The Importance of Understanding and Embracing Your Ministry Identity

In our pursuit of serving biblical leaders, we are starting several series of practical articles covering a variety of topics helpful for ministry leaders. Today’s article is the first in a series called Shepherd to Shepherd. This series will feature pastors writing honestly about the varied challenges of faithful service.

There is a tendency for church leaders to worry too much about the opinions of others concerning one’s philosophy and approach to ministry. The result of this fear can develop into a bizarre if not schizophrenic “yo-yo” effect within a ministry’s structure. While careless leaders are a danger to impactful ministry, so are insecure leaders. Frankly, those leaders or ministries that worry too much about negative PR will find themselves paralyzed. So, the question is, “Who are you?” If you don’t know, there’s a sure bet no one else will either!

There are many different types of ministry-focus among our churches. Some churches emphasize a clear, God-given passion in the area of evangelism and missions. Others have determined that they will focus primarily on equipping and releasing their members in an encouraging or even lay-counseling approach to ministry. Still a third group has a disciplined and consistent priority in protecting orthodox theology; some of these also emphasize a specific homiletical method.

A fourth type of ministry subculture is characterized by in-depth “soul care.” Those having suffered spiritual or emotional wounds can expect to get smothered in love and prayer when walking into this type of assembly. Oftentimes these congregations will have a massive counseling ministry. A fifth kind of congregation has concluded that Christian education is the best way to accomplish the work of the church. In this kind of a ministry one might find a day-school, or even a college or seminary, attached to its structure.

A sixth ecclesiastical emphasis is on display right now in Texas and Florida, as some churches are mobilizing in the aftermath of the Harvey and Irma hurricanes. When disaster strikes, this kind of church is immediately on the ground (sometimes even before the Salvation Army or Red Cross) helping with water, blankets, first-aid, grief counseling and the gospel!

Add to all of these ministry types the variety of approaches each congregation takes to the question of music style, dress style, or how each fellowship works out the being-in-the-world-but-not-of-the-world dynamic.

The result of all this variation among solid churches is wrapped up in the word, “diversity!” Christians often struggle with this word because of a legitimate fear of gospel-killing ecumenicalism. To be clear – not only is this not a problem, it frankly is God-ordained. After two decades of pastoral ministry it is my belief that the people who complain the most about this kind of diversity are usually the ones that do the least in their corner of the vineyard.

It’s important to understand that even churches which agree with each other on key theological issues will not always agree with each other in their particular areas of emphasis.

Now that I am ministering to leaders in a direct way with IBL West along with my continued pastoral ministry at Southeast Valley Bible Church, I have a real passion to encourage leaders to be exactly who God wants them to be, leading their ministries exactly the way God has wired them!

There are two verses that impact this dynamic. First, consider Ephesians 4:14. Here the Apostle Paul explains to the congregation in Ephesus that they are to “avoid being blown about with every wind of doctrine.” This is not to say that leaders cannot or should not grow in their belief or understanding of Scripture—they certainly should be growing. However, the Apostle Paul does say that leaders should not be swinging from one extreme to the other in the area of ministry belief, philosophy and practice.

A second passage that speaks to this kind of leadership consistency is Galatians 1:10: “am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man?” Paul puts it plainly to the Galatian church; if you are centrally worried about the opinions of men (even good men), then you are not serving Christ!

So, who are you? What do you believe God wants you to do? We all expect that you will be different so you don’t need to worry when you are different! Get at it, friend!

Shepherd to Shepherd IBL Blog