the weblog of Alan Knox

I do not think it means what you think it means

Posted by on Oct 8, 2009 in service | 10 comments

I love the movie Princess Bride. I love to quote that movie, especially the wedding scene. I don’t think anyone will ever ask me to marry them.

But, I also like the scenes where Vizzini exclaims, “Inconceivable!” Of course, what he considers to inconceivable actually happens. This leads Inigo Montoya to postulate, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Lately, I’ve been paying attention to the way that Christians use words like “minister” and “ministry.” I have to agree with Inigo that I do not think these words mean what many people think they mean. You see, in Scripture, the “minister” means “servant” – yes, as in the menial, get your hands dirty, lowest rung of the ladder sense. And, the term “ministry” means “service” – yes, as in the work that a servant does.

But, when I’ve listened to various conversations, I’ve noticed that you can’t always substitute the word “servant” for “minister” or “service” for “ministry”. For example, consider these 100% true statements that I’ve heard or read recently:

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“Are you an ordained minister?”

Substitute the word “servant”:

“Are you an ordained servant?”

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“Has God called you into the ministry?”

Now substitute the word “service”:

“Has God called you into service?”

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“Before you do that, you should get permission from the minister.”

Again, substitute the word “servant”:

“Before you do that, you should get permission from the servant.”

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Again, I do not think these words mean what many people think they mean.

Is that a problem? Well, no, not if people admit that they’re using the words in a completely unscriptural manner.

But, it is a big problem when we start reading these mis-definitions back into Scripture.


10 Comments

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  1. 10-8-2009

    I have some personal experience with the misunderstood meanings of the words “minister” and “servant”.

    Confession time; I think part of the allure to ministry for me, initially, was what I understood a pastor to be. I would sit in my office with it’s own private bath and study making various decisions far too important to talk with the church about all week. Then, magically, at the appointed hour, I would emerge with my entourage to share the vast wisdom and secrets I had divulged from the Bible that week. When I was done blessing and amazing my followers, I would again disappear…jump into my Lincoln Towncar (insert your favorite expensive car) and make the escape to my estate in the gated community.

    Obviously I’m writing this with a tongue in cheek tone…but unfortunately, this was my perception of what it meant to be a pastor. Yes, we went to big churches, and when you reached that level on the church totem pole you no longer got your hands dirty. Unfortunately I learned that from pastors that were more like rock stars than servants. And what is interesting is that for one of them in particular, his understanding of what a servant was meant that your value to the church was COMPLETELY wrapped up in the number of tasks you were performing in “his church”. If the Church had held him to the same standard, he would have been shown the door…

    Initially, as God began showing me what a pastor and servant is supposed to be, that part of the allure to be a pastor went away…it would have been disappointing (I suppose it was disappointing initially) if God had not allowed some experiences in my life that made me sick of that kind of leadership…I still have a desire to be a pastor, and even though I don’t have an official title with a church, I think I look more like one today than I ever have. Don’t misunderstand, I’m not announcing my “arrival”…just saying my attitude is not what it once was with regard to what it means to call myself a pastor or servant.

  2. 10-8-2009

    I like what Ketcherside says in his book The Royal Priesthood:

    Those who were Christians did not speak of “entering the ministry “SERVICE”.” They were already in it. Everyone entered the ministry “SERVICE” at baptism. To be in Christ was to be in the ministry “SERVICE”. No one went away to study for “the Ministry “SERVICE”.” Each one began where he was and announced the Messiah who had come. People did not send for a preacher. They just began preaching. All who had been inducted into the kingdom could tell what they did and why they did it. Every Christian was a minister “SERVANT”, everyone was a priest. The congregation was a priesthood–a royal priesthood composed of all believers.

    Each week these priests gathered about a table. They ate of the bread and drank of the cup in memory of the Lord’s death. As they were assembled they prayed. Their prayers were spontaneous. They did not pray because they were “on the program” or because they were “assigned to do it.” They talked to God as a son speaks with his father. They bore their mutual burdens to the throne to find grace to help in time of need. They rejoiced in thanksgiving in the presence of God. They spoke to each other to build up, stir up and cheer up. Their talks were not formal or stilted sermons. A number of brethren participated, speaking one by one, that all might be edified and all might be comforted.

  3. 10-8-2009

    The converse of your thesis provokes a chuckle: When I was in seminary, we were assigned a certain number of hours of “Christian Service.” And no, it wasn’t to include helping people move in or out of their homes, provide food, etc. It was to be preaching, leading a Bible study, or evangelism. I.e., “ministry” in that sense.

    “‘Service’–I do not think it means what you think it means.”

  4. 10-8-2009

    Brandon,

    My thoughts about “ministry” have changed similar to yours. The difference is, I never wanted to be that kind of pastor. I just thought I would be an “associate pastor”… whatever that is. :)

    Hutch,

    Thanks for the quote. I agree that all believers are called by God to be both ministers and missionaries.

    Michael,

    Yes, that is a very interested description of the phrase “Christian Service.”

    -Alan

  5. 10-8-2009

    I think the same situation applies to the word ‘pastor’. Plug in the non-archaic, non-jargon, non-exalting term ‘shepherd’ and I’d be willing to bet that most people would never use it.

    For example, who in their right mind would place a line on the church notice board that says: Shepherd: Martin Gub. Nor would people talk about going to see the Shepherd about something – that would be las creepy as belonging to a cult.

  6. 10-8-2009

    Alan,
    That’s funny…I didn’t necessarily want to be the “exhaulted one” (senior pastor), but I was all too impressed with the “rock star” image. And the car was nice too…did I mention the house?!? :-)

  7. 10-8-2009

    And we all know the real one and only Senior Pastor is not exhausted! :)

  8. 10-8-2009

    Andrew,

    Yes, “pastor” is often misused as well. I think the church is musing many words like that.

    Brandon,

    And with some churches, the house is free.

    Hutch,

    Absolutely.

    -Alan

  9. 10-8-2009

    Those houses are usually WAY below rock star standards! ;)

  10. 7-11-2011

    Well said, and a good reminder. Thanks Alan.

    Kevin

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