After a semester of discussing ministry in context of an official appointment, whether working as a volunteer, or with a salary — I have been giving some general thoughts to what it means to be a minister. These can be summarized as follows:
#1: Everyone is a minister, no one is exempt
#2: Recognize that humanity is created in God’s image, and act accordingly.
#3: Hear and Obey
#4: Accountability is vital.
#5: Our ministry/calling is not always the same as our official positions. We have a responsibility to serve both faithfully. — if the office is incompatible with calling, it is time to resign.
Everyone is a minister:
The concept of the “priesthood of all believers” is pretty common among protestants. Whatever else this might imply, it suggests a core value that ministry is not limited to a clerical class — but all Christians are responsible for the work of ministry. Matthew 25:31–46 tells of God judging people based on their faithfulness as ministers saying that whatever we do, or do not do for the least of humanity we do, or do not do for Christ. The universal responsibility is clear. Part of Biblical Christianity is living out ministry.
Recognize that humanity is created in God’s image, and act accordingly.
The passage in Matthew 25:31–46, and other passages concerning how we act toward others are in many ways subsets of recognizing that God created humanity in God’s own image. If our actions are guided by this theological statement, we will minister to others as a natural act of worship. It should offend us theologically when another human being is abused. A common quote from George Fox is useful, as it expresses what I think is a universal call to ministry:
This is the word of the Lord God to you all, a charge to you all in the presence of the living God; be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations, wherever you come; that your life and conduct may preach among all sorts of people, and to them. Then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in every one; whereby in them ye may be a blessing, and make the witness of God in them to bless you: then to the Lord God you shall be a sweet savour, and a blessing.
We need to recognize that humanity, both ourselves and others, is created in God’s image. We should live in a way that respects this truth in others, allow’s God’s image to show clearly in our own lives, and in a way that helps others better live according to this image.
Hear and Obey
This simple statement should be enough of an idea of what it means to minister. It is based on the simple belief that God remains involved with humanity, and seeks a relationship. It assumes that it is possible to ‘hear’ God, in one way or another, and thus is dependent upon a doctrine of revelation. If we accept that God speaks to humanity, then we will accept that there is a history of this relationship (A.K.A. scriptures). One way of ‘hearing’ God is through listening to other’s experience of listening to God by reading scriptures.
Those who believe that some people experience a special calling, such as a ‘vocational ministry’ must accept that God speaks to people now, independently of Scripture — just as God did when scriptures were being written. The claim of a divine calling is a claim of of hearing God’s voice. As no one is exempt from ministry, no one is exempt from listening prayer, giving space to hear God’s voice. Without hearing, there is no obedience. We cannot stop listening because we heard God’s voice once. As we grow, God’s may call us to a different ministry, if we stop listening we are refusing God’s authority.
Unfortunately, humans are less then perfect when it comes to listening. Whether we are interpreting scripture, or trying to discern what God means in a more personal encounter, we find that often the person replaces either Biblical text or God’s call with his or her own will. If we are not careful, instead of conforming to God’s will, we will attempt to argue that God supports our own. This human failing requires discernment. In order to keep us honest, those of us who hear should have people who help us separate God’s voice from our own voices.
Accountability is vital
We all need someone to keep us accountable, whether our ministry is simply living out our personal relationship with God, or it is related to an official office within the community. No person is above or below accountability. Part of our corporate ministry to one another is to maintain accountability. When a person is in an official position, there should be an official method of evaluation and feedback. Any assumption that a leader is above falling into sin, and thus should not be kept accountable is an invitation to Satan. (Take this sentence to mean whatever you like. Whether you think Satan is literal or figurative the effect is the same.) When a person is a simple member of the community, there should be a method of accountability in order to nurture growth, but care must be taken to nurture instead of condemn.
Calling and Position
Most communities will have some sort of official positions. These communities also have a method of choosing who they wish to serve in the official positions. One hopes that the positions are well chosen in order to meet the needs of the community (this should be evaluated from time to time.) Many of these positions will be volunteer, some might be paid. Those in an official position have a clear responsibility to the community, which is set by the community. While in such a position, the official should live up to the responsibilities set by the community. It is important however to separate the office from the idea of divine calling. What God expects and what the community expects can be different. The officer is responsible to obey God’s calling as well as community expectations. If this is not possible, one should choose God’s call over the office. If the office and God’s call are initially compatible, but either the office changes or God’s call changes, the minister should resign from the office in order to be free to follow God’s leading.
Ultimately, as ministers we serve God, whether we serve in an office or not. If we are careful to listen, and discern God’s voice properly — the work of all ministers is to hear God and obey.