Our philosophy of ministry is a blend of the mission model and the body model. As a body of Christians, we want to grow in spiritual maturity through teaching, preaching, discipleship, ministry experience and mutual encouragement (body model). As ambassadors for Christ in a post-Christian world, we have a strong emphasis and devote a substantial portion of our energy and resources to sharing our faith and world-wide missions (mission model). We seek to multiply the number of people who will glorify God in heaven whether they live next door or across the globe. We believe that this blend is the best one for a church in our particular culture.
There are several aspects to our implimentation of our philosophy of ministry. They support one another and are equally important, like the legs of a stool. Each area must be reasonably successful if the church is to meet its biblical requirements and they are summarized by the phrase Upward, Inward and Outward.
The heart of our faith is a relationship with God. To love him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength is the greatest commandment (Mk. 12:29-30). It is our purpose to nurture this relationship in our church family as individuals and as a body.
Worship. When the church family meets together, worship is the primary way that the "upward" relationship to God is expressed. This includes adoration, praise, thanksgiving and song. We use several music styles, such as favorite old hymns, chorus songs and classical music. Because of our culture, we have chosen a worship style that is warm, personal and open, rather than formal and liturgical.
The worship portion of our services are designed and led with a keen awareness of its purpose in the Christian life as well as being mindful of the attitude we should have in undertaking it. Though one can point to different reasons for and benefits of worship, its overriding purpose is to bring glory and honor to God. Isaiah 42:8 says “I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols.” To the extent that worship lacks this purpose, or diverts glory from God to us, we are displeasing the Lord. During worship, the focus of both leaders and congregation should remain firmly fixed on God and His perfections.
The teaching of the Scriptures is also central to the "upward" relationship, because we cannot have a deep relationship with God without spiritual knowledge. We recognize the authority of Scripture over us and we are very serious about submitting to it. We believe that expositional preaching (usually the study of an entire book of the Bible) is the best practice for letting the Scriptures speak for themselves, and special topics are covered from time to time.
Devotions. We want every believer to enjoy a personal relationship with God, as well as have meaningful times of group worship. We encourage personal devotions which include Bible study, worship and prayer. This practice is an expectation of the church family, and occasional classes are offered to improve our devotional life.
Discipleship. We stress the need to bring every member to maturity in Christ and to equip every member for ministry. The role of pastors is to equip the saints for ministry, rather than for the pastors doing everything themselves. Every believer is responsible for a complete life in Christ as stated in our purpose, "Upward, Inward, Outward."
Discipleship is not communicated through sermons and classes alone. It is also transferred through the modeling of Christlikeness. This requires older, more mature believers to spend a significant amount of time with younger believers. Pastors cannot do this alone, so we have several types of groups to meet this need for everyone. Some groups such as the College and Career Group and the Single's Bible Study have both men and women. We also have a men's discipleship group and several women's discipleship groups. The leaders watch over the lives of the people in their groups, providing shepherding, personal discipleship and accountability.
Teaching. We aggressively encourage spiritual growth so that a significant impact can be made in a short period of time. A particular characteristic of our community is mobility, and many of our members are a part of the church family for only a few years. While this transience is somewhat counterproductive to strengthening our local church, we intend that the training given at Hope International Church will advance the kingdom of God elsewhere.
The teaching aspect of our church life takes many forms. We encourage everyone to get a "basic diet" through worship, Bible classes and small groups. Those who are running well and exhibiting leadership skills are invited to join a leadership training class.
The teaching of our children is also a high priority. Parents have the primary responsibility, and the church aids them by providing Sunday School classes and Children's Church.
Relationships. We recognize the deep need of every individual for love and personal attention. Friendliness and mutual concern are a part of our church culture and much support occurs spontaneously. Church leaders also oversee the church family so that no one "falls through the cracks."
Service. The final characteristic of our Inward family life is service. Every believer has one or more spiritual gifts for the benefit of the body (Rom. 12:3-6 and Eph. 4:11-13). Much of the "behind the scenes" work is accomplished by a group of volunteers who are assigned to particular tasks. The phrase "Everyone has a job" is one of our basic slogans, and giving newcomers a job after a few months of attendance is part of our integration process.
We stress the need for the body to proclaim the gospel to a lost world (Mt. 28:18-20). Evangelism is the most difficult part of ministry because it is a direct challenge to the enemy's rule. We give this area particular attention, not because it is necessarily more important, but because it is so difficult. It is often more comfortable for the church to stay within its own concerns, within its own building, and within our own relationships. Evangelism requires that we move beyond this. In the Acts of the Apostles, we read the history of God moving the church forcefully to reach those who had not heard the Gospel.
