December 3, 2020

We Have All the “Tools” We Need (1)

These next two posts are going to sound hopelessly idealistic and naive. Sorry, but I don’t care.

I am an educated person who is in his mid-fifties. I’ve been around the block a few times, and I understand fully that the world is not simple. I know we need competent people to do research of all kinds and write reports and make recommendations. We need the counsel of the wise and the insights of scholars and experts.

We need theorists and strategists, architects and engineers, technicians and practitioners. We need people who can spot problems and fix what’s broken. We need smart people, capable people, thinking people, people to engage in discussions and debates that can help us think through complex issues so that we gain clarity and direction.

We are called to childlike faith, but not to childish immaturity.

I also know that the subject of the church and the ministry is rich, profound, complex, and mysterious. We need people to study ecclesiology and missiology, sociologists and cultural anthropologists who can help us understand our culture and the specific issues of our generation. We need teachers of pastoral theology, master evangelists and church planters too, to help us hone our skills with wisdom and insight. How the church should participate in the Missio Dei is a complex subject and we need all the help we can get to fulfill our calling.

For example, take the topic we have been discussing: What is a pastor?

How should he or she function within the life of a local congregation and community? What should be the pastor’s priorities? What should be the pastor’s primary focus? Visionary leader? Chaplain? Preacher? Teacher? Transformational leader? Equipper? CEO? Discipler? Organizer? Worship Leader? Father Confessor? Program Director? Missional exemplar? Builder of community? Assuming that the task entails more than one simple job, how should the various elements be balanced in a job description?

Depending on how you answer that question, there are many folks out there ready to sell you a book, set out a program, and provide you the “tools” you need to do the job.

I suppose there’s a place for all that, but today I want to suggest something different, something profoundly simple. Despite the vast industry of ministry theories, strategies, programs, and tools that has grown up in the wake of the church growth movement, NONE of them are really necessary to do what Jesus called us to do.

In fact, I would assert that, in essence, no new tools have been invented since the days of Jesus and the apostles (save one) that are absolutely essential for us to fulfill the Great Commission or encourage spiritual formation in the church.

That probably sounds ridiculous to many people. But I assure you, it DOES NOT mean what I suspect you’re thinking. Your beloved Chaplain Mike is not an idiot, an anti-intellectual, a “restorationist,” a Philistine, a separatist or fundamentalist, an irrelevant old fuddy-duddy who does not like anything new and whose rantings will only encourage the church to become a dinosaur in a rapidly changing world.

Well, I am a Cubs fan, but I hope that’s just a notable exception to a thoughtful and reasonable approach to life.

But seriously, I read John Stott’s book on preaching way back in seminary — the one in which he said the pastor must be conversant with two books: (1) The Word, and (2) the world — and I heartily approved. I don’t think “relevant” is always a dirty word.

I mean, come on, I use an iPhone and a Blackberry, a MacBook and a PC tablet, for heaven’s sake — I am all things to all men!

No, what I have to say in this post is not designed to counter anyone’s strategy for fulfilling the Great Commission, or someone’s creative way of reaching youth. It is not directed toward any group’s church planting approach or multi-site plan. It is not anti-anything. The points I have to make are not about the outworkings of how we do our ministry, they are about the foundations.

Today, I’d like to take us beyond the discussions we’ve been having about missional vs. attractional, chaplains vs. leaders, and so on, and set forth a list of ministry essentials we can all agree upon.

What I would like to do is dig down to the bottom of the toolbox and pull out seven tools that are absolutely essential for Christian ministry. Let’s get back to basics. Ministry 101. The bottom-line theological foundations of ministry. The starter tool kit.

My experience has been that it is the easiest thing in the world to take these for granted — and not use them. Oh, we think we’re using them. We talk like we’re using them. We like to have others believe we’re using them. When we’re “successful” in some way, we give credit to these things (whether we’ve actually used them or not). When we “fail,” it sometimes causes us to take a fresh look at this list, even though we may have actually been relying on these tools, and our “failure” may not really be a failure at all! I’m afraid most of the time, they just sit in the toolbox.

