During my senior year of high school, my youth pastor asked “How many of you are or hope to be in full time ministry?” Out of the 100 or so students in the room, two raised their hand: me and a freshman that wanted to be a youth minister. I was confident God had called me to work in a church, so this was an easy one (and it was for the freshman, too). If my memory serves me correctly, that means 98% of the students in that room already believed they would enter their school the next day (and the workforce eventually) and it would not count as “ministry.”
Fortunately, that youth pastor surprised everyone by saying 100% of the room was in full time ministry right now. Lightbulbs went off in our heads about how we are living our lives now. Ministry is not just something the professional Christians do. As adults in the workforce, we need the same reminder. But there is more to consider. It’s not enough to remember we are all in ministry. The key question is what is “ministry?”
The noun “minister” is from the Greek word diakonos, used 26 times in the New Testament, and is also translated “worker,” “co-worker,” “servant.” It is a person who carries out the work given him or her to do by an authority. The verb “minister” is diakonia, used 24 times in the NT, and is also translated “service.” It is the same word used to describe the “serving” Martha did in preparation for Jesus in Luke 10:40. She did the manual labor involved in cleaning a house and preparing food. It is also used to describe the work of distributing food for widows in Acts 6:1. The Message uses “job” in Acts 20:24 as Paul explains the work God has given him to do. And a final use is “support/relief” used by Paul to express the gift given by the Macedonian Christians to the Christians in Jerusalem. The infinitive form is used 34 times in the same ways, most famously when Jesus says he came not to be served but to serve in Matthew 20:28.
Though the word does not always mean the exact same idea in each place, a broad definition might be that the NT uses this word to describe commissioned work (usually by God) for the benefit of others. It is serving others. The emphasis of the word ministry today carries a strong connotation toward religious activity set aside for people who are paid or volunteer to work in a church or charity. Religious activity is a limited term reserved for activities like praying, worshiping, and administering sacraments. Except for clergy, it is completely outside the context of our work lives.
This is not the biblical understanding of the idea. No matter what the work is, it becomes ministry when viewed as activity commissioned by God in service to others. As Colossians 3:23 exhorts and Ephesians 2:10 reminds us, in whatever we do, we ought to do it with enthusiasm as work commissioned for us by God.
What work in your life have you typically viewed as “not counting” as ministry or Kingdom work?
If you viewed your regular job as “ministry” in the biblical sense, what might change in your day to day work? Your approach? Perspective? Appreciation? Quality? Passion?
Lord, thank you for giving me work to do today. I commit it back to you, and I choose to see it as an opportunity to honor you and serve others. Increase my capacity to do so.