I have been thinking about what it will take for the church with which I am working at the present time to claim its rightful spiritual and practical inheritance. Every situation has its unique challenges but I am sure it is possible to identify some essentials for effective ministry that are universally applicable. So here goes:
The Centrality of the Gospel. This could also fall into the category of a clear sense of vision. But I think in order for a church body to be effective in its community, it is absolutely essential that it has a clear sense of vision concerning the nature of the Gospel and its application to life. At first this may seem pretty elementary and plain. But I am sure that that what causes many churches to become ineffective over time is the loss of a radical understanding and application of the Gospel. We all need to be regularly reminded of the core truth that God, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, has revealed himself to the world in Jesus Christ as both Lord and Saviour. As the Lord of all, he was the only one qualified to take the sin of the world upon himself in his sacrificial and substitutionary death (and resurrection) whereby anyone can be saved both from the judgment and power of sin through faith. This truth needs to be a living reality in the life of the church as celebrated in the Eucharist and baptism.
Biblical Authority. The human spirit starves for lack of the life-giving truth found in the Holy Scriptures. The Bible is a collection of books that have been recognized and received as the very Word of God both by the Jews and the Church. It is important to recognize that the canon of Scripture is closed in the sense that what we have contains all the truth that is necessary for us to know for eternal life in God. The Holy Spirit has been commissioned to help us understand God’s truth as it has been revealed in Scripture. In order for a church body to reach its full potential, it must recognize the importance of understanding and responding in faith to truth as made known to us in this revelation.
The Ministry of the Holy Spirit. In order for a church to be the church God intended in its cultural setting, it has to come to terms with the significance and nature of the ministry of the Spirit. The life and work of the church is entirely dependent upon the work of the Holy Spirit. At the least this should mean that prayer is absolutely basic to the life and ministry of the church. A church needs to recognize the centrality and authority of Christ by the presence and ministry of the Holy Spirit in exalting Jesus in its fellowship and ministry. It must seek to understand the ministry of the Spirit in his sanctifying and evangelistic work as well as in his administrative work in the church.
The Power of Love. Since God lives by his Holy Spirit in the Church it should not surprise us that the most powerful demonstration of his presence should be through the kind of love shown to us in Christ. There should be a contagious spirit of love and grace within a body of believers which becomes the most powerful advertisement for the Gospel and the ministry of the church. Biblically, true love shows forth within the body of Christ and beyond through acceptance and affirmation, forgiveness, mercy and compassion, mission, sacrifice, and the sharing of material wealth.
Divine Structures of Government. Essentially the Church is a spiritual structure of which Jesus Christ is the head who administrates all its various parts by his Spirit. In order for any particular church to be effective it needs to recognize Christ’s headship and direction in practical ways that consists of people serving in various capacities according to their gifts for ministry so that the work of the church and its mission can be accomplished in the community. This requires a kind of pastoral leadership that can effectively communicate biblical vision and administrate the work and ministry of the church through the spiritual gifts that have been given to the body.
Mission and Cultural Relevance. In order for a church to be effective it is really important that its leaders are able to lead the people in discerning the will of the Lord for its particular vision and mission within its own community and the world. The more specific understanding a church body has about its community and mission within it, the more intentional it can be about efficiently using the resources it has to possess the inheritance that God has for it.
These are the essentials for effective church ministry that come to mind just now. I think these are universally applicable so that when these matters are honestly addressed anywhere in the world any particular church can accomplish what God intended for it to do. Let me know if you think the essentials are different or if there are others.