What is ministry?
A question I’ve pondered quite a bit since I first became a Christian in 2008. The Western Church’s definition of ministry is essentially a vocational office held by a paid, educated professional. But what’s the definition within the context of Scripture–especially that of the New Testament?
Typically, when we hear the word ministry, we think pastor, preacher, church planter, evangelist, maybe even prophet or Christian writer. But do we ever think of someone serving tables at a party? Or a woman preparing a meal for some guests? If I’m honest, I most certainly do not. However, that’s exactly the word used in Luke 10:40.
But Martha was distracted with much serving (διακονίαν, aka ‘ministering’) and she approached Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve (διακονίαν) alone? Therefore tell her to help me.” -Luke 10:40 (NKJV)
Martha was a busy woman. But she wasn’t praying or preaching, she was serving. Now, I’m no biblical scholar, but I’m a bit of a bible/book nerd. As far as I can tell, anytime within the NT that the Greek word διακονίαν (diakonia) is used, it can be replaced by the word serve or service.
So “ministry” doesn’t have to mean an official position within an organization or church. It doesn’t have to be a vocation, or even a part-time means of income. Also, it doesn’t take a Masters in Theology to minister (serve) your fellow Christian, neighbor, co-worker, or spouse. All that is required is a sincere heart towards God’s people.
The Young Christian Dilemma
Most Christians are officially converted, according to The National Association of Evangelicals, at a whopping 63% before the age of 14 years old. That combined with the 34% converted between the ages of 15 & 29, means that 97% of American Evangelicals were converted before they turned 30, and most of them before they were 18.
The majority of the respondents (63 percent) accepted Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord while they were 4-14 years old, in what is known as the 4/14 Window. –National Association of Evangelicals (NAE)
So a large majority of young Americans (these numbers translate well in most Western nations) are converted at a very young age. Hallelujah, amen! I’m all for that. I was converted at age 19. However, the thing with teenagers and people in their early 20’s is that they have a lot of energy and enthusiasm. They’re also quite zealous for their cause. Nothing wrong with this, most of Jesus’ converts were in their late teens to early 20’s most likely.
But often, this leads a young man or woman who feels called to some type of ministry or service to God to believe there are only two options:
- Go to seminary and earn a degree in order to land a job as a full-time pastor, missionary, or worship leader.
- Go into some type of “secular” career like a construction worker, mechanic, doctor, architect, accountant, oilfield worker, etc.
Sadly, many will feel as though option 2 is somehow lesser in the eyes of God than option 1. But is this the case?
The Example of Paul
Not many Christians will debate that Paul of Tarsus was probably Christianity’s greatest church-planter, evangelist, author, apostle, and missionary in terms of sheer numbers and zeal. He really set the bar for the succeeding generations of God’s servants. Most of Christian theology is based on the writings of Paul (1/3 of the New Testament). So let’s see how he viewed “secular” service (ministry) to service to God.
We know from Acts 18:3 that this incredible apostle was a lowly tent-maker. Also he claims to the church in Thessalonica:
“…nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you.” (2 Thessalonians 3:8 NIV)
“…and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you…” (1 Thessalonians 4:11 NIV)
So it would appear as if Paul placed a very high value on work and labor. You could even say, in his mind, there was no secular/sacred divide. “No matter what you do, do all things to the glory of God,” he said in another place (Col. 3:17).
All This to Say What, Exactly?
There is a real need for educated theologians, missionaries, scholars, pastors, and teachers. So please, don’t take me the wrong way. In fact, if it were up to me, I’d go to seminary and earn a Doctorate and read and write books all day. But that’s not my calling. Nor is it the calling of a large portion of Christians (say, 96% of us).
But is a pastor’s service (ministry) more important, or more beneficial to the Body of Christ as say, a blue-collar worker, who leads his family in the most godly way he knows how? Is an Oxford educated theologian and author more able to receive divine revelation than a janitor that reads theological books and bible expositions in his/her spare time? Does a single mom posses less of the Holy Spirit than a mega-church worship leader? How much more is a great teacher worth than a humble elderly couple that feeds the local poor on their own dime?
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that, quite possibly, a sincere man or woman that loves and serves God’s people (or even ‘sinners’) can quite easily make a much deeper, and significant impact on the life of another person than even the best preacher. And I believe any pastor/preacher worth his/her salt will agree. I’m certainly open for dialogue if you disagree.
All that to say this: even without a degree, a paid position, an office, or an official title, you dear follower of Christ are called to be a minister, a servant. Whether you read stories to your kids at night, do the dishes for your spouse, work on cars, put in 60+ hours a week at a factory, or any other noble vocation or craft, you are “the light of the world,” the “salt of the earth.”
This post is to the layman that might feel as if he/she isn’t “doing enough for God” or feels guilty for not “evangelizing more at work” or any other such false guilt. This post is for me. This post is also for the clergyman that truly serves God with a sincere, honest heart. A pastor that isn’t afraid to get his/her hands dirty when dealing with the people of God or the people of this world.
Remember one thing: Jesus was a lowly carpenter for 30 years of His life. He was only a Teacher (Rabbi) for about 3 1/2 years.
**PLEASE NOTE: This article is not in any way bashing the truly noble calling of the clergy. I have the utmost respect for church leaders (including my own at my church), I honestly couldn’t do what you do.