quotes because the phrase itself reflects the problem). Let me illustrate. A friend tells you he is going up north for the weekend and you ask about missing church. His reply: “Because someone else is covering my [insert normal ministry designation] this Sunday, I’m not doing anything, so there’s no problem with me skipping this weekend.” Do you see what has happened here? Serving Christ in the church has been reduced to fulfilling a task or role within a program.

Instead of viewing the assembly as a body that needs all of its part to contribute what God supplied them with, the church is viewed as constellation of programs that are run by people who have positions. Everybody else is a spectator, student, or consumer. Church becomes an event to be attended, not a gathering of people in which to participate. People in this kind of context don’t show up looking for ways to serve others and concentrating on the task of truly worshipping God. Since they don’t “have a ministry” their job is to passively receive the ministry that is being done for them. IOW, ministry has become institutionalized.

Church is not a spectator sport or entertainment venue. It is an assembly, a gathering of people gifted by God to serve one another and together to carry out His purposes.

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