What Is Christian Ministry and Why It Can Suck the Life out of You

What Is Christian Ministry and Why It Can Suck the Life out of You

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When a person sees ministry strictly as something they do at a church building that is separate from the rest of their lives, it is a setup for all sorts of problems—personally and relationally. We must not dichotomize ministry because all of life is our ministry, a common-sense approach for living well with others while loving God supremely.

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The Misuse of Ministry

What do all ten of these people have in common? They have a wrong view of what it means to be “in the ministry.” They have a compartmentalized or narrow idea of the word ministry. They see ministry as something that they do at a particular time in a specific context.

  1. When Grandma Mable prays, she thanks God for her children, especially those “in the ministry.”
  2. Biff lives with this low-grade level of discontentment. He has a not-so-secret desire to be in the ministry.
  3. Pastor Bart is exhausted after a long day in the ministry.
  4. Biffina is embarrassed about being a stay-at-home mom because all she can do is change diapers. She longs to do ministry someday.
  5. Elder Bert feels superior because he is in the ministry.
  6. Biffy is secretly envious and sometimes openly critical of Elder Bert because he is not in the ministry.
  7. Martha feels complete because her ministry fills the void that her self-absorbed husband has left in their marriage.
  8. Barry plays the ministry card from the pulpit. He motivates and manipulates his people by telling them they need a ministry.
  9. Madge is overwhelmed by the ministry and does not see how it is tearing away at her family. She hasn’t participated in a church service in three years. It’s the new normal, and no one is speaking into her life.
  10. Pastor Bob knows it’s wrong, but he needs warm bodies on Sunday morning. He considers it an acceptable sacrifice: the deterioration of some of his family for the practical needs of filling ministry needs for Sunday morning.

The Nature of Ministry

The word ministry comes from more than one Greek word, which is not an unusual practice for New Testament writers. Our temptation is to take one English word and give it a primary, singular, and dominant meaning. The word ministry is used comprehensively in the New Testament. Here are a few examples.

  • Prayer and to the ministry of the Word – Acts 6:4
  • Paul’s ministry that he received from the Lord – Acts 20:24
  • The ministry of the Spirit – 2 Corinthians 3:8
  • The ministry of condemnation – 2 Corinthians 3:9
  • The ministry of righteousness – 2 Corinthians 3:9
  • The ministry of reconciliation – 2 Corinthians 5:18
  • The ministry for the saints – 2 Corinthians 9:1
  • Equipping the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ – Ephesians 4:12
  • Christ has obtained a ministry that is much more excellent than the old covenant. – Hebrews 8:6

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The Expanse of Ministry

You can test your friends by asking them what comes to mind when they hear the word ministry or ask them what the word ministry means to them. What should come to mind is that ministry means a way one person can serve another person.

The New Testament writers did not intend for any of the words for ministry to be the exclusive domain of full-time church staff or for people who provide a singular function for their local churches. Every person in the body of Christ is a full-time minister of Christ. We should see our full-time ministry as a way of life that impacts every minute of our lives, including the ministry of sleep (Mark 6:31).

Even going to the grocery store is an invaluable ministry for a Christian to perform. To hold the more narrow interpretative view of ministry would have the Savior’s ministry restricted to the times He was preaching on a hillside. You could sum up what our idea of ministry should be like the way the Lord did.

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:36-40:).

A Personal Illustration

Grandma Mable’s Two-tier System – Christianity is not a two-tiered system: those in the ministry and those who are not. According to her interpretation of the word, Grandma is unwittingly dissing part of her family, the ones who are not in ministry. Her “ministry” only encourages those in “ministry.” She would be amazed at how much her ministry of encouragement could infuse her “non-ministry” children to pursue Christ and others more effectively.

I’ll never forget the day in 1989 when I asked Hector Henriquez, a Puerto Rican in Queens, NY, what he did for a living. He said, “I buff floors for Jesus.” I was stunned by his words because I had a whacked view of ministry. God began a reorientation of my self-righteous heart that day as it pertained to what ministry means. I was in Queens to evangelize as a minister of the gospel.

God allowed my proud heart to see another one of His ministers of the gospel, a floor cleaner from Jackson Heights. While I’m not sure how effective I was during that week, I am sure how effective Hector was, as I still talk about him all these years later and the impact he had on my heart.

Full-time Ministry

Biff’s Selfish Ambition – Biff has bought into the lie that fulfillment for the Christian happens when he’s in full-time ministry. Satisfaction comes through our relationship with Christ, while what we do is the outflow of our gratitude for His kind gospel work in our hearts. Biff has moved Christ to the periphery of his heart. He has an insatiable craving to be “doing something for Jesus.” If he would repent of this craving and seek a friend who could walk him through his distorted view of ministry, he might find himself “doing many wonderful things for Jesus” wherever he is, including his job.

Pastor Bart’s Part-time Job – Bart has missed the boat on this one. He’s like the man who comes home from a hard day on the production line and demands “me time.” There are two things wrong with his view: it’s not biblical, and he doesn’t understand what his wife does for a living. She has no “me time.” This puzzle became clear to me several years ago when I began working primarily from home.

