By Benjamin C. Maxson, Director, General Conference Stewardship
Summary: What differentiates duty from ministry?
I’m tired of talking to children. I’ve been Kindergarten leader for twenty-five years. I want out! Betty’s plaintive appeal came as the church nominating committee was beginning its work. She had been in that department from the time her first child entered until her last grandchild left. Now she was pleading for relief.
Yet within a few days, she was back. She could not rest with her decision. God was convicting her to continue for one more year, to train someone to take her place. The nominating committee received the news with joy.
A few months later, Betty came to visit again. This has been the best year of my life. For the first time I am working because I know God wants me in this department. Always before it has been because I didn’t think there was anyone else who would do it.
What made the difference? Twenty-five years in a job before it became ministry! Twenty-five years of doing something for secondary, though important, reasons. Is Betty the only one to experience this? And what about the large group of spectators who never get involved in church life and ministry?
Let’s look at ministry. What differentiates ministry from duty or task? We see the difference early in Jesus’ life. As a twelve-year old boy He learned about, My Father’s business. He dedicated his entire life to serving others, and His service came to a focus in the last three years of concentrated ministry. Four key factors marking Jesus’ life and service can also be ours: 1) divine calling; 2) divine equipping; 3) divine presence and 4) a focused ministry. Let’s explore these factors that can transform ministry today.
First, Divine Calling—the Christian, by identity, is called to ministry. Jesus’ life modeled this call: The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mt 20:28). Paul presents the compelling power of redemption as the basis for our call to participate in Christ’s ministry of reconciliation (2 Co 5:14-21). He declares that God gave us the ministry and word of reconciliation. Paul also presents the primary purpose of the pastoral gift: to prepare God’s people for works of service (ministry), so that the body of Christ may be built up (Ep 4:12). Christianity is not a spectator sport. We are called to active ministry—to be players on the field, not pew spectators. This call to ministry is general for all Christians, yet God calls each one of us to a specific personal ministry within the broader focus. Discovering that call marks the beginning of a thrilling journey of service in His kingdom. I find that while the location of my ministry may have changed over the years, the specific call has not. Others may find their sense of calling shifting over a period of time, as Betty discovered after the year spent training her replacement. The important fact is that we be aware and responsive to our call to service.
Second, Divine Equipping—God equips us for our ministry with specific gifts (Ro 12:1-8; 1 Co 12-14; Ep 4:1-16) and promised power (Mt 28:20). These gifts are not for personal benefit but for the good of the body (1 Co 12:7). God is the one who determines the gifts we receive (v 11). These gifts work together within the body of Christ in the same way different parts of our physical bodies work together. While clear differences exist as to gifts and ministry, these differences are of function, not status, importance or position. Identifying the unique gifts God gives to us individually is a determining factor in discovering our specific personal call to ministry. Ministering within our area of giftedness is one of the secrets of rewarding service. At the same time, the same gifts may be used in a variety of different settings as God provides varying opportunities.
Third, Divine Presence—God does not ask us to work alone. The reality of God’s presence is at the very core of ministry. Jesus presents His over-arching call of making disciples in the context of His power and promised presence (Mt 28:18-20). The Holy Spirit transforms us with Christ’s presence (Ep 3:15-19). Without the awareness of His presence, ministry can quickly lose its sense of divine calling or deteriorate into drudgery. As we bring Christ’s presence and power into the lives of those we touch, our service becomes an extension of His ministry.
Fourth, Focused Ministry—Maintaining our focus is a challenge in our ministry. Jesus maintained a very clear focus. He knew His target audience, adapted His ministry to diverse groups and never forgot the primary purpose of His work. As we examine it, we discover Christ’s ministry to be multi-leveled. His ministry to the multitudes focused on inspiring and calling them to a higher life—a life centered in God. His ministry to the seventy was centered on discipling and commissioning them for ministry. His focus sharpened even more as He concentrated on the twelve—discipling and fashioning them as spiritual leaders. Within those twelve, He chose three whom He mentored.
The focus of Christ’s ministry was forged by His sense of calling and designed to meet the specific needs of the group. As we explore the focus of our ministry, we need to concentrate on the key purpose of ministry—making disciples. This is the general call to ministry within the body of Christ (Mt 28:18-20). While our individual calling may have a narrower focus, we must remember that all ministry finds its ultimate purpose in this Gospel commission. The Holy Spirit creates the new birth experience in our life, then God trusts us to fashion that life into a disciple who is walking with Him.
Thus ministry becomes a life of service—worship (Ro 12:1). It means using the gifts God has given us to extend His grace to those around us. God made us for relationship with Him. Christ’s reconciling death resolves sin’s interruption in that relationship. He then invites us to partner with Him in His ministry. Our challenge is to identify our specific calling and use the gifts he has given us. Identifying our spiritual gifts helps us identify our calling and focus. But more than anything else, He invites us to live in His presence—actively bringing others into the experience of His grace—as partners in ministry.