The church constantly faces the temptation of allowing the culture to dictate its message, its mission, and its operation. If we are not constantly on guard, standing firm, and rooted in the faith once for all delivered to the saints, we will find ourselves drifting away from what God says about the church and taking our cues from the culture. One area where this temptation is particularly problematic is how ministry is defined in the local church and what it looks like.
Ministry Defined by the Culture
For churches that have been influenced by the consumerism of our culture, the work of ministry is expected to be carried out largely, or even exclusively, by the paid “professionals.” When there is work to be done in the church (such as discipleship or counseling) or in the community (evangelism or outreach) it is best left to the ministers on staff at a church, certified biblical counselors, or full-time parachurch ministries. If there is a problem in the congregation, or if a member has a neighbor that needs the gospel preached to them, it must be dealt with by the pastor. After all, that’s what they’re paid to do. And if the pastor or staff doesn’t meet the expectations of the consumer, then they will take their “business” elsewhere.
For others, who have been shaped by our culture’s obsession with performance, and the desire to build a following and a platform, ministry has become synonymous with being on a stage, in the limelight, or on a jumbotron. When a church’s focus is on creating a relevant and entertaining “worship experience” for in-person and online consumers, “ministry” is often used in a more narrow sense to exclusively describe those on a worship team, a drama team, or anyone on stage in front of a camera. This has resulted in a growing trend of Christians basing their “commitment” to a local church on whether or not there is a place for them on the worship team.
In short, ministry has become either something spectacular, performed by those on stage with artistic or supernatural gifts, or it is simply seen as a job exclusively for the pastors paid by the church. In both instances, the work of ministry is assumed to be only for a select, gifted few, and those who don’t fit that category are relegated to the audience.
The Biblical Model of Ministry
This culturally defined view of church ministry as something for only those on stage is far from the biblical model. Under the New Covenant established by Christ Jesus, the entire church belongs to and serves as a royal priesthood (1 Pet. 2:4-5, 9-10; Rev. 1:6). This means it is not only the full-time ministers and worship teams that serve the Lord but all who are called by his name and belong to his church. There is work to be done and no one is excused or excluded from service!
While the leaders of the church are tasked with equipping the saints and building up the body (Eph. 4:12-14), it is the task of every member of the New Covenant to exercise the gifts of grace they have been given to love and serve the body (Eph. 4:15-16; cf. 1 Cor. 12:5; Gal. 5:13; Eph. 6:6; 1 Pet. 2:16; 4:10). Both of these groups in the church, shepherds and sheep, are, in some sense, ordained to an office. As Kevin Vanhoozer puts it, “The church is a kingdom of priests, not an audience of pew-potatoes (Vanhoozer, 41).”
This idea of “every member ministry,” however, is not meant to erase the shepherd/flock distinction. There is certainly a special ministry reserved for the shepherds and teachers who feed, equip, and guard the flock (cf. 1 Tim 3:1-8; 1 Pet. 5:1-4; Jas. 3:1). But what we must understand is that ministry, in the broadest sense, is not just for trained professionals, shepherds and teachers, or those serving on a platform. Paul Tripp writes, “God’s plan is that through the faithful ministry of every part, the whole body will grow to full maturity in Christ. The leaders of his church have been gifted, positioned, and appointed to train and mobilize the people of God for this ‘every person, everyday’ ministry lifestyle” (Tripp, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, xi).
But what does ministry look like for the Christian who isn’t a pastor or an aspiring rock star? In other words, what does ordinary, God-glorifying, loving, biblical ministry look like for Christians? While there is much that could be said, here are a few ways:
One of the primary ministries that belongs to all Christians is evangelism, sharing the good news of what God has done in Christ throughout all the world. This command for the church to be witnesses of the resurrection was given by our Lord himself before his ascension (Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 1:8). As persecution ravaged the early church, we see the gospel being spread by the church, not just the apostles (Acts 8:1-4). Furthermore, Peter tells the church to always be prepared to give a defense of the hope they have with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15), not to simply deflect any and all questions to your pastor.
While community service and acts of mercy are integral to the ministry of the church, Paul tells us that all those who are new creations in Christ are now his ambassadors who carry out the ministry of reconciliation, calling weary sinners to be reconciled to God (cf. 2 Cor 5:17-21). This may not be the most glamorous ministry, and it certainly isn’t the easiest, but it is an essential component of being a Christian. Rather than striving to join a church solely for stage time, consider how you can serve the church of the risen King by sharing his gospel with your friends and loved ones.
