Redefining the Ministry

By Ken Riggs

Ephesians 4:11-13

When you hear the word “ministry,” what do you think? Many of us have a church background, were raised in church and have heard the word “ministry” frequently, but what does it really mean? Is it something that only preachers and missionaries do? Is it something that is only done in a spiritual context, such as at church? Is it possible to minister outside the four walls of the church? I honestly believe it is time for believers to redefine what the ministry is all about.

In the first two chapters of Genesis, God created the world and pronounced everything He made good. God made man and from man made a woman. In their original creation, they were perfect and without sin. In their original creation, they were told to subdue the earth, till the ground, have children, and take dominion over the earth and the animal kingdom.

However, Genesis 3 gives a different picture. Sin comes on the scene. The devil convinced Adam and Eve they could be just like God, or perhaps become gods themselves. Everything then changed. Mankind lost control over the earth; work was no longer enjoyable; bearing children became a literal pain; the earth itself was cursed and produced thorns; man began to work by the sweat of his brow and became separated from a holy God.

Matthew 4 and Luke 4 continue that kind of picture when the devil tried to get Jesus to worship him. The devil even boasted about the fact that he was in control of everything. He even told Jesus He could have the world and everything in it if He would worship him. Quite a change. Before sin it was perfection; after sin it is perdition!

Have you ever wondered what would have happened if Adam and Eve had not sinned? What would the world be like without sin? Art, music and culture would have never deteriorated to what it is; it would have been good and wholesome. Language, society and humor would be clean and decent; politics, athletics, movies, printing, and law would be just, honest and fair. Get the picture?

Everything that now bothers us would not be bothering us. Life would have continued to be a perpetual Garden of Eden, but note that even before Adam and Eve sinned, they were busy, industrious and creative. In other words, before they sinned, everything they did was in praise and adoration to God. It could not have been any other way.

But the fact is, Adam and Eve did sin, and from that time to this, mankind and his surroundings have been going downhill. The devil has been successful in taking over the affairs of mankind. The devil boasts about the fact that he is in control of everything.

The devil said to Jesus, “l will give You all this domain and its glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I give it to whomever I wish” (Lk. 4:6)

But note the words of Jesus in Matthew 28:18-20: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on the earth . . .” (Matt. 28:18). In other words, Jesus is saying, “l have come to take it back! What has belonged to the devil is now mine!” Note carefully the next words. We call them the Great Commission. “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations. . .” (Matt. 28:19).

What is He saying? He is telling us to go and tell people that when they come to Him, He will give them the ability to make wonderful, beautiful and glorious what the devil has made profane, filthy and vulgar. He is in the house and He is in charge. This earth is not the devil’s but God’s. “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof . . . ,” says David.

For too long we have limited the Great Commission. Yes, it involves evangelism; yes, it involves soul winning. I firmly believe and practice both of them. I also believe one of the reasons we are not seeing evangelism and soul winning flourish is because we have forgotten, or perhaps have never known, what else the Great Commission involves. Because of the Great Commission, we have been given marching orders to not only evangelize but to do anything and everything to the glory praise and honor of Jesus Christ. It is at this point that we need to redefine the “ministry,” and its proper context within the church.

Four Negative Aspects

By showing the negatives, I am referring to those things that we actually do, and have even thought we were doing the right thing, while in reality we may have been mistaken.

Wrong Concepts

We have thought and practiced the attitude that going to church was the equivalent of being a Christian. That may seem harsh and we may want to deny it, but I guarantee that many who attend church think they have fulfilled their responsibility. Church is something they do. Church is someplace they go. They do and go but don’t realize that church is not just what you do and where you go. Church is actually where you go to be refreshed, inspired and trained to do whatever work it is that you ate doing. Church is where you go to receive the energy and the instruction to be the best Christian you can possibly be on your job. Church, in the truest sense, is what you are.

It has been said by others that we have succeeded in getting people to “DO” church. They know what to do. They know how to act. Many of us have become quite professional at it. We know what to say and how to say it. We know how to look. We know when to sit, when to stand. We know what is expected and what is accepted. For too many, once they leave the location of the church, it has little, if any, impact on what they do the rest of the week. Too many do not consider what they are doing as a “ministry.”

Conformity vs. Conversion

We have equated conformity with conversion. If you doubt this, watch what happens in your mind when you see someone, even in church, who does not have the same set of standards and values that you have. You may not know them, but if they dress differently than what your standards allow, you assume they are not saved. On the other hand, if they look good, have the length of hair and skirt hem that you think is appropriate, you assume they could be a Christian. How tragic!

