The Christian Ministry—What Does It Include?
THE mention of the Christian ministry brings different things to mind to different persons. What do you think of? Like many, do you think of a man who preaches and teaches in a congregation? Or, like others, do you think of carrying the good news of God’s kingdom to persons in their homes? Which is correct?
Actually each of these ideas represents a ministry of Christians. But neither in itself—nor even both together—expresses the Christian ministry in its full sense. In fact, if we viewed the Christian ministry as limited to such activities only, then we would have an incomplete, imperfect grasp of what it embraces. Since this would impair our service to God, let us investigate and see what the Christian ministry consists of according to God’s own Word.
WHAT IT MEANS TO MINISTER
Jesus Christ told his disciples: “The Son of man came, not to be ministered to, but to minister and to give his soul a ransom in exchange for many.” He showed that he was thereby setting an example for all his followers. They, too, should be active in ministering to others, not seeking for others to minister to them. (Matt. 20:26-28; Luke 22:26, 27) How would they do this?
The expression “to minister” in this text translates a Greek verb (di·a·ko·neʹo) meaning literally “to serve.” Yes, basically the Christian ministry is Christian service. If we keep this in mind we will be better able to grasp the full meaning of such ministry.
This Greek term lays emphasis on a particular aspect of service, that of a personal service. In fact, one of its earliest uses in the Greek language is to describe the service of ‘waiting at table’ for another, serving food to the one eating, being his attendant.
Did you realize that the Bible uses the Greek words for ministering a number of times in this same early sense? For example, Jesus gave the illustration of a master whose slave comes in from the field where he has been plowing or minding the flocks (rendering service, true, but not of a very personal nature), and the master tells his slave: “Get something ready for me to have my evening meal, and put on an apron and minister [form of di·a·ko·neʹo] to me.” (Luke 17:7, 8) Both Martha and Peter’s mother-in-law ‘ministered’ in similar ways, serving food, rendering personal service. (Mark 1:30, 31; Luke 10:40; John 12:2; compare John 2:5-9.) Yes, “to minister” has a broad meaning. But could activities like those just described ever be properly spoken of as part of the “Christian ministry”? Let us see.
As Jesus had said, he came, not ‘to be ministered to, but to minister to others.’ Nevertheless, certain ones did minister to Jesus and he accepted their service, for it was done voluntarily and with the desire to enable him and his disciples to use their time and energies in spiritual activity. For example, we read of a number of women “who had accompanied Jesus from Galilee to minister to him” and to his disciples. The mother of James and John was among these. (Matt. 27:55; Mark 15:40, 41) How did they ‘minister’?
Likely by rendering services such as the preparing of meals, mending or washing clothes, perhaps even making such garments. (Compare Acts 9:36-39; Romans 16:1, 2.) And they evidently used their own funds and possessions to provide many of the needs of Jesus and his disciples, for Luke 8:3 says they “were ministering to them from their belongings.”
But by caring for the needs of Jesus and his male disciples so that they could concentrate on preaching and teaching, were these women performing a Christian ministry? Most assuredly, and a fine ministry indeed. Such ministry was highly appreciated by Jesus himself and merited particular mention in God’s Word. (Compare also Mark 14:3-9.) This can also be seen by Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats as recorded at Matthew 25:31-46.
In this account we find the goatlike ones, judged adversely by Jesus, saying to him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and did not minister to you?” Jesus replied that “to the extent that you did not do it to one of these least ones [of Jesus’ spiritual brothers], you did not do it to me.” The sheeplike ones, on the other hand, had performed such ministry and were richly blessed for doing so. Do you share in such ministry? Do you gladly avail yourself of opportunities to render help and aid to those of Christ’s brothers today? Yes, even for the “least ones,” as well as those more prominent?
‘MINISTERING’ TO THE APOSTLES
After Jesus’ death, the Bible record shows, some, including young John Mark, Timothy and others, ministered to certain of the apostles (Acts 13:5; 19:22; 2 Tim. 4:11), and some ‘rendered services’ (from di·a·ko·neʹo) to Paul while he was in prison. (2 Tim. 1:16-18; Philem. 13) What services did they render? The record does not give particular details. Aside from providing food and other physical needs we know they carried messages and relayed instructions from the apostles to others, and they doubtless did secretarial work, made purchases, perhaps of writing materials, and performed other similar tasks as true assistants to the apostles. Surely they looked upon such service as a Christian ministry and a real privilege, just as it was.
By their ministering to Paul and others, these made it easier for the ones served to concentrate their efforts on their own particular ministry. Paul had a special ministry assigned him by Christ Jesus and that was “to bear thorough witness to the good news of the undeserved kindness of God,” particularly to the “nations” or Gentiles, to whom Paul was an apostle. (Acts 20:24; 21:19; Rom. 11:13; Eph. 3:5-7) Also in serving as a ‘minister of a new covenant,’ Paul was aiding persons to become part of the nation of spiritual Israel in that new covenant. And, even more importantly, he was serving those already in that new covenant, rendering service as a shepherd, helping Christians to stay faithful to that covenant’s terms and see its benefits realized toward them.—2 Cor. 3:5, 6; 4:1; Col. 1:23-25.
In time, some of those who ‘ministered’ to Paul were themselves charged with doing shepherding work within spiritual Israel, the Christian congregation. Timothy, for example, was asked to stay in Ephesus to aid the congregation there for a period of time.—1 Tim. 1:3.
