3. How to Have a MinistryRelated Media
October 28, 1979
For a number of years I have helped supervise theological students in our church who have participated in our seminary intern program. Invariably, these and other seminarians ask me, “How can I have a ministry in our church?” In a traditional church the answer is not very complicated. The church simply outlines a number of job descriptions and the seminarian simply chooses one. I do not wish to criticize this method, for many have been greatly blessed by the contribution of men in churches that take a more traditional approach to ministry.
The problem I have with this is that no church can give anyone a ministry; neither can it bestow upon the Christian a particular spiritual gift nor determine the effectiveness of a ministry. This is a divine prerogative.
4 Now there are different gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 And there are different ministries, but the same Lord. 6 And there are different results, but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. (1 Corinthians 12:4‑6).2
As I understand this passage in the context of New Testament teaching, it is the Holy Spirit Who sovereignly bestows gifts on men; it is the Lord who directs men to their ministry; it is God Who determines the success of a ministry.
I would like to believe that every Christian who is a part of the church of our Lord desires to be used effectively in the work of the ministry. For this reason, we will endeavor in this message to give a biblical word of counsel on the subject, “How to Have a Ministry.”
The Relationship Between Spiritual Gifts and Ministry
There are two reasons (for some, they are merely excuses) generally given for not having a ministry:
1. “That’s not my spiritual gift.”
2. “I don’t know my spiritual gift.”
Each of these statements reflects a misconception of the relationship between one’s spiritual gift and one’s ministry as a Christian. We must begin by defining several terms.
- Spiritual Gift: A supernatural endowment of the Holy Spirit whereby every Christian is empowered to perform a certain function which edifies the church and glorifies God. In short, it is the supernatural ability to serve God by a particular activity (cf. 1 Corinthians 12; Romans 12:38).
- General Ministry: The obligations to minister to others which are common to any and every Christian, regardless of one’s spiritual gift or calling (cf. Romans 12:9‑15; Galatians 6:2,6,10).
- Specific Ministry: That unique ministry for which each Christian is gifted and to which he or she is individually called (cf. Romans 12:6‑8; Colossians 4:17; 2 Timothy 4:5).
Having defined our terms, we must go on to clarify the relationship of these three aspects of Christian service to each other. This can best be done by understanding several biblical principles regarding ministry.
1. General ministry is every Christian’s duty, regardless of their spiritual gift.
Many Christians excuse themselves from a certain Christian ministry because they tell us it is not their gift. That doesn’t really make much difference. Our obligation is to obey the commands of Scripture. Biblical imperatives must be followed, regardless of our spiritual gift. Our spiritual gift equips us for a particular ministry, but it does not excuse us from every other ministry.
The relationship between our responsibility toward general ministry and the exercise of our spiritual gift is can be illustrated by my college education. In college, I majored in Political Science. I took many courses in this field, but not all of my courses were in my major field. The school I attended prescribed a course of study which included a considerable number of “general requirement” courses, such as English history, sociology, etc. Many Christians want to minister only in the area of their gift, but God has general requirements as well. These requirements I have labeled “general ministry.”
2. General ministry is the key to discovering your spiritual gift(s) and particular ministry.
Many have erroneously concluded that the Christian cannot have a ministry until he or she has determined their spiritual gift. I fear that this idea has been the result of much emphasis on “discovering and developing your spiritual gift,” a theme that has been very popular among Bible teachers in recent years. Christians are waiting to discover their gifts before they begin to minister. They have succeeded in reversing God’s order.
We have already stated that general ministry is your Christian duty, regardless of your spiritual gift(s). Do you know what your gift is? That is no excuse for failing to minister in a general way. Do you not yet know your gift? That should in no way keep you from ministering generally either.
But more than this, being obedient and faithful in general ministry will enable you to determine your spiritual gift(s) and specific ministry. This is so obvious it has been overlooked by many Christians.
How could I possibly know if I had any musical abilities if I never tried to sing or to play an instrument? If I avoided any sports until I knew I had athletic abilities, I would never do anything in this area. Yet this is precisely what Christians are doing. They are waiting to minister until they are assured of their abilities to serve.
The Spirit of God is at work in the life and (general) ministry of every Christian. God is at work in us, “. . . both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). It is only as we engage in ministry to one another that we will discover the God-given potential we have for ministry. Christians are going to seminars, reading books, and trying all kinds of formulas when the key to Christian living is to simply trust and obey. I don’t mean to suggest that all this is wrong, but it should never replace simple obedience to what we know we are commanded to do.
God’s Word tells us that every Christian has a spiritual gift (1 Corinthians 12:7, 11; 1 Peter 4:10). If you are a born‑again Christian, then you have at least one gift. In this regard you must trust God and believe His Word.
