By the number of books you find under the subject-header “Christian Living,” we can either assume that there’s a lot to say on the topic or that Christians still have no idea what their life is really all about. This confusion is nothing new. Many Christians in the 3rd and 4th centuries thought that moving to monasteries in the desert was a step forward in the Christian life and ministry. But what would today’s evangelicals say is the the point of the Christian life?
Confusion on Christian Life and Ministry
Some would say the Christian life is about spiritual disciplines. Read your Bible daily and through the year, subscribe to a devotional magazine, keep a current prayer journal, and ensure that it’s all consistent and organized. You observe this among Christians who measure spiritual maturity by the consistency of their “quiet time” and who’ll address any sin or spiritual malady with “You need to read your Bible more.” Often, you’ll notice a discrete ambivalence to the public services of the local church – even forsaking it for “quiet time.”
Other Christians will tell you it’s about growing in doctrinal knowledge. You have 66 inspired and inexhaustible books, as well as two millennia of doctrinal confessions and controversy to understand, so time to break out the pen and paper! You see this among Christians who never miss a class or Bible study or conference or radio broadcast, but whom you’ll be hard pressed to get do anything else! The local church will inevitably become a preaching center with Christian growth equated with the personal endeavor of filling a notebook (or three) with outlines.
Conversely, many will tell you it’s about serving in “ministries.” If the church doors are open, they’re there. And so these Christians are continuously fought-over by a church’s ministry directors, because they always say “Yes!” For them, the local church is an obligation to bear and duty to fulfill. Not too infrequently, they crash and totally burn-out, so their life then becomes about spiritual disciplines or doctrinal knowledge while they “recharge.”
Finally, many Christians insist that the Christian life is mainly about abstaining from worldly activities. They’re like the football coach who summarized his game plan to his players by shouting: “Just don’t commit any penalties!” So these Christians don’t smoke, drink, or chew – or go easy on people who do. Usually, they measure spiritual growth by how many sins over which they’ve been given “victory” and their conformity to moral majorities. For them, the local church is often the members of their “accountability group,” where “real” growth and change takes place.
I recognize that no single Christian perfectly fits any one of these caricatures, but after 20 years as a Christian in more than 5 churches I think they accurately describe how American evangelicals have reduced the Christian life. And they are reductions, missing the point of Christian life and ministry almost entirely.
God’s Description of the Christian Life
So what is the Christian life all about? We’re probably well-advised to ask the One who conceived of it in the first place. When we ask God, we find that it’s not mainly about spiritual disciplines, doctrinal knowledge, “ministry” activity, nor abstaining from worldliness. It’s actually far simpler and can even be alliterated with “P”! The Christian life is…
Prayer, Proclamation, and People.
In a 2008 article, The Strategy of God, Phillip Jensen explained this from the New Testament:
God’s strategy—including our part in it—is a given. It’s not up to us to figure out what Christian ministry is really about; the big plan and the strategy for getting there is revealed to us by God, and as with all revelation, our response must be to believe it and act upon it.
The strategy for our action is set for us: we need to be praying, we need to be proclaiming and we need to be focusing on people. These three key strategies should determine the activity of every church and Christian ministry. When we meet to think about how we are going, and to plan what we will do next, our discussion should not centre on devising a strategy, it should centre on considering how well and faithfully we are implementing God’s strategy.
Our response is to believe and obey the Christian life. Take some time and read The Strategy of God, and especially note how prayer, proclamation, and people should effect the “tactics” of the local church – the how and why of ministry, together.
Jensen’s explanation is validated by Paul’s description of new covenant ministry in 2 Corinthians 3:1-6. New covenant ministry involves proclamation, ministering the Gospel of Christ (2 Cor 3:3, 6). People, who are the only validation of sincere new covenant ministry (2 Cor 3:2-3). And, therefore, prayer, because sufficiency for ministry is from God and the work is accomplished by the Spirit who gives life (2 Cor 3:4, 6).
3 P’s of Christian Ministry in the Church
What does this mean that the community of the new covenant, the local church, is about? You guessed it… proclamation, people, and prayer. The 3 P’s are the shoe leather of living as a Christian for the glory of God, as Jensen explains:
This is one of those important Arminian/Calvinist distinctions. If I forget that glorifying God is primary, and have as my primary aim the saving of souls, my temptation will be to do anything I can, and change whatever needs changing, in order to save more souls. Furthermore, if I succeed, I will puff myself up, and if I fail, I will depress myself.
But if the aim is to glorify God by preaching his gospel, I know that it will be a sweet smell of salvation for some, but a stench of death in the nostrils of others [2 Cor 2:14-16!]. And I don’t have to take responsibility for that decision, or that effect; I place the gospel in front of people, and it is God’s Spirit who brings them salvation or the hardening of their hearts. My aim is only ever this: to glorify God in my speaking of the gospel.
The Christian life is about prayerfully depending on God’s Spirit to proclaim the Word of Christ to people for the glory of God the Father. That’s it. And it puts every other aspect of Christian living into its proper context – including spiritual discipline, doctrinal knowledge, “ministry” activity, and abstaining from worldliness.
We pursue spiritual discipline because we want to prayerfully proclaim the Word to people, so we do not despair if we miss our “quiet time,” because we still live to pray and proclaim to people. We grow in doctrinal knowledge to prayerfully proclaim the Word to people, but we do not have to comprehend the economic subordination within the taxis of the Trinity to do it. We serve in “ministries” in order to prayerfully proclaim the Word to people, which means as long as we enter every activity with that mindset, we’re “ministering.” And we abstain from worldliness to prayerfully proclaim the Word to people… are you sensing a pattern?
God’s agenda for the Christian life is prayer, proclamation, and people. It’s simple and profound, simultaneously. You do not have to be sufficient (2 Cor 2:16; 3:5-6), you just have to believe it and act upon it.