Almost everywhere I turn, the church is trying to understand effective ministry in our changing world. The world of the 21st century is a much different world than we knew just a few decades ago. In a culture and society that is less Christian, we are trying to reach out to non-Christians. In a media-driven world where information is almost instantaneous, we struggle to maintain the interest of our youth. The presence of media in almost every minute of life increases our appetite for entertainment and external stimulation, makes loneliness and solitude seem a threat, and decreases our attention span. We are on sensory overload with television, music from iPods, iPhones with multiple apps, the Internet with social networks…the list seems almost endless and grows daily. Traditional church activities like Bible classes and worship services seem bland by comparison.
In today's world, it is natural for churches to seek ways to attract people (attractional church) and to find those things that will keep attendance up. The temptation is to let the people, both in and out of the church, set the agenda for the church's teaching and worship. In a world where religion has become consumer-driven, the church is too often driven by the consumers or customers. Churches may spend most of their time, financial resources, and efforts in trying to meet perceived demands, many of which have nothing to do with Christianity or salvation. Our classes and sermons may have little substance and be only tangentially related to our life as Christians. Much of what we share could be shared at the local Rotary, Lion's Club, or other social gathering (except that we include an invitation). Our curriculum, both in classes and sermons, shows more and more tendency toward personal actualization, self-improvement, healthy relationships, and similar topics which may treat God as the solution to the problems of life more than as eternal Savior who does not solve the problems of our fallen world but will ultimately deliver us from this fallen world. While there is nothing wrong with these topics, they become our focus as we seek to appeal to our "customers" and too often are divorced from Biblical teaching.
In trying to chart a course that could help the church toward effective ministry, I suggest that effective ministry has three dimensions: a spiritual dimension, a social dimension, and a dimension that enables service. Effective ministry begins by establishing a strong spiritual base which provides foundations for service to one another and humanity, and is the environment in which social interactions occur and relationship are formed.
The spiritual dimension must provide the base. Church leaders, elders, and preachers: Make certain that above all else the activities and classes and sermons of the church are spiritually-informed and spiritually-formed. The first component to be addressed in our ministry, and in the activities, classes, and worship of the church, is spiritual. If the church does not have a spiritual base for its ministry, it differs little from other social and service organizations in the world and has little reason for existence.
A solid spiritual foundation will support and inform social relationships. We are brothers and sisters in the Lord first, friends second. The relationships we share are a testimony to the world. It is wonderful if we like one another, but that we love one another in the Lord is more important. Christianity brings together people who would otherwise not know one another and would not interact with and love one another. In the church I value people that I would not otherwise value, because the spiritual foundation provides a different way of measuring life. Social is second, built on the shared spirituality. With shared spirituality, we experience socializing in similar ways.
Finally, our ability to serve one another, those outside the body of Christ, and the entire world grows out of our relationship with God and one another. Churches that struggle to involve members in mission and service projects might do well to examine the foundations on which the church and its work are built.
This progression honors the fact that the church and Christianity are not about us-what we receive, how we benefit, what the church owes us as members. Christianity is about a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. That relationship of love allows us to love others. The spiritual foundation of our relationship with God calls us to be like him, expecting to serve more than to be served.
If success is measured by attraction, numbers, participation in entertainment, and other secular standards, it is possible for a church to "succeed" with these three dimensions of ministry out of order. But if the church is interested in accomplishing God's purpose in the world, church leaders and ministers will do well to keep these dimensions in appropriate focus and order: a strong SPIRITUAL focus and foundation enables our SOCIAL relationships in Christ and influences us to imitate our Lord in SERVICE.