Some of the most popular cults in the world look like good Christians but they are not.  I fear that sometimes we are more concerned with an outward appearance than we are with an inward relationship. Do not get me wrong. Christians should be careful of their attire, but I do not believe for a minute that conforming to a set of rules, regulations or dress codes is the same as conversion.

Unbiblical Distinctions

We have highlighted some ministries and ignored others. I am an ordained minister of the Gospel. I believe in a divine call. (I can assure you, if I did not feel the call of God, I would have given up a long time ago.) Being an ordained minister does not give me any special advantages. I am no better than others. I am a Christian first, and being a Christian demands that I do everything and anything to the glory of Christ.

I recognize that some of this may have happened because we make a distinction between “full-time ministry” and “part-time ministry.” I am a full-time pastor and receive a salary from the church I serve. Does that make me any better than those who are employed elsewhere? Is it not just as appropriate for others to serve the Lord with all their being even though they may receive a paycheck from a secular world?

A former colleague of mine referred to this as ministry with a capital “M” and ministry with a small “m.” The capital “M” refers to those engaged in a ministry as a livelihood while the small “m” refers to those whose livelihood comes from other sources.

I do not believe the Bible makes a distinction between those whose livelihood is paid by the church and those who are supported by other means. I have been in situations where a person may have sensed a call of God to preach or go to a mission field and they are bragged on for being sensitive to the leading of the Lord. Yet those who do not feel such a leading, but are serving the Lord just as faithfully are seldom bragged on or encouraged. Too often they are criticized for not choosing a professional ministry, or a ministry with a capital “M.”

Let’s face it, if everyone entered a full-time ministry, who would we serve? If every member of a congregation was a full-time pastor, who would be in the congregation?

Confusion about the Kingdom

We have equated the church with the kingdom. The church is not the kingdom and the kingdom is not the church. The church is where believers come to be trained, inspired, and encouraged. The kingdom is where we work. Someone said it like this: the church is the locker room; the kingdom is the playing field.

For too long we have thought, and maybe even taught, that all a believer has to do is come to church. Be faithful to the services, the doctrines and the policies of the church and everything will be okay. All that does is keep us within four walls. We are to be “. . . in the world . . . ,” the kingdom, without being “. . . of the world. . . .” One of the greatest miracles of all is the fact that Christ can keep us from the worldly systems while at the same time giving us opportunities to influence others to get out of that system.

Six Positive Aspects

Let me suggest six practical principles about how we should view the ministry. If you have not read I Corinthians 12:46, you must! Briefly, note two basic observations: (1) there are a variety of ways to serve, and (2) there is one common denominator. The variety of ways to serve is referred to as (a) “. . . different kinds of gifts . . .” (b) “. . . different kinds of service . . .” and (c) “. . .different kinds of working . . .”  The common denominator is stated in three different ways but it is actually only one: (a) “. . . the same Spirit . . .”; (b) “. . . the same Lord. . .”; and (c) “. . .the same God.”

Know the Lord and Know That You Know the Lord

It should be obvious that only those who know the Lord can actually serve Him. What does it mean to know the Lord and know that you know Him? It means that you have had a conversion experience; it means that you have an ongoing, growing relationship with Him; it means that you know more about Him than you did when you were first converted.

I am convinced there are many good believers who know they are saved, have a growing relationship with Him but have never come to grips with the fact that what they do as a means of making an income is also their ministry. In too many cases, it’s because they have assumed the “ministry” meant you were a preacher or a missionary. They should not be blamed for that, however. They have learned that!

It may not have been intentional, but for too long the church has left that impression. If you doubt that, ask those young people who do not go to a Christian college if they are preparing for a ministry. Ask those Christian teachers who are teaching in the secular world if they consider their teaching a ministry. Ask those in the church who have secular jobs if they realize what they are doing is a ministry. Some will recognize what they do as a ministry, but the vast majority will not.

Be Connected to the Church

I believe in the local church. I believe that every born again Christian should become affiliated with a good Bible-believing church. I am suspicious of people who claim to have a ministry but are not part of a local church. There are other organizations outside the church that are valid ministries, but I still believe every believer needs to be connected to a local church. It is the local church that gives you fellowship, accountability and responsibility. Remember, the church is not the kingdom and the kingdom is not the church. The church is where we receive the strength to do the work we are called to do in the kingdom.

Do What You Do as a Calling and an Anointing of God

To hear some speakers you would think that only preachers have the Holy Spirit. The Bible clearly teaches there is no group of people who has a monopoly on the Holy Spirit. There is no such thing as a Holy Spirit Elite Club. Every believer has the Holy Spirit. Every believer has the indwelling potential to do great works for God. The working of the Holy Spirit is not confined to things that are just spiritual. The church should be praying for a scientist who is a Christian to discover a cure for cancer. The church should be praying for a generation of political science students to be Spirit-filled. The church should be praying for writers to write books, novels, plays and films that will glorify the Lord.

