Ministry in the Middle Space

One reason I wrote my new book Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City is that I believe there is a common misunderstanding of the relationship between doctrine and ministry.

Let me illustrate. A puzzling but common sight today is that many churches share the same doctrinal foundations, yet go about ministry in radically different ways. For example, consider two Presbyterian churches that both subscribe wholeheartedly to the Westminster Confession of Faith and catechisms. The first church uses contemporary music and very little discernible liturgy, employs lay ministers to lead meetings and ministries as well as pastors, and deploys the latest marketing and media strategies. The second church operates in almost the opposite way, using classical music, traditional liturgy, and emphasis on the ordained clergy. They also vigorously criticize the methods of the other church as a betrayal of the Reformed faith, and perhaps even of the gospel itself.

Revival: Ways and Means

How do seasons of revival come? One set of answers comes from Charles Finney, who turned revivals into a "science." Finney insisted that any group could have a revival any time or place, as long as they applied the right methods in the right way. Finney's distortions, I think, led to much of the weakness in modern evangelicalism today, as has been well argued by Michael Horton over the years. Especially under Finney's influence, revivalism undermined the more traditional way of doing Christian formation. That traditional way of Christian growth was gradual – whole family catechetical instruction – and church-centric. Revivalism under Finney, however, shifted the emphasis to seasons of crisis. Preaching became less oriented to long-term teaching and more directed to stirring up the affections of the heart toward decision. Not surprisingly, these emphases demoted the importance of the church in general and of careful, sound doctrine and put all the weight on an individual's personal, subjective experience. And this is one of the reasons (though not the only reason) that we have the highly individualistic, consumerist evangelicalism of today.