Each and every Christian is ordained for ministry at baptism. The big problem with this statement is our dualistic understanding of the word “ministry.” We frequently hear people talk about going into the ministry. Some talk about quitting their jobs and going into full-time ministry. On several occasions I have asked a groups what ministry is. Repeatedly I have heard back from one or more people that ministry is what you do without receiving profit or personal gain.
The Greek word diakonia is the word we translate as both “ministry” and “mission.” What does it mean? It means anything done in the employ of another. Consequently, ministry is anything we do in the employ of God. How has God chosen to employ us?
There are three ways that God has chosen to employ us. They are three distinct calls to service yet they are thoroughly and inextricably related. It can be helpful to identify each call with a person of the trinity so long as we keep the inextricable unity of the trinity in mind.
First, there is the call of the father to creation stewardship. In the first two chapters of Genesis, God gave humanity dominion over creation and told humanity to subdue it. Humanity has been given the mission of “working” the garden. Subduing the earth does not mean abusing or defiling the earth, but neither does it mean leaving it intact and unaltered. God places us as stewards over his resources and commissions us to become co-creative with him in fashioning creation into something more complete. God tells humanity to fill the earth as eikons of his authority and of his intentions for the created order. As a result of the fall, this work has become frustrated but the call has not been rescinded.
By the uniting of Adam and Eve into a family, God established the family as the only pre-fall human institution. The command to fill the earth and subdue it clearly implies that humanity will need to develop relationships beyond the family in order to coordinate and accomplish the mission. God does not give any instruction on how to do this or on what form such relationships should take. It appears that the formation of human relationships, emanating from the family to ever widening relationships, is to be part of the co-creative process humanity will pursue with God. Therefore, when we speak of creation stewardship we are not just speaking of material resources. We are speaking of the whole temporal order of human activity and institutions.
Second, there is the call of the son to kingdom service. Jesus said:
"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
(John 3:16-18 NRSV)
Through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Kingdom of God has been established. The forces of evil are thrashing about in the throes of death but they have been vanquished. God has called us to occupy his Kingdom and be his ambassadors until he returns and fully establishes his Kingdom of shalom. Every authority will be brought back under the authority of the Prince of Peace. This future is certain and cannot be altered.
Jesus calls us to bring the future into the present by giving faithful witness in word and deed as to the world order that is to come. Jesus gave us the Great Commission.
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:18b-20 NRSV)
Jesus last words at his accession were:
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." (Acts 1:8 NRSV)
Kingdom service is bringing the future into the present by carrying on the work of Jesus in our present age.
Third, there is the call of the Holy Spirit to exercise gifts. Every person (without exception) has been given gifts. There are two ways we can think of gifts. One way is when abilities are given to us that have nothing to do with our personal makeup or skills. The Holy Spirit, for whatever reasons, empowers us to do supernatural (i.e., that which is not natural to our abilities) works. There are also our natural gifts. These gifts emanate from a combination of innate personal characteristics and a lifetime of experience and formation. Whether supernatural or natural gifts, the call of the Holy Spirit is to employ those gifts in creation stewardship and building up the Kingdom of God.
The sad reality of our dualistic thinking is that the call to creation stewardship has largely atrophied. What the Scripture calls creation stewardship, we now call secular work, which is taken to mean that it is of the material world and therefore of lesser or no consequence when compared to matters that deal with our “spiritual lives.” For too many, Kingdom service has ceased to be about “occupy until I come” and has become a call to exit the world (where God will one day come to dwell with humanity) for the hope of some future disembodied spiritual utopia. Others attempt to “breathe the spirit of God” into the secularized natural environment, into themselves, or into their Utopian visions, thus mistaking the created order, or themselves, for God. When it comes to exercising gifts, countless congregations do “spiritual gifts” inventories but the purpose of these inventories is to figure out which slot in the ecclesiastical machinery a person should fill. Since we all know that ministry occurs only within the machinery of the church, helping people to understand how their gifts should be used in creation stewardship would not be helping them to understand how they can contribute to the ministry. This is pure madness!!! It is also the reality of the context we live in.
Ministry is not defined by what we do. It is defined by who we are doing for. God has given us a Trinitarian call and all work that is done in response to that Trinitarian call is ministry.