Among the many commands to minister, God’s Word instructs every Christian to admonish (Romans 15:14), to encourage or exhort (Hebrews 10:25), to witness (Colossians 4:5‑6; 1 Peter 3:15), and to help (1 Thessalonians 5:14) one another. We must either obey these instructions (and others like them), or become disobedient children.
What I want you to see is this. It is not without great significance that every permanent spiritual gift3 mentioned in the New Testament is paralleled by a corollary function that is the duty (the general ministry) of every Christian (see chart). While I cannot say with certainty that the New Testament identifies every spiritual gift, I am convinced that any other gifts not specified would have corresponding universal imperatives.
The implications of this are exciting. Every function of ministry in the body of Christ is the obligation, to some degree, of every Christian. For every vital function of the church, there are some who are specially gifted to perform this function. The way for any Christian to discover his or her gift is to obey the Scriptures, carry out these functions to the best of their ability, and then to determine that ministry which God most blesses. How then does one discover their spiritual gift? The answer: By obeying the imperatives of the Bible related to general ministry.
3. Determine your spiritual gift on the basis of your specific ministry, and not that of other Christians.
I have suggested that as a result of fulfilling your general ministry your spiritual gifts will become evident. Let me explore this further, with a word of warning as well. If you are faithful to respond to the opportunities for ministry before you, it will soon be evident that you do not do all things equally well. This is no reason to excuse yourself from every form of ministry, but it certainly tells you the areas of service upon which you should concentrate. Out of your general ministry, a more particular ministry will most likely emerge. It will probably be a ministry that is unique and that others do not seem to be burdened to carry on. Not only will your ministry become evident, but you should be more able to identify the spiritual gift which equips you for your ministry. I am convinced that it is by ministering to others that we find “our ministry” and also come to recognize the spiritual gift(s) with which the Spirit of God has empowered us.
Let us be careful about attempting to discern our gifts by comparing our ministry with those of others.
Very often, we define spiritual gifts in terms of the ministry of well-known servants of God. Billy Graham obviously has the gift of evangelism. When we think of the gift of faith a man like George Mueller comes to our minds. Teaching is the gift of John McArthur.
Now these may well be the gifts of these great men, but we need to recognize that there are additional factors to consider. Each Christian possesses a spiritual gift, but also they have a specific ministry and a particular degree of effectiveness. We might conclude that we do not have the gift of evangelism simply because we do not preach to large audiences from a stadium and have thousands respond. We may be wrongly comparing our ministry and effectiveness with some of the giants of the Christian faith (see 2 Corinthians 10:12). No wonder most of us have concluded we must not have any gift!
In 1 Corinthians 12:4‑6, Paul tells us that there are not only diversities of gifts (v. 4) but also of ministries (v. 5) and of levels of success (v. 6). Out of 100 men who are gifted as evangelists, only 10 may have a public ministry, and only 1 may have a ministry of national or international prominence. It is wrong for the 99 to conclude that they do not possess the gift of evangelism because another believer has a prominent public ministry in which many come to Christ. Let us be very careful to define spiritual gifts from Scripture and not from the experiences of others.
I would suggest that you begin by defining each spiritual gift in the broadest terms. For example, “the gift of teaching is the supernatural ability to communicate the truth of the Word of God.” Recognize that this gift will be evidenced in a wide variety of ministries. One may teach from the pulpit of a church, another like Bill Gothard, from a large coliseum. One may teach Hebrew in a seminary; another may teach a group of inmates in a prison or in a small home Bible study, or informally on the job, during lunch hour discussions.
We should also seek to define the various spiritual gifts in terms of results, rather than merely in terms of methods. The gift of teaching is not only to be defined in terms of the act of teaching (which has many forms), but in terms of the fruit. The gift of teaching is most evident when people are enriched in their understanding of the Word of God. Some of the most gifted people I know don’t necessarily do the things I would associate with their gift, but the fruit of their ministry is obvious. Don’t think in terms of the forms of ministry as much as in terms of the fruits of ministry.
Only only a few others in my church may possess my particular spiritual gift.4 Among those who possess the same gift, each will have a unique ministry. My gift will be expressed in a certain environment, deployed through my personality and individuality. Even those whose gifts are identical with mine, and whose ministry is similar, will have differing degrees of effectiveness.
My point is this. You cannot determine your gift(s) merely by studying this subject in the Bible. You must find your gift(s) and specific ministry by ministering, by obeying the commands of Scripture to serve one another. You cannot identify your gift(s) by comparing yourself with others because the ministry of every Christian is unique. While some may have the same gift, their ministries and relative successes will differ.
