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Q. Is it okay to involve an unbeliever in church ministry?


Dear ********,

Thanks for your question. It is worth considering. I would have to acknowledge that Christians almost certainly differ greatly (and strongly!) in what answer they would give to your question. I know of churches that would encourage unbelievers to sing in the choir, or to play in the orchestra (or play a guitar, or drums).

But here are some of my thoughts on the subject.

First, what biblical precedent, in the Old or the New Testament, do we find for involving unbelievers in God’s work/ministry?

In the Old Testament there were some Egyptians who joined the Israelites at the exodus, but they were also the source of trouble.

The Israelites journeyed from Rameses to Sukkoth. There were about 600,000 men on foot, plus their dependants. 38 A mixed multitude also went up with them, and flocks and herds– a very large number of cattle (Exodus 12:37-38, NET).

When the people complained, it displeased the LORD. When the LORD heard it, his anger burned, and so the fire of the LORD burned among them and consumed some of the outer parts of the camp. 2 When the people cried to Moses, he prayed to the LORD, and the fire died out. 3 So he called the name of that place Taberah because there the fire of the LORD burned among them. 4 Now the mixed multitude who were among them craved more desirable foods, and so the Israelites wept again and said, “If only we had meat to eat! 5 We remember the fish we used to eat freely in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. 6 But now we are dried up, and there is nothing at all before us except this manna!” (Numbers 11:1-6)

I should add it is clear that believing Gentiles (like Rahab and Ruth) were rightly embraced into Judaism, but unbelieving Gentiles were not embraced in order to evangelize them. Indeed, the opposite often took place (Numbers 25; 1 Kings 11).

In the New Testament, Jesus did not encourage the uncommitted to follow Him as His disciples; indeed, He put them off:

As they were walking along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 Jesus said to him, “Foxes have dens and the birds in the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” 59 Jesus said to another, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 60 But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61 Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but first let me say goodbye to my family.” 62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke. 9:57-62; see also John 2:23-25).

The apostles warned the church about those who would slip in among them (Acts 20:29; Galatians 2:4; Jude 1:4). In light of these warnings, does it seem wise to actually encourage unbelievers to participate in the ministry of the church?

Having said this, I am not suggesting that unbelievers should be unwelcome, and discouraged from attending church. They should be encouraged to attend, but as those who need to hear and respond to the gospel (see 1 Corinthians 5:9-11; 14:20-25), but not as those who participate in carrying out ministry in the church.

Second, the Bible does seem to be clear in its instruction for Christians not to be “unequally yoked” with unbelievers, especially in ministry.

Do not become partners with those who do not believe, for what partnership is there between righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship does light have with darkness? 15 And what agreement does Christ have with Beliar? Or what does a believer share in common with an unbeliever? 16 And what mutual agreement does the temple of God have with idols? For we are the temple of the living God, just as God said, “I will live in them and will walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.” 17 Therefore “come out from their midst, and be separate,” says the Lord, “and touch no unclean thing, and I will welcome you, 18 and I will be a father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters,” says the All-Powerful Lord (2 Corinthians 6:14-18).

Third, is it biblical to assume that involving someone in God’s work may, or will, assist them to believe? I would suggest reading Acts 5:1-16, and the incident of God’s discipline on Ananias and Sapphira. Look particularly at the impact the death of these two had on outsiders. Note, too, that in spite of the fact that unbelievers were fearful about associating with the church, many were being drawn to faith, resulting in them being joined to the church:

Now many miraculous signs and wonders came about among the people through the hands of the apostles. By common consent they were all meeting together in Solomon’s Portico. 13 None of the rest dared to join them, but the people held them in high honor. 14 More and more believers in the Lord were added to their number, crowds of both men and women. 15 Thus they even carried the sick out into the streets, and put them on cots and pallets, so that when Peter came by at least his shadow would fall on some of them. 16 A crowd of people from the towns around Jerusalem also came together, bringing the sick and those troubled by unclean spirits. They were all being healed (Acts 5:12-16).

Fourth, it seems to me that having an unbeliever help with the offering might actually be contrary to the goal of winning them to Christ. For example, it would seem likely that an unbeliever who helped with the offering would be considered a church member. Indeed, that individual might think that being part of a church and participating in its ministry made him (or her) acceptable in God’s sight. Making an unbeliever a participant in the church’s ministry might, in this way, be contrary to evangelism.

When it comes to taking the offering, let us remember that it was Judas who kept the money for the disciples, and that his love for money seems to have been a strong motive for his betrayal of Jesus.

Then, six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom he had raised from the dead. 2 So they prepared a dinner for Jesus there. Martha was serving, and Lazarus was among those present at the table with him. 3 Then Mary took three quarters of a pound of expensive aromatic oil from pure nard and anointed the feet of Jesus. She then wiped his feet dry with her hair. (Now the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfumed oil.) 4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was going to betray him) said, 5 Why wasnt this oil sold for three hundred silver coins and the money given to the poor? 6 (Now Judas said this not because he was concerned about the poor, but because he was a thief. As keeper of the money box, he used to steal what was put into it.) (John 12:1-6)

Then Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Jesus into their hands. 11 When they heard this, they were delighted and promised to give him money. So Judas began looking for an opportunity to betray him (Mark 14:10-11).

I hope this helps,

Bob Deffinbaugh

Related Topics: Ecclesiology (The Church), Issues in Church Leadership/Ministry

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