Not only should the church be praying for new generations to come on the scene with this attitude, the church should be praying for those who are presently seeking to use their abilities as a ministry. Have we prayed for elected officials in Washington who are not afraid to let their faith be known? Have we prayed for Christian musicians in the broad field of music as they seek to use that medium as a ministry?

Go back to the book of Genesis. Before the fall and the entrance of sin, Adam and Eve were instructed to be creative, to be industrious. I firmly believe if Adam and Eve had not sinned, every area of life today would be a glorious tribute to God. Art, literature, music, politics, education, science and a host of others you could name would be bringing praise and adoration to the God of all creation. Are we so blind that we think when the Bible says we are to do everything “. . . heartily as unto Him . . .” that it means only those things that we classify as being spiritual?

Never Let What You Do Be Done in a Shoddy Way

I remember grading a paper for a student of mine. His spelling and grammar left much to be desired. When I gave his paperback he was shocked that I had given him a low grade. That was bad enough, but then he said, “Why did you mark off for spelling and grammar? You’re not the English teacher.” He had failed to get the concept that everything a Christian does should be the very best.

Whatever a Christian does should be the very best. That does not mean we should develop an attitude of perfection in the sense that we are never satisfied, but it does mean we should constantly be striving for excellence. One of the highlights of my life was when I served on the faculty at Flee Will Baptist Bible College. While I served as Director of Student Teaching, one of my responsibilities was assigning students to various schools in Nashville for student teaching. One of those schools was the Akiva School, the Jewish school located behind the College.

I remember telling my students this: “You are not going to Akiva to evangelize. You are going to put into practice what you have been taught in the classroom. We are being allowed to use their facility and we must respect their religious differences.”

Later that year, the Rabbi called me in for a conference. One of the young ladies from the college had a cross on her graduation ring. The Rabbi asked me to tell the young lady to not wear the ring when she was in the classroom. Both the young lady and I complied with his request.  Was that a compromise? I think not. It was showing respect.

I believe in personal soul winning but when a person is hired to do a job, their main responsibility is to give eight hours of the best work they can. The soul winning should be an outgrowth of the excellence on the job. Try not doing a good job and see how far you get in trying to win your boss to the Lord. Try doing a good job, and even going the extra mile and see if that does not make a better impression. Try witnessing to your waitress at your favorite restaurant without leaving her an appropriate tip and see how far you get in telling her about Christ. Lousy employees make for ineffective soul winners, and cheap tippers cheapen the gospel.

Have the Proper Ambition

There are two kinds of ambition. One is that which is based on the teachings of the Bible and is wholesome, holy and pure. The other one seeks only for the approval and praise of others. Let your imagination go for a moment. What would happen where you work if you told your boss you had been praying for him and asking the Lord to give him direction and wisdom? What would happen if your boss knew you were sincerely interested in the growth of his company? What would happen if he knew you were more interested in the success of his company than you were in your own personal success? You get the picture.

The ministry God has given you is to be for the glory of the Lord and the edification of others. Guard yourself against using your ministry as a stepping stone for something else. That does not mean God will not lead you to something else, but just be sure it’s God who is doing the leading instead of selfish ambition.

Be Constantly Renewed in Your Spirit

Not everyone has the privilege of being around Christian people all the time. I have worked in the secular world. I have worked in construction. I have worked in the print shop. I have been around those whose language is not always clean. This is again one of the reasons for being faithful to your local church. You need the church for that continual cleansing that comes from the Word of God.

When you work in the secular world, you need a constant habit of reading the Bible. The world is not always a friend to grace nor to your Christian life style. Another miracle of Christianity is the fact that you can be in the world without becoming part of it, but I must be honest and say, you have to work at it. You must make a conscious decision and effort to keep yourself clean, but it can be done.

Let’s go back to the beginning. The Great Commission is not limited to just soul winning. A part of the great commission is the fact that all believers have a responsibility to share their faith with others, but it’s also the responsibility of the church to help others see that everything they do is to be done for the glory of the Lord.

Jesus said, “. . . go and disciple others . . .” The word “disciple” in this sense is not a noun but a verb. As a verb it refers to something I am to be doing. To disciple others carries the idea of teaching. The church has an obligation to teach every believer that in whatever field of work they are involved in is a ministry. One missionary of days gone-by said it like this: “I’m a missionary by profession, but I repair shoes to pay the expenses.” All believers are ministers first and their means of employment is the way they pay their bills.

Article adapted from Contact magazine, January 1999.