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An Introduction to Christian Ministry

Our understanding of Christian ministry has its foundation in our understanding of the Christian church and in God’s plan of redemption. It all begins with what is described in the Book of Genesis at the beginning of the Bible. Man’s covenant with God was that he be both a son and a servant. God’s covenant with man was that he would give them his presence. This relationship between God and man has been broken by sin and by the Fall.

Jesus Christ, however, comes as both Lord of the covenant and the servant of the covenant. As the Lord of the covenant, he gathers his people together to be their king and he lives within them and among them. He gives his people his presence. He can do this only because he is also the servant of the covenant. As servant of the covenant, he comes to represent us, to stand in our place as our representative head, and to fulfill the covenant for us. He is the perfect Son, reflecting the image of God. He is the perfect servant, obeying God actively and passively, even to the point of death on the cross. When we believe in him we are united with him and we become members of his body, so that the merits of his death and life become ours.

 Therefore we can say

  • Because in Christ God has come himself to his own, we are the people of God through Him;
  • Because in Christ we are united to Him, we are the body of Christ through Him;
  • Because in Christ we receive the Spirit of his presence, we are the fellowship of the Spirit through Him.

 The Spirit finally makes us sons (by renewing our character into God’s likeness) and servants (by giving and imparting gifts so that we can minister in Christ’s name.)

How does this doctrine of the church relate to our understanding of ministry in the church?

In union with our covenantal head, and through the power of the Spirit, we minister according to the pattern and dynamic of Christ’s own ministry in such a way that, through us, he creates a new people for himself which shows the world the glory of Christ and which is a sign of his coming kingdom.


 The Nature of Christian ministry

 Ministry means “service”. But Christian ministry is covenantal service.  What does this mean?

 It means that Christian ministry is:

  1. Firstly, service to God. Ministry is primarily service to our covenant Lord. When we serve others we are serving the Lord. The controlling and underpinning principle is never the pressing neediness of others, but the calling of God. Jesus served God perfectly and primarily when he went to the cross. We serve God by responding to his call.
  1. Secondly, service to people. Being drawn into a relationship with God automatically brings us into a covenantal relationship with all believers. Why covenantal? Because we owe others service. Am I my brother’s keeper? Genesis 4:9. The answer is Yes! We are to meet the needs of our brothers and sisters in Christ with the goal of building them up into the full stature of Christ. Thus, spiritual gifts are always given for the edification of the whole body, not for individual promotion or pleasure. The purpose of ministry is so that the Body of Christ may be built up (Eph. 4:12,16). The ministry of Jesus created and edified a people, and so does all ministry done in his name.
  1. Thirdly, service to, and before, the world. As Abraham was called into covenantal service to be a blessing to the nations, as Israel was called to be a holy nation as a witness to the world, so Christian service to the Lord is always done to declare the glory of the Lord before the nations. All Christian service must be directly or indirectly “evangelistic”. Covenant service seeks to reverse the alienation of sin by bringing all under the healing royalty of our covenant Lord. The ministry of Jesus set forth the glory of God and began restoring the whole creation from the alienations of sin.

 The Functions of Christian ministry

 Jesus Christ fulfilled all ministry or service in himself. He has all the powers of ministry function in himself.

  1. Prophetic ministry. Jesus was the ultimate prophet. When Jesus was on the Mount of Transfiguration, he met the two great prophets of the Old Testament, Moses and Elijah, but we are only told to listen to Jesus (Luke 9:35; Hebs 1;1,2). The function of prophetic ministry is to speak the truth and to apply it to men and women on behalf of God. Thus all Christian ministry has a prophetic aspect, in power bringing God’s Word to people.

  1. Priestly ministry. Jesus was the ultimate priest. While a prophet is an advocate for God’s cause before humanity, a priest is an advocate of humanity’s cause before God. Jesus was the sacrifice that brought us to God (Hebs 7:25; 9:24). As a priest, he ministers to his people with sympathy and service in times of trouble (Hebs 4:14-16). Thus all Christian ministry has a priestly aspect. In mercy and in sympathy we bring people in their need to God.

  1. Kingly ministry. Jesus was the ultimate king. He orders the life of his people in a revealed way through his law, and in a secret way through the over-ruling and controlling of our circumstances (Roms 8:28). Thus all Christian ministry has a kingly aspect, ordering all of life under the healing lordship and rule of Christ. 


