Have you ever heard anyone say that twenty percent of the people in a church do eighty percent of the work? Could it be that some of those who are not working don’t understand that they have a ministry? The Bible tells us that, “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10) In other words, everyone has a ministry. However, not everyone has a good understanding of their ministry. Not everyone knows to keep God the focus. Nor does everyone know how to perform their ministry in a meaningful way.
The word ministry isn’t merely Christian jargon. Ministry can be defined by three Greek words: leitourgos, which means a servant; huperetes, a personal attendant carrying out the desires and orders of another; and diakono, a minister of the gospel. Therefore, ministry means to serve, or the act of ministering, either in public, to a private individual, or in a church. The New Testament gives examples of all three types (Romans 15:16, Luke 4:20, and Galatians 2:17 respectively) although most people in the church think of diakono when they think of ministry.
Within any church there are numerous jobs to be done and numerous opportunities for ministry. Yet, only one in five “born again” believers in America attend church once every six months. Only thirty-five percent attend church once a week. I wonder how God’s work is getting done if people are not in church using their gifts. If you want to enjoy using your gift for ministry, regular attendance at a church is important.
“We have different gifts, according to the grace given to us.” (Rom. 12: 6) It is our duty to submit to God and determine what our gift is with an open mind and an obedient heart. Dwight L. Moody said, “The Lord must teach us what our work shall be.” For some people it is easy, especially if they are gifted in music or singing. But if a person is not using his or her gift there is a void in that area. Sometimes a person can see a need and volunteer to fill it. Sometimes others will ask the person to fill the void.
What I have learned is that when we discover our gift, we will already be using it. One church I belonged to asked each first time visitor to fill out a visitor card. Then sometime within a week someone from the church would go to that person’s home to answer any questions about the church and encourage the person to come again. The first time I ever went to a person’s home, my knees sounded like a snare drum because I was so nervous. Within a few months after making home visits, church leaders told me it was my gift. I was selected as the visitation outreach director of the entire church. I didn’t know I had that gift until I started using it.
The gifts of ministry in the church could be any number of things, from working in the nursery to cleaning the church sanctuary. It could be a greeter at the door or pushing the lawn mower. It could be driving the van to playing kick the can with the kids. If you can walk, talk, or use either hand, there is a ministry for you. Your job is to be faithful to do whatever is needed. I’ve been in churches where volunteers cleaned the church and mowed the grass because they could not afford a custodian. Wherever there is a need there is a ministry. Some ministries are so basic they require no gift except to be willing to work. Most people can push a lawn mower or shovel snow, or sweep a sidewalk, or operate a vacuum cleaner. People who have these ministry gifts are a vital part of the church because they make it function more efficiently.
“Ministry is not shouting ‘Hallelujah’ at a football game when your team scores.”
The church in America is struggling because people either don’t attend church or aren’t involved. Studies by The Barna Group in 2005 indicate that there were about thirteen million unchurched “Christians” in our country, with the number expected to double in the next twenty years. It’s impossible to use your ministry gift in church if you do not attend. I believe that every Christian man and woman should regularly exercise his or her ministry gift. This is not only in accordance with Biblical teaching, but it is also vitally important for the church and the believer. The believer needs that time of corporate worship, Bible teaching, and fellowship with other believers. These three keep us strong in our faith and without them our faith tends to erode.
In the fall of 2007, Enrichment Magazine reported a survey of why people attended church. The highest reason reported at twenty-three percent was for spiritual growth. Other reasons were: to worship God, being brought up in church, for fellowship, belief in God, and to remain grounded in their faith. Not one reason was to perform a person’s ministry. The emphasis was on serving oneself instead of serving God. Performing our ministry ought to be high on our list of why we attend church.
Keep God the Focus
“You have no part or share in this ministry because your heart is not right before God,“ (Acts 8:21). The first way to keep God the focus (keep our hearts right) of our ministry is to keep God as a priority in our lives. Regular church attendance is one way we do this. It is not the one sermon that suddenly strikes a nerve that makes a difference, it’s the steady and regular Word of God being heard week after week that makes the real significant difference. When I was a Sunday school superintendent I had teachers tell me they were having trouble completing the entire lesson in the time they had. I told them they had to remember they were teaching children, not teaching lessons. The most important thing was that the child was there, heard part of a Bible story, and wanted to come back the next week. It is the week after week lessons that build up and change a person – they are making God their first priority.
