Conformed vs. Transformed Ministry

Indisputably, the book of Romans contains some of the most profound theology of the New Testament. The truths of Romans sparked Augustine’s conversion, launched Martin Luther’s reformation, and caused John Wesley’s heart to be “strangely warmed” in a moment of life-change. The early church father, Chrysostom, would have the book of Romans read to him twice a week.  It has been called “the Constitution of the Christian faith”, the “Fort Knox of Bible doctrine”, and even the Fifth Gospel.

The first eleven chapters are packed with profound truths about God and His saving and sanctifying work in Christ. The first section of the book climaxes in profound recognition of the sufficiency and power of God: “Oh, and the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out! ‘For who has known the mind of the LORD? Or who has become His counselor?’ ‘Or who has first given to Him and it shall be repaid to him?’ For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:33-34).

Chapter twelve describes our proper response: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:1-2). The idea is clear. The response to all of this truth – the required acknowledgment of these great expressions of God’s character and salvation plan – is sacrificial surrender to God and a conformity of our lives to Him, not the world system around us, in order to demonstrate God’s will in this fallen world.

Personal and Corporate

We usually apply this verse at a personal level, as we should, to challenge one another to live a godly life that honors Christ and His Word. We should apply it to our corporate experience of spiritual surrender as a congregation. Recently, I was wondering about how we might apply this to the approach we take in designing and leading ministries as well. It is easy to forget the sufficiency we have in Him and, in subtle ways, make our plans in conformity to the world rather than in a fashion that reflects the good and perfect will of God.

The Success of Strategy?

It seems that the common contemporary approach to church ministry reflects four key words: Strategy, Programs, Imitation, and Growth. In essence, we often believe the key to successful ministry is a proper strategy – which often includes discussions about mission, values, vision, and ministry structure. To implement this strategy, we create or refine our programs. These various activities are the key to implementing the strategy. The outcome of this is often “imitation.” We try to pattern our efforts after the success of another church or some model described in a popular book. Perhaps, we even hope others will imitate our projected success. Ultimately, our goal is growth. We want to be bigger and better than we were before we had a strategy.

I am not saying that every element of this approach is wrong. God can use our plans for His purposes. Yet, it seems disconnected from the sufficiency described in Romans 11:33-34 and the non-conformity of thought commanded in Romans 12:1-2. Rather, it can appear to be an attempt to do ministry following a more corporate model that seems to work in the world of business enterprise.

The Glory of Inspiration

A less common approach would reflect four different words: Spirit, Prayer, Inspiration, and Glory. In this case, there is a resolute recognition that the Spirit is the instigator and source of all effective initiatives and the power for fruitful ministry. Extraordinary prayer is the practical means by which we understand, experience, and implement the Spirit’s desires. The result is the “inspiration” of a ministry effort that comes from the Lord’s unique plan for our specific ministry and context, not to be copied by anyone else. The ultimate goal is glory. This involves the compelling manifestation of the presence of Christ among His people and the clear magnification of the person of Christ by His people. This glory produces supernatural kingdom advancement and proclamation of the Gospel. 

Christ’s Word to His Churches

In my recent partnership with Pastor Jim Cymbala in hosting one-day events for pastors, I have heard him reiterate the fact that God has a unique plan and word for every church, as seen in the letters to the churches in Revelation (Chapters 2 & 3). His letter to Ephesus was specific to them and not the same as His letter to Pergamum, Thyatira, or Laodicea. I believe this is true today as each church is in a unique setting, with unique challenges and opportunities for the advancement of the Gospel.

Today, like the early chapters of Revelation, the essential focus (repeated emphatically to each of the seven churches) is, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” What could be more urgent and vital than this? We must still believe that the Holy Spirit is sufficient to empower, guide, and produce ministry that is unique and fruitful. Listening to His plan and heart is the compelling call of leadership.

When we grasp the “riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God” (Romans 11:33) made known to us by His Gospel and working in us by His Spirit, it changes the way we approach life and ministry. As Romans 11:34 declares, “For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever.” Our approach to ministry is transformed, not conformed. Then the will of Christ is on glorious display before broken people desperate for an encounter with the supernatural power of the Spirit in and through a revived church.

Copyright © 2016 Daniel Henderson. All rights reserved.