We talk about “ministry” as though it is self-evident what that term means and implies. Yet, many are asking, “now what?”  To get a handle on what we are to be “doing” lets define it: Christian ministry is the activity and responsibility of the local church in the fulfillment of its biblically defined mandate in the world. And what is the mandate?

First, the ministry of the Christian church can be defined as the fulfillment of the Great Commandment of our Lord: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:37, 39). This is the fellowship-focused aspect of ministry – that which we are to be and do one for another as a body of believers;

Second, Christian ministry is then (not prior) defined in terms of the Great Commission of our Lord: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20). This is the community-focus of ministry. To accomplish this, the process and objective of Christian ministry can be defined in the apostle Paul’s terms of “the equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect person, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, that we…may grow up in all things into Him who is the head, that is, Christ” (Eph. 4:12-15);

Finally, as we have previously reviewed, ministry can be defined in terms of the model of the early church – viz. teaching the apostles’ doctrine, engaging in fellowship, commemorating the breaking bread, praying together, caring for one another, worshiping God, and actively evangelizing the community (Acts 2:42-47).

Taken together, these three elements are the basis of biblical, balanced ministry.

From these summary texts and the broad scope of Scripture, it is evident that Christian ministry has as its priority the worship of God, followed by service for God in the proclamation of the gospel (the fruit of which is the baptism of repentant sinners), and the edification of the saints.

Specifically, there are seven distinctives of Biblical ministry:

First, the foundation for ministry is the accurate and relevant teaching and preaching of God’s Word (Acts 2:42a; 2 Tim. 4:2; Col 1:28; 1 Cor. 1:23; 2:1-5).

The exposition of the Scriptures and their application to the hearers are fundamental to the spiritual growth and development of God’s people (2 Tim. 3:16; 4:2). It is the responsibility of the pastor (and others who have the gift of preaching and teaching) to instruct God’s people in the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). Such preaching and teaching (1) provides God’s people with the spiritual nourishment that they need to “grow in grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18); (2) equips the saints “for the work of the ministry”; and (3) builds up the body of Christ, so that God’s people “come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:7-16).

The pulpit ministry, while very important, is only part of the whole process of Christian education and nourishment. The education, exhortation and encouragement of believers also takes place in a balanced environment of personal study of the Word, small groups, individual mentoring and discipleship and pulpit ministry. Note the range of responsibility – personal to corporate. What is of paramount importance is that the Word is studied, preached and taught accurately and relevantly.

Expository (or, biblical) preaching is the biblical model for the public proclamation of God’s Word. The phrase “expository preaching” is often misunderstood and associated with the clinical, “dry” exegesis of Scripture. However, this is not fair or accurate. Expository preaching, properly defined and practised, is the Spirit-empowered proclamation of God’s Word, that interprets its meaning accurately, explains its truth clearly, declares its message authoritatively, and applies its significance practically, with a purpose of the Holy Spirit generating a spiritually transforming response in the listeners. If that definition is a bit long and complex, then the apostle Paul’s definition is probably the shortest and simplest – “Preach the Word” (1 Timothy 4:2).

So what is the “do” part of ministry here? Well, do you study the Word of God outside of church? Do you give the Holy Spirit opportunity to speak to your heart which comes via the Word? Do you keep a journal of what God is revealing about Himself and about you? How do you apply God’s Word…to your circumstances, your history, your hopes, your fears, your desires, your daily schedule…even your back account? Do you share the Word with other believers by being willing to have an accountability partner…do you participate in a small group? The point is that biblical ministry can not be started or sustained outside the framework of Scripture and Scripture commends us one to another out of necessity and sustenance before we consider a purposed, passionate outreach effort. Indeed, when we are established to the point of such outreach, the Biblical basis for every consideration needs to be identified, defined, outlined and commended among and to the fellowship.

Second, the confidence for ministry is prayer (Acts 2:42d). An active and dynamic prayer ministry is vital for the survival and growth of each believer individually and the church corporately.

