Film / Book Reviews

A helpful book on ministry for busy pastors, church leaders

May 2004    

Jesus Driven Ministry
Author: Ajith Fernando
Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2002
255 pp, Hardback, $30

THIS year’s Aldersgate speaker, Dr Ajith Fernando, wears many hats. The Sri Lankan is a sought-after speaker with a world-wide ministry, a pastor of a Methodist church in a country torn by ethno-religious strife, a supervisor of a drug-rehabilitation ministry and, for more than 20 years, the Director of the Youth for Christ in Sri Lanka.

In spite of his busy schedule and heavy responsibilities, he has found time to write books. Among his growing list of written works is his contribution, on Acts, to the accessible Zondervan Application Commentary series. In 2002, he released his book, Jesus Driven Ministry, setting out his case for a ministry using the first chapter of the Gospel of Mark as a rough working framework.

I am not sure whether he has a say in choosing the title of his book, which seems to hitch a ride on the popularity of Rick Warren’s Purpose-Driven Church. But unlike Warren’s “Purpose-Driven” approach, Fernando spells out quite clearly that a ministry which is worth embarking should be primarily driven and directed by the teaching of Jesus Christ.

To follow the examples of Jesus Christ, according to him, is to reclaim a much neglected yet still a valid and basic model of ministry “that will never outgrow and that will never diminish in importance”.

Appropriately he begins with a discussion on ministry as incarnational. By that he means a ministry that should identify with the struggles and lives of people we have been called to serve. When applied, an incarnational approach is both effective and joyful, in as much as it has its share of frustrations and pains.

This is the route taken by Jesus when He became human and worked within the limitation of human culture and context. In a fundamental way, His ministry impacted lives the way it did (and continues to do so even today) precisely because of the intentional incarnational approach taken by Him.

Fernando senses Christians’ reluctance in following such an incarnational approach because of their postmodern preoccupation with satisfying one’s “feelings” rather than to “think” and to accept a faith that requires “radical and costly obedience”.

Though he does not explain in sufficient details what postmodernity, as a whole, might be, his assessment is that “the church has assimilated the postmodern mood that considers inner feelings more important than commitment to principles. A minor feature of worship – bringing enjoyment – has become a primary feature. Such a church may grow numerically, but it would not be able to produce the type of missionaries that the world needs – men and women who will pay the price of identification with the people they serve and endure the frustrations that involves”.

Fernando is, of course, criticising the “West” when he denounces the pernicious infiltration of postmodern values into the church and the way we carry out our ministry. Yet the problem does not reside solely with the “West”. It has been exported to other countries and Singapore has not been spared. Some of our churches have readily embraced such values as well.

Having spelled out the need to establish an incarnational approach to ministry, rooted in and enriched by biblical teachings, he goes on to address different aspects of ministry which Christians who want to serve God will encounter, at various times, in their faith journey. He deals, for example, with the need to recover the beauty of living a holy life and the place of the Holy Spirit in the life and ministry of one called by God to minister.

He reminds the readers of the importance of deliberately putting aside time for personal retreat, in communion alone with God, especially so for those who tend to be caught up with busyness — something, I thought, some of our hyperactive and busy Singaporean pastors should heed!

Other practical advice include the need to be both informed and formed by Scripture; to be bold in proclaiming the Good News and sharing the Gospel with others even in our multi-cultural world; to work with and harness the contributions of others who are members of the team; to make disciples of those we lead; to minister to the sick; to visit homes and to cultivate the practice of prayer – all these are seen as essential components of pastoral life and duty.

This book is well illustrated with appropriate personal anecdotes and quotations from well-known Christians, including our own Bishop Dr Robert Solomon (p. 63) and other Methodists, for example, Stanley Jones and E.M. Bound.

What the book lacks, however, is interaction with some of the more contemporary voices in pastoral theology. One can think of theologians like Thomas Oden, Eugene Peterson and William Willimon whose works are essential readings for students of pastoral theology.

This is a helpful, non-technical introductory book on ministry which busy pastors, Christian workers and church leaders will benefit from reading.

The Rev Dr Daniel Koh Kah Soon is the TRAC District Superintendent (West) and a lecturer in Ethics and Pastoral Theology at Trinity Theological College.

QUOTE:

BRINGING ‘ENJOYMENT’ TO WORSHIP

‘ … Fernando’s assessment is that “the church has assimilated the postmodern mood that considers inner feelings more important than commitment to principles. A minor feature of worship — bringing enjoyment — has become a primary feature” ‘.

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