3 Layers of Ministry

Fairly, or unfairly, people are typically judged by three things. Who they are. (Their core values and foundational beliefs.) What they do. (Their productivity.) And what they look like. (Their external appearance.) Linus Morris, in his book The High Impact Church, compares these three areas to an apple. In his analogy, an apple has three parts. The core, the substance, and the skin. The apple core is the inner-most, life-giving part of the fruit. Everything else emanates from it. The substance, or flesh of the apple, is the fruit you consume and enjoy. Finally, the skin is the exterior layer of protection that people see.

skin flesh core JPEGThe same can be said of a person, a ministry, or a church. The internal core is the life-giving essence. The flesh is what is consumed, or the output. And the outer peel is what it looks like. All three are important and it’s good to consider how much emphasis each deserves.

1 Samuel 16:7 says “…The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”

It’s clear that the heart is very important. But so is the outcome of a church’s ministry and how things look. But that verse does not say people don’t look at the outer appearance. On the contrary, it says they do! Church leaders would do well to contemplate the importance of each of these three aspects of ministry, so let’s consider each individually.

The core of a church is its spiritual dimension. It’s the life-giving component that makes the church different from other organizations. A church’s theological foundation, its values, purpose and mission need to be solid for it to be effective for the kingdom of God.  

We’ve seen tragic examples of churches, ministries, and Christian leaders with bad cores. Consider Rev. Jim Jones and the massacre in Jonestown, Guyana in 1979. Tragic consequences overtook a large group of people due to the bad theological and ideological core of a church and its leader.

Contrast that to a person in ministry with a healthy core. This person loves Jesus, has solid theology, and a good heart. She is humble and in ministry for the right reasons. Remember, the core of a person affects everything that person does. Its importance cannot be underestimated.

The substance of a church is the ministry it does. Just as people eat the flesh of an apple, people consume the flesh of a ministry. In the children’s ministry, for example, the flesh is the programming and its impact on the children. In the music ministry, the flesh is the music that’s played and the worship it inspires.

In the church, the goal should be ministry that both honors God and inspires people. Perfection is too lofty an objective. But excellence is not. We’ve probably all experienced “ministry” that is poorly executed and has little or no impact. Bottom line: quality counts! If the ministry output of your church needs work, work on it. If it’s beyond repair, don’t do it. It will most likely have no positive effect.

The external skin is how a church or ministry looks to outsiders. Let’s face it, shiny apples get purchased and consumed far more often than rough looking ones. While the skin is not the most important part, it’s still worth consideration. How things look on the outside is what people will notice first. So make sure you present quality ministry that looks and sounds good.

And body language speaks volumes. Too often people on stage look stiff and uncomfortable. Facial expression and body language communicate just as much as notes played or melodies sung. So remember, it’s ok to smile, relax, move, and have fun. First impressions say a lot, so make a concerted effort to ensure your ministries look presentable.

Scuffed up apples don’t get noticed, and rotten apples won’t be enjoyed by anyone. Likewise, people won’t be attracted to churches and ministries that appear shoddy or unprofessional, or ones that don’t provide excellent ministry to its people. So as a church leader, make sure the core, the substance, and the skin of your church’s ministry both honor God and inspire people. After all, what we’re doing is important.