I repeat, nothing in this list is new, creative, or innovative on my part. I’m just going to dig down in the ministry toolbox, as it were, and pull out a tool like a hammer, and say, “You need to rely on your hammer. Don’t be without your hammer.” Some of you are going to say, “Well, duh!” But then I’m going to challenge you — are you really using your hammer? Or have you actually forgotten it’s there, in the bottom of your toolbox, while you go rummaging through the drawers trying to find something with which to pound that nail?

We’ll look at the first three this morning, four more this afternoon.

• • •

Seven Essential Tools of Christian Ministry (1-3)

Newness of Life in Jesus. “Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” (Rom. 6:4) As a minister of Christ to others, one who imparts his life to my neighbors, I am called to take the lead in what all believers are called to do — daily reenact my baptism: dying to the old life, and rising again in Christ, bringing my sinful, selfish life to the Cross that he might forgive, renew, and lead me to walk in the life of the new creation.

“I have been crucified with the Messiah. I am, however, alive — but it isn’t me any longer; it’s the Messiah who lives in me. And the life I do still live in the flesh, I live within the faithfulness of the son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20, Kingdom NT). As a minister of Christ to others, it is the faithful life of Christ that I share with them, the life within which I live day by day, the loving, self-sacrificial life of Jesus, who lives in and through me to bless the world.

I eat, drink, sleep, wake, walk, talk, act in Christ. Only his risen life can make all things new.

As I seek to minister to others, am I doing so out of newness of life in Jesus?

The Holy Spirit. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses…” (Acts 1:8) What is this “power” all about? If we read the rest of Acts, it becomes clear that this is the power to point to Jesus, and to keep pointing to Jesus no matter what.

The apostles and the early church pointed to Jesus by their words, telling his story and the good news it meant for their neighbors and the world. They pointed to Jesus by their love, acting with practical concern for others even to the point of sacrificing their own goods and comfort. They pointed to Jesus by their willingness to suffer. No matter if the world ignored them, marginalized them, or actively persecuted them, they just kept going, kept walking in newness of life, kept telling the story, kept loving others, kept working out their problems and going forward. It wasn’t always easy and it wasn’t always pretty, but they kept going.

In my view, the greatest benefit the Holy Spirit bestows upon us is not ecstatic experience, speaking in tongues or healing or other miraculous sign-gifts; not even gifts for ministry. It is this “power” — this steadfast, patient, persevering tenacity that gives his people staying power for the long haul.

As I seek to minister to others, am I relying on the empowerment of the Holy Spirit?

The Gospel. “…set apart for God’s good news, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the sacred writings — the good news about his son, who was descended from David’s seed in terms of flesh, and who was marked out powerfully as God’s son in terms of the spirit of holiness by the resurrection of the dead: Jesus, the king, our Lord!” (Rom. 1:3-4, Kingdom NT) This is the good news of which Paul said he is not ashamed (Rom. 1:16), the good news that began to be announced with John the baptizer (Mark 1:1), which Jesus proclaimed had arrived with his coming: “The time is fulfilled!” he said; “God’s kingdom is arriving! Turn back, and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15).

As Scot McKnight has shown persuasively in his book, The King Jesus Gospel, the good news entrusted to us is not a mere “soterian” message (a message of personal salvation), but a proclamation that God’s kingdom is coming to reign on earth as it is in heaven. Jesus is the climactic actor in Israel’s story, the crucified and risen King. Through him, God has begun to set up his rule in this world. A new creation itself has been inaugurated and, with Paul, “we have received grace…to bring about believing obedience among all the nations for the sake of his name.” (Rom. 1:5)

This is the source of our dignity as ministers. “So we are ambassadors, speaking on behalf of the Messiah, as though God were making his appeal through us.” (2Cor. 5:20). It is not doing “great things for God,” being “successful,” having a large or “cutting-edge” church or ministry, or having wide popularity or influence in the Christian community or world that gives us our sense of worth. Instead, we find our dignity in the gracious, undeserved calling of God to serve on behalf of heaven.