4. Determine your priorities on the basis of your spiritual gift(s) and particular ministry.
There comes a time in the Christian’s life when there are simply too many needs, too many demands, for him or her to meet. This is the conclusion which the apostles arrived at in Acts 6:
3 “But carefully select from among you, brothers, seven men who are well-attested, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this necessary task. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:3-4).
Some have said that it is not necessary for you to know your spiritual gift. I disagree. I have previously said that it is unnecessary to know your gift(s) in order to minister to others. I have also said that as you minister in this way you will discover your gift(s). But I also understand that we are stewards of the gift(s) which have been given to us:
Just as each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of the varied grace of God (1 Peter 4:10).
Peter tells us that every Christian has received a spiritual gift and that we are stewards of this “grace” of God. I cannot imagine how one can be a steward of his or her spiritual gift without knowing what that gift is. It is like being in charge of a man’s investments without knowing what he has in the bank. We must know the gift which God has bestowed upon us to be a faithful steward. We discover what that gift is by ministering to one another.
Many times I have heard the statement, “God is not so much concerned with ability as He is availability.” I believe there is an element of truth here, but many church leaders have abused it. Often I have heard statements like this,
“Brother Bob, the Lord has told me that you are the man who should teach this Sunday school class.”
Church leaders, desperate for workers, frequently make their decisions almost exclusively on availability, rather than on ability or gift. As a result, willing and cooperative Christians are quickly swamped with ministries and commitments. It is at times like this that we must establish some priorities by which decisions can be made.
When your ministry gets to the point that there are more needs and opportunities than there is time to do them, establish priorities on the basis of your spiritual gift(s). If you are gifted as an administrator, don’t get overly involved in some other ministry which will be competitive. While it is wrong to excuse yourself from ministry because you don’t know your gift, it is just as wrong to allow a ministry to keep you from that for which you are specially gifted and to which you have been divinely called.
Now let’s return to the question at hand: How can I have a ministry in this church? First of all, you must know what ministry is. That is what I am trying to accomplish in this series. In the coming messages, I will explore some kinds of ministry which we all are commanded to perform.
Knowing what our duties are, we must go on to fulfill our obligation to our Lord and others by meeting the needs that are before us. As we meet the needs that we see, I am convinced we will find a particular ministry which is uniquely “ours” and at the same time gain insight into our spiritual gift(s).
As we serve, we should continually evaluate, as best we can, that ministry which has been of greatest benefit to others. (The counsel of others is particularly helpful here.) We should strive to improve and develop the abilities God has given us and give priority to what we do best.
As we conclude this message, let me urge you to take some specific action. First of all, I would encourage you to pray, asking God to make your ministry and your gift(s) evident. Then, as you study the Scriptures, note the commands of the Bible, and ask God to give you insight into specific ways you may put the imperatives of the Bible into practice. Look for needs about you, and consider how you may meet those needs.
For many of us, we will have to admit that our greatest problem is that we don’t know one another well enough to know their needs or for them to trust us enough to share them. Why not make this your starting point? You take the initiative to get to know others. Quit waiting for people to have you over, and begin now to seek ways of serving others. Before you end this day, consider a particular place that you are going to begin and do it.
Ministry and Ministry Groups. One of the primary reasons ministry groups were established at Community Bible Chapel was to facilitate and to encourage ministry. These groups are deliberately small enough so that those involved will get to know each other well. After a period of time, sufficient trust is established for individuals to open up and share their trials and needs. Here is one place where ministry may begin.
Many of us feel lost in the crowd, and we are at a loss as to those to whom we can minister. The ministry group (or some small group, by another name) sharpens your focus on a particular group of people. When someone is in the hospital, there is no question as to who should respond. We do not in any way intend to badger you into ministry or to limit your service. It is just a point of beginning, just an incentive to service. We pray that you will see it in the same way.
Ministry as a Family. So often “ministry” has been that which has been destructive to family life. Husbands and wives often go their separate ways seeking personal fulfillment in “their ministry.” I find this difficult to square with one of God’s purposes in giving Eve to Adam. She was to be a helper to him. I would hope that this is what the wives would seek to become more and more – not to compete with their husbands for ministry, but to compliment them in ministry.
Some time ago, I determined that I would not let my ministry destroy my family. I do not want my children ever to resent the ministry which God has given me. I do not want them to feel that God has robbed them of a father, or of what they deserve as my children. (I must also say that the elders have encouraged me in my convictions.) I am convinced that none of the elders nor myself are encouraging you to minister at the sacrifice of your marriage or family. More than this, I believe that a biblical ministry is one that will have great blessings for you and your family.
In this regard, I was struck this week by Paul’s words to the Corinthians when he wrote:
Now, brothers and sisters, you know about the household of Stephanus, that as the first converts of Achaia, they devoted themselves to ministry for the saints (1 Corinthians 16:15).
