Developing a Ministry Philosophy Without Drifting or Defying Authority
By Pastor Richard Rossiter
One of the first things I was told when I began working in ministry was that there are a lot of things that they did not or could not teach you in college, and the only way to learn was by real life experience. However, what I found was that ministry was much more about obedience and loyalty than growth and preparation. You are probably thinking, “Wow, you must have been under some bad leadership”. It is true that leadership can make the development of a ministry philosophy easier or harder, but I came to realize the reason that I had spent so many years in ministry without a ministry philosophy was not my leadership’s fault, but mine. I, like most people in ministry, had leadership in my life that had good days and bad, strengths and weaknesses, and were good men doing the best they could to accomplish the task that God had given them. I was just a part of the process of accomplishing that task. I participated in their ministry with their methods according to the perceived unspoken parameters. Then one day I became the leader and started doing everything they had done, but I did not know why we were doing much of what we were doing. Don’t get me wrong, I did not disagree with all that we were doing or believing; I had just adopted the practices out of obedience and loyalty-but now I was the one in leadership, and all I had was tradition and talking points instead of Bible answers and personal conviction. So, I went on a journey to develop a ministry philosophy that I could believe, understand, and teach. What I needed was not a list of what we did or believed, but why we did it or believed it, and how do we transfer the belief into helpful teaching and practice. This is the path that I took to develop a ministry philosophy. I hope it helps.
You should be in an environment where you are free to ask “Why?” Questions.
Often people in leadership do not like staff to ask the why questions. The ability to ask questions is imperative to developing a philosophy as opposed to just having blind obedience. God did not discourage “why” questions, in fact, He encouraged them, whether speaking to the children of Israel about their sons in Joshua, or to his disciples in response to a parable.
So, what kind of questions should be asked?
You need to find someone that you can ask any question to. However the questions that you do are important.
Ask for terms to be defined.
I can not tell you how many times I have heard two people “discussing” a topic and they could not find agreement or even understanding because the terms that they were discussing had no clear definition. I recently read a discussion about separation that produced a wave of unprofitable debate. The problem was the concept of separation was never defined. Were they talking about ecclesiastical separation or personal friendship or ministry cooperation or ministry privileges (like preaching for each other) or basic cordiality and kindness. As each person gave their argument, they would apply whatever definition fit, so everyone went in a complete self-righteous circle. Terms like doctrines, convictions, institutional standards, authority expectation, preferences, ministry pragmatism, culture, and others must be defined if you want to build a philosophy. Find someone that you can genuinely discuss the “whys” of ministry.
You need to be able to ask parameter questions.
In other words, would the answers to the question be different if the circumstances were different? Often, we only view ministry from the box that we have been placed in, so we begin to think that all the concepts of ministry are static. If we are not able to ask these sort of questions, it can lead to some dangerous consequences. One consequence is that method and preference take priority over principle. Another consequence is that once we realize that ministry is not as cookie cutter as we were taught, then everything becomes negotiable and we can swerve into the other ditch of pragmatism. What we do not need is a list of parameters, but biblical principles that will guide us as we set our own parameters.
You need to ask realistic questions.
Sometimes we get caught in the trap of the extreme hypothetical questions or emotionally driven questions. You do not set your principles based on extreme hypothetical or emotion. You set your philosophy on the normal or clear information. What is amazing is that the philosophy for the normal situation typically will also work for the extreme. However, it is much better to work from the normal to the extreme, then from the extreme back to normal. For example, when someone is talking about abortion, they may use the extreme of incest or rape and want an answer in that case. However, better to see if there is agreement in 98% of abortions (the norm) before you answer the extreme. Typically the reason for an extreme question is not to find an answer, but to drive an agenda. Be careful that you did not fall for this. While you say you are looking for answers to develop a philosophy, you may be actually driving an agenda. If you are still under leadership, it is important that you do not attempt to undermine leadership while finding you own ministry philosophy.
You must ask and get the answers to these questions without developing a critical spirit.
As you go thru this process, you are asking the leader to open himself to some level of scrutiny, and, no doubt, you are going to come to some different conclusions at some point. There is a great danger of developing a critical spirit or “I would not have done it that way” mentality. You must remember that there is a weight of leadership that you may not feel yet. It is always easier to be a back seat driver or a Monday quarterback. Also, remember that the pastor that you are under is still growing as well. So, be careful that you don’t develop a reactive critical philosophy that is based in a perceived superiority generated from relishing in the weakness of your pastor.
You must be ready to not just ask the question – you need to develop a willingness to also be asked hard questions.
So, with control over your spirit and humility in your heart, start asking and answering hard ministry questions in pursuit of a ministry philosophy that lines up with the Bible. You will be finished when Jesus returns.
P.S. Note to pastors: if we do not allow, and even encourage, men that are serving with us to pursue a ministry philosophy and to search out answers for themselves, we create robots or reactionists. Both, of which I believe, will fail to propitiate truth to the next generation.
Richard Rossiter is a husband, author and founding pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Spring Hill, Florida.
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