THE MORE VITAL ASPECTS OF THE CHRISTIAN MINISTRY
Yes, all these many services were ministries, all part of the Christian ministry. Some services, of course, were more vital than others. This was made evident shortly after the founding of the Christian congregation at Pentecost of 33 C.E. There was a rapid growth in the number of disciples, with three thousand newly baptized ones. This gave rise to a need for aid in the form of food and other supplies, since many of those new believers were visitors to Jerusalem, away from their home cities or lands. To cope with this, there was a wholehearted donating of funds by disciples to meet the needs of others among these new brothers and sisters. (Acts 2:5, 41; 4:32-37) But, for some unstated reason, the widows of Greek-speaking Jews came to be overlooked in the “daily distribution” (literally the “daily service [or ministration, Gr., di·a·ko·niʹa]”) of supplies. Who should handle this problem that was causing a murmuring among the Greek-speaking Jews against the Hebrew-speaking Jews?
On being informed, the apostles said: “It is not pleasing for us to leave the word of God to distribute food [or “to be ministering” (di·a·ko·neinʹ)] to tables.” So they had the brothers select seven qualified men and then the apostles appointed these over this “necessary business,” saying, “but we shall devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”—Acts 6:1-6.
So, there were two ministries involved here. One ministry had to do with the equitable and impartial distribution of food supplies (and doubtless also the handling of funds and purchasing of some supplies) for those in need. But there was a more vital ministry to be performed involving, not material food or funds, but the supplying of spiritual food and riches by prayerful study, research, teaching and shepherding. The apostles realized that this latter “ministry of the word” merited their undivided attention. They rightly appraised matters, and the result was that “the word of God went on growing, and the number of the disciples kept multiplying in Jerusalem very much.” (Acts 6:7) It is noteworthy that those assigned to minister to tables did not conclude that nothing more was required in their case. Stephen, for example, had a powerful share in public proclamation of God’s Word.—Acts 6:8–7:60.
SHARING IN THE CHRISTIAN MINISTRY TODAY
Seeing the broad scope of the Christian ministry, we can understand why the apostle says at 1 Corinthians 12:4-7: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but there is the same spirit; and there are varieties of ministries, and yet there is the same Lord [Jesus Christ]; and there are varieties of operations, and yet it is the same God who performs all the operations in all persons. But the manifestation of the spirit is given to each one for a beneficial purpose.”—1 Cor. 12:12-28.
Yes, there are many ministries within the Christian ministry. For the Christian congregation is like a body, and for that body to function properly under its Lord and Head, Jesus Christ, there are many services, many ministries, that must be performed. All of them are essential, though some are more vital than others. Clearly, then, there is something available for everyone to do and, among the “varieties of ministries” to be performed under the direction of the one Lord, there is a wide field of opportunity and privileges.
Many persons today, including not only young men but also mature men and also women, perform services similar to those of first-century Christians who ministered to Jesus and his apostles. Hundreds of Jehovah’s witnesses do so on a full-time basis serving in Bethel homes, printing factories, farms and branch offices throughout the earth. But since, in many cases, their work may be very similar to, if not the same as, work done by persons in secular establishments, are they engaging in the Christian ministry by such activity? Yes, for their work is done in the interests of Christ’s kingdom; it contributes toward others’ being able to concentrate on teaching and shepherding work, to devote themselves “to prayer and to the ministry of the word,” providing the spiritual food needed by Christ’s congregation and by persons in the world of mankind. Yes, and those today caring for what might be termed “necessary business” also can and do have a part themselves in personally ministering the word of life to others, sharing the good news of Christ’s kingdom with their brothers and with those of the world of mankind. They recognize this to be a vital part of their ministry.
In more than 26,000 congregations around the globe, spiritually qualified men serve as shepherds and teachers of the sheep of God’s flock—overseeing their spiritual welfare, counseling, reproving, comforting, strengthening—while other devoted men care for additional necessary duties. (Eph. 4:11, 12; 1 Tim. 3:1-13) Within each congregation there are many services to be rendered. There are sick persons to be visited, perhaps needy ones to be cared for, meeting places to be provided and maintained. Yes, even performing such services as cleaning Kingdom Halls, doing repair work, making curtains, painting signs—all these are opportunities for ‘ministering.’ Men, women and even children can share in caring for these necessary things. And God through his Son also grants to them all the grand privilege of ministering the good news to one another and to honest-hearted persons outside the congregation. (Acts 2:17, 18; Heb. 10:24, 25) Surely there is ample to do for all true Christians in the Christian ministry with its variety of services!
Having this broadened understanding of what the Christian ministry embraces is beneficial. It helps us to find joy and satisfaction in serving. Christian men can see that there are many outlets for their varied abilities and talents. And they should be encouraged to develop their spiritual abilities to serve among the overseers in the “fine work” of shepherding God’s sheep. (1 Tim. 3:1) Wives can realize the value of their ministering to the needs of Christian husbands and their children, being assured that this service has merit in the eyes of the congregation’s Head, Jesus Christ, and of God. (1 Pet. 2:21; 3:1-5) Young people, too, can make themselves helpful at home, at meeting places, performing services for those who are aged or ill, offering themselves for assignments of work under the direction of overseers. And all can and should share in telling forth God’s praise within the congregation and outside thereof, doing all this to their own salvation and the salvation of those listening to them.—Rom. 10:10.
How, then, can you share in the Christian ministry? By accepting Christ Jesus as your God-appointed Head and submitting to his direction, serving with his congregation. You can be helpful to those doing shepherding and teaching work; you can aid others in their worship and service to God and Christ; you can make known the good news to others. Whatever assignment may come your way, large or small, accept it with appreciation. Yes, “in proportion as each one has received a gift, use it in ministering to one another as fine stewards of God’s undeserved kindness expressed in various ways.”—1 Pet. 4:10.