It has taken me years to grasp the fact that Paul spoke not of the ministry of Stephanas in isolation, but that it was the ministry of his entire household, of his family! Now isn’t that a new thought? Have you considered your ministry as a family yet? Here is the kind of ministry your children can be a part of and not resent it.
From time to time I am asked to speak for a few days or longer. Most often when I receive these invitations it is implied or stated that they want me (not my family) to come. Now there have been and will be times when this may be necessary, but I make an effort to avoid such invitations. My children could begin to resent ministry as that which takes their father away.
Some who have asked me to speak elsewhere know that I most often refuse unless it is possible for my family to go along. I do not ask that my family be flown there, nor that we be put up in a fancy hotel. When possible, we take our children along, drive as a family, and stay in a home (in a basement or whatever it need be). We eat our meals in different homes while we are at that speaking engagement. I know others may think this extreme. When my children are grown, there will be sufficient opportunities to travel with my wife, but for now I must restrict myself to those opportunities which will be a blessing for my family and others.
I urge you to seriously discuss in your family the kind of ministry in which you can all be involved. I believe this is the ideal ministry for any family.
NEW TESTAMENT GIFT
COMMAND TO ALL
The supernatural ability to teach and to individually apply the truths of the Scriptures.
“Let the word of Christ dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another…” Col. 3:16. Cf. Also Rom. 15:14; II Thess. 3:15; Eph. 5:25-27; 6:4.
I Cor. 12:28
The supernatural ability to serve, to support and sustain the physical needs of the body.
“In every thing I showed you that by working hard in this matter you must help the weak…” Acts 20:35. Cf. Also Gal. 5:13; I Thess. 5:14.
Rom. 12:7; I Cor. 12:28
The supernatural ability to communicate the truths of the Word of God
“Go ye therefore…teaching them to observe all that I commanded you…” Matt. 28:19-20. Cf. Also Col. 3:16; Eph. 6:4; Titus 2:5; Prov. 31:16.
The supernatural ability to encourage others. Cf. Acts 4:36-37; 9:27; 11:22; 15:36f.
“Not forsaking our own assembling…, but encouraging one another…” Heb. 10:25. Cf. also 3:13.
The supernatural ability to meet the physical (mainly financial) needs of others
“Let each one do just as he has purposed in his heart; not grudgingly or under compulsion; for God loves a cheerful giver.” II Cor. 9:7.
The supernatural ability to show love and compassion to the unlovely.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” Matt. 5:7. Cf. also Matt. 25:40, Eph. 4:32; I Thess. 5:14; James 1:27.
I Cor. 12:9
The supernatural ability to trust God.
“For we walk by faith…” II Cor. 5:7. Cf. also Eph. 6:16; James 1:6.
The supernatural ability to effectively communicate the gospel and win the lost to Christ.
“…and you shall be my witnesses…” Acts 1:8. Cf. also Matt. 28:19-20; Col. 4:5-6; I Pet. 3:15.
Rom. 12:8; I Cor. 12:28
The supernatural ability to lead others.
“Let everything be done decently and in order.” I Cor. 14:40. Cf. also
Eph. 5:23f.; I Tim. 1,4,12.
1. Spiritual Gift: A supernatural endowment of the Holy Spirit whereby every Christian is empowered to perform a certain function which edifies the Church and glorifies God (cf. Romans 12:3-8; I Corinthians 12:4ff.).
2. Specific New Testament Gift: That unique ministry for which each Christian has been gifted and to which he or she is called (cf. Romans 12:6-8; Colossians 4:17; II Timothy 4:5).
3. General Command to All: Obligations to serve for which all Christians are responsible, regardless of gift or calling (Romans 12:9-15; Galatians 6:2, 6, 10).
1 This is the edited manuscript of a message delivered by Robert L. Deffinbaugh, teacher and elder at Community Bible Chapel, on October 28, 1979. Anyone is at liberty to use this edited manuscript for educational purposes only, with or without credit. The Chapel believes the material presented herein to be true to the teaching of Scripture, and desires to further, not restrict, its potential use as an aid in the study of God’s Word. The publication of this material is a grace ministry of Community Bible Chapel. Copyright 1979 by Community Bible Chapel, 418 East Main Street, Richardson, TX 75081.
2 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.
3 I am not really seeking to create a debate over the so-called “temporary” spiritual gifts here. I am speaking here of that category of undisputed spiritual gifts – gifts on which most Charismatics and non-charismatics agree.
4 My unique blend of gifts and talents is, in my opinion, to be found nowhere else in the church. Thus, if I fail to employ the gifts God has given me, the church will suffer for it, as will I (1 Corinthians 12:12-26).