A prayer ministry should be diverse in its form (e.g. small groups, prayer teams, prayer partners, corporate prayer, individual prayer), broad in its objectives, and widespread throughout the church body. Prayer should be part of the life of the church on a consistent basis (cf. Acts 1:14; 4:23-31; 12:5; 1 Thess. 5:17) and must begin with the example of the church leaders (Acts 6:4; Col. 4:12). Among other things, the church is to pray for its leaders (1 Thess. 5:25; 2 Thess. 3:1); for one another (James 5:16); for the authorities (1 Tim. 2:1-4); for the widespread and bold proclamation of the gospel (Eph. 6:18-20; 2 Thess. 3:1); for those who are sick (James 5:14-16); and for the unity and testimony of the church (Jn. 17:11-23). We can learn much about the form and content of our prayers from the example of the apostle Paul’s prayers (cf. Eph. 1:15-23; 3:14-21; Phil. 1:2-11; Col. 1:3-6, 9-14; 1 Thess. 1:2-4; 5:23; 2 Thess. 1:3-5, 11-12).

So what is the “do” part of ministry here? Do you consciously, specifically follow the ACTS of prayer (Adoration; Confession; Thanksgiving; Supplication)? Do you consciously, specifically lift individuals by name before the Lord? Do we do so in small groups, outside of the Sunday School or church service? Do we keep a prayer diary, noting the requests and responses as we expectantly look unto the Lord? Do I pray with my accountability partner? Do I even have an accountability partner? Do I pray with my wife/husband? Do I pray at all? Read the first sentence in this section again (above) – if it is truly vital for survival and growth, can we really expect success within the ministry to which we have each been called (and we each have, indeed, been called which is why you have been given one if not more spiritual gifts) if we are not a praying people?

Third, the power for ministry is the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8; 1 Cor. 2:1-5; 1 Thess. 1:5; 1 Pet. 1:12).

The Holy Spirit can and does make the ministry of the church effective and powerful. He alone changes people’s lives into conformity with the will of God and into the image of God’s Son (Rom. 8:29; Eph. 1:11-14; Col. 1:9). He alone has the power to convict people of sin (Jn. 16:8) and grant us new life in Christ (Jn. 3:5; Tit. 3:5); to enable us to live holy lives (1 Cor. 6:19; 1 Pet. 1:2); to pray effectively (Rom. 8:26; Jude 20); to minister the Word with power (1 Cor. 2:1-5; 1 Thess. 1:5-6); to glorify God in our lives (1 Cor. 6:20); and to illuminate our understanding of God’s Word (1 Cor. 2:13-16; 1 Jn. 2:20, 27).

So what is the “do” part of ministry here? Do you know and understand the ministry of the Holy Spirit in your life? In the life of the church? Have you consciously, purposefully surrendered to the leading and guidance of the Holy Spirit in your life? Do you truly understand that, when it comes to circumstances, it is not what God is doing “to” you but “for” you in relation to Romans 8:29? That outside the Holy Spirit’s enabling, success as properly defined by Scripture to be faithfulness, can not be realized? Do we understand that until we have sought the leading of the Holy Spirit with respect to a community ministry that we are but spinning our wheels and wasting God’s time?

Fourth, the bond of ministry is the fellowship of believers (Acts 2:42b, 44-45).

Our common bond in Christ is the source of our fellowship and our unity. Through fellowship believers express the local representation of the body of Christ (1 Jn. 1:7; 1 Cor. 12:26; Eph. 2:19-22). When believers are interconnected through authentic, loving relationships, they form a unity that provides strength and stability to the church. This fellowship is demonstrated by caring for one another physically, emotionally, psychologically, economically, and of course spiritually. The care of God’s people is a church-wide ministry in which all the members of the body care for the interests of each other, supporting each other in practical ways, in prayer, and in love (cf. Acts 4:32-37; 6:1; 1 Cor. 12:25; Gal. 5:13; 6:2; Eph. 4:32; 5:21).

So what is the “do” part of ministry here? This bond applies to our fellowship as well as community ministries. Therefore, as a church, we must ensure that the church body engages in regular fellowship as a community of believers with a common life in Christ, common goals, common needs, and common interests. This means we come together to identify not only community means of ministry, but come together in unity with our prayerful pledge of support by any and every spiritual and material means. An aspect often ignored is the economy of ministries. Too often a fellowship has so much going on that not much goes well…prompting disappointment, recriminations and sometimes divisions. The bond of ministry means, as a fellowship, we review our options, seek the Spirit’s guidance and then concentrate on the faithful execution of the task into which we, together, are led. Once achieved, we seek the Spirit’s guidance as to the next strategic endeavor.

Fifth, the expression of ministry is passionate worship (Acts 2:42c).

