So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.
A friend of mine is an outstanding pastor. He is deeply committed to helping his people live as disciples of Jesus in every part of life, including their daily work. More than most pastors I know, my friend gets the vital relationship between faith and work, the necessary connection between Sunday and Monday.
But my friend continues to talk about pastors as being called into “the ministry.” “The ministry,” in my friend’s vocabulary, is what pastors do. It’s not what everybody else does. “The ministry” is the domain of ordained church leaders. Period.
As you would expect, I have problems with my friend’s use of language. I cringe every time I hear him speak of “the ministry” as church work. Why do I cringe? There are two main reasons.
First, Scripture does not limit the use of the word “ministry” to the things ordained pastors do. In fact, the church didn’t have ordained pastors during the first years after Christ. The New Testament language for ministry includes all of God’s people. So, as we have seen in Ephesians 4, the leaders of the church, people like pastor-teachers, are to equip all of God’s people for the ministry. We are all called to serve the Lord and to serve others in his name. That’s what ministry is all about. So, using “the ministry” as a label for pastoral work is not a faithful reflection of biblical teaching.
Second, I cringe when my friend speaks of pastoring as “the ministry” because, by doing this, he dismisses the true ministry of the vast majority of God’s people, those who are not pastors. His language in fact profoundly contradicts his own convictions about the people of God serving God in the world, in their daily work and every other context of life.
How should my friend talk in order to be faithful to Scripture and to rightly honor the ministry of all Christians? It really isn’t that tricky. He should refer to pastors as being called into “pastoral ministry.” All Christians are called into “the ministry.” But only some are called into pastoral ministry… and also business ministry, educational ministry, government ministry, medical ministry, parental ministry, artistic ministry, etc.
My friend might prefer to speak of pastoral ministry as “gospel ministry.” This is not much of an improvement, however. “Gospel teaching ministry” or “gospel preaching ministry” would be fine. But all Christians are to live out the good news of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. All of us are to embody this good news in our work, no matter the context.
So, wherever you are working today, whether in an office or a warehouse, a classroom or a sanctuary, a studio or a store, a soccer field or a kitchen, know that you are in “the ministry.” You are a minister of Christ, called into his service, called to live for the praise of his glory in everything you do.
Something to Think About:
What do you think about my friend’s use of “the ministry”? Do you speak as he does? If so, why? If not, why not?
Do you believe you are called into the ministry of Christ? Why or why not?
How would you act differently in your daily work if you took seriously the fact that you are in the ministry of Christ?
Something to Do:
Just because you are in the ministry of Christ, this doesn’t mean you have to put Bible verses up on your wall at work or start talking like a pastor. In fact, you should probably avoid these things. Being in the ministry isn’t becoming more churchy. It’s doing everything in your life as an expression of service to God. It’s serving the people in your life in God’s name. So, do “the ministry” today as the Spirit of God leads you.
Gracious God, thank you for calling all of us into your ministry. Thank you for the privilege of serving you and serving people in your name. Help us, Lord, to use language in a way that underlines the truth of our call to ministry. And may we live our lives as your ministers each day, each minute. To you be all the glory. Amen.