The Offices of Christian Ministry 

  1. The General Office of Believer

Every believer is an officer in the church. An office is both a status before God and a required function from God.  Every believer is a son (Roms 8:16,17). Every believer has the power of the Holy Spirit to serve according to Christ’s pattern, and therefore every believer has the office of minister. According to the Bible, every believer is a prophet, a priest and a king who ministers to God, to the church and to the world in the name of Jesus, by the authority of their sonship, and in the power of the Spirit.

  1. The Special Office

It is important to emphasise the doctrine of the general office over against “clericalism” on the one hand, and those who deny the validity and the need for church structure and accountability on the other.

There are three clusters of gifts in the New Testament:

  • Some are equipped as ministers of the Word with communication gifts
  • Some are equipped for diaconal or mercy ministry with gifts of compassion and service
  • Some are equipped as elders with gifts of leadership, oversight and shepherding

John Calvin reflected this three-fold understanding of the special office in Institutes, Book IV, chapters 3 and 4.

c.   The Forms of Christian ministry

We can map the three goals of ministry (God, the people of God, and the world) against the three functions of ministry (prophetic, priestly, and kingly) and also against the two levels of ministry (the general office and the special office). (Edmund Clowney describes this on page 201 and page 209 of The Church.) We can fill in the blanks of the 18 resulting areas of ministry. Each area of ministry is really a cluster of practices that serve or minister to God, the church and the world, by uniting our gospel beliefs with our lived behaviour.

It’s important to remember that each area of “general office ministry” are ministry practices that every Christian must engage in. These practices are rooted in Christian character and the fruit of the Spirit. But the areas of “special office ministry” are ministry practices carried out by Christians who are specifically gifted in that area and who are sometimes called to specialized work. These practices of ministry require the fruit of the Spirit, but they are also rooted in the gifts of the Spirit. So all ministry is undertaken in the power of the Spirit from start to finish.

 Table 1: The Structure of the Church:

General Office

 

 Ministry of the Word (Prophetic)

 

Ministry of Mercy(Priestly)

 

Ministry of Order (Kingly)

Ministry to God

Worship: corporate and private, singing praise, listening to God acc. to his Word, prayer, meditation in the Word

Giving: purposeful, sacrificial giving, living simpler lifestyle for the sake of supporting kingdom work

Personal holiness: repentance, prayer, ordering one’s time, body and life under God’s priorities

Ministry to the Church

Exhortation: Nurturing, mentoring, guiding, encouraging, truth-oriented “one-anothering”

Hospitality: sharing of possessions, welcoming newcomers and strangers, deed-oriented, practical “one-anothering”

Reconciliation: repentance to others, forgiveness, mutual accountability, affirming gifts, relationship-building “one-anothering”

Ministry to the World

Witness: Sharing personal stories and testimonies, giving an answer to the sceptical question

Service: Making the gospel visible in the community through individual deeds of practical love and service, working for the peace of the community

Vocational holiness: distinctiveness and excellence in work, healthy work-life balance, the practice of “sabbath”


 

Table 2: The Structure of the Church:

Special Office

 

 

Ministry of the Word (Prophetic)

 

 

Ministry of Mercy(Priestly)

 

Ministry of Order (Kingly)

Ministry to God

Ministry of Word and sacraments: public preaching and teaching, leading worship, celebrating the sacraments

Diaconal ministry: representing Christ through deeds of service and gifts of administration

Prayer: leading in corporate times of prayer for the needs of the church and the world

Ministry to the Church

Discipleship: group teaching, educational training; one-to-one discipleship and counseling

Healing or Caring ministries: ministry to the sick, grieving, aged, and dying. Intercessory prayer ministries. Ministries that encourage physical and spiritual health

Shepherding: spiritual oversight, pastoral care counseling, encouragement, rebuke, instruction.

Ministry to the World

Evangelism: public speaking, private witness. Developing creative programmes/ministries in evangelism; speaking “prophetically” to culture

Seeking justice for the powerless, the marginalized, and the weak. Advocacy across a range of needs in the community.

Community-building: wise church governance, leadership and stewardship of resources; peace-making. The church as a “show-house”.