By nature of what we do, our family is put into contact with many others who are engaged in ministry in various ways. Every visit creates an opportunity for us to meet others laboring for the Lord. To see a genuine passion for the Lord generates a high level of joy because we need more people who are enthusiastic for the Lord’s work and the Lord’s people (formally and informally). After several months of traveling and spending each week with a new group of people (and sometimes two or three new groups) my wife and I began to ponder, “What constitutes missions or ministry?”
It seems that many have taken the term ministry and attached to any number of things under the guise of doing work for Christ. We have met some who are supporting friends because they are performing a ’theatre ministry’ or others who were going to do a ‘game ministry’ in which they would simply play games with people as a way to minister. We even met one couple whose ministry was attend a church and tell them everything they were doing wrong until the church kicked them out, then they would move on to the next. As stewards of God’s resources, it is not inappropriate to wrestle with an accurate definition of ministry.
Pondering this, I think there are at least five criteria that must be met while defining what is a ministry. The following should be points that are part of every ministry:
- A Supernatural Call & Gift: Yes, these could be divided into two separate aspects, but I want to emphasize them as one for a moment. The Lord has made it clear that he has equipped individuals according to His will, granting them spiritual gifts that they may be utilized for the edification of God’s work and people (see 1 Corinthians 12). All have received gifting from the Lord, but to some then, he has also issued a spiritual call in which God has set apart some for specific service on the Lord’s behalf (cf. Acts 13:1-3). For ministry to exist one must be gifted and called.
- A Spiritual Sacrifice: Of course, this point comes from the well-known verse of Romans 12:1. There believers are urged to offer themselves as living sacrifices which is a spiritual act of worship. Ministry often comes at a cost, financially, physically, and emotionally are a few ways in which it will cost, but more than obedience this is an act of worship. This point alone does not define ministry, but must commence from the heart and be taken into account with the other four points.
- A Spiritual Need: Ministry must meet some sort of spiritual need. While Christ at times provided for the physical needs of those around him, his intentions never departed from the spiritual (consider Matthew 4:23 and the following scenes as an example). The goal of ministry is to see people reconciled to God by the work of Christ on the cross through the transformation from the Holy Spirit. Because the core of every issue is a spiritual matter, ministry should be addressing the spiritual needs.
- A Sanctified Church: All ministry flows from and is sustained by the local church. Scripture indicates the Christian life is one lived in community and individuals thrive when connected together. Therefore, any ministry should connect an individual to a group of believers. Furthermore, even when Paul and Barnabas went out, they were sent by and affiliated with a local church and thus they had the support of that church for the ministry they were engaged in.
- A Scriptural Mandate: Finally, everything must be evaluated in light of God’s revealed will found in Scripture. The ministry we engage in should find its root in God’s truth. Therefore, we look to the authoritative word to find our authority for ministry.
In pondering what is to be considered ministry, these five attributes offer affirmation of legitimate ministry.
Ministry must be imbued by the Spirit of God, continuing according to His direction and within His body. Admittedly, I am still working my way through this concept and therefore know that what I have to say is subject to deeper inspection. Yet, as I consider some of the attributes, it would seem that ministry should include nothing less than these five points, but there may be more.
Photo by Alexis Brown on Unsplash