I am a seminary student. I am in a Masters of Divinity program. I hope to be a pastor someday. If given a dollar every time that made people feel awkward I wouldn’t have to worry about paying for school!
People ask me “Are you going into ministry?” And I typically respond with “Yeah, I’m going to be a pastor someday.” And the conversation moves on after an elongated silence.
I don’t let the awkwardness bother me. There is a lot of weight in my admission, such as my devotion to God, my involvement in church, my vocational plans, my personality type, and personal goals. Not to mention the undefinable guilt the person now innately feels… but these are things all out of my control.
However, I am frustrated by the concept of ‘ministry’ these people all seem to have. There are two different understandings of ministry that I typically encounter:
1) Ministry is the vocation of those who work for churches or religious organizations.
2) Ministry is something Christians do, like a hobby or after-work activity. It’s just another area of life, typically understood as volunteer work of some sort.
Both of these share the same misconception. They rope-off ministry as another part of life. Life is split into work, family, recreation, academic pursuits… and ministry fits right in there with them. Ministry is a portion of the person that doesn’t have much to do with defining or influencing the other areas of their life. Perhaps some individuals give the ‘ministry’ portion of life more weight than the other areas. Such people are therefore ‘called’ to be in the ‘ministry’ as a vocation. Are you following me still?
What I’m saying is that ‘ministry’ is not just a job or a hobby that some people are called to or sign up for. So then what is ‘ministry?’
You may have heard a sermon or Christian speaker say something very similar to what I’ve said above, except they were probably talking about what it means to be a Christian. Being Christian involves your entire self and everything you do. You probably heard verses such as…
Luke 10.27 “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”
1 Corinthians 10.31 “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
These are good verses, and they certainly apply to what I’m getting at, but they don’t define ‘ministry’ in the same way.
Allow me to bring your attention to 2 Corinthians 5.17-21
“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
The ministry of reconciliation is something every Christian has from God. It first reconciles us to God and then we must do the work of an ambassador, reconciling to each other. This isn’t something only for pastors or spiritually minded people but for every Christian.
In Ephesians 4.11-14 we see that pastors and other Christian leaders are actually not just doing ministry but they are specifically tasked with helping others do ministry.
“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.”
‘Ministry’ is more than a vocation or a hobby. ‘Ministry’ is defined by the Gospel. It is how the Gospel works itself out in every believer, it is the transformation of the person to see the world as God does and act accordingly. It is transcendent in the life of the Christian.
Hopefully now you see how it is rather ridiculous to ask a Christian, especially if they attend a Bible college or seminary, “Are you going into the ministry?” They are already in ministry! Do they profess Jesus as Lord and Christ? They have just ministered. Do they love God and others? They minister when they do. Do they read Scripture and pray? More ministry at work. Do they give God the glory in their work by doing it well? Do they see their vocation, recreation, family, and all the other boxed off areas of life as something God has given them and do they use these things in a Gospel shaped manner? That is what being ‘in ministry’ is.
We are all called to ministry. We are not all called to be full-time pastors or missionaries. We are a Body made of many parts and we all work for the same goal. It tears at the fabric of the Body to think that some members do the work of the ministry while others are only able to come on Sundays and tithe.