I had to go to the chiropractor a few years ago for the first time in my life. Apparently, years of sitting on a rather thick wallet (although certainly not thick with cash) had contributed to hips that were out of alignment. In addition, my natural sitting position has never been great. I tend to slump in my chair at work or lounge on the couch at home. I flop down and slide as far as I can go with my rear barely resting on the edge of the seat, which bends my spine in rather unhelpful ways. When I was younger and regularly involved in sports my muscles were strong enough to handle my dismal posture. Unfortunately, as I approached 40 and sat at my desk for hour upon hour, my body could no longer compensate for the unhealthy positions I forced upon it. It started to communicate with a vengeance that something was wrong and to tell me I better correct my posture.
Just like our physical posture, we all carry a posture for ministry. This posture shapes our automatic understanding of situations and controversies as well as the way in which we respond to them. Your ministry posture may seem natural, but it’s been cultivated and developed over time. You have been influenced by those you look up to and taught how to respond to the variety of circumstances that arise and now it seems natural, good, and right to “sit” the way you do in ministry.
Two Postures for Ministry
While I understand the dangers of oversimplification, I believe there are two dominant and distinct postures for ministry. Overall, your ministry will trend toward being constructive or critical. Let me explain.
The ministry posture of criticism bends toward tearing down and the negative. In its worst iterations you find the “discernment” blogger or the YouTube channel that exists for the sole purpose of pointing out where all the problems in the church lie. Even for the normal pastor without an online following, it’s easy to slide into a regular posture of criticism. We begin to treat theology mainly as an exercise in exposure of wrong and polemics. We constantly talk about the “problems in the church today” and we become experts in identifying where others have left the good path. We treat sanctification as primarily about what we avoid. In our hyper polarized age, it’s easy to drift into this cultural mold and tell ourselves we are defending the truth.
The other broad approach to ministry is what I’ll call constructive. When I use this term, I’m not describing someone who only ever says nice things. To move through life and ministry with a constructive posture is to have a disposition to build, edify, and form something lasting and helpful to others. Of course, there will be times to expose the unfruitful works of darkness, but the exposure is always in the service of constructing something good and whole.
Constructive Posture and Ephesians 4:11-16
Of the two approaches, I believe Scripture calls us to order our ministry lives toward a constructive posture rather than a critical one. One of the key NT texts regarding ministry, Ephesians 4:11-16, speaks to this repeatedly. The metaphors used throughout the passage describe the intentional construction of something strong and beautiful and not deliberate demolition. God gifts the church with key leaders (Ephesians 4:11) to equip the saints for ministry so that the church can be built up. We are to mature into the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:13) and to speak the truth in love so that the body can grow into the head (Ephesians 4:15). As each body part works correctly, the whole body grows and is built up in love (Ephesians 4:16). Ministry means aiming to turn a pile of wood and stone into the Notre Dame or coaching that uncoordinated pre-teen till he’s Tom Brady.
What would this look like “in the wild”, as the kids say? I’d like to make two pastoral applications using this constructive posture paradigm.
First, to give a clear and current example, let’s talk about our approach to issues of social justice and Critical Race Theory and what this indicates about ministry posture. It’s great that your church is “not woke” and denounces CRT in all it’s forms, but what does it look like for the people in your church to “do justice” (Micah 6:8) in the world and to “do good to everyone” (Gal. 6:10)? Maybe you think it’s not the role of the institutional church to be involved in cultural and political issues. Fine. But the gospel has implications for the social lives of every person who claims Christ. The individual members of your church need to know what it looks like to “do justice” in their HOA. They need to know how a Christian should “do good” as they conduct business. What are the practical ramifications of a biblical account of justice for ongoing racial tensions in our culture? Give them a constructive biblical understanding of justice and build them up to act on it.
Second, it’s easy to treat sanctification as mainly about what we avoid. Obviously, the New Testament calls us to “put off” and to “put to death” sin in our lives. But as we read further in Ephesians 4 the putting off always leads to a putting on through the pathway of the renewal of our minds. As you preach, give your people a positive vision of what a mature Christian looks like. I won’t have prepared my 5-year-old to play soccer well if I only warn him not to kick the ball out of bounds, touch it with his hands, and keep from shoving the other kids over. He needs to know what not to do, but he’s got to cultivate the necessary skills to put the ball in the back of the net. Those in our churches need to acquire the full range of Christian virtues and not just keep from breaking the rules. Give them a positive vision of maturity in Christ characterized by faith, hope, and love.
So, what is your ministry posture? Are you slumped over into a critical position that always finds the wrong and warns to avoid? Or, even when you must point out error, do you do it so that you can help to construct something lasting and strong? Let’s be those with a posture to build up into Christ and construct something useful in those we serve.