“So when are you going to stop working for… [insert a ministry role that isn’t in a local church]… and go back into real ministry?” Have you ever heard that question before? Or how about the typical conversations where things other than the local church are seen as good and right things to do, but they aren’t called ministry. It’s as if ‘ministry’ is a word reserved only for pastors or for things pertaining to the local church. This downplays the role of other ministries and I don’t think that it’s helpful.
The circles that I run in, the circles that I’ve been trained in, and the general conservative evangelical church, are in danger of thinking that ministry is only about them. Or more specifically, we’re in danger of thinking that ministry is only referring to local church ministry.
Don’t get me wrong, I am completely sold on the importance of the local church. I am a pastor in a church, I’ve been in local church ministry for a while and I grew up in local church ministry. I get it. Acts 6, Romans 12, Ephesians 4, 1 and 2 Timothy, etc. I am sold. But I wonder if many people, particularly those of us in full time local church ministry, are in danger of diminishing the work of others who are doing a different type of ministry. This might show itself in side comments to those in training roles that they are “preparing for ministry” or that they’ll “understand the complexities of ministry when they are in it”. I’ve heard these said, I’ve had them said to me, and it is proud.
Ministry doesn’t begin once you earn a certain amount of money. Ministry doesn’t begin if you’ve logged enough hours. Ministry isn’t only real when you’re preaching from the pulpit or you’re a pastor. At its most basic root, ministry means serving. That service happens in the local church, it happens on the uni campus, it happens on school grounds, it happens in publishing houses, in Christian book shops and cafes. Ministry happens when the Lord’s people serve one another with the purpose of building each other up, pointing other Christians, and the lost, to see the beauty of the gospel and the good news of Jesus Christ.
Having a narrow view of ministry means that you run the danger of diminishing the gifts of others. There are those who aren’t gifted preachers, but who have been wonderfully gifted to serve the Lord through sports ministry to reach teams and others with the gospel. There are those who won’t be great small group leaders, but who have the brain and skill to edit books for the encouragement of the Church to equip them with a greater knowledge of God and His Word. There will be those who might never feel comfortable up front, but who do more pastoral work behind the scenes than a whole church staff team combined.
To have a narrow definition of ministry is to have a narrow understanding of how the Lord is at work. Pastors and leaders shouldn’t only train people to push them into local church ministry, but we should be encouraging and equipping people to use the gifts that God has given them and serve Him with those gifts. I do think that the local church should be the priority, but that does not mean that all other kinds of ministry need to be neglected. It’s not an either/or, but a both/and.
Pastors and church leaders, we cannot be so vain to think that ministry is only about us and our churches. Ministry is not confined to the realm of the local church. There are a ton of helpful and faithful ministries that are not directly in the local church. These are not to be diminished, or to be looked down on, but they are to be encouraged and supported as together, each in our own way, we work to spread the gospel and to see people reached for Christ. Ministry is a task that every Christian should be involved in, don’t forget the local church, but don’t think that everything outside of the local church automatically is something other than ministry.
We cannot be so vain to think that ministry is only about us and our churches. To have a narrow definition of ministry is to have a narrow understanding of how the Lord is at work through His people today.