Why is a philosophy of ministry so important?

I like to start my blogs with a question, and today I really want to answer the one posed above, “Why is a philosophy of ministry so important?”

However, I realize that for some, we need to first answer the question, “What is a philosophy of ministry?”

A philosophy might be defined as “a system of principles for guidance in practical affairs.” It’s what you believe about an area of study. In this case, a philosophy of ministry might be defined as what you believe about how ministry works (or doesn’t) based upon a rational, thoughtful study of the facts and known body of knowledge in this field.

But let’s take it a step further. One could say that EVERY ministry leader has a philosophy of ministry…even if that leader isn’t aware she has a philosophy or if he can’t articulate it for someone else. In fact, if you are a ministry leader, YOU have a philosophy of ministry (and even if you aren’t a leader). It’s what YOU believe about how ministry works and it’s what guides your decisions for ministry.

Let’s take a look at this in practical terms…

If you minister to children in a rural setting and you select your curriculum for Sunday school because a mega church in a city across the country uses it (or wrote it), your philosophy of ministry is that children are the same everywhere and every church setting can use the same materials. Unfortunately, this isn’t true, so your selection of curriculum may or may not be valid for your students.

If you’re a preteen leader and you start your youth group with wild games and loud music because the kids seem to have fun and be happy, your philosophy is that preteens are attracted by freedom and friends and that meeting their desires is your primary goal. Unfortunately, what some preteens want is not necessarily what they all want, nor what they most need, nor the best way to start a session.

If you teach an adult Sunday school class and you lecture your students because some of the people in your class don’t like discussing things, then your philosophy is that adults need to be taught in the way that causes the least disapproval! Unfortunately, discomfort is often the best way for an adult to be motivated to grow!

So a philosophy of ministry is essential, because if it is well-developed, it helps us apply to our own ministry the wisdom and knowledge we gain from others. As ministry leaders, it is our responsibility to make decisions based on the best information we can find, not just on what is easiest to use… or what someone else found helpful… or what “seems” to work in my church.

A sound philosophy of ministry is formed when we take time and energy to study and answer some key questions, like these:

  • How do my students learn best? (Not, how would they prefer to learn?)
  • What motivates my students to change long-term? (Not, what incentive does my co-worker use to coerce cooperation for the moment?)
  • What are the real needs of those I shepherd? (Not, what would they like me to do for them?)
  • How does God work in the ministry process? (Not, what’s the latest church growth principle?)

A philosophy of ministry is the grid through which you filter your decisions about what you do and how you do it. Make sure your grid is based on sound principles. We owe it to our students…our sheep…God’s kids!

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