Combating False Gods and False Stories in Ministry Design
Adapted from A Field Guide to Becoming Whole
We’ve been sharing Ministry Design Principles in a series of posts (you can read last week’s here). All these principles can, in some sense, be bundled under 6 aspects of holistic poverty alleviation—1) Forming the kingdom community, 2) addressing false stories of change, 3) addressing broken practices, 4) addressing broken individuals, 5) addressing broken systems, and 6) addressing demonic forces.
Transitioning our focus from community into story, Ministry Design Principles 3, 4, and 5 focus on conquering false gods and false stories through ceaseless prayer, biblical narration, and biblical integration. Particularly in the context of economic development and poverty alleviation, we recognize the underlying importance of narrating God’s story of change in our ministries. Clinging to His story is non-negotiable because it’s the only story that leads to lasting transformation.
Understanding what stories we believe actually points us to the gods we worship—and both of these shape how we design our ministries. All of life, including our economic lives and endeavors, is an act of worship to some god. Hence, separating economic growth and poverty alleviation from worship of God plunges people further into idolatry. Afterall, “idolatry is an economic issue,” as Michael Rhodes and Robby Holt explain in Practicing the King’s Economy. We tend to worship whichever god we think will provide us the most amount of stability, prosperity, and comfort, and then we become like what we worship (Ps. 115:8).
To challenge that notion, explore the next three Ministry Design Principles, rooted in God’s Story.
Ministry Design Principle 3: All the ministry stakeholders should “pray without ceasing.”
Worshiping God and walking with Him throughout the week includes regularly communicating with Him. The primary way that God speaks to us is through His Word, and then we respond by speaking to Him in prayer. Somehow this praying is to be “without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17), which can include pausing from our activities to offer up prayers as well as praying “under our breath” as we send emails, go to meetings, and sweep the floor. Unfortunately, our pursuit of the “baptized American Dream“—endless economic growth and consumption that reduces spiritual concerns to a disembodied future hope—has conditioned us to believe that God is inactive in His world, and many of us struggle to see the point of such ongoing prayer or even know how to do it.
It is also interesting to note that while many ministries have a full-time Director of Development (fundraising), very few have a full-time Director of Prayer. Such a position sounds strange, doesn’t it? What would happen if we asked our donors to fund such a position? And what would happen if our ministries spent even a fraction of the time we spend on planning, marketing, and fundraising on reading the Word and prayer?
Ministry Design Principle 4: Narrate God’s story of change throughout life.
God has wired human beings in such a way that we need to be exposed to a constant narration of God’s story of change, lest we adopt the story of change of the surrounding culture. We need to be discipled in how to enjoy loving relationships with God, self, others, and the rest of creation throughout our daily lives, and we need to learn to call on King Jesus and the power of His indwelling Spirit for help in doing so. The stories of change of the world have enculturated us to automatically (and often unconsciously) live in ways that are inconsistent with Christ’s kingdom. We need to be immersed in a new song and to dance a new dance, reorienting our minds, affections, wills, and bodies as we work, play, eat, and sleep.
The narration of God’s story needs to begin each week with the formal gathering of the church for its weekly worship in the restored temple. The prayers, songs, preaching, and sacraments need to tell the story of the gospel of the kingdom of God, not the false gospel of the American Dream. People need to understand that death has no more power over King Jesus or us, that we share in His resurrection life right now, and that He is restoring the entire creation to all that it was created to be. In addition to taking care of the Law’s accusations against us by nailing them to the cross (Col. 2:14), Christ has given us a new nature and a new life, we have been adopted into God’s family, and He calls and empowers us to serve as restored priest-rulers in His new creation.
Ministry Design Principle 5: Integrate God’s story of change into technical training
One way to pursue the previous principle is to integrate God’s story of change into the technical components of the ministry. For example, most poverty alleviation efforts include some type of training: agricultural training to foster better farming practices, hygiene training to lead to better sanitation practices, jobs training to develop better work habits. There is an implicit story of change in all such training, as “better” necessarily involves notions about what the goal is and how this goal can be achieved.
Because the technical features of this training imply a goal and a way of achieving this goal, there is need for the biblical story of change to inform the technical training, pushing back against the false stories of change from the surrounding culture. Without this biblical perspective, people will tend to automatically and unconsciously default to the story of change they have absorbed from their surrounding culture. In the Majority World, this means people will combine the new agricultural techniques with traditional spiritual practices of their culture; and if the harvest ends up being bigger, the thank offerings to the gods will be bigger as well. And in the more materialistic Western world, it means that people will think that earning a higher income depends solely on their abilities and efforts; and any increases in income will be used to reinforce people’s self-centered materialism.
Time for a Challenge
God’s story of change matters, and our ministries will falter without its narration and integration. Take some time this week to think about the stories you believe and how they impact your work. Do you tend to separate economic development and poverty alleviation from the worship of God? Lean into God’s story and ask Him for wisdom in how best to reflect His truth in your ministry efforts.
Thank you for your continued support dear ones!