Ministry Topical Study

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It's humbling and life-changing to understand that the biblical word for ministry (diakonia) ultimately comes from the Greek word for "slave." Ministry is always, first and foremost, service to God and to others.

In Scripture

Prophet, Priest, and King The words minister and ministry designate an office in which one serves God by serving others. There are three such offices in the Old Testament: prophet, priest, and king. The prophet serves God by proclaiming God's Word to the people (Jer. 1:4, 5). The priest serves by being an intermediary between God and the people (Ezek. 28:35, Lev. 21). The king serves by leading and ruling the people on God's behalf (see the wrong way to be king in 1 Sam. 8:10-18).

God's Ideal The Bible provides examples of faithful fulfillment of office and of self-serving and unfaithful fulfillment. David, the shepherd-king, comes closest to God's ideal, but he too fails to be a proper minister of God in the end.

In the New Testament, Christ is the quintessential minister of God, being our true Prophet, only High Priest, and eternal King. He is the ultimate minister of God who leads and guards the sheep, offers himself as the atoning sacrifice for sin, and embodies the Word of God.

Officebearers Paul uses the term minister, or servant for those who serve in some kind of leadership function in the church (Eph. 6:21, Rom. 16:1). These terms for officebearers notably include both men and women. But in some churches, women are barred from certain offices, as serving in that way is seen to conflict with other texts (1 Tim. 3:11).

The epistles of Timothy offer criteria by which ministers in various offices are to be selected (1 Tim. 3 and 4).

Paul's Defense Paul finds it necessary to defend his own ministry to the Corinthians (2 Cor. 4). It is noteworthy that in doing so he does not point to his successes, but to his struggles and sufferings.

Points to Ponder

Servant Leadership We must be careful not to misunderstand "servant leadership," which is properly recognized by many today as the most important aspect of leadership or ministry. The servant of God will not only display Jesus' deep mercy and humble love, but also stand firm for God's Word and truth. Paul, for example, was not a shy, self-effacing man who shrunk from confrontation. His service was always first to the Lord: "I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court . . . It is the Lord who judges me" (1 Cor. 4:3, 4).

Servants of God must expect suffering. "A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also" (John 15:20).

A.W. Tozer "Let every man abide in the calling wherein he is called and his work will be as sacred as the work of the ministry. It is not what a man does that determines whether his work is sacred or secular, it is why he does it."

Marilynne Robinson "That's the strangest thing about this life, about being in the ministry. People change the subject when they see you coming. And then sometimes those very same people come into your study and tell you the most remarkable things. There's a lot under the surface of life, everyone knows that. A lot of malice and dread and guilt, and so much loneliness, where you wouldn't really expect to find it, either."

Eugene Peterson "When we recognize the essential continuity between monastery and parish — a prayer-defined life — we are in a position to develop and practice a working, customized askesis [spiritual discipline] that is suitable for pastors as a monastery is for monks. If we do not understand pastoral life as a life of prayer, then any spiritual discipline will only be a cubbyhole for devotional narcissism."

Eugene Peterson "Pastors are assigned by the church to care for congregations, not exploit them, to gently cultivate parishes that are plantings of the Lord, not brashly develop religious shopping malls."

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Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.