I’ve now been in paid Christian work for over 20 years. Initially, I worked in two churches as a ‘youth pastor’ but have since been leading missional organisations (registered as Christian non-profit organisations). I have, therefore, been employed in what is commonly called ‘full-time ministry’. Yet, the longer I’ve been doing what I do, the more I’ve come to realise the dangers of the distinction between those in ‘ministry’ and other classifications of Christians.
The myth that there are varying degrees of Christian ministry is one that needs to be busted. The danger of the concept of ‘full-time ministry’ can be particularly pernicious when related to leadership. There is a double power-whammy when secular approaches to leadership are coupled with a hierarchy of Christian ministry. This toxic mix can result in Christian professionals who are paid to perform Christian duties on behalf of a consumerist Christian culture. Over hundreds of years of the church, this has resulted in a distinction between what is termed the ‘laity’ and those in “ministry’. This separation causes some to ‘sit and soak’, while others are expected to ‘stand and deliver’.
I believe Peter helps explode the myth that some are in ministry and some aren’t when he wrote: As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. (1 Peter 4:10 NKJV).
Let’s break this down by asking some questions:
Who has received a gift? Everyone. Not just church leaders, missionaries, or any other form of paid Christian worker. The implication is everyone has been given a unique gift – something given by God for the purpose to serve others. Not the chosen few. Everyone!
What is the purpose of the gift? It is to minister to others. The gift is to be employed in the service of others… that’s what ministry is. One Christian simply serving another person.
What is the ultimate purpose of ministry? Peter says that each person is then required to be a good steward of their gift, through which they are revealing the grace of God. When we grab a towel and serve others, we are demonstrating the ‘multi-faceted grace’ of God (as the Amplified Bible puts it).
The conclusion is that ministry is not about position, professional or otherwise. It is all about service. When we serve we are in ministry… nothing more, nothing less. All of us. Title or no title. Qualifications or no qualifications. New believers or mature elder. Those that serve are in ministry, and those in ministry are those who serve!
Christians have continued to create a divide between the so-called laity and clergy, the sacred and the secular. Frank Viola argues that “the term ‘laity’ is one of the worst in the vocabulary of religion and ought to be banished from the Christian conversation….” Likewise, AW Tozer exploded the myth of dichotomy between what is sacred and secular. He wrote: “It is not what a man does that determines whether his work is sacred or secular, it is why he does it. The motive is everything.” Therefore, the person serving in their work-place is performing an equally ‘sacred’ role as a full-time pastor (or other paid Chrisitan worker), if their motive is to bring pleasure to God
Paul sums up the heart and motive of what true ministry is when he wrote to the church in Colossae, He said, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col.3:17). The key word here is whatever. In the Bible, there is no limitation on what is considered ministry and what is considered something else. As believers, everything we do is a function of our ministry and calling to serve the Lord.
One of my favourite quotes on this subject is from Stacy Rinehart who wrote in his book Upside Down,
Ministry is not a task, program, or production. It is an act of worship by people who acknowledge that God’s great mercy has redeemed them for the purpose of relationship with Him, for sacrifice, and for service to others.
Of course, the terms ‘being in ministry’ and ‘full-time ministry’ have become entrenched in our language and will probably remain that way. However, we need to be careful of the assumptions that are being perpetuated through the language we use. It is a myth that there are different classes of Christians. It is a myth that those of us who receive salaries because we are in some form of Christian employment are more qualified to minister than anyone else. Everybody is in full-time ministry! God has uniquely called and equipped every follower of Christ to serve others. There is a distinct purpose and role for every believer.
And as leaders we need to be especially careful that we don’t reinforce the ‘full-time ministry’ myth through our words or actions. The best way to do this is to grab a towel and ensure that we assume the posture of a servant… recognising that our ministry, as leaders, is to enable others to flourish. Our primary goal is to help others serve God more effectively as they discover their calling, gifts and purpose. Therefore, my job as a leader within a Christian non-profit organisation is to provide a platform for as many people as possible to discover that they are in full time ministry as servants of the Lord.
How about you – how are you expressing your call to full-time ministry?