Understanding True Christian Ministry

What do you think of when you hear the word ‘ministry’? What is it, what does it look like, and who does it? I think this is a hugely important thing for us to get our heads around, because it totally shapes the way we view the church, service, and the Christian life as a whole.

Ephesians 4 is one of the many helpful places in the New Testament that helps us develop a proper understanding of what ministry is. Let’s zero in on Ephesians 4:12:

11It was he [Christ] who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12to equip God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature…

The word translated ‘service’ here (διακονία) could just as well be translated as ‘ministry’. So at the outset, there’s a little insight into what ministry means. Ministry is service. If you serve someone in any way, you are ministering to them.

Beyond this, Ephesians 4:12 has a lot to tell us about ministry. I’ll bring out three main points below.

1. The role of pastors and teachers is to equip others for ministry

First up, we should notice that the role of the pastors/teachers is to equip God’s people for works of service. Very often we think of the pastor as the one who does ministry. In fact, the title ‘minister’ (servant) is used interchangeably with ‘pastor’, and while there is nothing wrong with this, it does contribute to the idea that the minister is the one who ‘does ministry’.

But note here that Ephesians 4:12 is not saying that the pastor’s job is to do ministry. No, it says that the pastor’s job is to equip others for ministry. His job is to train God’s people – regular, everyday Christians – for the work of ministry. So while a pastor does obviously do ministry, the best way to think of your pastor is as the one who trains you and the people in your church to do ministry.

If you’re a church leader who is reading this, I hope you realise your role. Your job is to train others for ministry. Regardless of how well you are doing at serving others, if you’re not training others to serve, then you’re failing.
If you’re not a church leader, I hope you realise your role here too. It’s to be trained and to do ministry. That brings us to our second point.

2. The work of ministry is to be done by all God’s people

If the job of the pastor is to train God’s people for the work of ministry, then it follows that the work of ministry is to be done by all God’s people. Christian service is to be undertaken by regular, everyday Christians – no exceptions. God’s design for His people was never that a few selected people would serve, while the rest just rock up at church to listen and give their money.

God’s design is that all His people are engaged in ministry.

Some may object that they don’t feel qualified to do ministry. After all, pastors get special training from Bible College, but what about the rest of us? Well, if that question resonates with you, then you need to reconsider your definition of ministry. Ministry is not confined to teaching the Bible. Ministry is service.

If ministry is just serving, then anyone can do it. There are a bajillion different ways that you could serve. 1 Peter 4:10 says, “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.” So what gifts have you been given? And how could you use those to serve others?

Use whatever God has given you to serve others. And if you don’t know what gifts you have, there’s no better way to find out what they are by getting out there and serving people. Join the church roster. Look out for people who are on the fringe, and have them over for dinner. Do the dishes, or find some other way to bless those you live with. Meet up with a friend regularly and read the Bible with them. Just serve.

Are you actively engaging in ministry? Or are you leaving it up to the ‘professionals’?

3. The work of ministry leads to the building up of the body of Christ

The final nugget of wisdom about ministry that we find in Ephesians 4:12 is that ministry leads to the building up of the body of Christ. Why should all Christians serve? “…so that the body of Christ may be built up.” When people serve, they grow. They stretch themselves, they look outside of their own needs and towards the needs of others, and by doing so, they imitate God’s own heart.

When you serve, you grow. When you pour out, God fills you back up. If you don’t pour out, you grow stagnant.

So here’s another challenge for you. If you’re not engaging in ministry, how are you expecting to grow? If you’re not serving others, don’t expect to be growing in maturity as a Christian. It just won’t happen.

Ministry: God’s good plan for His people

There’s a reason that God’s plan is for all Christians (not just pastors) to be doing the work of ministry. When everyone is serving, then everyone is growing in maturity and becoming more like Christ. The more we serve, the more we discover the joy of pouring out, and looking to the needs of others. And by doing so, the body of Christ is built up.

The role of pastors is not to do ministry for everyone else, but to equip everyone to be doing ministry themselves.

So then, I’ll ask again: what do you think of when you hear the word ‘ministry’? And how are you putting it into practice in your life right now?

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