Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Work of the Ministry

Like many of you, I grew up going to church. My family was there all the time. We were at every prayer meeting, every Sunday morning service and we were even among those who came early and stayed late to set up the chairs! Right out of high school I went straight into a school of ministry, so I have been around "church stuff" most of my life. Now, I don't say any of this with regret - I have enjoyed and benefited from each of these seasons and I would probably not change any of them, if I could. (I would like to go back and change the attitude that I had during some them, but that's another matter :) ).

All of this being said, I have come to recognize an understanding that many people have about being in ministry and doing the work of the ministry. For many years I have had this same understanding, and am probably still becoming free of it. Many people seem to believe that in order to truly perform the work of the ministry, you have to be a pastor or a traveling evangelist. Sure, we all know that we should be sharing our faith wherever we go, but the real stuff happens from the pulpit, right?

For many years I was in the pew, and I have spent the past several years spending a fair amount of time in the pulpit. I really enjoy teaching and encouraging others from the front, but it has given me a different perspective of where the "true" work takes place. Although I never really said it, and I may have never deliberately thought it, in the back of my mind I felt like any other occupation besides being a "minister" was a second rate place to be. I have come to believe that this is completely not true and is also contrary to what the Bible teaches. The pastors, evangelists, etc. certainly have their place, and the Bible tells us what that place is:

Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God's peopleto do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-12, NLT, emphasis mine).

As those verses explain, the job of the professional ministers is to equip all of God's people to do His work in the earth. These ministers are a true gift, and the Lord gave them to us for a purpose. That purpose, however, is not to do the work, but to prepare us that are not "professionals" to do the work. The work of the ministry is our responsibility. Now, does that mean that we need to get behind the pulpit? Well, it could, but not necessarily. The Lord is active behind the pulpit, but He desires to be active in governments, on construction sites, in our public school classrooms, at the check-out line at the grocery store and in the break room at your job. He is active in these places as we become active in these places.

You and I are the ones the Lord has called to do His work, and this isn't something that He intends to start one day - we need to start now. Many of us will never be behind the pulpit, and that's the way it needs to be. We are called to do His work in our sphere of influence. Look around you. What needs to be done? Is there anyone hungry within your sphere of influence? Are there any widows whose hedges need trimmed? If so, you may be the one the Lord uses to meet these needs. It sounds simple, right? It is simple, so why are more people not working within their sphere of influence?

There are probably many reasons for this, but I think in most cases we either belittle our potential in these areas, or we feel overwhelmed by the needs we see around us. We need to remember what Jesus said:

"... I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!"

In spite of how insignificant what we are doing might seem, whenever we meet the need of someone around us, we are ministering to Jesus, Himself. In reality, there is nothing insignificant. "But what about the tremendous need?" you might ask. "Am I really making a difference by feeding the one hungry person around me when there are so many hungry people out there?" Mother Teresa once made a very insightful comment: "If you can't feed 100 people, feed just one." If you feed the person in your sphere of influence, and I feed the person in mine, pretty soon there are a lot less hungry people out there. If you help the widow on your street and I invite the widower over for Christmas dinner, who otherwise has nowhere to go, before long there is less loneliness haunting people's empty homes. If you help tutor the child next door who is struggling in his reading, and I help buy baby food for the teenage mom down the street, there are many less kids being left behind.

What it all boils down to is if I don't minister within my sphere of influence, who will? I am not called to meet the needs of the world, I am just called to help meet the needs the Lord sends my way. It is not so much what happens on Sunday morning that counts, but what happens on Monday morning. That is truly the work of the ministry.

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