What Is Ministry?
- Robert Hampshire Christianity.com Contributing Writer
- 2020 31 Mar
For most of my life, the word “ministry” was reserved for the elite, extra-spiritual pastors among us. People were “called to the ministry” and “doing ministry” in ways that always seemed to be in front of a crowd, preferably with a microphone.
The only exception was when we watched a slideshow of missionaries overseas “doing ministry” among unreached people. And even for me, when I was growing up, I felt a “call to ministry” that meant I was going to preach to people. In some ways, the idea of ministry was actually blown out of proportion.
But then, as I got older and actually began to be in ministry myself, as a pastor, I realized that my mentality and beliefs about ministry were irresponsibly too narrow and unbiblical. To be honest, there have even been times that I went too far and minimized the work of the ministry. So, as with most things in life, we need to find the right balance.
I am at the point now where I believe (with the risk of sounding irreverent) that every follower of Christ is essentially “called to the ministry” because ministry is simply what we do for God.
What Is Ministry in the Bible?
Let me explain this from Scripture. In Acts 6, there was a situation going on in the First Church that caused the apostles to step forward and make a big organizational decision. Luke records:
Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them. And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith (Acts 6:1-7).
If you study the language in this passage, beyond the surface a little, you will notice that in verse four, when the apostles said that they needed to devote themselves to the “ministry of the Word,” the word “ministry,” in the Greek, is essentially the same word used for “serving tables” — that they needed other people to do in verse two — and the word means, very simply, to serve or execute the command of someone else.
To be clear, this is not involuntary enslavement or subordination, but a willful, gift-oriented, and calling-based use of one’s ability to serve others. Similarly, we read, much later, in Acts 20 that Paul told the Elders in Ephesus:
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).
Or we could even go back to the Old Testament and read about the ministry of the prophets in passages like Hosea 12:10.
But no matter where we look, we find that the word “ministry” in Scripture means a type of general service.
What Is the Purpose of Ministry in the Church?
So, does that mean that there is no distinction between any type of ministry and that no matter what we do (whether it is serving tables, teaching Scripture, taking out the trash, or watching kids) is all equal in importance?
No way — there are definitely orders of importance. In fact, I will declare that the proclamation of the Word of God and (even more specifically) the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the most important task, service, or ministry that we can provide to others.
However, that does not mean that everything else that is done in conjunction with that (such as the ministry of helping the widows as needed to be done in Acts 6 or whatever we do today). But it does mean that the main goal for every believer, every church, and every organized ministry with the church must be to work together to proclaim the gospel to the world around us with our actions as well as words, so that, through the church, the “…manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 3:10).
So, we are all called to do ministry and even minister, but in all kinds of different ways so that the gospel can be proclaimed, the kingdom can be built, and God can be glorified. The important distinction between what kind of ministry we do is not who we are, what job we do, or even what abilities we have — it is the calling of God.
God is the only hero in our story, the gospel is the only idea that is profound, and how He calls us, equips us, and chooses to use us in His ministry is one of His many acts of grace upon us and the world. To have any other kind of order of importance leans us toward idolatry.
This idea is echoed in Paul’s description of the Church as a “body” in 1 Corinthians 12-14. While some of us may be in more obvious, vocal, or even leadership roles, we must remember that we are all simply members of a body with Jesus as the head. That is not to say that we are not important in God’s Church, but we are certainly not as important as we think!
What Does This Mean?
Therefore, ministry is what we do for God’s glory based on where He has placed us, how He has gifted us, and what He has called us to do according to His infinite wisdom and for the proclamation of the gospel.
As Todd Wilson wrote in More, “God the Creator has uniquely designed each of us to function in ways that bring us purpose and significance... God equips us with a unique calling to play a specific role in accomplishing his mission on earth as we make disciples.”
Along with the worship of God, community or fellowship of believers, and missions or evangelism, ministry is one of the pillars of the New Testament church. It is not the calling of some, but the privilege of all believers. It is how we can “…serve one another in love” (Galatians 5:13).
Ministry is about giving of ourselves and our time, talents, and resources to bless and help others. The cry of the minister is “someone’s got to do it, might as well be me.” When we serve in ministry, we will find our greatest joy and most fulfillment in life.
©iStock/Getty Images Plus/BrianAJackson
Robert Hampshire is a pastor, teacher, writer, and leader. He has been married to Rebecca since 2008 and has three children, Brooklyn, Bryson, and Abram. Robert attended North Greenville University in South Carolina for his undergraduate and Liberty University in Virginia for his Masters. He has served in a variety of roles as a worship pastor, youth pastor, family pastor, and most recently as the Lead Pastor and Planter of Village Church in Churchville, Virginia. He furthers his ministry through his blog site, Faithful Thinking. His life goal is to serve God and His Church by reaching the lost with the Gospel, making devoted disciples, equipping and empowering others to go further in their faith and calling, and leading a culture of multiplication for the glory of God. Find out more about him here.