“This whole Trinity thing is useless,” said the student who benefitted from the doctrine every single week without realizing it.
In the InterVarsity doctrinal basis, we affirm that “We believe in the only true God, the almighty Creator of all things, existing eternally in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit full of love and glory.” For action-oriented missionaries, this phrase doesn’t exactly shout “Apply this immediately!!!”
And yet, after a decade of ministry, I find myself leaning on this doctrine more and more as I walk out my obedience to the Lord and serve students.
Three ministry applications of the doctrine of the Trinity
1) Enough Room for Diversity
The Father, Son and Spirit are unique persons without being divided. The Father and the Son don’t wrestle over who has the better ideas. The Father brings fatherhood to the table, the Son brings sonship to the table and the Spirit binds them together (to paraphrase Michael Reeves in his book Delighting in the Trinity).
I can be fully myself (a nerdy, bi-racial vocational missionary) and can let my students be themselves. We each bring our own gifts, networks and experiences to the table. And God does amazing things with them.
When you’ve been in ministry for a while, you can begin to think that you’ve got all of the experiences, know-how and insight to drive the mission. As a “crazy uncle” in the ministry, I do things differently than free-spirited freshmen. And that’s okay.
Trinitarian doctrine shapes multi-ethnicity, evangelism, leadership development, reconciliation, justice ministry, discipleship of the mind … the applications seem endless. We benefit when we create elbow-room in our community for people to be really and truly themselves.
Because Trinitarian doctrine lies at the heart of what we believe about God, we need it to show up in our ministries.
2) A High Hope for Unity
Nothing can separate the Father, Son and Spirit (not even an “iota”). Christians resist the charge of tri-theism: that we worship three gods who just happen to get along very well. We have always held that there is only one God. And there is no competition in the Father-Son-Spirit God.
By contrast, the divide-and-conquer strategy wildly works in the world today. I feel it in my own communities. We Latinos daily stand against the temptation to interrupt Black Lives Matter protests to point out the sharp spike in deportations we’ve seen in the last year. We hold our peace and wait our turn to speak. But we stand with our black brothers and sisters. We hear them and care about them. Their lives matter to us. We refuse to let the powers of this world pit us against each other. We stand on Trinitarian ground as one family.
Our campuses have fractured along fault-lines over the years. Greeks stand in one corner. Athletes in another. Artists still in another. Nursing students and international students and faculty and staff shift to their separate spaces on campus. But we reach out to all of them. We include all of them. We pay attention to all of them.
Where do we get the courage to hope that a united fellowship, full of the campuses’ diversity, is possible? We have one God who exists eternally in three persons. If Trinitarian unity stands at the foundation of our cosmos, it can stand at the center of our ministries. A Trinitarian vision inspires us to reach every corner of campus.
3) The Dance of Equality
There is no hierarchy in the Trinity. The Son glorifies the Father and the Father glorifies the Son. The Spirit glories Jesus. The gospel of John paints this picture of equality powerfully for us.
The Trinitarian doctrine that we affirm proclaims the one God in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit full of love and glory. Did you catch that in the doctrinal basis? “Full of love and glory.”
The Son and Spirit don’t lack glory. The Father doesn’t lack love. Far from it! The New Testament says he lavishes his love on us by sending his Son! They highlight and spotlight and exalt and serve each other. The ancients called the relationship perichoresis, but the best way to describe it is to think of it as a dance. They spin and whirl in a wild dance of love and trust until you can’t tell who’s leading and who’s following and all you know is that a great time is being had.
A refusal to dance the dance of equality challenges our movement. We ignore the genius of students, bar volunteers from joining us, and grasp for status when God wants us to live full of love and glory. Is there a better pattern for us to follow?
In my ministry’s best moments, I find the dance of equality. Who’s in charge? Who’s taking initiative? Who’s serving? Who’s being served? The answers switch back and forth rapidly. My students and teammates and I dance and dance and dance. We glow with God’s glory. We shine with love.
When we dance like this, we’re all on the same level. We’re in sync with each other. We’re not just having more fun; we’re also more efficient and more effective and more deeply engaged with God’s mission.
We need the triune God to teach us to dance.