Is ‘˜Word’ the right word?

Jodie McNeill

Have you ever been involved in creating a mission or purpose statement for a Christian group? If you have, then you will know the challenge in trying to generate a sentiment that is broad enough to include every possible activity of the organisation, and yet narrow enough to help define the core passion.

A way in which this can be achieved is by selecting words that can be interpreted in different ways, depending on the perspective of the reader. For example, if we say that "we exist to share love", then even though there are many definitions of "love', this will be a one-size-fits-all mission statement.

A similar ambiguity exists in the word "ministry'. If we were to get a group of people across diverse Christian traditions, it is likely that nearly all people in the room would claim that ministry is a central aim of their life or work. Yet, when the nature of the ministry was examined, we would see stark differences.

To some, "ministry' would describe the work of a minister. So, it might include preaching or conducting services. To others, "ministry' would encompass community services, such as welfare operations. To others still, "ministry' might be anything that advances the core principles of Christianity.

So, the use of the word "ministry' in a purpose statement works well to include a wide range of Christian-promoting activities. Yet, unfortunately, because it is such an oft-used and generic term, it doesn't really help to define the style or content of the church activity.

Consequently, we rightly feel the need to provide some sort of adjective to describe the "ministry'.

So, what do we choose? Here are some options.

"¢ "Christian Ministry'. Use of this word rightly recognises that the essence of ministry is service. So, the phrase "Christian ministry' says that the ministry (i.e. service) is of a Christian nature, or has Christian values at its heart. Unfortunately, the word "Christian' is so all-encompassing that it can simply mean non-Muslim or non-secular ministry. Likewise, it will by necessary include the ministry of those in Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and potentially even Mormon churches.

"¢ "Evangelical Ministry'. This is an improvement on "Christian'. It narrows the field, making it clearer that the ministry involves the gospel (knowing that evangel is the Greek word for "gospel'). Unfortunately, many people don't know the difference between "evangelical' and "evangelistic', so this might make people think that evangelical ministry is ministry specifically aimed at trying to "convert' an unbeliever, which is only half the story.

"¢ "Gospel Ministry'. This has a similar problem to "evangelical'. Whilst it is accurate, in that it rightly suggests that we know God by believing his gospel, it also seems to suggest that the ministry is only about making converts, not growing disciples.

"¢ "Bible-based Ministry'. This is good, because it makes it clear that the Bible is important in the ministry. However, many churches that claim to be "Bible-based' do not have a high view of the authority of the Scriptures, nor do they claim that God speaks through the words of the Bible. For example, the Jehovah's Witness cult frequently quotes the Bible, making them worthy of the label "Bible-based', even though mainstream scholars throughout the broader church reject their interpretations.

"¢ "Word Ministry'. This is my current favourite. It does everything we want "evangelical', "gospel', and "bible-based' to say, but without many of the associated problems. It makes it clear that the ministry involves speaking, and more than that, it involves speaking the word of God. This significantly narrows the definition of ministry, and enables the opportunity to state that it is only in believing this word of God that a person can know God himself. Furthermore, by capitalising "Word', it shows that Jesus is the Word of God, as expressed in the opening chapter of John's gospel (not to mention Hebrews 1).

One objection to defining ministry more narrowly is that it seems to devalue some ministry activities. Yet, the opposite is true.

For example, In Youthworks Camping we have remarkable opportunities in Word ministry. Our one-hour "Christian Discovery' sessions include a Bible talk, music, videos, dramas and other great components. We teach the Bible in many ways to many people, reaching thousands of people every year with the gospel.

Yet, our team also spends countless hours serving people through hospitality, meals and the associated administration and operations. Whilst this is not Word ministry, it is still valuable ministry. For, our excellent hospitality, and first-rate facilities provide an outstanding platform for Word ministry by us or others.

Furthermore, the delivery of food, venues and operations generates income that can be used to fund Word ministry. This is a terrific demonstration of how all the parts of the body work together for the glory of God, even though not all the parts are the mouth (so to speak!)  All of us are passionate about Word ministry, even though not every member of the Youthworks Camping team is speaking the Word to our guests.

Defining "ministry' more precisely in a mission statement shows where the true priorities of an organisation lie. Using the word "Word' as an adjective shows that the organisation is on about Jesus, the Word of God, and that it is through the hearing and believing of the Word of God, by the power of the Holy Spirit, that a person can know Jesus, through whom we know the Father.

Jodie McNeill is the Director of Camping and Conferencing at Youthworks.