People often ask me about my "ministerial philosophy." or my "approach to ministry." Over the years I have come to one conclusion above all else: ministry is not about the minister, it is about those being ministered to. My ministry does not exhibit a set of specific methodologies that I employ, because methodologies are always changing. Wherever I have gone and whatever I have done in my ministerial career I have found myself continually coming back to two timeless guiding principles above all others - Experience and Intellect.
The people of God throughout history have always been identified as such because they have experienced God. From Mt. Sinai, to the prophets of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, to the apostle Paul on the Damascus road, God's people have been shaped by their experience of him. The same is true today.
As a minister my job is to facilitate divine encounters and to create an environment where people seeking to connect with God can do so in the most unobstructed way possible. My job is to do this in as many ways as possible. We primarily think of this experience in terms of corporate worship, but real encounters with God are much more than a well crafted and choreographed worship service.
Because the importance of the experience of God has been impressed upon me time and again-I have found myself teaching extensively on this topic. I routinely find myself returning to things like: how to read the Bible, how to hear the voice of God and understand it, the practice of stillness and silence, how to fast effectively, and how to pray.
The fact is that in many of our churches we have simplified and relegated time with God to a few worship songs every week and then wonder why our congregations continually struggle to achieve sustained and meaningful lifestyle transformation. If we choose to listen, we have 2,000 years of instructions for how to encounter God and achieve lasting personal transformation. My job is to help Christians hear the instruction of the church and experience God more fully, vibrantly, and clearly.
For more than 1,500 years every leading philosopher, inventor, artist, lawyer, and scientist in the West considered themselves a Christian. Scientists like Galileo considered their study of the physical world a natural extension of their deep and abiding faith in the creator of the world. To put it simply-the God who created our minds does not expect to turn them off when it comes to our faith.
If the claims of Christianity are true (and I believe that they are), then we have nothing to lose and everything to gain by applying our whole mind to understanding our faith. If Christianity points to the one true God, then no critique or objection to Christianity, no matter how vitriolic, will ultimately be able to stand against its claims.
As a minister, my job is to help people increase in understanding. I want to help people increase in their understanding of God, their understanding of the faith, and their understanding of the Scriptures. As a result of this belief, my preaching and teaching functions largely as an open dialogue with figures and concepts all along the ideological spectrum primarily because these are the things that people in our congregations hear around the water cooler, from the news, and on their TV's.
Our churches are surrounded by an increasingly secular society. As such, our people come into contact with fundamentally different belief systems and viewpoints. We owe it to our people to help them develop a faith that can flourish in an increasingly non-Christian context, a faith that is strong in the face of a smorgasbord of religious and philosophical options. Helping our congregations develop their own personal faith is critical for ensuring that the faith is passed on to the next generation.
The relationship between experience and intellect
A Christian faith that is transformative and lasting must have a balance of both of these principles. Experience without intellect can turn the Christian faith into a constant quest for more and more ecstatic and otherworldly experiences. Intellect without experience can turn the Christian message into an empty set of philosophical beliefs. Christianity is of course neither of these. I have found that as I have pursued these two principles myself and helped others to do the same, lives are transformed in the process. And this is what it is all about.