It can be easy to lose the wonder of our calling amid the mundane work of trying to make good choices and show love to our neighbors day after day — which, bottom line, is the real work of ministry. However, if we remember Jesus’ parables, it is precisely through such small and seemingly insignificant acts of faithfulness that the Kingdom comes.

Furthermore, if we as ministers are walking in newness of life in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, we know by experience that it is this very message of Good News that has brought us the forgiveness of sins and set us free to walk in new obedience. This same Gospel comes to us in fresh power each week as we worship in Jesus’ new community, and are nourished by Word and Sacrament. Having been fed with the Gospel, we say to our world, “Taste, and see that the Lord is good!”

Are we living in the wonder of the Gospel?

• • •

Next time: four more essential tools.


  1. I think you are absolutely right, Chaplain Mike. We don’t really need much. The Word and someone to listen to it.

    Find someone who is hurting and tell them how Jesus hurt…for them. And what He has done for them, and will yet do for them.

    That Word is powerful and will accomplish God’s will, even though we often feel that we have messed it up in the sharing.

  2. Chaplin Mike…

    Why do you have these good posts right before I’m ready to go to bed!! 😯

    It’s simple….. What do people need? Love and affirmation.

    1. If a person went into the hospital at 3:00 AM and it didn’t look like they were going to live through the night. It would show a lot if the Pastor (or Chaplin as you pushed for the other day….) showed up. Gave a hug, wept with people there and gave support in a person’s final hours on earth.

    2. If a person was unemployed and is depressed becuase they can’t pay their bills and is having difficulty finding work. It would be awesome if the Pastor called up and asked how they were doing and invited them over to dinner. It would be nice if he made sure that other members of the community invited him over to dinner and made him feel loved. Who knows…it could prevent a mental breakdown or suicide.

    3. If a Pastor arranged to swing by an Elderly person’s home and say hi and visit for about 15 minutes. That would do wonders. And it would show people that the elderly are not disposable.

    4. If a Pastor (or Chaplin as you prefer) talked about being human. They talked about their doubts, they talked about the problems they had within their marriage and how close they came to divorce I would be impressed. If a Pastor talked about how a few times in his life he had one beer too many I would give him a hug after the service amazed by his humility.

    Its not complicated Chaplin Mike…they only “tool” that is needed is love. Something without strings attached. Something that is different than the world. Something that would cause people like myself and others to step back and say…”I want to be a part of that community” Then I think your job is done.

    • +1

    • Eagle, you hit the nail on the head. The newness of Life, that Chaplain Mike speaks of, should be a person who radiates Love with a Capitol L, which happens when we approach each person we encounter with an opened and mercy-filled heart humbly asking the Holy Spirit to Love this person through us. It is this experience of True Love experienced in the here and now in concrete terms based on the others situation, which opens their heart to hear, receive and accept the Message of the Gospel. Very often a person needs to “experience God with skin on” before they can hear and receive the message that God loves them.

    • love and forgiveness.

      • I know it’s a late post you may not read but just an extrapolation:

        Love forgives; Really, Real Love forgives. Without the forgiveness it diminishes the Love to …

  3. Go . . . make disciples of all nations [how] by baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, by teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”

    Seems to me that if one is looking to the Great Commission exclusively then there are two tools needed in making disciple: baptism and catechesis.

  4. “There is nothing new under the sun……(or, under the SON, either, I believe!)

    This reminds me of an article I read recently about a young family of three living in a 400 sf downtown apartment and working with the locals in need as part of a social outreach ministry. They did not own a car and walked everywhere, and lived on very little money, happily.

    The year before when they announced their status as expectant parents, their family was concerned and offered to buy them all of the “baby gear” that is out there…..the wipe warmer, the diaper genie, the fancy carseat…..and offered to help them find a larger place to live.

