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Shaping ministry for the 21st century

By: Steve Mills

Changes in Work and Ministry

Throughout history, the way the church organized and structured itself has shifted with cultural changes. The church's effectiveness in a given culture has always been directly tied to its ability to reconceptualize true Christianity and minister in meaningful ways to the people. Jesus was culturally appropriate in His ministry and in how He organized His disciples. That is why the Jewish leaders sought to kill Him. He changed how, where, and to whom ministry happened. Jewish leaders saw this change as compromising truth, but He had become flesh to fulfill God's plan. Through Jesus truth became known, and people found life and hope.

Jesus established a new way of spreading truth by organizing the disciples and making them His partners in the founding of the Christian church. Instead of a hierarchical system, His way was to make disciples and carry on the church as a body, as God's family. Today's church can learn much from His method of establishing the earthly church.

The information age is shifting nearly every aspect of life. Cultural analysts say our culture (dress, language, values, lifestyle, work) shifts every 3 to 4 years. The pace of change brings with it great challenges to the church. Society shapes the way people live, think and what they expect. As we move into the 21st century, the church must understand the social changes and the subsequent effect on people's lives and expectations. This means we must constantly consider how to organize the church and do Christian ministry.

Let's look at ten key principles of the information age that will influence what the church can do to be most effective in 21st century ministry. Keep in mind that I am only dealing with the organizational principles. Ministry must always be done in the power and anointing of the Holy Spirit.

10 Information Age Principles

1. Team ministry principle: Teams provide the primary structure in which ministry takes place. Teams are formed by leaders who provide vision and opportunities for people to make a difference. The attraction is to the vision, to significance and to opportunity for people to grow and develop. This vision attracts people who are willing to make genuine commitment and devote themselves to making the ministry more effective.

This will be a shift from the hierarchy model in which some church organizations are structured: Pastor over program directors, and program directors over ministry workers. Teamwork makes for better motivation, because members share ownership and responsibility. In a team there is generally greater commitment to goals and values. Teams provide a more appropriate response to cultural changes and to the needs of those to whom they minister. Problem solving is more likely to become proactive, innovative, and effective. The drawback to teams is that they require time to develop and to produce results. However, the effectiveness of the team and the personal growth of its members more than make up for this disadvantage.

2. Ministry coordination principle: Ministry activities are made purposeful and efficient through extensive flows of information that help to correct problems and make wise decisions. Ministry teams are encouraged to problem-solve and manage their areas of ministry in accordance with the organization's vision and values.

This shifts the decision-making process to those who are actually closest to the issues and situations and moves away from centralization of decision-making by those who may have limited information and involvement with the specific ministries.

Shaping Ministry
for the 21st Century
  1. Recruit the right people to the right positions. These people must be trustworthy, quality-oriented, self-starters, and flexible. Don't ask for general volunteers.

  2. Place ministry decisions in the hands of those who are actually doing the ministry.

  3. Organize around purposes (worship, instruction, fellowship, evangelism, service) and/or constituencies (children, youth, adult, singles, seniors, divorced).

  4. Don't just turn your hierarchy upside down. Think in terms of ministry teams.

  5. Treat the entire congregation as a partnership. Each person is accountable and responsible as a partner for the planning, working, success, and morale of the organization.

(Adapted from Managing the Congregation; Norman Shawchuck & Roger Heuser; (Nashville: Abingdon, 1996), 167-204.)

3. Leadership function principle: In the information age the primary function of the pastor and the other equipping leaders is to clarify and coordinate the church's vision. This involves leading the church to identify its mission, vision and values. The leader must communicate the vision articulately, visually and passionately. Another primary function of leadership is to equip and mobilize believers to use their gifts in ministry. The leader plays a central role in developing members in ministry and in developing ministry teams to fulfill the mission and vision of the church.

4. Ministry orientation principle: The ministry orientation of the church is serving people's needs versus perpetuating programs and activities. The church ministers with the conviction that people are the primary focus of ministry. Success is not measured by how many faithfully attend activities and events but by how many are becoming fully devoted, obedient followers of Christ. The objective is not to provide service and ministries but to build people who reflect the character, commitment, values and lifestyle of Christ.

5. Resource allocation principle: Resource allocation decisions are made in real time instead of on the fiscal year cycle. The allocations are made in keeping with the vision and values of the church but can be done when the need and context demands it. Often great opportunities to minister are missed simply because it wasn't projected in the budget. The pace of societal change is so fast that it requires the flexibility to allocate resources when they are needed.

6. Priesthood of all believers principle: All ministry team members are treated as a uniclass of partners in ministry. There is no two-class system of clergy and laity or leaders and ministers. The distinction is in role and function, not in value. All are ministers. Equipping leaders (pastors and staff) equip believers to be effective in ministry and leadership. Then all work together, using their gifts to meet the needs of people and advance the Kingdom of God.

7. Information principle: All ministry team members have open access to all pertinent information. Ministry team members are considered partners in ministry, and leaders must be absolutely honest in all of their conversations and reporting, because all partners have equal right to all information. Traditional information flow follows the chain of command. As partners, ministry team members must all have the same information.

8. Communication principle: Communication is swift, spontaneous, and point-to-point, as paper-based forms and communication are increasingly less efficient as compared with new technologies. Leaders and ministers take advantage of e-mail, and Internet, linking all members for real time interaction and decision making. Video and voice conferencing via the Internet will become more common because of time and space costs.

9. Purpose-driven principle: Ministry is coordinated around the key purposes of the church, i.e., worship, discipleship, fellowship, evangelism, service and then organized into ministry teams and ministry projects. The ministry is carried out by team members whose passion and giftedness, expertise and experiences are best suited to accomplish the ministry team's goals. Everything the church does is centered on the key purposes of the church. The purposes are intentionally built into the life and ministry of the church in balance through the leading and power of the Holy Spirit. The church guards against becoming unbalanced (overemphasizing one or more of the purposes of the church). Each ministry is measured by how it fits into the total ministry purposes of the church and how well it advances those purposes.

10. Partnership principle: Everyone is fully responsible for the successes, failures, morale, and outcomes of the group. No person or group of persons can demand rights and privileges for themselves that they will not fully grant to all others. Security comes from being accountable for the quality of participation. We cannot expect emotional or job security, service, or recognition without personally working for it. There are no status symbols or perks. Status symbols and perks are the language of power in hierarchical organizations and have no place in a true partnership. Work and planning process are choosing to be compliant or dependent.

Your church's effectiveness is directly tied to its ability to minister in meaningful ways to the people today. Just as Jesus called and organized His disciples in ways appropriate for His purposes, so must we. He effectively represented God's purposes to the people of His day. We must organize ourselves and do ministry to represent Him in our time and place, so truth will be known and people will find life and hope.


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