What is Ministry?

Here is my second offering on the subject of ministry.  Again, comments and suggestions are welcome, encouraged even.

We ask: What is Ministry?

With last week’s working definition of a minister in hand, the next logical step is to define the role a minister plays.  This chapter solidifies our model of ministry that develops from who the minister is as a person as well as from his life as a Christian in love with God and in love with man.

There is difficulty in defining ministry.  This difficulty rests on the ambiguous way we use the words minister and ministry.  Bill Patterson correctly states that “Christ wants every member of His church of feel jointly responsible for the whole ministry of the church.”[1] A similar realization leads Greg Ogden to believe that discovering “the church as a living organism . . . church members have been called out of the audience to be players on the stage.”[2] To Ogden all God’s people are ministers.[3] These conclusions are correct.  However, there is a way in which some men are ministers in an official church capacity.  Patterson explains this official church order this way:

“God has provided for those  . . . who have certain talents that they have developed through training and experience, to be designated to special leadership ministries.  These particular ministries are I believe four in number; bishops, deacons, evangelists, and teachers. . . . I believe these are the four God-ordained, God-intended services that must always be maintained in Christ’s church.”[4]

Patterson continues saying that these specialized ministries and ministers must lead in equipping the rest of the church to serve in ministering their individual talents.  This special group of “God-ordained” ministers, and specifically the ministries of evangelism and teaching, is the focus of this philosophy.

What does evangelistic and teaching ministry concern?  Ideally, one serving in these specialized ministry roles will serve because of a love for God and for man that is the result of a God-focused and people-focused mindset.  This may seem an improbable situation.  How can one focus on God and people at the same time?  This apparent conundrum is not as difficult as one might suppose.  When one focuses on God he begins to see as God sees and love as God loves.  God sees individuals and loves each one of them.  The minister following God’s lead will in character see these individuals and love them to the point of wanting them to taste of eternal life with God.

The method that a minister accomplishes the above purpose is a method of service.  Service is the core of ministry. This service, of necessity, includes service to God, and also include service to man.  Ministry is not a position of power and prestige, but a thankless task of toil.  There will be moments of adulation, but ministry centered on God will belay such praise to the One for whom it is truly due (cf. Mt 5:16).  Jesus left us an example of service and tells his followers to follow his lead (Jn 13:15).

Ministry, to serve in leadership and to equip the church for service, manifests in four areas: (1) preaching, (2) teaching, (3) public leadership in worship, and (4) modeling the truths proclaimed.[5] We can observe Jesus and the apostles model these four areas in the Biblical texts.

We see teaching and preaching coinciding in their public life.  Matthew records, “And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction” (Mt 9:35).  Luke records that Peter and John when released from the Sanhedrin Council, “And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ” (Acts 5:42).  Public proclamation and teaching as ministry is sharing the news of salvation that comes from God through Jesus Christ.

Jesus took advantages of the opportunities the Synagogue system afforded him to lead in public worship.  While in Galilee, Jesus visited the Synagogue on the Sabbath and read as was his custom (cf. Lk 4:16).  The book of Acts is replete with examples of Paul speaking and leading in worship in the churches and in the synagogues (Acts 17:2; 20:7ff).  Ministry involves not only proclamation on the street corner or in market places, but also in the assembly of Christians as they gather to worship.  Ministry is not only proclamation in sermon, but also in song (Ep 5:19) and prayer.  The specialized minister participates and often leads in these forms of worship.

Paul instructs the young minister Timothy on the effective of youth on ministry.  Paul tells him, “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Tm 4:12).  The parameters of this chapter limit discussion of the particular areas of youthfulness, speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity.  Nevertheless, we still ascertain that part of ministry is living the truths that we teach from God’s word.  Ministers cannot afford to live in a way that detracts from the Truth or reflects an attitude of non-belief. Ministry demands faithfulness to the message.

The minister must realize he is a Servant of the Church (particularly the local congregation he serves).  There are also examples of this principle of servant leadership in both the Old and New Testament.  In the Old Testament we read of Ezra who descended from Aaron (Ezra 7:1-5), and received credentials from the king to return to Jerusalem (Ezra 7:6).  He had his heart set on learning God’s Law, “For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statures and rules in Israel” (Ezra 10:7).  As a spiritual leader, Ezra led in the restoration of the order of the Law.  He read the Law to the people and instructed them in understanding God’s will (cf. Ezra 8). He served alongside of those rebuilding Jerusalem.  The ultimate example of servant leadership is the example of Jesus recorded in our New Testaments.  Consider Jesus’ teaching and example of leadership in John 13.  In this context, Jesus the Master, the Word that became flesh puts a towel around his waste and stoops to the level of a foot-washing servant.  He instructs his followers on that day to lead in service.  Paul relates to his Philippian audience of Jesus’ extreme example of spiritual leadership (Phil 2:5-11).  Jesus, the Christ, gave up equality with God, became a servant, taking of the weaknesses of man.  This God-man became an obedient servant to the point of death.  Paul teaches his followers to have the same mentality.  Ministers are to lead by service.