I thought my wife always kept the house clean because she always had it clean at 5 p.m. After my first week at home, I realized how complicated and unending things were for my wife. Pastor Bart needs to redefine what ministry means. He has an incredible ministry opportunity for his wife and children. If Bart misunderstands this, it could end his marriage, embitter his children, and end his ministry at the church. He can rest in heaven.

Pastoral Ministry

Biffina’s Incalculable Ministry – Being a mom is the one ministry that is the hardest to calculate. Biffina’s ministry will continue for generations. The impact she can have on her children and the advantage of her role as a mom is a pastor’s dream. Pastoring is, in considerable measure, helping people with problems. Biffina has approximately eighteen years to come alongside her children in a shepherding role. There is a high probability that she will have more impact on her children than her pastor.

Elder Bert’s Self-righteous Ministry – Bert is a hollow man who uses the ministry to carve out a kingdom so he can feel fabulous about himself by feeling superior to everyone else. This situation may surprise you, but selfish ambition is one of the most common sin patterns in people’s hearts in full-time ministry. It’s like the desirous executive who surrounds himself with cars, money, and other idol-feeding allurements. It is a misconception to think that the power of the ministry does not allure pastors and other full-time ministry people.

Biffy’s Sinful Comparing – Biffy’s wrong view of the ministry has spun him into uncharitable comparing—the heart wonderings of the fool (2 Corinthians 10:12). Someone needs to talk to Biffy to release him from the pressure of feeling like he “needs” to be in the ministry. He needs to serve God where God has placed him. It’s a temptation to think God tabulates things the way we do. Omniscient, holy God does not view life as finite, sinful people do (Mark 12:43).

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Ministry and Family

Martha’s Surrogate Husband – Martha has found a new husband in her ministry. The sad thing about Martha’s situation is that her church leadership will let her serve in her ministry because it is more important than what is going on in her home. This shortsightedness misses an incredible, God-honoring opportunity for the church. There should be a full-frontal, biblical invasion on the marriage for restoration for the glory of God.

The picture her marriage ministry portrays is more critical than her labors for the church (Ephesians 5:25). A little job in the church does not merit the high praise that marriage receives in the Bible. Martha needs to fess up about her marriage, and the church needs to step up by helping her restore the distorted image of Christ, as displayed by her marriage.

Barry, the Pragmatist – Pastor Barry needs a few good men and women, and he doesn’t care how he gets them or the costs involved in the getting. Pragmatism is killing his church. Somehow Christians have got it into their thinking that they are to provide every ministry for every whim of every person who walks through the door. There is no biblical warrant for this. It is as though if we don’t have the ministry in place, God cannot work. Shut down the program or the ministry before you stretch your people so thin that ministry duty kills Christian joy.

Ministry Exhaustion

I have never met a repentant person who could not get to God because there was no ministry to get him there. Jesus worked without flannel graphs, iPads, big screens, and an army of ministry leaders. It is amazing how God could do so much with so little (Luke 9:13). Solid sovereigntists can become extremely man-centered when thinking about what ministry should be in the church.

Madge the Joyless – Part of the problem with Madge is that her husband is not leading her. There is no excuse for her to be in this spiritual or physical shape. Madge’s twisted view of ministry will sow incalculable generational and bitter seeds into her children. They will feel the marginalization from what the ministry has brought into their lives, and the temptation will be to reject God.

Pastor Bob’s Exhausted Church – I have spoken on this already. Duty has replaced joy. Rote laborers have replaced Spirit-inspired ministers. The uncondemned feel condemned because they are not “in ministry.” The local church is incrementally crushing the family in the name of ministry. Pastor Bob needs gospel-centered volunteers rather than ministry-centered guilted workers.

Making It Practical

  • Cut Back on Ministry – You do not have to be all things to all people. If you do not do this, the tyranny of the urgent will run you into the ground.
  • Increase Your Preaching of the Gospel – If the cross rivets a man (or woman), he will be a faithful minister of the gospel everywhere he goes.
  • Re-teach What Ministry Is – Re-envision your church about ministry, especially encouraging those who do the mundane work of ministry in their homes.
  • Release the Guilty – Several folks in your church are insecure and quickly made to feel guilty. Equip and envision them regarding what it means to be free in Christ.
  • Rebuild Your Infrastructure – Begin identifying and isolating those ministry leaders with bad marriages and poor families. Help them, for Christ’s sake.
  • Identify Your Twelve – Identify and isolate genuine leaders and begin working with them, starting with their walks with God, their families, and lastly, their unique skills.

Call to Action

  1. What is your definition of ministry?
  2. Have you ever dichotomized ministry to mean doing church work is the ministry and the rest of your life is something else? If so, do you believe it now, and what Scripture supports that view?
  3. What are the dangers of not seeing all of life as a ministry?
  4. In what specific way will you think differently after reading this piece?

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