It was 25 years after I began preaching before anyone ever asked me that question. It caught me totally off guard.
It was at my alma mater, Lee University, in Tennessee. I had been named an ďOutstanding Alumnus,Ē and as such was invited to give a series of lectures on the practical aspects of pastoral ministry.
At the close of my first talk, that was the first question. I wasnít sure I even knew what a philosophy of ministry was. The term hadnít been invented yet when I was in school, but I had to give an answer. It went something like this:
God calls men and women to ministry and that calling is irrevocable. A person who is truly called of God has no real choice. He will be utterly miserable if his life is not devoted to Christian service.
If God calls a person, then usually some legitimate ordaining body will recognize and confirm that call. If no one accepts your ministry, you should question your calling. Ministers are accountable to God, to their congregations, and to each other.
Some folks who are not called still choose the ministry as a career. These people may or may not be effective ministers. God always honors his word, regardless of who proclaims it. If a preacher ever gets to the place he can quit the ministry and still be happy, then quitting is an honorable thing to do.
No one should ever preach for money, but preachers should be paid well. Oneís attitude toward receiving compensation should never be that the money is owed for services rendered; rather it should be that the people to whom he ministers provide his living expenses so he will be able to devote full time and energy to his calling.
God is not the accomplice of the ministerís work. God is the work. We are merely his instruments in getting it done. Therefore, ministers should never take themselves too seriously. The ministry is a job that never gets done. One should work hard, but also learn to relax just as hard to avoid burnout.
Those who donít share your calling will never fully understand it. A lot of junk goes with the ministry. You will survive if you just wade though it and keep your mind on eternal things.
The ideal is that the church should minister to all the needs of all the people all the time. No ministry will ever achieve this, but it should always be the goal. No preacher has all the gifts required to meet every need, so all members of the church should be encouraged to recognize their own personal priesthood, and exercise their own unique gifts.
God gives each of his children individual talents. In this sense all Christians are ministers. Just a few are chosen to devote their lives as full time clergy.
The pastor must always seek the delicate balance of being both a leader and a servant. He is not above the church, but is a fellow pilgrim. He doesnít do all the work. His position is that of a player/coach who oversees the work of the local assembly.
Your ministry to your own household (wife and children) should always have top priority. To paraphrase a scripture, "What does it profit a man to win the whole world and lose his own sons and daughters?
The church should be the easiest organization on earth to join and the hardest to leave. Accept anyone who comes, just as they are, upon their profession of faith in Jesus Christ. Never let anyone go without exhausting every effort to retain them.
Christians are not to be judgmental, critical or legalistic, but forgiving, tolerant, and loving. If we can agree that Jesus is Lord and the Bible is his word, that is basis enough for fellowship. From there each person should be allowed to work out his/her own salvation with fear and trembling. Philippians 2:12.