In the practical space of doing ministry and life, it can become easy to just get into the grind and get stuff done without asking the broader questions behind what we do.
One of the most important questions we need to ask of ourselves is, “What is my underlying theology in what I/we do?”
J. I. Packer has famously said, “Every time we mention God we become theologians, and the only question is whether we are going to be good ones or bad ones.” So, our theology undergirds everything we do.
Let me give you an example. A friend of mine is part of a Church that uses the phrase “On Earth As In Heaven” as a bed rock to everything they do. When he told me about this, I was excited because my underlying theology means that I read that statement as meaning they desired to be a Church that showed Christ’s inclusiveattitude to people. However, he told me that recent leaders had taken the statement in a different direction: they now said that all ministry had to be done at a high level of excellence because Heaven is excellent. So, anyone who couldn’t meet that standard couldn’t participate. That is something to which I couldn’t agree because my underlying theology of Church differs from theirs.
So, we need to understand our own theological predispositions and be prepared to have them questioned.
We can see how Paul applied this principal in his letters to the Churches. In almost all of them he follows a pattern of transitioning between statements of theological principles and then pivoting into practical applications. For example, in the book of Ephesians, Paul celebrates the great call of God in the Gospel of Christ in chapters 1-3 and then pivots with the words, “Therefore I, the prisoner in the Lord, urge you to live worthy of the calling you have received …” (Ephesians 4:1) He then goes on to give practical applications of that theology.
Paul understood that our theology determines our practice.
To give another example, how we understand the spiritual state of humanity affects how we do ministry. If we believe that people have been fundamentally corrupted by sin, as Paul says (quoting Psalm 14:3), “There is no one righteous, not even one,” (Romans 3:10), then we will make the preaching of the Cross the prime focus of ministry. However, if we believe that people are simply hurt, rather than fundamentally sinful, we will preach a therapeutic Gospel, which is ultimately not the Gospel at all. There is clearly a place of counselling and personal healing but we believe the ultimate need for humanity is to be in a saving relationship with Christ as Saviour and Lord.
So, what steps can we take to become more theologically aware? Here are some thoughts:
- Read your Bible. Nothing convicts us of error as much as the Holy Spirit teaching us through Scripture.
- Read a book. Read authors who may hold a different position to you. Understand it and allow them to question yours. It may be that you remain with the same view but you’ll have a more robust reason for holding that view. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve been given is, “Be wary of a Christian book with the author’s photo on the front cover.” That’s proven to be good advice and we need to be discerning about the books we read and ensure they are using strong biblical arguments.
- Question the theology of your mentors. We all have people to whom we look and on whom we (often unwittingly) model our ministry. As a result, it’s easy to also adopt their theological positions because we respect them. That’s understandable and Paul even encourages us to look to people’s example (1 Corinthians 11:1; Philippians 3:17). But, we also need to have the wisdom and maturity to question our mentors and form our own views.
- Have good people speaking into your life. We all need good mentors: Paul had Barnabas; Timothy had Paul; Polycarp had the Apostle John; and so on. Invite people whom you respect to speak into your life.
- Look at what others do. Look at how others do ministry and leadership and ask why they do it that way. You may be challenged by having your mind broadened.
As I look back over the journey as a ministry leader, the theology behind my ministry has certainly changed and (I hope) matured. I don’t do things the way I used to do them. Take the time to consider your theology and the theology that underlies your ministry. You may find elements you didn’t even know were there.
“Everyone really does win when a leader gets better.” (Bill Hybels)
God said to the Israelites, “Then I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will lead you with knowledge and understanding.” (Jeremiah 3:15)
Heavenly Father, help us to understand our own theology. You know my heart better than I do so I pray that you would enlighten what is dark and help me see things the way you do. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.