On paradigm reversal in ministry

The title makes it slightly more complicated than it really sounds. What I am really saying here is that the paradigms to be used when looking at ministry is sometimes the exact opposite of looking at things in this world. I’ll try to illustrate.

In many areas of human society, we create structures which are responsible for performing a particular type of work. People are then either employed by, engaged by or otherwise become involved in the organisation to do the work. Thus we have this diagram.

Person -> Structure -> Work

As an example, let’s look at the work of “teaching actuarial studies”. In Australia, the one of structures that does that work is a “university”. For a while I happened to be employed by a university to teach actuarial studies. And so we have

Kelvin -> University -> Teaching actuarial studies

One of the consequences of this is that the person (me) is separated from the work (teaching) by the structure (the university). This allow the work to continue quite independently of the person doing the work from time to time, the structure can “take over”. So teaching actuarial studies does not stop simply because I stopped teaching, the university can simply find another person to do the same thing (and it has).

Ministry is not (and ideally is not) like that. The Bible seems to place a lot more emphasis on people rather than structures. So for example, gifts are apportioned to people rather than churches per se (1 Corinthians 12:4-11; Ephesians 3:11-14, etc), although they are to be used in the context and benefit of a community (same passages). And thus “ministry” that a particular person is in is tailored to that individual. So it’s more like this

Person -> Ministry

What are the implications? I can think of two off the top of my head:

  1. We must always be care that, to borrow some phraseology, not to think more highly of structures than we ought. That doesn’t mean that structures are inherently bad; in fact they are good in bringing order. But we don’t minister because we have a role in a particular structure, we minister for the benefit of others.

  2. It’s OK for ministry structures to lapse when the person moves on to serve in a different way. We must not be so fond of our structures that we find all sorts of ways to keep them going, even when there is nobody willing to contribute.

Any thoughts? In what areas above am I incorrect? Are there any other implications?

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