“I’m thinking of going into the ministry,” said a friend once.
Or multiple times. Many of us have heard it. It usually comes as good news, even if a whispered announcement of a notion that might go by. Whether as friends, parents, or church leaders, we like to hear young people (or even adults seeking a change) seriously consider dedicating their life in service to God.
But there’s where it strikes me as funny. When someone considers what we are usually referring to as the “job” of preaching, we are taking a single kind of service to God and labeling it as THE ministry.
And while it may just be a mere phrase, it does reflect the way in which we view The Way itself through the lens of the divide between clergy and laity.
When we see preachers, priests, pastors, elders, and ministers as living out “the ministry,” the rest of us can remain too content to merely “do church” at regular meeting times, and even then only as observers, not as participants. We begin to form our faith practice around the reliance on these certified/paid/ordained/consecrated leaders who hold the keys to all the doors of faith. We sometimes fail to take ownership of our own faith. Because we’re not in “the ministry.”
When writing to the Church in Corinth (ch 6), the entire Church in Corinth, Paul the Apostle (a man swamped in ministry to God’s kingdom) appealed to Christians not to “receive the grace of God in vain.” God listens. God helps. God saves. He does this for all his people. His grace isn’t empty, it’s not spent to be emptied. To him, every day, every present day, was a day of salvation, and because of that, everyone in the grace of God was a minister. “We put no obstacle in anyone’s way,” he says, “so that no fault may be found with our ministry.”
Our ministry. Now, one could say that Paul is speaking of himself and his fellow “sent ones,” those chosen few men burdened with the work of evangelism, teaching and preaching. But when he goes on to speak of having endurance in all manner of hardship and persecution by the power of God and weapons of righteousness, being true, rejoicing and having everything, I doubt he’s only talking of the pitfalls and privileges only of apostles or of priests. He has to be talking about every Christian who seriously puts on Christ, takes up the cross, walks the Way.
“You are not restricted by us,” Paul tells them. “Widen your hearts also.” Are you just a churchgoer? What is restricting you from ministering? Open your heart to ministry.
If you have put on Christ, you have gone into the ministry. There’s no “thinking of going into ministry.” If we are not prepared to minister to God and to people in the name of God, we have received his grace in vain.
There are those who choose to forego working for a living in order to dedicate so much service to God that they effectually survive off donations of the Church (and maybe some tent-making on the side), and these people we come to call “ministers,” but this is an abuse of the term. There are so many people who serve God in the Church and are seldom given that label by us. God knows they are ministers.
I wish we didn’t call it “the ministry,” when we refer to people who fill this one ministry role, however vital. Are not our deacons ministers, and our teachers being ministers? Are not our gift-givers, encouragers, counselors, adopters, caretakers, meal planners? Our house-builders, van drivers, baptistry cleaners and worship leaders? Are not all who serve also those who minister?
We all minister to varying degrees. And we need to take it seriously that we are all called to be ministers to whatever degrees we can based on our gifts. We have all “gone into the ministry.” At least, we should know that we have, and if we do not see it that way, the call is still coming. Have you been baptized, and now view yourself as a saved person being ministered to? Who are you ministering to? What sermon are you preaching, spoken or lived, to the Church? Preaching is but one part of the ministry. Each us of has a gift to minister.
Isn’t it high time we’re all called to the ministry?