Membership and Discipleship
Arguably the most basic ministry in the Christian life is belonging to and serving a local church. And yet, in our individualized, consumeristic culture, this is the ministry that gets neglected or outsourced the most. For many today, “belonging to a church” simply means you attend a church on Sunday. It no longer carries the idea taking responsibility for, and submitting to, a local church as a committed, covenant member of that church. But according to Scripture, the ministry of every Christian is to belong , serve, and submit to a local church.
We think of “discipleship” as either something that the “pastor of discipleship” does or as merely a one-on-one meeting at a coffee shop. But discipleship is not a program; it’s the every-day, radically ordinary, lifestyle of a Christian. Discipleship is how every Christian carries out the “one another” commands of Scripture in obedience to the Lord Jesus:
- Love one another (Jn. 13:34)
- Honor one another above yourselves (Rom. 12:10)
- Live in harmony with one another (Rom. 12:16)
- Build up one another (Rom. 14:19; 1 Thess. 5:11)
- Accept one another (Rom. 15:7)
- Admonish one another (Rom. 15:14; Col. 3:16)
- Care for one another (1 Cor. 12:25)
- Serve one another (Gal. 5:13)
- Bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2)
- Forgive one another (Eph. 4:2, 32; Col. 3:13)
- Be patient with one another (Eph. 4:2; Col. 3:13; 1 Thess 5:14)
- Speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15, 25)
- Be kind and compassionate to one another (Eph. 4:32)
- Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs (Eph. 5:19)
- Submit to one another (Eph. 5:21, 1 Pet. 5:5)
- Consider others better than yourselves (Php. 2:3)
- Look to the interests of one another (Php. 2:4)
- Bear with one another (Col. 3:13)
- Teach one another (Col. 3:16)
- Comfort one another (1 Thess. 4:18)
- Encourage one another (1 Thess. 5:11)
- Exhort one another (Heb. 3:13)
- Stir up one another to love and good works (Heb. 10:24)
- Show hospitality to one another (1 Pet. 4:9)
- Use your gifts for the benefit of one another (1 Pet. 4:10)
- Clothe yourselves with humility towards one another (1 Pet. 5:5)
- Pray for one another (Jas. 5:16)
- Confess your faults to one another (Jas. 5:16)
People often attend churches looking for ways to “get involved,” wanting to serve on a worship team, hoping for time in the spotlight while neglecting the clear commands we have in Scripture. Yet it’s obeying those commands— serving a particular, identifiable group of Christians in a specific, local church under the oversight of elders—is what biblical ministry looks like. Pastors equipping saints to build up the body is Jesus’ discipleship program.
Another ministry inextricably tied together with membership and discipleship, yet often overlooked and underappreciated, is gathering together with the local church.
Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near (Heb 10:24-25)
This passage isn’t just talking about gathering together in Starbucks or in a home for dinner. Hebrews was written to people who were already in the habit of meeting together on the first day of the week, what the apostle John calls the “Lord’s Day” (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor 16:2; Rev 1:10). This is primarily an exhortation for the church to continue to gather together for corporate worship: to sing praise to God, to confess their sins, to receive assurance of pardon, to hear the word preached, and to partake of the sacraments.
Matt Smethurst helpfully points out that church attendance, far from being a burden or simply a discipline, is actually a ministry. Look closely at Hebrews 10:24-25. Notice that the opposite of “not meeting” is encouraging one another! This means that by gathering regularly with the local church we are engaging in the ministry of serving and encouraging one another. Smethurst writes: “Without the ministry of attendance, we cannot be known; if we are not known, we cannot be encouraged; if we are not encouraged, we will not endure. We gather, then, in order to mutually encourage, and we encourage in order to mutually endure.”
According to Scripture, the entire Christian life is ministry. Evangelism, discipleship, and attendance are enough to keep us busy every day of our lives. No stage or spotlight is required in order to serve a local congregation meaningfully and faithfully.
Do you want to “get involved” in a church? Do you desire to serve a local congregation in obedience to the Lord Jesus? Then commit to local church by becoming a member; fulfill the “one another” commands of Scripture in that local church by gathering often; and share the gospel with unbelievers in your community. If you get to serve the church with your gifts of teaching and music and administration on top of that, great! But above all, let’s remember what radically ordinary and biblical church ministry looks like and not let the world define it for us.
Mitch Bedzyk serves as a teacher and worship leader at Elmira Christian Center. He received his Master of Theological Studies from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and works in IT for the NY Office of Mental Health. He and his wife, Sarah, have five children. In his spare time he enjoys reading, coffee, guitar, following the Bundesliga and MLS, and playing fantasy soccer. You can follow him @mitchbedzyk