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What is Ministry?

Posted by on Jul 15, 2013 in service | 7 comments

What is Ministry?

Last week, I travelled out of state for a few days for business. The trip went as planned until we were ready to fly back. Soon after arriving at the airport, we found out that our flight had been cancelled. During the next few hours (and into the late morning of the next day), we worked to get back home.

The airline that we were flying “helped” us with our travel plans. Yes, I put the word helped in quotation marks because most of their help consisted of repeating the phrase, “I’m sorry, sir.”

In the end, this experience caused me to think about the term “customer service.” From my understanding, “customer service” refers to something that is done for or on behalf of the customer. Unfortunately, in this instance, this airline did very little on our behalf. However, they called what they did “customer service.”

This experience also caused me to think about the term “service” in general, especially when it comes to the church and followers of Jesus Christ.

In the New Testament, the Greek term διακονία (diakonia) is the term normally related to “service.” The same term is also translated “ministry” and “the office of the deacon” in many translations of the New Testament.

Here are a few examples:

…that I may be rescued from those who are disobedient in Judea, and that my service (διακονίαdiakonia) for Jerusalem may prove acceptable to the saints… (Romans 15:31 ESV)

And there are varieties of ministries (διακονίαdiakonia), and the same Lord. (1 Corinthians 12:5 ESV)

Say to Archippus, “Take heed to the ministry (διακονίαdiakonia) which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it.” (Colossians 4:17 ESV)

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service (διακονίαdiakonia)… (1 Timothy 1:12 ESV)

In the passages above (all written by Paul), the term διακονία (diakonia) is sometimes translated “service,” and at other times translated “ministry.” (By the way, “ministry” is a transliteration of the Latin term that means “service.”)

But, what does “service” mean when it comes to the church and to followers of Jesus Christ? Is this different than “ministry”? What makes them different? Why are different terms used? Did Paul intend for “service” and “ministry” to have different meanings?

Over the next few days, I’m going to consider these questions and others in relation to the terms “service” and “ministry” related to the Greek term διακονία (diakonia).


7 Comments

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  1. 7-15-2013

    Really nice Alan. This is the stuff I really love. A sermon I preached regarding (Global Outreach and Missions) included the passage in Luke 4, which as you know is a descriptive by Christ himself in Luke 4:16-21. I simply stated… This here (meaning that scriptural passage) is the most pivotal statement in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. Let me just say… church… is about people, ministry… is about people, missions… is about people, outreach… is about people. It’s all about people.

    As an unrelated topic and I am sorry about this, why is it the church believes it can have revival without relationship? Revival meaning lasting revival. Though I am not sure how we come to define it these days. And as you know, I am not talking about the kind of relationship that is strictly church service driven. Sorry to digress.

  2. 7-15-2013

    I have always viewed service as to “esteem others better than yourself.” Yes, that’s hard. Perhaps we can at least work toward the Golden Rule, which is a great equalizer.

    I wonder what would happen to the business world if companies actually ran on the Golden Rule. Here’s a simple what if: What if the CEO of the company were forced to deal with the outcome of the product/service his or her company offered? Would that be tolerated? If not, then something is broken and must be fixed.

    A simple example: I bought some vinyl placements sight unseen. They look nice and seem well made—except if you put a warm or hot plate plate/bowl on them, they curl up because they are so thin.

    If the CEO/president of the company used that same product at home, would he be satisfied with that product deforming that way? I doubt it. If that’s the case, then fix it.

    This isn’t rocket science. Nor should it be in our churches.

    One last case in point, this one for the Church.

    The Christian praxis spoken of from the pulpit often only works for those in professional ministry. In short, pastors dispense “wisdom from the Scriptures” that works only for pastors, not for the “common man” in the pews.

    I heard a sermon just like that yesterday, and while I respect the man giving it, I have no idea how any of it works in practice in the life of the typical man. None. And if the men in the seats were honest with themselves, they’d be asking the same question, “And just how am I to make that work in the real world?”

    We do a disservice to others when we bind them with spiritual millstones and give no solutions for how to make that spiritual wisdom work. It all sounds great on paper, but too often it is impractical. And while some spiritual giants out there think the entirety of Scripture is impractical so “let go and let God,” that’s not really the way it works. Theory is great, but it stinks for real Christian living. In that case, true Christian service is to make Scripture livable under real world conditions. And honestly, we get almost none of that wisdom in our churches today.

    I simply does not have to be that way.

  3. 7-15-2013

    Wow,DLE… very well put. Very true.

    The Christian praxis spoken of from the pulpit often only works for those in professional ministry. In short, pastors dispense “wisdom from the Scriptures” that works only for pastors, not for the “common man” in the pews.

    I heard a sermon just like that yesterday, and while I respect the man giving it, I have no idea how any of it works in practice in the life of the typical man. None. And if the men in the seats were honest with themselves, they’d be asking the same question, “And just how am I to make that work in the real world?”

    We do a disservice to others when we bind them with spiritual millstones and give no solutions for how to make that spiritual wisdom work. It all sounds great on paper, but too often it is impractical. And while some spiritual giants out there think the entirety of Scripture is impractical so “let go and let God,” that’s not really the way it works. Theory is great, but it stinks for real Christian living. In that case, true Christian service is to make Scripture livable under real world conditions. And honestly, we get almost none of that wisdom in our churches today.

    It simply does not have to be that way.

  4. 7-15-2013

    Nice to have you back, Alan!

    You raise some great questions in this post. It seems to me a mistake to render the term as ministry and not simply as service. Ministry has taken on such religious overtones and I think it misleads people. Some people are “in ministry” while others are not. Some “do ministry” while others do not. But really every follower of Jesus is called to serve.

    I also think ministry is too grandiose. Again, we think of it in terms of more religious activities like preaching, mission trips, etc. while service seems so mundane. But service (or ministry) can be mundane and very average and ordinary. However, Jesus said the greatest among you is the servant of all. The great ones are the ones serving others even in the mundane tasks.

  5. 7-16-2013

    Thanks, Alan, for writing this. I love the way God has gifted you to bring a bright clarity to word use and how that influences action and decision, not to mention polity and dogma and (sadly) error. The answer of the difference between “ministry” and “service” was given to me pointedly on the day I shared with the (well-known, very influential in the denomination in the late 60’s and 70’s) SB pastor of the church I had just joined as a relatively new believer. I shared with him that after study and prayer I had the strong sense that God was calling me into “ministry.” I was using the language I was hearing, believing the words were being rightly used (a mistake, of course, but how would I have known?). He immediately told me the difference between “ministry” and “service”: men are called to ministry, women to service. And then he delineated how and when and where I would be allowed to study if I pursued “service” appropriate to my sex. I did come later to understand the errors being promoulgated on that date, but the cost to myself was considerable. I see the clarifying of these issues as an essential part of making all and each of us free to embrace whichever service of ministry into which the Lord Jesus calls us, no matter who else might disapprove. Looking forward to the rest of this series!

  6. 7-22-2013

    Ministry: Joining a church-created special-task sub-group and doing the specific busywork the Pastor says this group should do.

  7. 7-22-2013

    I’m sorry that I’m so late to join the discussion, but I greatly appreciate everyone’s comments.

    -Alan