Secondly, we need to remember true ministry is about using God’s gift to serve others. In his book, Whose Love Is It Anyway, Judson Cornwall said that loving God isn’t all praise and worship but it also involves love given to others. Worship isn’t always through music. True worship of God is serving Him by serving His people. Our motives for ministry must be to meet the needs of others, leading to their salvation or spiritual growth, and to bring glory to God. Anything less than that and the motive becomes pride, which God will not respect. Author of The Ministry, Charles Slattery, reminds us that “there is no end of the ways in which a [human] can serve God.””
When a person is advancing in their spiritual maturity, they will begin to minister. Slattery says they help anyone in any way they can. They will spread their seed, the seed of love, everywhere they go. If they help few, few will be saved. If they help many, many will be saved. They could choose to reap thirty-fold, or a hundred-fold depending on their fervency and love for the Lord.
A third way to keep God the focus of your ministry is to perform it regularly and faithfully. “The priests entered regularly into the outer room to carry out their ministry.” (Heb 9:6) The faithful person will perform his or her ministry regularly. People will count on them. Sales people know that the way to make sales is personal contact on a regular basis. The same principle applies to ministry. Ministry is a personal involvement in the life of another. Regular performance of our ministries will produce the results of salvation or edification. When performed regularly, we can keep our focus on God. If we lose our focus we also lose our faithfulness and reduce the results.
Where To Start Serving
The ministry of the kingdom of God goes beyond the walls of the church. It is in the highways and byways wherever there are people. Slattery said, “What we want is personal contact with them.” Did Jesus sit in the synagogue and help only those in attendance or did he go to where the people were? Did he give them a passing glance or did he stop to help them? I have some terribly distressing news but we are not saved to ride through life in our own little bubble passing by the world as we travel.
Even though God gifted us to serve the church, sometimes our ministry takes us out of the church. People live in neighborhoods, work in businesses, and shop in shopping centers. Where there are people, there is the kingdom work. There is where God wants us. He wants us to grow the church.
Neighborhood Bible studies need leaders and administrators, and homes to meet in, and food to eat, and games to play. We could do bus or van ministries, or minister to people who cannot get out of their home, teach Bible classes to people in jail or nursing homes where there are people who would love a visit. Prison groups, outreach visitation, adopt-a-block, and similar activities all need workers. There is more work to do than there are people to do it! God’s work is with the homeless alcoholics who cannot overcome their addiction long enough to obtain employment or secure housing. God’s work is in soup kitchens, hospitals, nurseries, nursing homes, jails and prisons, on our streets and in our homes.
How To Perform Ministry
We participate in what God is doing in the world. That’s the bottom-line. There are seventy-six million people in America who do not ever attend a church service. If you want God to say to you, “Well done good and faithful servant,” (Matt 25:23) then get out of the church and go where the people are. That does not mean going to a football game on Sunday and shouting “Hallelujah” when your favorite team scores a touchdown. God’s work is small things like helping the person in front of you at the grocery store who suddenly comes up a little short to pay for the groceries, volunteering at shelters or locations where others are hurting, and even taking people shopping who do not have transportation of their own.
Real ministry is serving others. Sometimes we don’t enjoy what serving involves but we do it anyway. I am reminded of a time when a man so intoxicated he could hardly stand came into the rescue mission where I worked. He was smelly and his clothing was soiled. Two men who were staying at the mission took this man to the showers. They cleaned him up and gave him clean clothes to wear. They are the epitome of what it means to minister.
What about overdoing it? Bible heroes gave their lives in ministry. Look at Jesus, Moses, Joshua, the twelve disciples, and through history all the martyrs left along the way. Unless a person has gone to the cross for someone to see that person saved, there is no such thing as overdoing it. We were made to serve.
From Zero to Extremes
Some will say they don’t have to minister. They might even quote the scripture, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– not by works, so that no one can boast,” (Eph 2:8). These folks make up the large group of Christians who do nothing. They are a part of the thirty-eight percent who attend church once a month or less. Some boast that they don’t have to work, forgetting that God calls everyone for a preordained purpose.
On the other hand, there are people who are always working, fueled by James 2:14, “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds?” Some boast about their work, forgetting it was God who called, gifted, and provided opportunities for ministry. They will tell you that there is always something else to do, to write, to teach, another person to visit, another person without food, and the list is endless. They can somehow become so involved with the ministry they forget the purpose of the ministry. They always strive to improve “their” results. If they work for a non-profit agency and depend on donations for support, they must keep the emphasis on the numbers in order to be funded. If not careful the numbers can become more important than the reason for the ministry: souls won to the Lord.
The truth is somewhere in the middle. Yes we are saved by grace but we will be judged by what we did. Our works done by faith can lead to a heavenly reward, unless the work leads to forgetting who we are working for or why we are working.
We need to thank God, praise God, and perform our ministry. We need to understand our ministry, keep the focus on God, and serve in a meaningful way.