For the past few weeks, I’ve been making The Case For Going to Church. I’ve been trying to clear up confusion about what the local church is and what it is called by God to do (worship, community, ministry, and mission). First and foremost, a local church is supposed to regularly gather for worship (see The Local Church: A God-Glorifying Family). Second, a local church is supposed to be a community of deeply loving relationships (see The Local Church: A Beautifully Blended Family).
Third, and what we’ll focus on in this post, is that a local church is supposed to provide ministry, i.e., loving service that meets needs and builds up the body of Christ. Ministry is done by all, not just a select few in both formal and informal ways. The local church is to be a sacrificially serving family.
Pastors Are Not The Only Ministers
Many people think that only professionally trained pastors, missionaries, and church staff members do ministry. However, this idea falls far short of God’s desire for his church.
The Apostle Paul writes, “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service…” (Eph 4:11-12a) The word here for service in the Greek is diakonia, translated elsewhere in the New Testament as “ministry.”
God appoints leadership in a local church not to do ministry for the people, but to equip people to do ministry. Ministry is done by all, not just a select few.
If a church was a sports team, the pastors and ministry leaders are not the players on the field; they are the coaches who equip and encourage the players. When people first start attending a church, they may indeed feel like they’re in the stands watching ministry happen. But when you give your life to Christ, he calls you to leave the stands and join the team on the field. Get in the game!
Pastors and ministry leaders might be called to a unique role within the church, but they’re not the only ministers. God’s plan is for every member of his family to be a minister. A local church is to be a sacrificially serving family.
Diversity in Ministry
One of the brilliant aspects of God’s plan for ministry is the diversity of gifts that people have to contribute. People are wired very differently and have many spiritual gifts, passions, and experiences to offer in ministry to others.
In 1 Corinthians 12, teaching on spiritual gifts Paul says, “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” (1Co 12:7) Notice he says to each one, again, not just to pastors and leaders. Also, he says that these gifts (referring to them as a manifestation or visible work of the Spirit) are given, why? Not for personal gain, status, or recognition—not for selfish reasons—but the common good.
God wants to use everything of who you are (including your background, personality, knowledge, spiritual gifts, interests, vocation, strengths, weaknesses, etc.) to sacrificially do good for others. This is one reason it severely limits a church’s ministry impact to think that only a select few are responsible for doing the work of ministry.
The Goal of Ministry
So, what’s the point of our sacrificial service? What are we working to accomplish? Going back to the Ephesians 4, Paul said Christians do ministry, “…so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Eph 4:12b-13)
As we minister to one another, we’re seeking to provide loving service that meets needs and builds up the body of Christ. Builds up how? In our unity in the faith, our knowledge of God, and our maturity in Christ. “He [Christ] is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ.” (Col 1:28) This was Paul’s goal, and this is our goal for ministry.
This means that every activity, every action, every group, and every word that is done under the banner of ministry must be able to answer the question: how is this _______ building up people in unity, knowledge, and maturity? If the answer is, it doesn’t, then it isn’t ministry! It may be fun, or it may be a good thing to do, but if it doesn’t accomplish the goal of ministry, then it’s something else. Confusion on this point is the cause of loads of fruitless ministry activity in churches.
However, the beautiful fruit of ministry—of growing in unity, knowledge, and maturity—is a life of increasing love. As someone matures in their faith, they will supernaturally grow in their love for God and other people. Love is the harvest of ministry. If we want churches full of people who are growing in love, we must joyfully pour out our lives to minister to one another with all the strength and power and grace that God gives us.
Formal and Informal Ministry
At Appleton Gospel Church, we have formal structures for ministry which we call ministry teams. Currently, our teams include our Worship Team, Gospel Kids Team, Student Ministry Team, Women’s Ministry Team, Welcome Team, and Setup/Hospitality Team. We also have individuals who help serve in the areas of finance, teaching, graphic design, and more. As needs come and go, these teams may grow or change over time, but every person has a unique ministry contribution to make. If you aren’t part of a ministry team, we need you!
But secondly, there are informal opportunities for ministry all the time. Dropping off a meal for someone who is ill, sending an encouraging text, or offering to pray for someone can be informal works of ministry. Watching someone’s kids so they can attend a community group, listening and providing helpful advice, or giving someone a ride to church can be informal ways to meet needs and build up others. These are Spirit-led opportunities, not necessarily activities that need to be coordinated by church leadership. But they are needed all the same.
So today, do you see yourself as a minister? Do you understand that you have unique gifts to offer others in the church? Do you know how much joy is possible in a life of sacrificial service?? What is one thing you could try this week to meet a need or help someone grow in their faith? Take a risk. Take a step of faith. Come down out of the stands. It’s an incredible honor and privilege to participate in the work of God in other people’s lives.