Most of us think of ministry as the work done by pastors, missionaries, Christian conference speakers, or evangelists. We rarely think of work done by bankers, lawyers, engineers, or homemakers. We typically believe that those who get their paychecks from a church or other Christian organization are the ones who “do” ministry, while the rest of us are those to whom ministry is “done.” In this session and throughout this study, we hope to change this common but faulty way of thinking. We want to expand your vision of ministry so that you come to view all you do, regardless of your occupation, as what it can and ought to be—ministry that glorifies God and influences other people.
Individual Aim: To consider a more holistic concept of ministry and how it relates to your everyday life.
Group Aim: To think together about ways in which group members’ lives can become more ministry focused.
Read Session 1: Expanding Your Concept of Ministry.
Complete the Life Vision: Personal Inventory, Part I exercise beginning on page 77.
Complete Biblical Exercise: 1 Peter 4 beginning on page 25.
The idea that service to God should have only to do with a church altar, singing, reading, sacrifice, and the like is without doubt but the worst trick of the devil. How could the devil have led us more effectively astray than by the narrow conception that the service of God takes place only in the church and by works done therein.
The whole world could abound with services to the Lord
not only in churches but also in the home, kitchen, workshop, and field.
The great reformer Martin Luther understood that ministry is more than just work done by pastors. Throughout this study, we will be using the term ministry in a way that is much broader than the way the term is usually used. Our definition of ministry is “the faithful service of God’s people rendered unto God and others on His behalf to bring Him glory, build up His church, and reach out to His world.” Let’s look at this definition in more detail.
The Greek word in the New Testament that is often translated as “ministry” is diakonia. The basic meaning of this word is “service.” It can refer to tasks as basic as waiting tables (see Acts 6:1), caring for the poor through monetary gifts (see 2 Corinthians 9:12), or proclaiming the gospel (see Acts 20:24). The term is not limited to the service of a select few appointed to particular offices within the church. In fact, the exact opposite is the case. Paul said that those who hold offices in the church are given gifts for the purpose of enabling all of God’s people to do ministry:
It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service [diakonia], so that the body of Christ may be built up. (Ephesians 4:11-12)
The leaders of the church are not the only ones doing the work of service or ministry. The leaders are given to the church for the purpose of preparing every member to do the ministry––to render service to the Lord, to the church, and to the world.
In our fast-paced, high-tech world, we often fail to recognize that God is intricately involved in the details of our lives. Yet not only is God involved in our humdrum routines, but He also wants us to be aware of and responsive to His presence:
So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31, emphasis added)
And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:17, emphasis added)
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. (Colossians 3:23-24, emphasis added)
Each of these exhortations from Paul’s letters uses the phrase “whatever you do.” This all-inclusive phrase points out that God wants to be prominent in our lives, in both the so-called “significant” things we do as well as the mundane things. We rarely think God is terribly concerned with our day-to-day activities in the boardroom, the classroom, or the laundry room, yet when our work is done “for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31), “in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Colossians 3:17), and “as working for the Lord” (Colossians 3:23), our work becomes an act of worship. Our work, however grand or trivial, becomes ministry.
The ultimate example of ministry is Jesus Christ Himself. In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he told his readers that their attitude toward each other “should be the same as that of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5). Paul went on to describe the kind of attitude he was referring to:
[Christ Jesus], being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death––even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:6-8)
Jesus set aside the glory due Him and took on the form of a slave. His entire life on earth, and ultimately His death on the cross, was others-oriented. Paul’s admonition to the Philippians and to all of us as Christians is to imitate this others-orientation. This is particularly challenging in our culture, which is consumed with self.
For example, this cultural preoccupation often dominates our view of the way we make a living. We often think of our jobs in terms of the financial benefits they provide for us and our families. This isn’t necessarily wrong, but we also ought to consider how our work can benefit others—either customers who benefit from our goods or services, or perhaps our coworkers, whose lives we can affect by serving them in times of need. If we are to imitate Jesus and thereby do the work of ministry to which we have all been called, we must learn to look at life with an others-orientation in our workplaces, our homes, our churches, and every other arena.
The Westminster Shorter Catechism begins, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” If this confession is true of all of humanity collectively and of each human being individually, then it should also be true of the pieces that make up the whole of our lives—from the way we parent to the way we play, from the time we spend “on the clock” to the time we spend at the dinner table.
In the passage from 1 Corinthians quoted earlier, Paul said that activities as simple as eating and drinking can and should be done “for the glory of God” (10:31). God is glorified when we do anything with thankfulness, integrity, and our whole hearts. Thankfulness comes from a recognition that all we have and all we are able to accomplish comes from God. We fail to be thankful and to glorify God when we act and think as though we are self-sufficient rather than utterly dependent on Him.
