When do you accept an invitation to speak on a ministry you don’t agree with?

It can be a luxury to be an unknown pastor: you don't get too entangled with ministry politics, you don't get invited to speak at things, so you don't have to make too many tricky decisions in this area.

But if you happen to be even a little bit networked in your local area, every now and then there will be invitations for you or your ministry to share in the ministry work or stand on the ministry platform with others, where you might have concerns.

This is not an exhaustive post, but rather just raises a few notes:

1. Doctrine matters

Kind of simple point. But it's worth saying again and again and again. Christiannity is a confessional religion. Your bond of fellowship with others is a fellowship in the truth. Doctrine outlines truth. It's not about shared interest in sociology, spirituality or some kind of emotional devotion to Jesus or the Bible or Christian heritage. 

Don't link arms with people on the assumption that you are fellow believers...if you don't share a common faith!

In fact, I urge you to be cautious about endorsing ministries whose doctrine on secondary (or perhpas even tertiary) matters is problematic. There's not a hard and fast rule here, but it is a matter that should concern us greatly.

I've noticed that sadly people can become loose on theology when they find another point of agreement they are passionate about:

  • Church growth people suddenly grow fuzzy on theology when they find others who share their 'how to's,
  • Political-engagement people link arms with quite extreme theonomists or Roman Catholics when they share agreement on certain social issues,
  • Charismatic-worship-style people draw close to people from properity theology churches because of shared taste of musical style and emotional expression
  • Denominational sentimentalists tolerate liberalism becuase of a shared love of ceremony and heritage


2. Philosophy of ministry matters

Doctrine and practice are intertwined. Good doctrine can lead to reformation in practice. But poor practice dishonours good doctrine, and over time can have a corrosive effect upon doctrine itself.

Being generous and flexible on matters of indifference, or even tertiary matters is good and right. 

At the same time, when it comes to what ministries we throw our time and energy behind, what ministries we support with our presence: sure these should be ones that we believe are good for the Christian community in a deep way — in their sound doctrine and practice.

And while there are a few contexts where a very broad base of very loose and general agreement might be wise and godly... in most cases I believe that smaller fellowships with closer agreement of doctrine and practice are better. By investing too much, too often in fellowships of 'lowests common denominator' theology and practice, you are actually pursuing and supporting a philosophy of ministry in and of itself: broad interndenominationalism.


3. Speaking at a ministry event usually says something about that event: endorsement 

Don't be naive: in most cases, your generous, flexible, open-handed partnership with other ministries will be perceived as an endorsement of those ministries. By speaking on their platform you are usually implying support for their platform. If you happen to be something of 'well-known' speaker, then you might be helping advertise that ministry, or even give it credibility among those who value your ministry.

You might have a very qualified support of this or that ministry or event. But think of others who might think: Oh well Pastor So And So supports it so it must be good. In fact they might even perceive you as endorsing other events, speakers or resources from this ministry.


4. Speaking at a ministry event usually says something about your ministry: alignment

The reverse might also be true. Not only might you be communicating something about the event, by agreeing to speak at it, you might begin to convey something about your own ministry.

An overly suspicious and paranoid spirit is nasty. It's true that sometimes Christian networks can be 'tribal' in a bad way, that draws all sorts of unwarranted conclusions about someone based on flimsy evidence.

And yet, there is also a degree to which such conclusions, if thoughtful, measured and cautious are totally justifiable. 


5. Is it understood that I am free to publicly critique this ministry?

A great test is to ask how free will you be to publicly critique the ministry or event you are invited to speak on.

Let me give an extreme example from the world of politics. Remember when Bill Shorten was invited to speak at an Australian Christian Lobby event? Certain groups complained that by doing so he was somehow endorsing them. Not at all! Everyone was clear that he was not a supporter of the ACL. And everyone was clear that he was free to share his disagreements with them. That's not complicity: that's civil discussion.

In the same way, there are some platforms where you are invited as a partner, fellow-worker, co-religionist, likeminded friend. In these settings, to be overly negative about minor points of difference would be 'bad form'. To use an event intended to celebrate your major points of agreement as a platform to talk at length about points of contention is out of order.

However, there are other situations where you are being invited in as something of an 'outsider'. In those situations it might be worth talking about the points of difference and your freedom to name them, whether at the event, or in your other public communications.

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Do you have the character that can resist once-in-a-lifetime opportunities?

In his Exclusion and Embrace, Miroslav Volf gives a chilling, but believable quote from Hitler's architect, Albert Speer, talking to his daughterabout the temptations of ambition:

You must realise that at the age of 32, in my capacity as an architect, I had the most splendid assignments of which I could dream. Hitler said to your mother one day that her husband could design buildings the like of which had not been seen for 2000 years. One would have had to be morally very stoical to reject the proposal. But I was not at all like that

(S. Hauerwas, Truthfulness and Tragedy, 1997: Notre Dame cited in Exclusion and Embrace, p 255-56)

In later excerpts, Speers says:

I was above all an architect

...fear of discovering somehting which might have made me turn from my course...

... I had closed my eyes...

... [unable] to see any moral ground outside the system where I should have taken my stand.

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