A map for biblical ministry
A review of Allan Chapple's book, 'Ministry under the Microscope'
To understand Christian ministry, we should not begin with ourselves but with the Lord Jesus (26). This is, I think, the great reminder we need from Chapple’s book. While we are tempted to look for how-to manuals, Ministry Under the Microscope lays down a map of what biblical ministry looks like (19-23) and walks with us throughout these pages for us to discover it. It might have been better to title the book following the map metaphor so prominent in this work! The biblical emphasis is set in the introductory pages (12, 18), especially when Chapple affirms that “what we believe and do in ministry is determined not by our own ideas and desires, or by the agenda of the world around us, but by the character and purpose of God. If we are to do his will, we must be governed by his word” (16).
The book is organised according to Chapple’s ministry map. He divides the book into four sections or parts: 1) The Basis; The Setting; 3) The Source; and 4) The Focus of Christian Ministry. As noted earlier, one of the book’s strengths is starting its journey with Jesus as the servant-savior. Jumping from Jesus’ teaching on servanthood in Mark 10:45, Chapple explains why Jesus is the appropriate point of departure. Despite, or maybe because, he is the Son of Man, the ruler over all the world, Jesus “has put himself in the lowest place of all” (27).
For this reason, we are first and foremost rescued people bound to serve out of gratitude, not from our initiative but as a response of love drawn from us (29). As such, we are called to follow Jesus’ path of service, a path of obedience, humble service, sacrifice, and suffering (32-33). In sum, “the path that Jesus took for us meant the cross—and that is our calling too” (33).
Let me highlight just a few more things. One will be encouraged to see that our service is framed by God’s service and purposes in the world. We serve God as he completed and completes his work. Hopefully, this will strike deeper as we enter the Advent season and remember Jesus’ first and second coming. Our service, then, “fits within the work God is doing ... based on an unshakable foundation and focused on a glorious destination” (85). Also, Chapple presents a critical weight on the Holy Spirit as the source of our service. God, the Holy Spirit, is the agent that brings salvation and establishes God’s kingdom as well as the one who empowers and equips us for service and on whom we must entirely rely. Finally, there is a unique sense in which our focus must be the gospel of Jesus Christ. Hence, God’s word is central in our service: “Nothing in Christian service is more important than this! In life and ministry, the Lord Jesus Christ must be our unwavering focus” (132).
The reader must appreciate Chapples’ clarification of the term ministry and his corrective that the Bible calls all Christians to serve the Lord “full-time.” However, Chappel focuses on what we would call “appointed ministers.” There are, therefore, a few expected discussions I missed in this work. First, rightly mentioned in the concluding chapter, there is little or no attention to Christian character. Given the prominence of such matters by Paul, Peter, James, the author of Hebrews, and Jesus himself, one wonders why there was no emphasis on the character requirements for servanthood in these pages. Second, there are a couple of lingering questions in this book. If service is the responsibility for all Christians, is there a discernment process for those who desire “an appointed” ministry position? Are there gender-specific roles or appointed services in the church, or is evangelism, discipleship, shepherding, and training available for male and female servants of Jesus? Lastly, although Chappel offers to put ministry under the microscope and promises to evaluate what we believe and do considering the authority of the Bible, there is a high preponderance of NT texts and verses used. I personally wish to see more balance; there is a lot in the OT that informs what servanthood is in the NT, particularly regarding Jesus as the Servant-savior. At the end of the book Chapple provides a helpful bibliography that can aid in some of the book’s shortcomings.
Ministry Under the Microscope should become an essential resource in training servant-leaders in the church. Chapple provides much-needed direction for a world-saturated church tempted to follow how-to manuals and put the person rather than the gospel as its center.