Ministry vs. Mission

Frost & Hirsch (remember them?) have this interesting thing to say:

[I]f we aim at ministry, we seldom get to do much mission. But if we aim at mission, we have to do ministry because ministry is the means by which mission is achieved. The established church has generally got this wrong. Most never get to do real mission with real outsiders because they aim primarily as the “saved.” This we believe is a distortion of authentic New Testament faith and praxis. The church does not exist for itself but for its mission.

I had a conversation with a different church leader a couple of weeks ago. This church leader is a personal friend, and his church is currently looking for a new leader. He’s one of the elders in this church, and he told me that he is primarily concerned with two questions for each of the candidates:

  1. How much time do you spend in prayer?
  2. Are you a minister or an evangelist?

That second question gets at the difference we’re talking about here: Are you a minister (focused on “insiders”) or an evangelist (focused on “outsiders”)?

Every church has to make a decision about this. You can do a lot of work with both insiders and outsiders in mind, but eventually those two core values will come into conflict and one will have to win out. Which will it be?

In other words, you can have one of the following two goals:

  • We will reach as many new people as we can while our energy is primarily focused on keeping as many of the people we already have


  • We will keep as many of the people we already have while our energy is primarily focused on reaching as many new people as we can

One of these sees ministry (keeping insiders) as the end and mission (reaching outsiders) as the means. The other sees mission as the end and ministry as the means.

Which way does your church lean?

12 Responses to “Ministry vs. Mission”

  1. Terry Says:

    Tough isn’t it. I would say the second one. If when we receive it we don’t pass it on, what really have we received? Some pass it on by living a really good life and praying all the time. Their lives are seen and others want to know what they have. Just a simple invitation to church and let someone else grow the seed. The Bible speaks of this.
    The Spirit works in people in different ways. We don’t have to understand, just use the gift we have.

  2. Frank Says:

    I think that all of the congregations I’m acquainted with are in the camp of goal #1. In fact, I think that to many of these churches, the expression of goal #2 would sound pretty scary.

    I think it’s likely that, in some congregations, goal #2 is the common rhetoric, while goal #1 is the actual practice. It seems like when I was a kid there were a lot more congregations like that;congregations that at least made it sound like evangelism was something they should have been doing. Did those churches just get tired of talking about something they really weren’t about? That’s the impression I get.

  3. Kerry Says:

    I know the answer to that question. I’ve worked long enough in youth ministry, and currently in communications ministry, to have a good idea of what we struggle to value. We desire #2, but practice #1.

    I have to admit that our leaders are struggling to move toward church value #2. But there is a fear that we will become too business-like, and less like a “hospital” for the hurting. We see our role as ministerial to the community (similar to #2, but from a needs-met focus).

    This creates some slight confusion. We believe that we will win people to Christ through ministry. So how do we minister? Answer: our ministries. Therefore, our effort becomes the improvement and maintenance of ministries (i.e. programs). And this leads to measurements of our ministries based on those whom it serves, not necessarily those whom it reaches. Efforts at genuine outreach become goals in making community improvement and being a good neighbor; not necessarily making converts to Christ.

    I believe the purpose of the church is to glorify Christ. (Ephesians 1-4:16) That is done through proclaiming the message of the gospel and expanding the kingdom of Christ. Leadership’s role is to prepare God’s people to do the work of the mission, to teach them how to discern, to help them love each other as they share the load, and to proclaim the message along-side the church.

    Like you said, John, the trick is to not confuse the goal with the means.

  4. Peggy in Texas Says:

    For years we were a part of #1. In fact, (years ago) when a bus ministry was started there was fear of change and influence that would change the tone of the church so much that it never got very far off the ground. When this church started reaching out and working with the community, it was quickly shut down, can’t allow the church to be tainted!

    Now we are part of a church that is determined to make #2 our goal. WE believe we have a clean slate and there is no one left to be angered by what is tried. We really are in a position to set the standard and make ministry the means to the end of missions. We are working hard at seeking God’s direction and reaching out to the community. We have an Angle Food ministry that is really reaching a lot of the community, but we are still struggling to find other ministries that bring people in.

    I am afraid we are still “waiting on people to come to us” instead of us “reaching out to them.” We need more ministries that go out into the community.

    I am really enjoying this series of focus and thank you for your wisdom. Keep it coming! It always spurs my thinking.

  5. Will Says:

    The tyranny of the “or” strikes again… Could it be a both/and? As always, I wonder if our language throws us off purpose a bit?

    For some reason I’m reminded of a concept I first encountered in “The Celtic Way of Evangelism” by George Hunter:

    The Roman inspired church model:
    Ask for response
    Invite into fellowship

    In the Roman model, we see much of what has been termed “ministry” in this post. But is it really ministry or just filling the pews and rolls?

    The Celtic (and dare I say postmodern?) inspired model:
    Invite into friendship
    Meet needs
    Allow people to respond to grace and mercy

    Here we find the critical “meeting of needs” that fills out the definition of ministry. At the same time we find evangelism that welcomes people into a community that invites, supports, and continues to stretch a follower of Jesus.

