The Ordinary Means of Grace: What They Are and Why They Are Necessary

By Benjamin G. Campbell

In pastoral ministry, there are a plethora of ministry conversations happening only to never be settled. We have conversations around the way in which we gather as congregations. There are always conversations regarding the worship “style” or music we sing. Sometimes, a discussion about different methods of preaching is thrown into the mix. 

However, one of the most important conversations one must have as either a leader or a member of a local church is the question of ministry methodology – what/who has the final authority about how we do ministry in our church? We at Everyday Theology affirm the historic understanding of ministry in the local church through the ordinary means of grace. Throughout this post I will define these ordinary means and give reasons why I believe they are the only prescribed way in Scripture to govern a church’s ministry.

The Ordinary Means Defined

The means of grace are the elements God has revealed to us to govern our doctrine and our ministry practices – His Word, prayer, and the ordinances of the Church. The Westminster Larger Catechism helpfully clarifies what these means are:

Q. What are the outward means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of His mediation? 

A. The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to His church the benefits of His mediation, are all His ordinances; especially the Word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for their salvation.

In a nutshell, being an ordinary means of grace pastor means believing the Word of God determines what goes on and what does not go on within the Church of Jesus Christ. Many proponents of the church growth movement and the charismatic movement would propose that if the Bible does not forbid a practice, then we are permitted by our consciences to enact it within the local church. Rather than adopting the regulative principle, these ministry leaders prefer the normative principle.

I disagree with such propositions because I believe God is concerned with not only what we worship but how we worship. We worship a God who is a jealous God and inhabits the praise of His people in the way He desires. And it is the gospel that allows us to worship God in this way. J. Matthew Pinson argues, “Bearing witness to the transformational gospel of Christ in the world while maintaining faithfulness to the very countercultural, other-worldly qualities that make that gospel transformational is the profound challenge of the church, now as always.” You see, the problem the church faces today is allowing the secular characteristics of culture to influence how we execute ministry practice. To be honest, too many churches have fallen ill to this paradigm shift, and it’s plaguing Christianity in the West. We need another reformation, and I am certain it will come as we devote ourselves and our ministries to the ordinary means of grace God has given to His Church.

Ordinary Means Yields Extraordinary Results

The Western church no doubt needs revival and reformation. That reformation should begin by retrieving historic Christian practices that reveal a commitment to the ordinary means of grace. Perhaps, there will be too many disagreements over methodology for this end to ever be achieved, yet, a worthy goal it is for which the church must aim to achieve. And for the church to achieve such a goal, it will begin with the faithful preaching of God’s Word. The Reformation of 1517 began with Luther’s rigorous study of Galatians, Psalms, and Romans, which then led him to the hot-seat against the Catholic elites. No one is saying it will be a piece of cake, nor is a first-place trophy necessarily in sight. However, what is guaranteed is a reward for our faithfulness when we meet Jesus face to face.

The ordinary means of grace are the sufficient means by which we must operate the ministries of the local church because they are the means ordained by God to entrust the gospel to His people. Without the Word, prayer, and the ordinances, local church ministry is a fanfare. Unless a church is wholly devoted to the means of grace, it is all too easy to fall ill to culture’s ways and methods. People hunger for something countercultural. They get enough of popular culture outside the church. Because of this, I believe there are a few necessary reasons why the means of grace must be present in our ministry methodologies today:

  1. The ordinary means of grace are ordained in Scripture. It is no secret that God has a specific way in which He desires to be worshiped. The Apostle Paul exhorted the Corinthian believers that there is a correct manner and an incorrect manner in which they might partake of the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:28-29). In the Old Testament, the Law was specific down to the very clothes of the Priests in the holy of holies as they worshiped the Lord through sacrificing the firstfruits of their labors (Exodus 28-29). What the ordinary means propose is the idea that God has a specific way in which He desires to be worshiped, and He has laid it out in Scripture prescriptively.
  2. The ordinary means of grace are good for the local church. We often utter the phrase, “If it’s good for the goose, it’s good for the gander.” I am convinced that there is a bit of a similar meaning when it comes to the means of grace and the local church. Truly, we ought to be thinking and exclaiming, “If it pleases the Lord, it’s’ good for the church.” But this is not a tit for tat type of game with God, it is so we can know Him for who He truly is. Ray Ortlund writes, “Our gracious Lord is not playing “catch me if you can” with us. He wants us to be sure of Him, come to Him, and draw strength from Him so that we can live fully for Him.”
  3. The ordinary means of grace rest in God’s sovereignty. Ultimately, when we devote ourselves and our churches to the ordinary means of grace, what we are doing is resting in the all-sufficient sovereignty of Almighty God. When you trust the ordinary means of grace for ministry, you are trusting for ministry results from something outside of yourself and your church over which you have no control. There is nothing more freeing for the people of God than to work as unto the Lord as the Lord gives the results.
  4. The ordinary means of grace take all pressure off of us. More than anything else, the most comforting aspect of the ordinary means of grace is that it depends all on the Lord for ministry results. 


Think back to how Paul instructs the Corinthians to “know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2, ESV). Here Paul encourages the Corinthian church to rest all of their wisdom “in the power of God” rather than “in the power of men” (1 Cor. 2:5). If I could translate that into modern-day language, I would simply state that what Paul wants the church to do is be people of the book. In our homes, we love the Bible and live the Word accordingly. In our work lives, we love the Bible and work heartily as for the Lord. In our church, we sing, preach, pray, administer ordinances, baptize, etc. the way in which the Bible instructs us to do so. 

If the ordinary means of grace are to shape our ministries in the local church, then Holy Scripture must be the agent through which we minister to the local congregations. The ordinary means of grace propose that the Bible is the central focus, aim, and goal of ministry in the local church. We read the Bible, sing the Bible, pray the Bible, preach the Bible, and see the Bible. The ordinary means of grace focus solely on entrusting Holy Scripture to the members of a local congregation. The Bible is the means by which we grow in godliness. Prayer is the means through which we connect with one another by aligning our wills with God’s. The ordinances allow us to experience the new birth and remind us of our redemption in the Lord Jesus corporately. May we return to a Bible-centered church and ministry.

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