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Flexibility In Ministry

Theologically, God does not change. Truth will always remain the same because it is based upon God’s eternal principles. But there are many aspects about God and his ways that do change. For example, in the beginning God established the marriage relationship–before sin entered into the world. Everything about it was good and pure, yet Jesus said that in the future, in heaven, marriage will be no more (Matthew 22:30).

In the Old Testament we find manifestations of God that are different from those we see in the New Testament. For example, there was a time when God “allowed,” and even “regulated” what he did not like or approve of.

Gaylon West points this out in his biblical study on polygamy:

God allowed and regulated polygamy: e.g., God chose to regulate it by demanding that each wife must be treated equally. “If he takes another wife, he shall not diminish her food, her clothing, and her marriage rights. And if he does not do these three for her, then she shall go out free, without paying money” (Exodus 21:10-11).

In Exodus 21:10, a man could marry an infinite amount of women without any limits to how many he can marry as long as he can provide for her living and marital rights. He could also have female slaves (concubines) but he could not treat them like they were male slaves. There were special regulations for them.

1. Exodus 21:1: “Now these are the judgments which you shall set before them: … (7) “And if a man sells his daughter to be a female slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do. (8) “If she does not please her master, who has betrothed her to himself, then he shall let her be redeemed. He shall have no right to sell her to a foreign people, since he has dealt deceitfully with her. (9) “And if he has betrothed her to his son, he shall deal with her according to the custom of daughters. (10) “If he takes another wife, he shall not diminish her food, her clothing, and her marriage rights (NKJV).

2. In Deuteronomy 21:15-17: “If a man has two wives, and he loves one but not the other, and both bear him sons….”

“If a man [has] two wives, one beloved and another hated, and they have born him children, both the beloved and the hated, and if the firstborn son be hers that was hated, then it shall be when he makes his sons to inherit that which he has, that he may not make the son of the beloved firstborn before the son of the hated, which is indeed the firstborn.” Verse 17, “But he shall acknowledge the son of the hated for the firstborn by giving him a double portion of all that he has for he is the beginning of his strength; the right of the firstborn is his.”

The point is this: you have two wives. Wife #1, you don’t like. Wife #2, you like. Both have sons; you’re prone to give the inheritance to the second wife, to her son, even though he is not the firstborn because you like that second wife better. But the Law says, you cannot do it.”

Adaptive and Creative

To say that God doesn’t adapt to meet various circumstances would require that we ignore many instances in Scripture where he most certainly altered his preferences to address human conditions.

With regards to ministry and the methods that are to be used to fulfill the Gospel Commission, Jesus used a very broad brush when he told his followers they were to carry the gospel to the ends of the earth.

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20, NIV).

Jesus said that his followers were to make disciples, and baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Jesus didn’t prescribe a specific formula for how this was to be done (other than teaching, which can be executed in many different ways). Nor did he say that only Jews, or men were allowed to do the work.

The truth is, ministry is a moving target that continually requires new methods and approaches to be effective. What works with one culture or generation may not work with the next. So, we need to change our methods and adapt to the situation.

Scriptural precedence for this is found in Mark 2:2-12, where four men brought their friend to Jesus for healing. At first they couldn’t reach Jesus because of the crowd. Jesus was teaching in a house, and the windows and doors were jammed with people who were there to see him. The “traditional” route to Jesus (that of walking through the front door) was blocked by people. So the man’s friends realized it would take an unconventional approach to accomplish their mission.

This is a perfect example of “convergent thinking.” They allowed themselves to think outside of the box–in creative and adaptive ways.

You know how the story ends – how the four men literally tore a hole in the roof of the house to be able to connect their friend with Jesus. I’ve come to the conclusion that we are to use whatever means we can to share the salvation story. There is no one right way to do ministry. We should use every means possible to carry God’s message of love to our dying world!

Ellen White knew we would have to change with the times, and speaking of evangelism, she said:

“Whatever may have been your former practice, it is not necessary to repeat it again and again in the same way. God would have new and untried methods followed. Break in upon the people – surprise them.” Manuscript 121, 1897 (Evangelism, p.125)

We need to be clear about what the Gospel Commission includes and what it does not include. We are not called to carry a message about church governance, or ecclesiastical pronouncements. The everlasting gospel is the story about God’s love!

“The disciples were to teach what Christ had taught. That which he had spoken, not only in person, but through all the prophets and teachers of the Old Testament, is here included. Human teaching is shut out. There is no place for tradition, for man’s theories and conclusions, or for church legislation. No laws ordained by ecclesiastical authority are included in the commission. None of these are Christ’s servants to teach” (Desire of Ages, p. 826).

Flexibility in ministry is critical to our success because the object is to make sure the message is heard. In some cultures, women will not be accepted as “authorized” messengers of God. At least not yet. But in other places, the mission is strengthened and fulfilled by godly women of faith.

Let us embrace with assurance the fact that our God is an everlasting God – whose character never changes. His mercy and grace blend beautifully with his sense of truth and righteousness. Yet, when he invites us to participate in his mission, he does not micro-manage and insist that we follow one prescribed method. He takes delight when we use our creativity and unique gifts to accomplish his purpose.

* (biblestudylessons.net) Gaylon West

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About Rich DuBose

Rich DuBose

is director of Church Support Services for the Pacific Union Conference

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