In worship the church expresses collectively its awe of God and its debt of gratitude to God for who He is and what He has done. Vibrant and dynamic worship is vital to the life and health of the church as a body and its members individually. We have to expand our notion of worship beyond the Sunday morning, evening and Wednesday night services. It is that…but Biblical worship is a lifelong, daily practice for all believers individually in order for corporate worship to be effective and meaningful. Public worship includes singing praise to God, reading Scripture, corporate prayer, preaching the Word, and the observance of the church ordinances.

What is the “do” of ministry here? Are you faithful in corporate worship attendance from a physical as well as spiritual perspective? Do you purposely, consciously dwell upon the fact that God is omnipresent and omniscient, aware of your every thought, action and motivation? Have we been faithful to confess so we enter His presence with clean hands and heart? Quick to forgive? Do we consider an act of worship to greet one another with joy? With expectation? With humility? Eager to set wrongs right? Clearing the way for the Holy Spirit’s maximum impact upon us individually and our congregation?

Sixth, the thrust of ministry is the salvation of the lost (Acts 2:47; 5:42; Matt. 28:20; Mk. 16:15; Rom. 10:14-15).

Not only is practical Christian ministry expressed in caring about each other as believers, but also in caring about unbelievers. Christian ministry boldly proclaims the goodness of God in the gospel in order to reach the lost for Christ (Rom. 2:4). This should be done in culturally relevant ways, both personally and corporately. The gospel message of “repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21; Rom. 10:9-10) should be regularly preached from the pulpit and the people should be motivated to tell others the way of salvation. In this way the church and its members become a light for God in the community (Matt. 5:14-16). Through prayer and financial support, they can also contribute to world evangelization through missions.

What is the “do” of ministry here? Do the church leaders preach outreach? As a fellowship, do we purposefully support and encourage witnessing and invitations at church events? As members, do we seize opportunities to witness? Do we know key verses to use when leading someone to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ? Do we have an active track ministry to assist with 1:1 and leave behind opportunities? Have we purposed to support evangelization world-wide?

Seventh, the scope of ministry is church-wide (1 Cor. 12-14; Rom. 12:1-8; 1 Pet. 4:10-11).

Ministry is a task to which every believer has been called (Eph. 4:12; Rom. 12:4-8). As Christians learn and grow, so they must use the gifts God has given them in his service and for the benefit of the whole church (1 Cor. 12:1-31). The leaders of the church should affirm the members in their spiritual gifts, train them in the use of those gifts, provide them with opportunity to use them, motivate them to do so (Eph. 4:11-16), and commission them for ministry (2 Tim. 1:6; 1 Tim. 1:18; 1 Tim. 4:6-11; Acts 13:3), either within their own church, on the mission field, or wherever God calls them. In this process, new leaders are also identified and trained to provide spiritual leadership.

What is the “do” of ministry here? Do you know your spiritual gift or gifts? Do you know the nature of your gifts – where you are strong, where you are weak? If so, are you engaged in the fellowship utilizing your gifts? God gives the gifts which proves His direction as to those ministries to be undertaken. It is critical that the fellowship’s gifts be identified!

Indeed, church-wide ministry is not limited to each individual local church but extends to the body of Christ in its broadest scope. Thus, churches of similar theological persuasion should co-operate together at a local and national level (1) to orchestrate the full scope of church ministry that a local church may not be able to do on its own; (2) to hold local churches accountable to a wider body; (3) to give visible evidence of the truth that we compose a united body; and (4) to make united decisions on issues that might otherwise be divisive. This practice was evident in the early church in discipleship (Acts 11:26), economic relief efforts (Acts 11:27-30), and important doctrinal and practical decisions (Acts 15:1-36).

Conclusion:

In sum the purpose of ministry is (1) to bring every believer into a vital, authentic relationship with God through the grace of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, such that every believer glorifies God in thought, word, and deed both in the church and in the world with the ultimate goal of presenting every one complete in Christ (Col. 1:28); and (2) to bring people to saving faith in Christ and then assist them to grow in Christ-likeness. Ministry is not about ritual or routine religion but a living relationship with God. It is not about numerical growth but spiritual growth. It is not about programs but about people – people who are wholly focused on God, powerfully filled with the Spirit, and happily united in a community of grace; people who vibrantly exalt Christ, openly perform works of faith, accurately teach the truth, boldly proclaim the gospel in word and deed, and authentically depend upon prayer.

Email Pastor Tony Raker