Likewise, we live with integrity when our thoughts and actions are consistent with God’s ethical intentions for His people. We compromise our integrity when our desires conflict with God’s intentions.
Wholeheartedness means focusing on giving our best in all we do, not for the accolades we might receive but out of a desire to do what we do as unto Christ (see Colossians 3:23). As we go about our daily tasks with thankfulness, integrity, and wholeheartedness, God sees and is pleased. Others see and His reputation is enhanced—He is glorified. When we seek to glorify God in all we do, all we do becomes ministry.
Each of us has a special responsibility and has been uniquely gifted to minister to others. In his book Redeeming the Routines, theologian Robert Banks likens the coming together of believers in a local church to the gathering of children for a birthday party. Everyone brings a gift; the only difference is that in the church, the gifts aren’t for one person but for everyone.
The New Testament makes it clear that all who have been born of the Spirit have been endowed with a spiritual gift (or perhaps multiple gifts). The main point of the New Testament discussion of spiritual gifts is that each of us, as individual members of the body, needs the contribution of the entire body and conversely the entire body needs the contribution of each individual member. Each of us in the body of Christ has needs, and each has something to contribute to others’ needs.
As we come to see that as Christians we are all called to do ministry, we ought to reflect upon how God has designed and gifted us to build up His church. We will visit this issue of design and giftedness again in later sessions.
In the book of Genesis, God gave a set of covenant promises to Abraham and his descendants. He promised that He would bless them and that through them He would bless “all peoples on earth” (Genesis 12:3; 28:14). Throughout Old Testament times, God wanted His people to be a missionary people who would visibly demonstrate to the pagan world around them that the Lord alone was the one true God. As God’s beloved people, Israel had both a blessing and a purpose––to make God known to the world. Psalm 67 captures these two themes of blessing and purpose:
May God be gracious to us and bless us
and make his face shine upon us,
that your ways may be known on earth,
your salvation among all nations.
May the peoples praise you, O God;
may all the peoples praise you.
May the nations be glad and sing for joy,
for you rule the peoples justly
and guide the nations of the earth.
May the peoples praise you, O God;
may all the peoples praise you.
Then the land will yield its harvest,
and God, our God, will bless us.
God will bless us,
and all the ends of the earth will fear him.
These same themes of blessing and purpose apply to Christians as well. We have been richly blessed through Christ and have been given a responsibility to spread the good news of His life, death, and resurrection. This is not a job reserved for a select few; it is God’s purpose for every Christian. Certainly God has uniquely designed some to take the message of Christ to people in the far reaches of the world, but all of us have our own “mission fields” in our homes, neighborhoods, places of employment, and the like. It is our responsibility to spread the gospel with our words and live out the gospel with our lives.
In his book The Other Six Days, R. Paul Stevens writes,
Throughout most of its history the church has been composed of two categories of people, those who are ministers and those who are not. Ministry has been defined as what the pastor does, not in terms of being servants of God and God’s purposes in the marketplace, the church, the home, the school or professional office. Going into “the Lord’s work” means becoming a pastor or a missionary, not being coworkers with God in his creating, sustaining, redeeming and consummating work both in the church and in the world.
Our goal in this session and throughout this study is to present a different view of ministry, one more consistent with the teaching of Scripture. We do “the Lord’s work” when we do whatever we do for the glory of God and the good of others.
Read 1 Peter 4:1-11. Also, review “A Method for the Biblical Exercises” beginning on page 17.
1. Who are the persons (including God) in the passage? What is the condition of those persons?
2. What subjects did Peter discuss in the passage? What did he assert?
3. Note the sequence in which Peter made these assertions. (You might number them in order.)
4. What did Peter emphasize? Are there repeated ideas and themes? How are the various parts related?
5. Why did Peter write this passage? (Did he say anything about ways he expected the reader to change after reading it?)
1. Coming to Terms—Are there any words in the passage that you don’t understand? Write down anything you found confusing about the passage.
2. Finding Where It Fits—What clues does the Bible give about the meaning of this passage?
3. Getting into Their Sandals—An Exercise in Imagination
1. What is the timeless truth in the passage? In one or two sentences, write down what you learned about God from 1 Peter 4.
2. How does that truth work today?
1. What can I do to make it real for myself?
2. For my family?
3. For my friends?
4. For the people who live near me?
5. For the rest of the world?
Read Session 2: Ours for Others.
Complete the Life Vision: Personal Inventory, Part II exercise beginning on page 83.