If you listen closely, you can almost hear the evangelical church hijacking the term “ministry.” In one such misappropriation a pastor approaches a younger man who happens to love Jesus, furrows his brow, and probes, “Young man, have you been called to the ministry?” as if it were a choice to be wrestled with. In other cases, whenever a young evangelical picks up a new hobby, he or she baptizes aforementioned recreation by strategically placing the term “ministry” alongside it. So, now Saturday frisbee golf with the guys becomes a 501c3 entitled Disc Discipleship Ministry (by the way, if interested, write firstname.lastname@example.org).
Thankfully, the Scriptures renew our thinking. The English Standard Version uses the term ministry in twenty-five verses, with most of those instances being a translation of the Greek word diakonos. In Acts 6 the disciples used ministry language to explain the rationale behind establishing proto–deacons, “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4). In Paul’s farewell to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20, he asserts, “But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24). If we draw any conclusions from those texts, ministry should be profoundly related to the gospel revealed in the word of God.
Elsewhere, ministry describes believer’s service one to another. After the church at Corinth sent a financial gift to another congregation, Paul writes to the church: “For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God” (2 Cor 9:12). In that context the Corinthians ministered to, or served another by providing for them in a time of need. The God-centeredness of this ministry finds its expression in the saints “overflowing in many thanksgivings to God” for this ministry.
The question remains: Do only a select few participate in ministry? These texts clearly show the Apostle Paul and the church at Corinth engaged in ministry, but what about everyone else? Note Ephesians 4 where Paul speaks of what Christ gave the church: “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, . . .” (Eph 4:11). In that great epistle, Paul emphasizes that one of the main roles in any pastor’s ministry is to equip others for the work of ministry.
The ministry of the gospel shows no favoritism within the church. Regeneration proves to be the only prerequisite. Ephesians 4:11 goes on to say that this equipping of the saints for the work of ministry is “for building up the body of Christ.” Rather than correlation, the language in that text is one of causation. As the church engages in ministry, the body of Christ is built up.
In summary, the foundation of ministry lies in the gospel revealed by God in his word. The agents of ministry are the people of God redeemed by this gospel. These agents serve one another and, in the ministry of reconciliation, the unbelieving world.
This brief study leaves out many of the other instances where the Scriptures describe ministry. However, theologians and church practitioners historically have established categories for ministry based on biblical passages. Dr. John Hammett, ecclesiologist and professor at Southeastern Seminary, lists five ministries of the church based on Acts 2: worship, teaching, fellowship, service, and evangelism.
I’ll conclude this post with a few questions based on those categories:
- How might you encourage another in our congregation to worship God? What are the concrete steps you can take in another’s life to stir their affections for Christ and his gospel?
- How might you engage in the ministry of teaching? Unfortunately, we’ve relegated teaching to what happens behind a music stand or when one is wearing a microphone. But as you well know, teaching happens in informal conversations, sometimes over coffee, and as one mother observes another. Serve the Word in whatever context you find yourself.
- How might you deepen your fellowship with other saints? Evaluate your relationships within the body of Christ. Is there someone in 2013 that you’ve made an effort to know betterthan you did in 2012? Gospel relationships rarely materialize without gospel intentionality.
- How might you serve another within the body at South Woods? There is enough ministry on your pew (or padded row of seats) to keep you busy for years. Lack of ministry opportunity often stems from a lack of ministry vision.
To return to our opening, we do a disservice to the Scriptures when we limit teaching, fellowship, service, evangelism, and worship to those in “full–time ministry.” In this broader sense being called out of darkness by the light of the gospel calls one into the ministry. Conversely, we also distort “ministry” when we make it broader than the Scriptures intend. As the evangelical church engages in her hobbies apart from any reference to Christ or the word of God, we must be leery of defining those activities as “ministry.”
Though I jokingly referenced Disc Discipleship in the opening, limiting ministry to that which occurs within “sacred space” (whatever that means) furthers a false dichotomy. When I was in college I played disc golf regularly with one of my mentors in the faith, Malcolm Rios. Before each hole, he’d ask my friends and me some question about the word of God, about Christ, or about living out the gospel. That question would inevitably frame our discussion through the next few errant heaves. In my mind, Malcolm ministered to us. The frisbee did not make it so.
 We’ll save evangelism for next week’s post on missions.