Denver Journal

Denver Journal

    A review of Ajith Fernando's, "Jesus Driven Ministry," by Dr. Douglas Groothuis.

    Fernando, Ajith Jesus Driven Ministry. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan. 2002. 255 pages with index.

    Ajith Fernando is a native of Sri Lanka and a prolific writer on biblical, apologetic, and cultural themes. Like John Stott, his books are usually organized around the exposition of biblical texts. For example, his excellent work, Sharing the Truth in Love: How to Relate to People of Other Faiths (Discovering House Publishers, 2001), follows the structure of Paul's great address to the Athenians in Acts chapter 17. Jesus Driven Ministry follows the structure of the Gospel of Mark, but adds many elaborations from other biblical texts and anecdotes from Fernando's active and challenging ministry with Youth for Christ in Sri Lanka. Fernando believes that the way in which Jesus and the disciples practiced ministry remains a model for contemporary Christians in every culture. This is a simple but ultimately radical thesis.

    As a Sri Lankan who received his theological training in the United States and who often lectures here (including Denver Seminary), Fernando is privy to cross-cultural and deeply biblical insights that evangelicals need to hear and heed. His fourteen chapters address the following issues in profound ways: the need to identify with the people to whom one ministers, spiritual empowerment for ministry, the importance of recognizing God's affirmation of us in Christ, the significance of retreating from ministry activity periodically, affirming the will of God, being saturated in Scripture for godly ministry, "facing wild animals" (or opponents to ministry); bearing the good news, growing a team of leaders, discipling younger leaders, sending disciples into ministry, ministering to the sick and demon possessed, visiting homes, and prayer. Interestingly, many of these obviously biblical and deeply pertinent themes receive scant attention in contemporary evangelical books on leadership and ministry. Or, if the matters are addressed, they are often broached without close attention to how Jesus and his first disciples conducted themselves. Fernando's great strength is plumbing the depths of the biblical narrative, illustrating its themes from great biographies and from his own active life, and developing sensible-if not always comfortable-advice for ministry.

    While never acerbic and always pastoral, Fernando is critical of many contemporary models of church growth and outreach that he takes to be sub- or even anti-biblical because they stress sociological methodology over biblical strategies. One such passage deserves full quotation. "We are seeing more and more people today who are moved to churches 'where they feel more comfortable.' When did comfort become such a high value in ministry and church life? Was it when we left the path of biblical Christianity? The gospel is too radical and the needs of the world too urgent for us to ever be comfortable! But many Christians today have come to think that a major goal of the church is to entertain people and supply them with services that they want, such as a good youth program or music program. In such an environment, we are going to see people moving to churches where they are comfortable. The result will be that churches are going to miss out on some vital sources of enrichment through discomfort. They will become unhealthy by missing out on biblical wholeness. Biblical churches always are uncomfortable places because they are always looking for biblical wholeness" (page 197).

    This is merely a small taste of the wisdom of this timely and insightful book. I urge every Christian leader to read it prayerfully and thoughtfully and to apply its lessons to life.

    Douglas Groothuis
    Professor of Philosophy
    Denver Seminary