    As the young father noted, the family was well intended but had bought into the hype that little babies need $2000 worth of equipment to be safe and healthy. He stated in the article:

    “Turns out all we needed for this baby was a supply of cloth diapers and a shawl to carry him in. We already had the bed and my wife’s breasts on hand!”

    I know this is off topic, but it is the sort of “back to basics” that this post makes me think of!

  5. “In my view, the greatest benefit the Holy Spirit bestows upon us is not ecstatic experience, speaking in tongues or healing or other miraculous sign-gifts; not even gifts for ministry. It is this ‘power’ — this steadfast, patient, persevering tenacity that gives his people staying power for the long haul.”

    I love this, Chaplain Mike. Thank you!

  6. Amen, this a word this young pastor needed to read. Thanks, God Bless

  7. There is nothing new under the sun.

  8. Clay Knick says

    When I read so many of your posts, Mike, I can see why Michael asked you to step in when he went to be with the Lord. Thanks so much for this.

  9. Chaplain Mike, what you have presented is far from being a “hopelessly idealistic and naive” perspective. From where I stand, it show the wisdom of a true shepherd, someone who has lived amongst the sheep, knows their world and how to reach them. Being this last sentence could be said of Jesus, I believe you truly show Jesus and “are” Jesus to those you meet. I would hope that those who believe a pastor shouldn’t be a “chaplain” read this post.

  10. David Cornwell says

    “the good news entrusted to us is not a mere “soterian” message (a message of personal salvation), but a proclamation that God’s kingdom is coming to reign on earth as it is in heaven.”

    Over time the reality and importance of this has taken hold of me. We often fail to comprehend it because of the paradoxes involved. If this would really sink into our gospel understanding it I believe it do wonders for the Church. It would replace angry Premillennial doom and destruction with the realization that Christ is King now, that the Kingdom is to be announced as both here and coming. It’s a political message, but one of hope, not despair. And not the kind of politics that is more of a stinking pollutant than a message of life. We will be realists in that seeing the world as it is, we also see it as it will be. It will take us out of the seat of judge, because we know that the coming King will administer true justice. And it will bring in not the new deal or compassionate conservatism but the the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.

    I know this is just one of the tools, but we need to get hold of it for real. And we don’t have to totally understand it or overly analyze it first.

  11. ‘…we say to our world, “Taste, and see that the Lord is good!”’

    Can we broaden that ‘we’ beyond the circle of pastors? So many Christians somehow feel that’s the pastor’s job even while Scripture describes the pastor as one who equips the saints [i.e. the ‘normal’ Christian] for the work of ministry.

    This season of Advent should be a grand opportunity for us to say, ‘Taste and see…’ But I see no evidence that we think much outside the box, outside the four walls of church and family.

    I have read some great Advent meditations for our own self examinatation, but nothing that points outward to sharing that Advent with those outside our own little world.

    ‘ For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
    …the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.

    16And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.

    17And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.

    18And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.’

    [”shepherds’ here, not to be equated with ‘pastors’]

  12. Bill Metzger says

    I, too, am a pastor of 29 years and a Cub’s fan. Being both makes me conversant with lost causes! I, too, am NOT a minimalist fundamentalist. I am a “main line” Christian Contemplative in the Lutheran tradition. We need Jesus-Jesus-Jesus as found in His Word and through the Sacraments. We are united to Jesus through the Cross and pay attention to His indwellig Presence and action by prayer. Great article, Chaplain Mike! I look forward to more! Congratulations on becomeing “one of us”!!!

  13. This was a refreshing read. Always good to go back to basics and re-prioritize. Let’s play the guessing game. Who thinks they can guess CM’s last four “tools”? And what is the “save one” that was invented after Jesus and the apostles?

    As a Lutheran, I have to suspect the sacraments may be one of them. Scripture or creeds perhaps? Do “grace” and “mercy” qualify as “tools?” The suspense is killing me. 😛

  14. as david letterman always used to say to paul shaffer – “once again you have crystallized my thoughts completely”…
    thanks mike