Practising Ministry 12: The Church

The Church is not a building, the Church is not a steeple.
The Church is not a resting-place, the Church is a people!

I am the Church! You are the Church!
We are the Church together!
All who follow Jesus, all around the world,
Yes, we’re the Church together.

If you grew up in and around Church circles, or attended Sunday School, you might recognise this little chorus.

I suppose it goes without saying that the Church is not a building. Not that we should become complacent. I have tried hard to get into the habit of referring to “the Church building”, so as to make it clear when I am talking about bricks and mortar, and when I’m talking about something much bigger, wider, and more stunning than even the most impressive Gothic Cathedral.

What is “the Church”? Put simply, it is the collective term for people that believe in God, and that He is known only through Jesus Christ. The fact that this is collective means you cannot be “the Church” on your own: the gathering and belonging together is fundamental.

That’s what the Church is. So what does it do?

Or, perhaps a better question is, “What is it meant to do?” Because, let’s be honest: the Church, over the years, hasn’t always been very good at doing what it’s supposed to do.

Firstly, the Church is meant to act as a witness to everything we’ve looked at so far in this series. In all my previous posts, we have explored some of the foundational beliefs of the Christian faith, and the Church is supposed to share this with other people. As a minister, I have a very particular role in sharing this faith with others.

The most vital aspect of the Christian faith that the Church is meant to share is the reality that, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has created the means for us to be reconciled to Him, to enjoy the relationship with Him as it was meant to be, and to look forward to a time beyond death when we will live together, in the New Creation, with all who put faith in Jesus, and with God.

The second thing the Church is meant to do is act as a sign post to the future I’ve just described. In response to the belief that God will one day restore the world to how it was meant to be, we are called to offer help and support, and to show people what the Kingdom of God is like. It’s a place of healing, comfort and forgiveness. The ills of this world are dealt with, and people find rest, sometimes for their body, always for their soul. The Church is meant to achieve this by working against injustice in our world.

That’s what the Church is, what it’s meant to do, and by extension, what we as Christians are called to do as part of the Church.

If you’re reading this and this hasn’t been your experience of the Church: please know that I am truly sorry.

But know this: we in the Church are just the same as you outside of it. All of us are sinners in need of God’s grace. At it’s best, the Church is a collection of sinners who have found forgiveness though Jesus. So, of course we’re going to get things wrong, we aren’t perfect! But then again… no one is…! 

So, this presents a choice: you can either get things wrong on your own, and continue on your current path. Or you can get things wrong, and know there is One from whom you can receive forgiveness when you come to Him.

Practising Ministry 7: What Is the Gospel?

I’ve written a post about this before. The focus here is slightly different, because I’m reflecting specifically on ministry. But if you want a general overview of the Gospel, please click the link above.

In the last couple of posts, we have been reflecting on the problem humans face as we try and relate to God. The problem is sin. Sin is the rejection of God. We all reject God in some fashion. The most common form of rejection is selfishness: hard as we might try to live for others, at some stage we do something which is solely for our own benefit.

This rejection of God has led to us being separated from Him. God cannot abide sin, because he is the exact opposite: He is Holy.

People try and bridge the gap between us and God through a variety of means. Unfortunately, none of these work because they do not deal with the underlying problem: the sinfulness of humanity.

So…what is the Gospel?

The Gospel is the reality that God has bridged this gap on our behalf. He has taken away our sinfulness and has replaced it with righteousness. He achieved this through Jesus’ death and resurrection. This has bridges the gap between us and God and allows us to relate to Him once more.

In later posts, I will reflect more specifically on how God achieves our salvation through Jesus, and what that means for us. For now, what matters is this: the essence of the Gospel is that God has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ. The relationship is repaired, and people’s lives are transformed. 

This belief is the foundation of my entire ministry.

The purpose of my ministry, then, is to help people discover this reality for themselves, and then to allow it to change and shape their lives. That is not to say God needs me to work: God is powerful enough that He could spread the Gospel without any human help.

But, God is gracious enough to allow me to participate in His mission to share the Gospel with all the world. So, when I visit someone, for example, I am not somehow bringing God to them, or them to God: God has already been present to them and at work in their life. My role is to come alongside this person, and help them to see where and how God had been at work.

My ministry is about the Gospel. While it can be very tempting to make it about me: what I have to say, what I think, and so on. But it’s not about me: it’s about God, Christ and the Gospel. It’s as John the Baptist declares when he spends his time pointing towards Jesus:

“He must become greater; I must become less.” (John 3:30 NIVUK)

As I say, we will look at the specifics of the Gospel in future posts, as well as the impact on my ministry. But whatever I do in my ministry, it is based on this foundation: that the Gospel, the Good News I have to share with others, is that God has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ; that only through the Gospel can people be in relationship to God and find their lives transformed; and that the Gospel is offered by God to all who would receive it, and my job as a Minister and a Christian is to help people see how God is at work in their lives.

Practising Ministry 1: The Gospel As Centre

I have had a mixed relationship with journalling. As part of my earlier training in ministry, I had to keep a journal. I didn’t always find this helpful, as I do most of my reflecting in my head and don’t feel the need to write it down.

As I enter my final period of training, keeping a journal is no longer a requirement. Despite not always enjoying it, I do see why keeping a journal is useful. But I also wanted to do something more substantial, which not only helps me, but also is (hopefully!!) of benefit to others.

So, I’m starting a new series of blog posts, which will not only reflect on my ministry practice, but also to hopefully give you an insight into what the life and work of a minister is like (if you aren’t a church leader), or perhaps to offer another perspective which you might find helpful (if you are reading as a church leader).

Practice or Practise?
I’ve been quite deliberate in my spelling of practise in the title. This is something I often get very wrong, but I checked for the benefit of this series:

  • Practice: a noun, for example: Doctor’s Practice;
  • Practise: a verb, for example: practising piano.

Either could be applied to ministry. I have deliberately chosen to talk about ministry practise, since you could say that, in my training, I am practising to be a minister! Although I still have a ministry in my own right at my placement, I’m still in the process of practising for what it will be like when I have a congregation of my own!

The Gospel As Centre
To help me in these reflections, I’m going to be drawing from this book. Edited by Don Carson and Timothy Keller, The Gospel As Center encourages church leaders to think seriously about their ministry practice in light of particular aspects of the Christian faith.

The first chapter, written by Carson and Keller, explains the principles upon which their organisation are founded (The Gospel Coalition). These also apply to the contents of the rest of the book.

The central principle they describe is that the Gospel must be the foundation upon which we build our ministry. This is due to the fact that only the Gospel can truly transform people’s lives (What is the Gospel?).

As ministers, we represent and extend this to people when we meet them. We don’t come representing ourselves, but representing Christ and the good news that He has forgiven them and can transform them. This means we can have confidence in our ministry, because it is grounded on the sure foundation of the Gospel.

We might be tempted to build our ministry on other foundations (for example, our personality), but these things come from us, and cannot bear the weight which usually comes with ministry.

The Gospel, however, comes from God, and therefore can bear this weight. Which is why, as I begin this series, I start with the foundational principle that only the Gospel can truly support the task of ministry.

The Gospel must by the centre!