What thoughts or images spring to mind when you think of the phrase balanced ministry? Do you think of Jesus growing in wisdom and stature and in favour with God and people (Lk. 2:52)? Does a picture of your church or perhaps one across town emerge in your imagination? Perhaps the desire to love God, others, and yourself with everything you’ve got comes to mind (Lk. 10:27). Or, do you envisage some Christian luminary who has successfully maintained a balanced ministry over time?

Having just returned from a restorative holiday and re-entered my professional life, I have found myself pondering several questions: What does a balanced ministry look like? Are the ministries I’m involved in as a lecturer at Carey Baptist College, a pastoral care worker at St Augustine’s Anglican church in Auckland, and a pastoral counsellor balanced? Are they even supposed to be? If so, how can I help to make them more balanced? If not, might it be more a case of each of these ministries fulfilling a specialist’s role in the wider body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:12-31)? Or, is the ‘ideal’ some magical combination of the above?

While scores of similar questions and appropriate responses could clearly be tabled here, I want to focus on four factors that David Riddell believes need to be considered and combined to create balance in ministry—namely, mysticism, behaviourism, historicism, and intellectualism.[1] I encourage you to consider each concept prayerfully to see if and how it might affect your ministry.

Mysticism in Riddell’s eyes refers to spiritual power that brings breakthroughs. Jesus experienced this power. St. Paul knew it. So, too, did Derek Prince. They prayed successfully for healing and deliverance, and each of them clearly moved in the gifts of the Spirit. Their ministries prospered through this mysticism, this spiritual power. Riddell reasons that such power cannot be easily taught; it more commonly needs to be caught or imparted. Following this logic, some of us might need to ask ourselves: “Whose prayers do we court to deepen our connection with the Spirit?” And/or, “Is there something within me that is restricting me from seeking the Spirit?” Glorious as spiritual power is for the efficacy of our ministries, Riddell sagely points out that it must not be used as an excuse to forsake personal transformation or appropriate training. However, in combination with these, spiritual power can lead to profound outcomes. It can also be encouraging and faith-building.

Behaviourism for Riddell refers to taking right actions and conforming to God’s guidelines. As the renowned adage says, “God can’t move a parked car”. Smart actions can make a phenomenal difference. Sometimes the best way to pursue balance in our ministries is to forsake the status quo, explore apt how-to guides, plan an intervention, and/or do something differently. For some ministries, this might entail studying how other churches operate and/or empowering team members to complete appropriate courses. And for some individuals, doing something for the advancement of their ministries might first mean implementing new practices into their own lives such as commencing a regular physical exercise program, taking daily mindfulness breaks, and/or studying the Bible systematically. Good as all of this is, Riddell reminds us that a ruse of behaviourism is to seduce persons to believe that success is solely achieved via performance. It’s not. But this does not mean that we can’t act our way into healthier modes of thinking and ministry.

Unsurprisingly, Riddell points out that the focus of historicism is our pasts. Our unprocessed pasts can easily hamstring us and our ministries. If we fail to consider our family-of-origin issues, if we continue to refuse to face the elephants in our psyches, if we try to supress our wounds, we and our ministries (and therefore others) will invariably suffer. One reason for this is that the planks in our own eyes will be larger than they need to be and as a result we will look at others through blurred and sin-stained lenses (Mt. 7: 1-5). If there’s someone you’re struggling to forgive, if there’s someone who is stuck in your head, if God is pinpointing an issue for you to work on, please seek fitting assistance. Sadly, I am guilty of falling into the dangers that Riddell spotlights when people overemphasise historicism. I have spent too many years looking exclusively backwards. And I have reopened healing wounds in myself and others. If this applies to you, too, you may need to repent alongside of me and focus more on the present.

With intellectualism, Riddell emphasises the fact that right thinking can lead to health, life-giving actions, and balance in our ministries. Paul puts it this way: “Do not conform any longer to the patterns of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your minds” (Rom. 12:2). If our ministries fail to prioritise education, if we don’t consider the epistemological foundations of our beliefs, if theology is not important to us, if we allow our self-talk to run amok, balance and permanence will elude our ministries. Yet, as with mysticism, behaviourism, and historicism, Riddell points out that intellectualism is not the panacea to all ministerial ills. In fact, many highly intelligent people in ministry seem oblivious to the kind of work elaborated on here.

When ministries aren’t balanced they fall over. Before they fall, many people associated with them become unbalanced. When they fall, much unnecessary carnage occurs. We need to ponder prayerfully and collaboratively the balance and health of the ministries we’re involved with. Engagement with Riddell’s four pillars discussed above and being aware of their strengths and weaknesses is a great starting point for such an exploration. Naturally, your investigations will lead you to many other important factors, too. The journey may take some time, but the rewards of a more balanced ministry are bountiful.

Written by

Dr Phil Halstead

[1] David J. Riddell, The Manual: Living Wisdom Life and Counselling Skills (Nelson: David J. Riddell, 2010), 2.1. What follows leans heavily on Riddell’s insights.