This service is the essential core of ministry and there are multiple areas of service for located minister that differ from congregation to congregation.  There are however, some common areas of ministerial service. First, the minister is the Congregational Representative.  The preacher is the public face of the local congregation.  His presence at other congregations and in the community at large reflects on the congregation.  The preacher will be recognizable. This ambassadorship role should cause the minister to take care of his reputation.  A second area of service in most congregations is member visitation.  Every Christian should visit (Jas 1:27), yet not all occupations allow for such.  By virtue of being a Christian, being the “face of the congregation,” and the allowance of time a minister should do his best to visit with people, particularly those in time of need or distress.  As valuable and as desirable as visitation is to the congregation, a minister should take caution not to let visiting take away from preaching and teaching. The apostle Paul might suggest we “make the best use of your time” (Eph 5:15-17).  A third area of common service is overseeing weddings.  This is a veritable joy of preaching.  For young couple to invite you to participate in such a precious and pivotal moment in their lives is an honor.  Do all the weddings you can.  Take time with the couple beforehand helping them establish a solid foundation to build a lasting marriage.  When you participate in a wedding you build a bond with the man and woman that they will never forget.  A final common area in all congregations is the responsibility of conducting funerals.  Every funeral is unique, yet in each there is a grieving family.  There is opportunity at death to serve in ways that you will never serve anywhere else or at any other time.  Your presence at death when possible, your presence in the intervening day(s) before the funeral, your words at the funeral, and your comfort afterwards represent to the family the care of the congregation, the love you have for them, and in some way helps them to realize that God does care.

Ministry is not for the weak.  Ministers may live in meekness, gentleness, and kindness, but to do so as a servant, takes a strength of character that comes by faith.  Looking at ministers and ministry helps me to appreciate Paul’s thoughts from Philippians 4:12-13, “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

[1] Bill Patterson, Christian Ministry, Christian Bible Teacher, April 1973, 148.

[2] Greg Ogden, The New Reformation, (Grand Rapids: Ministry Resources Library of Zondervan, 1990), 19.

[3] Ibid., 20.

[4] Patterson, 151.

[5] Paul Tarrence, The Church in Ministry, (Due West, South Carolina: Erskine Theological Seminary, 1997), Addendum 2.

7 thoughts on “What is Ministry?

  1. Dear beloved Brethren
    Saint of the Most High, lovers of God, followers of Christ, slaves of the Gospel.

    To all of you who confess Christ before men in word and Good deeds. Grace and peace to you from God our Father and Christ our Lord. We praise the Lord for giving you and us great opportunities to preach the Gospel freely and for opening the hearts of His people.

    We are pleased and honored to let you know that your nurturing and nourishing website was a seed planted in our hearts and it will grow and bring forth much fruit . . . (Content edited SMc)

    We dedicate you and your ministry into the hands of God and request for your teaching materials, prayers and fellowship with our ministry.

    A ministry well done by His faithful servants brings GLORY to Christ.

    Deeply in His grace

    Isaya Bwarumbi Mongeri

  2. Dear Brother,

    Thanks for your reply and for your encouraging words to me. I pray that the Lord blesses all efforts across our globe that are in His Name. I pray that His word and His Church (Kingdom) will continue to spread as we take the message of salvation through His Son to the world.



  3. Dear Scott,

    I am not sure I agree with you on a few points. I understand that you may have been going for a broad general scope of the points without having to fill in all the qualifiers.

    I do not believe that the minister is the congregational representative. I, as a minister, do not go to other congregations to be a representative for my congregation. I am not there so other people don’t have to go. I go because I am setting the example of Christian service.

    I do not believe that the minister is the visitation coordinator or however you want to put it. Too often do I see members forsaking their duty to visit because I, the minister, make visits. I am not their replacement. They do not pay me to do the visiting for them.

    The following comment is not directed as an attack on you but it is my general feeling as I examine the scriptures and observe the ministerial concept. What you are describing is a denominational pastor. This is not the ministerial concept we find in the Bible. Rather this what the denominational world teaches their pastors to do. The church of Christ has just adopted it because no one taught preachers and congregations what they are supposed to do. Also, doing these things is easier than preaching the gospel on street corners and in market places so preachers adopted this system to make their jobs easier.

    Acts 6 shows us that a minister in visitation and caring for widows and the like is done by deacons.
    Acts 20 shows us the necessity of the elders to be the ones who are shepherding the congregation, making visits to hospitals, and exhorting the brethren.

    I understand that there are some qualifiers to this because as Christian I do make some visits and do go to the hospital.

    But the more I study the word the more I am convinced that I must throw away this ministerial concept and focus on what the Bible tells me is my job as the preacher. Paul never tells Timothy to be the congregational representative or the congregational visitor. Rather he tells Timothy to preach the word and be evangelistic and be fighting for the truth against paganism.

    I certainly want you to know that I am in no way attacking you but I feel very strongly about this and wanted to put my 2 cents in. I know it is difficult writing your own blog and sometimes the comments can be harsh.

    However, I implore you to think about what I have said.

    I do appreciate your work and dedication to God. Please to not take this too harshly, I only intended it to be something for people to chew on.

  4. Mitch,

    Thank you. I actually agree with you in principle. I as a minister do not visit because I am the preacher and I do not attend events at other congregations so that the members do not have to attend. I emphasize regularly that each member is a “minister” – cf. 1 Pt 4:10 and that as such each should be about different areas of service. I was apparently unsuccessful in my post of saying that our schedules as ministers affords us more opportunity to do some of this visiting and that we cannot let visitation detract from our main responsibility of preaching the truth.

    As for your understanding of “congregational representative” you have convinced me that I need to reword that section. I did not mean to say that we are the replacement for others presence. I was trying (obviously feebly) to say that by default we become the face of the congregation. It is the nature of being the person who stands up to speak most of the time. I see this when other ministers visit for meetings and are asked to lead prayer. This fact of recognition places a responsibility on the located preacher to live as Paul might say as “an example to the believers.”

    I will, if I ever publish this material anywhere other than this blog, to rework this section.

    Thanks again.

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