  6. Dusty Says:

    John Alan,

    I’m one of those ministers who struggles with the day to day side of being a missional preacher. It’s been difficult to sort out what that might look like in Conway, Arkansas. So I’m appreciative of the challenge that is presented in your contrast.

    But (here comes the big but!) I don’t think the word “keep” is very fair, or always applicable. It implies that ministry to the body is always a selfish activity that is just about maintaining the status quo. This week has been a pretty heavy inward ministry week for me. And it has had nothing to do with “keeping” members. It has had more to do with confronting, discipling, challenging, annointing, comforting and restoring.

    Just a thought.

  7. brian Says:

    every christian and every member can’t be great at both.

    each church needs leaders for each goal.

    if goal #1 is sought in a way that individual members are growing spiritually, theoretically they will reach out to outsiders, if by keep, you mean, keep them happy and present, then it is worthless

    an external focus can more easily be measured by the number of bodies in the pews,
    an internal focus is harder to measure, and less sought after

    but as I alluded, IMO a Biblical internal focus should result in outreach as well, but an outward focus won’t necessarily help individuals grow personally, or the church mature

  8. The Mirror « Out Here Hope Remains Says:

    […] John Alan is contemplating the difference between Mission and Ministry. […]

  9. “…the Blog Prophet hath spoken…” » Blog Archive » Random Weekend Ramblings Says:

    […] Some fun words I like…what are your favs?CouscousBesmirch UK gets a top inside player to commit.  Woo-hoo!  Patrick Patterson chose us over Florida and Duke.  Doube Woo-Hoo!We will have a guest speaker on Sunday.  Jerry Hill from the Timothy Hill Children’s Ranch on Long Island.  Our congregation has supported this great work for a long time.  Here is their site:Timothy Hill Children’s Ranch (read this history page first.  it’s a great story) It’s scary how much kids pick up from their parents.  Our three-year-old has added these phrases to his vocab:"…maybe tomorrow…"   whenever we ask him to do something"…you are cute…"  he told me this, I was flattered, of course"…later…"  whenever he is asked to do something he doesn’t want to do Why all this discussion about our focus?  Here is one good example over at John Alan Turner’s blog. I am annoyed by this set-up that says a church (or christian for that matter) must choose between being "missional" or "spiritually dead."  If you notice, that is often the way it is presented.  (I am not criticising John or the discussion, it is useful).  The Bible seems to emphasis that we must have a Christ-focus, or a God-focus about everything. God’s glory is supreme.  Evangelism will lead to God’s glory, but we think a full church building will lead to God’s glory.  Is that necessarily true?  And I am not suggested the tired excuse that, "Our church is small so we must be the only faithful ones" or "all growing churches are liberal and sinful."  That’s not it.  I don’t see why we need to chose an internal or external focus.  Both are a part of being Christ-focused.  I could ramble on further and maybe I will post more complete and studied thoughts some day. For now read this:Colossians 2:6-7  […]

  10. Trey Morgan Says:

    I’m not sure I agree with everything with in the thoughts here. I’m not sure I don’t know very good minister’s who are also evangelists. And I know some I’d consider evangelists that are also very good ministers.

    I think there has to be some definition of both words. You can minister to people in the church and outside the church as well. As for evangelism, you must evangelize outside the congregation. For too long we’ve evangelized our own, which really isn’t evangelism.

    I guess my feelings are I want to be someone who ministers to those in and outside the church. Don’t you think Jesus did the same? He called people to follow him (evangelist), but also ministered to people.

    I really think this question for ministry or evangelist is as much for an eldership as it is a “minister/evangelist.” It doesn’t matter what kind of leader the elders hire, if they are a strong eldership that leads and shepherds then they’ll lead the congregation in the way they want them to go, and the congregation will follow.

    Thanks for making me think! :)

  11. Dee Andrews Says:

    I agree with Trey. I think churches should be doing both ministering and evangelizing, and not with fellow Christians in different “tribes” (as Patrick Mead calls them) necessarily.

    As far as the church here . . . it is engaged in both to some extent. It’s a typical small southern cofC, but is doing some outreach in the area over in an even smaller town that is very poor that got hit hard by Hurricane Katrina. So, that is very good. Groups of members go down there every Sunday to meet with the church there and to pretty much conduct services. The church here is also helping to rebuild their building.

    Of course, on the other hand . . . there isn’t much going on here in town in any direction, except maybe with a very few. I would say the overall mindset, though, is definitely inward.

    I’m having a tough time here, but am working on my attitude and trying to do what I can.

  12. Evanglist Jackie Says:

    AS evanglist outreach leader we need to be out spreading the word of God.Many leaders are behind the four walls of the chruch waiting on the lost to come to them but we need to do as the bible said in matthew 28:19-20 Go therefore so we should be on a mission doing the work of God going out spreding the good newes to the unbelievers as well as those christian that said that they are save.Yes some of preach as well as evangilized at the same time trying to do what it take to win that lost soul.