It’s time to rethink the word “ministry,” and it’s time to change how we use it in every day conversation.
“How many of you are or hope to be in full time ministry?”
Out of the 100 or so people in the room, two raised their hand: me and a freshman that wanted to be a youth minister. I was confident God had called me to work in a church, so this was an easy one (and it was for the freshman, too).
That means 98% of the students in the room already believed they would enter their school the next day (and the workforce eventually) and it would not count as “ministry.”
The noun “minister” is from the Greek word diakonos, used 26 times in the New Testament, and is also translated “worker,” “co-worker,” “servant.” It is a person who carries out the work given him or her to do by an authority.
The verb “minister” is diakonia, used 24 times in the NT, and is also translated “service.” It is the same word used to describe the “serving” Martha did in preparation for Jesus in Luke 10:40. She did the manual labor involved in cleaning a house and preparing food. It is also used to describe the work of distributing food for widows in Acts 6:1. The Message uses “job” in Acts 20:24 as Paul explains the work God has given him to do. And a final use is “support/relief” used by Paul to express the gift given by the Macedonian Christians to the Christians in Jerusalem. In other words, ministry can be things like preparing food, delivering goods, cleaning, charity, and it is commissioned.
The infinitive form is used 34 times in the same ways, most famously when Jesus says he came not to be served but to serve in Matthew 20:28.
Though the word does not always mean the exact same idea in each place, a broad definition might be commissioned work for the benefit of others.
Ministry is serving others. Work is serving others. Therefore, ministry is work.
The emphasis of the word ministry today carries a strong connotation toward religious activity set aside for people who are paid or volunteer to work in a church or charity. Religious activity is a limited term reserved for activities like praying, worshiping, and administering sacraments. Except for clergy, it is completely outside the context of our work lives. Ministry is what we pay pastors to do.
Thankfully, but perhaps surprisingly, this is not the biblical understanding of the idea. No matter what the work is, work becomes ministry when it is done in service to others. As Colossians 3:23 exhorts and Ephesians 2:10 reminds us, in whatever we do, we ought to do it with enthusiasm as work commissioned for us by God.
We should ask each other what kind of ministry we work in: business ministry, construction ministry, carpentry ministry, education ministry, journalistic ministry, etc.
You can make your work ministry by choosing to see it as something you’ve been given to do for the benefit of others, and you can recognize others’ work as ministry by noticing how it serves you or others.