The Apostle Paul said that he had become all things to all people (1 Cor. 10:22) so that nothing about himself would keep people from accepting the good news he carried. We, too, need this attitude. We are no longer a Christian church in a Christian land; we are missionaries and tentmakers. Not only must we accurately understand the Scriptures, we must accurately exegete our culture in order to be good stewards of the good news of Jesus Christ.
There has been a radical change in the status of Christianity in our culture in the past generation. In the 1950s, Christianity was thought respectable. Many people came willingly to the church for worship, Sunday School and revival meetings. Today, we live in a post-Christian society. Our Christian culture which includes hymn books, pews and a special "Christianese" language is foreign and can be intimidating. Even worse, Christianity can be equated with mythology, fanaticism, greed and hypocrisy. Rather than there being respect and openness from the world to the church, there often exists barriers and prejudices.
There are two general ways to overcome the cultural obstacles to the Gospel. The goal of both is to remove cultural barriers so that the gospel will stand clear and true. One approach is to make the church building and services "user friendly." Possible changes would be to replace pews with chairs, organs with guitars and to carefully avoid "Christianese" language. We don't want to require people to like these cultural characteristics before they can love Jesus. Ministries to meet the needs of modern people, such as single parent support groups and Christian AA, would meet in the church building. This approach does remove some serious cultural barriers. However, a potential visitor must still come to us and this might be intimidating. It may also be difficult to meet the spiritual needs of the flock without "putting off" unbelievers.
The other approach is to send our members out of our building and religious establishment to the "turf" of the unbeliever. For example, a teen ministry would meet at a playground instead of inside the church building. We look for opportunities to serve people, building relationships where we can share about our personal faith in Christ. The church building is used primarily for the Upward and Inward ministries to the church members, not necessarily the Outward ministries to unbelievers. This approach is the most natural one for the non-Christian, but it is the most costly in time and money for believers.
It is the conviction of our church that the second ministry model is better for our particular situation. Our immediate culture is Roman Catholic/postmodern, and it is a huge barrier for a Catholic or postmodern person to come to an Evangelical church. It is like expecting the fish to jump into your boat. It will rarely happen, no matter how attractive you make your boat look to the fish.
With this general introduction, we will now consider the particular approaches which we are using to implement this Outward philosophy.
Prayer. Prayer is not a method of evangelism, but it is so critical to the advance of the kingdom that we list it here with our evangelism philosophy. Prayer, like evangelism, is difficult because it hits directly at the enemy. God is most willing to answer our prayers (John 15:7). Unfortunately, we often have not because we ask not (James 4:2). Any attempt at Outward ministry apart from serious prayer will fail from the start. Personal prayer in our devotions is an expectation for our members. In addition, prayer meetings convene weekly for the specific purpose of praying for missions and evangelism. All this is good, but we need to excel still more in this area because it is spiritual warfare (Eph. 6:10-20).
Evangelistic Ministries. Unbelievers rarely come to the church to hear the gospel, as we discussed above. We have several outreach ministries to actively seek points of contact in the world to build relationships with non-Christians so that the gospel can be shared. This strategy is similar to the parable of the wedding guests (Mt. 22:1-14) where the Lord sent his workers out into the highways to find people who were willing to come to the banquet. These ministries are a key part of our evangelism strategy and considerable effort is invested in them. We call these ministries THRESHOLD MINISTRIES. Much of our summertime emphasis is to give our time in these ministries.
Sharing the good news in our daily lives is a strong expectation for our members. Programs of evangelism and strategic ministries of outreach can never replace genuine friendship. This is stressed through sermons, we pray for each other's friends and occasional classes are held to equip people for sharing the good news.
We maintain a strong missions program in three ways. Financial giving to missions is a significant portion of the total giving to the church. Prayer meetings intercede for missionaries and increase our knowledge of world missions. Missions education occurs through many other planned activities in our church life.
A further expression of our desire to reach unbelievers for Christ is to plant new churches in the Boston area-- either supporting this work or engaging in it directly. We recognize that our present form of ministry is not appropriate for many cultural subgroups in this international city. We believe that it is our obligation not only to make individual disciples but that disciplemaking should lead to new churches. We are committed to efforts that will result in new churches.
Our church planting strategy is consistent with other facets of our philosophy of ministry. For example, a church size of about 100 is ideal for the type of ministry which characterizes Hope International Church. If the church should grow larger than 150, we could no longer shepherd the flock with as much individual concern. A smaller group attracts new members by its "everybody knows everybody" friendliness, and it encourages responsible involvement. We believe that two smaller churches can reach more unbelievers and minister more effectively to their members than a single large church.