How would you define ministry?
Maybe you define ministry as leading or participating in a mid-week small group. Maybe ministry means volunteering to feed the homeless after church. Maybe ministry looks like giving up a week of paid vacation and instead going on a missions trip to a foreign country.
Perhaps your definition of ministry is shaped by a specific role—on the worship team, a youth group leader, a pastor, a deacon, an elder or Sunday school teacher.
None of these definitions should be discarded. In some way, all of these are beautiful definitions of biblical ministry.
However, I am deeply persuaded—and deeply concerned—that our definition of ministry is too limited.
In all of my travels to literally thousands of churches around the world, I’ve found that we limit our definition of ministry to:
- Vocational Ministry: the title someone holds, either paid or volunteer.
- Locational Ministry: a specific scheduled activity at a predetermined time and place.
The Bible, on the other hand, presents a much more comprehensive definition of ministry.
IF THEN YOU HAVE BEEN RAISED WITH CHRIST
Colossians 3:12-15 may be the Bible’s most direct call to, and definition of, ministry. Before you read the passage below, take note: The Apostle Paul is not writing to seminary students or pastors or elders.
At the beginning of the chapter, he begins with, “If then you have been raised with Christ…” That’s all of us, any Christian, regardless of vocation or location.
This is what our ministry lifestyle should look like:
12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. (ESV)
The ESV says “put on then” but I like the word picture the NIV gives – “clothe yourselves.” Imagine every day that you’re getting dressed for the job of ministry. If you’re a plumber, a professor, or a police officer, you need to wear a uniform, or at least follow a dress code.
In the same way, Christians need to “clothe themselves” for the lifestyle of ministry that God has called us to. Using Colossians 3:12-15 as our guide, here are 10 attitudes of the heart that you need to clothe yourself with every day.
Compassion isn’t only an awareness of another’s need; it’s a desire to do something to relieve it. If we are the children of the “Father of mercies and God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3), it makes no sense to receive such amazing compassion and respond to others harshly and unsympathetically.
Kindness is generous, tender and warm-hearted interaction, speaking and acting in a way that’s understanding and considerate. Even if you’re confronting, exhorting or admonishing, ministry must be characterized by the kindness of Christ.
You and I are more like the people we minister to than unlike them. We have not yet arrived ourselves, and we still need the daily grace that God calls us to share with others. Ministry must not be done with a “holier than thou” attitude, but with a “stand alongside you” attitude.
By cultural definition, being meek is typically an insult, but by biblical definition, meekness is something to pursue (Matthew 5:5). Meekness never compromises what’s right; it simply means showing the way with tenderness and speaking in a way that’s soft and mild. Remember, Proverbs 15:1 tells us that harsh words create problems rather than solve them.
One of the hardest things God calls us to do in ministry is wait. I want to plant seeds in the morning and harvest mature fruit in the afternoon! But God’s work of change, in us and in others, is a process. When we lack patience, we speak in haste and apply human pressure in the forms of guilt and ultimatums, and while the outward behavior may temporary modify, it never results in biblical heart change.
Forbearance, or “bearing with one another,” is the same as patience…but under pressure! The hardest time to exercise patience is when we’re being provoked. All I want to do in those moments is retaliate. But we have the example and power of Christ: “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23). Notice that our Savior’s forbearance grew in the soil of an active trust in the justice of the Father.
When we’ve been sinned against, we must renounce our feelings of anger and bitterness and a desire for vengeance. This allows us to free the person from the fault and from any need for payment. Why do we do this? Because Christ first forgave us—and don’t forget about the parable of the unmerciful servant (Matthew 18:21–35).
This is the ultimate quality for ministry, the virtue that holds all the others together. Love means the willingness to sacrifice personal position, possessions, desires and needs for the good of another. It’s a willingness to wait, work, suffer and give for the benefit of another. Love means being willing to lay down my life for another.
Peace doesn’t mean that your life will be free from conflict or strife. On the contrary, ministry is often unpeaceful. But “the peace of Christ” provides inner rest, contentment, security and hope that stems from an active trust in the presence, power, rule and grace of Christ. When you look at life from the vantage point of who God is and what he is doing as Lord and Redeemer, you can be at peace in the midst of conflict.
We live in an age of entitlement, but if we remember what the gospel says about who we are and what we really deserve, it shouldn’t be difficult to live and speak out of a thankful heart! Thankfulness is a spirit of gratitude for gifts and graces that we couldn’t achieve or earn. It reflects an awareness of the incredible mercy I continue to receive from the Lord’s hand, and in turn, I give that mercy to others, even though they don’t deserve it.
WE AREN’T QUALIFIED FOR MINISTRY
I don’t know about you, but when I read this list, I feel guilty and overwhelmed. I recognize how far I fell short yesterday, and I look at the calling for today, and I’m simply unqualified! No seminary degree or library of books I’ve written prepares me for this ministry lifestyle. That means that you and I must cry out for the mercy and strength of God, who alone can forgive us when we fall short and enable to us to clothe ourselves for ministry.
There’s something else that’s vital to understand: The Apostle Paul isn’t giving us a checklist; rather, he’s telling us to “put on Christ.”
To be effective in ministry, you must take on the character of Christ. Incarnate Christ in your life in the same way that he incarnated the Father on earth. Bring the glory of Christ with you as you minister.
The most important encounter in ministry is not people’s encounter with you, but their encounter with Jesus. You are simply called to set up that encounter.
Prepare yourself to set up that encounter by clothing yourself with Christ and arming yourself with the truths of Scripture.