3. Contexts of Ministry
Having established that we should use all we have in serving others, we will now turn our attention to where this ministry will occur.
Throughout your day, you live in various contexts. Perhaps you begin your day talking with your husband and children over breakfast. Then you head to the office, where you interact with coworkers and fulfill your tasks. Over lunch you meet an old friend from college. After work you stop by the high school to pick up your son from band practice and have a conversation on the way home about his day. Maybe you see a friend at the grocery store or stop to greet your neighbor. After dinner you attend a meeting held by the city to discuss zoning for a new neighborhood school. Each day, you encounter a variety of contexts, or settings, in which you can have a ministry mindset when interacting with others.
In this session, you will be introduced to three broad categories of contexts in which you can minister: the world, the church, and the home.
Individual Aim: To identify the needs of others and the contexts in which you can serve others.
Group Aim: To consider the particular contexts in which each group member can minister.
Read Session 3: Contexts of Ministry.
Complete the Life Vision: Roles and Needs exercise beginning on page 89.
How often do you lie in bed at night and think, What did I accomplish today? Some people ask themselves this question at the end of each day. Others may ask themselves, What do I need to get done tomorrow? Still others reach the end of the day so exhausted that they don’t have the energy to ask themselves anything.
Perhaps a better question to ask at the end of the day is, How well did I depend on God in my ministry to others today? As we move through our typical daily routines, we interact with our brothers and sisters in Christ and with those who aren’t Christians. In all of these interactions, we should seek to have an others-oriented, ministry mindset.
Peter urged his readers to lay down their lives for the sake of others, for those both in the church and in the larger world:
Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart. (1 Peter 1:22)
Maintain good conduct among the non-Christians, so that though they now malign you as wrongdoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God when he appears. (1 Peter 2:12, net)
Notice that Peter emphasized both loving fellow Christians and behaving excellently among those outside the church. Later in Peter’s letter, he again implored his audience to live out their faith both in the public arena and in the community of faith:
Honor all people, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the king. (1 Peter 2:17, net)
Peter said, “Honor all people,” whether they are coworkers, employers, family members, or perfect strangers. Jesus’ story of the good Samaritan (see Luke 10:25-37) may have been ringing in Peter’s ears as he wrote the phrase “Honor all people.” Jesus told that story in response to the question “Who is my neighbor?” His story makes it clear that our neighbor is anyone whom God brings across our path. We need to show honor to everyone God brings into our lives, whether they are in authority over us, serving us, or simply someone we randomly encounter.
The broad scope of Peter’s instructions has significant implications for all of our interactions with other people, regardless of the context. In this session, we will focus on three common contexts.
The three main contexts for ministry are the world, the church, and the home. The world, as we will use the term, refers to the work we do and the interactions we have outside an explicitly Christian context and with people other than our families. This includes our jobs, our neighborhoods, our favorite restaurant, and our children’s PTA meetings. The church represents not only things done at a church but also those things we do specifically with and for other believers (the term church in the New Testament is never used of a building but always of a gathering of believers). The home will refer to what we do with our families. These are all contexts in which we should fulfill our calling to minister.
In each context, we have multiple roles. For example, in the world, you might be an electrician, a neighbor, and a Little League baseball coach. In the church, you might be a deacon, an accountability partner, and a financial supporter. In the home, you might be a wife, a mother, and a daughter. Reflecting on the roles you play in each context will help you understand that everything you do can be an act of ministry.
Our roles in the world provide many opportunities for ministry. The role in which most of us spend the majority of our waking hours is our occupation, our job. In our job, we typically interact with both believers and unbelievers. In this role, we aren’t financially compensated to be Christian witnesses (unless, for example, we work on a church staff). We are compensated to do a task or manage people. Even full-time parents or homemakers, who don’t have paying jobs, interact with store clerks, school employees, and other children’s families. The way we fulfill our responsibilities in our job is part of the ministry to which we have been called. Consider the following Scripture:
For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task? . . . Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2 Corinthians 2:15-16; 3:5-6)
An attitude of service and a willingness to lay aside our own interests for the interests of others should pervade our entire life. In this way, our jobs will be contexts for ministry. Ministry in that context involves both the way we interact with others and the way we accomplish our tasks.
We should do our work with a commitment to excellence. Adam and Eve were created to labor in Eden. While it was an entirely pleasant labor before their fall, God intended them to do their work with excellence. Likewise, God gives each of us labor to perform with excellence. Whether that involves changing diapers, writing computer software, plowing a field, managing a marketing team, or framing a house, all of our responsibilities ought to be performed with our utmost effort and concentration.
The manner in which we accomplish tasks is not our only concern if we want to have an attitude of ministry at the workplace. The Christian worker shouldn’t have an “accomplish at all costs” attitude. The way we interact with others also counts. After all, our witness to those who don’t share our beliefs and work ethic––and our example to fellow believers who do––is related to how we love more than to anything else. Love should be our chief characteristic (see 1 John 4:8). Our ministry at work involves both working as if we were working for the Lord and relating well with others.
While many of us spend most of our waking hours doing our job, our workplace is not the only arena for ministry. Just as every believer should live a life of ministry in the world, every believer should also serve others in the church. While there is no sharp distinction between these two, it’s important to keep in mind that we have a responsibility to give of ourselves in both contexts.
What does ministry in the church mean? It is ministry performed explicitly as a representative of Christ with and for other believers. It includes such things as leading a small group, being an usher, working at a Christian homeless shelter, doing evangelism on a short-term mission trip in Asia, providing refreshments for a small group, serving on a cleanup committee for the youth group gatherings, and organizing a Christian businessperson’s luncheon.
Almost every church leader needs more laborers. There are more great ideas for how believers can serve each other and their communities than there are laborers to implement them. If you have been ministered to but have not yet ministered in the church, now is the time to jump in and begin. This study will help you think about where to start. If you have been ministering in the church, it will help you explore how you serve so that your service will fit your giftedness. The body of Christ needs each believer to serve in just the way God has gifted him or her––and to do so with excellence.
The most important context of ministry is with one’s own family members. There is no higher calling to other people than to one’s own family. While your roles in your job and church are important, your role as a member of your family takes precedence. Ministry in a job or church should never make you neglect the calling to minister to your own family. Jesus demonstrated this principle when He provided for His mother by charging John with her care—even while He hung on the cross (see John 19:25-27).
The purpose of this study is to help you see your entire life—your job, roles in the church, relationships within your family, and every other area of daily life—as ministry. We have been called to love just as Christ loved. That doesn’t necessarily mean we are to begin a traveling ministry like Jesus. Rather, we are to love others in all the contexts in which God has placed us. We are ministers of new life in Christ. Let us walk by the Spirit in an all-pervasive life of ministry.
Read Session 4: Spirit-Directed Ministry.
Complete the Life Vision: Ministry Vision Statement exercise beginning on page 97.
Complete Biblical Exercise: John 15 beginning on page 46.