You and I were put on earth to make a difference by serving others and God’s world. One of the things we often do, even as Christians, is to make a distinction between the sacred and the secular – especially in the area of service. It’s interesting that in both biblical languages (Greek and Hebrew) ministry and service are the same word. We tend to associate “ministry” with:
a special place (service in the church rather than the marketplace , the university or school, hospitals, art studios, or the home)
special people (people who are “full time” pastors or ministry directors rather than all people called by God, women or men, old and young)
sacred rites (In most religious traditions those who preach, baptize, and lead worship are doing service which we think of as “sacred” or “holy” – while we assume that those who make meals, or who build houses, organize a neighborhood block party, or serve on a school board are doing “secular” work).
Jesus smashed this false divide between the sacred and the secular. Jesus did not spend all his time in the synagogue, he was often on the road talking with people, on a fishing boat by the lake, telling parables out in the field, praying on a mountain, and before his public ministry he worked as a carpenter. We might even say that preaching was Jesus’ second career! He spent time with “secular” people – tax gatherers, fishermen, Roman soldiers, a woman drawing water at a well, parents and children. By his own life, Jesus embodied the truth that all of life and all service to others can be part of God’s kingdom work – the work that brings God’s rule and reign from heaven to earth.
Of course, the church is a place where there are tremendous opportunities to serve and to use one’s gifts in ministry. One of the things that I love about working in the church is that there are no insignificant talents. We need artists and musicians, teachers and cooks, people who are good with finances, people who know construction, those who love to serve the hungry, the homeless, or the homebound. The church is an incredible place to serve God and others, but it is not the only place. Ministry and Service to God are things we can and should do both in the church and in the world beyond the church.
A minister is simply someone who puts him or herself at the disposal of God for the benefit of others and God’s world. Ministry can happen anywhere as we serve and care for others, because God is everywhere. R. Paul Stevens suggests that it might be an interesting experiment to substitute the word service wherever we now use the word ministry. Imagine saying, “I have been called into service in the church,” or someone saying, “I have been called into ministry in the school classroom, the hospital, the music studio, or at my office.”
Years ago I met a Coptic monk in Egypt by the name of Father Athanasius, who gave me a wall hanging that depicts the privilege of serving Christ. It shows a beloved monk washing Jesus’ feet. Drop by anytime and see it in my outer office. In
Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus tells us it will be the surprise of the righteous that when they fed the hungry, welcomed a stranger, clothed the naked, took care of someone who was sick, or visited someone in prison, they were actually serving Him. The unrighteous will be equally surprised, saying that if they had known it was Jesus they were serving, they would gladly have done it! In other words, serving others and ministry to God are actually the same thing.
Over the next seven weeks, we want to look at Biblical examples from throughout Scripture, exploring the variety of ways that God calls us to serve and minister with our minds and our muscles, with our hearts and our hands. Whether we are called to serve God in the context of family, daily work, the physical creation, the city, or church, you can make a difference for Christ with energy, creativity, and love.