Part Two - Summoned and Equipped by God: Chapter 6 - Ministry - Transcending Clericalism
Ministry in the Bible
What is ministry? As we look around the Church today, Stevens suggest that there are five criteria that usually come into play.
- Place – Work in the church rather than the marketplace and home.
- Function – Done on behalf of the whole, such as priestly ministration.
- Need – Meeting ‘spiritual’ needs rather than secular needs such as preparing a meal for a family.
- Title – Reverend.
- Designation – (Suggested by Roman Catholic scholar Yves Congar) with over reference to Christ, so that service is rendered to others in the name of Christ and because of Christ. (132)
Is this an accurate way of viewing ministry?
Stevens invites us to return to what scripture has to say about ministry. At this point he writes what I consider to be one of the most important insights given in the book.
The Bible addresses this massive confusion with a liberating perspective: ministry is defined by Who is served (the interior form) rather than the shape and location of the deeds done (the exterior form). Ministry is service to God and on behalf of God in the church and the world. Ministers are people who put themselves at the disposal of God for the benefit of others and God’s world. (133)
Stevens examines the language of the Hebrew Adad and Sarat. Abad means “to work or to make” and in later in books in the Old Testament it comes to mean worship - service directed towards, things people or God. Genesis 2 gives us the image of humanity working/worshiping in a sanctuary-garden. Sarat means “Personal service rendered to an important personage, such as a ruler (Gen. 39:4), and the ministry of worship on the part of those who stand in a special relationship to God, such as priests (Ex. 28:35)." (135) Both reveal important aspects about the relationship between work and ministry.
I also appreciated what Stevens writes about the concept of “the servant of the Lord.”
This concept of the servant of the Lord is racially different from the contemporary view of ministry which boils down to being servants of people or the church for God’s sake rather than serving God for the benefit of people and God’s world. The difference is subtle and sublime. The essence of ministry/service is being put at the disposal of God. The need is not the call to service. The call comes from God – from the most comprehensive service of Adam and Eve in Eden to the work of an evangelist. (136)
Stevens diagrams God’s work toward creating servants upon the earth after the fall. He starts with the nation of Israel. That funnels down to a remnant. That funnels down to the messiah, Jesus Christ. From there it widens to the whole laos (people) of God. When the people did not respond to God’s call to be his servants on the earth, God became his own servant and became a new Adam, the first in a new humanity.
New Testament apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastor-teachers are not the culmination of their Old Testament counterparts. That is the fatal equation that leads to exclusively male pastors and priests in the church. Jesus himself fulfills all Old Testament leadership and service. And in Christ the people as a whole become servant of the Lord. Baptism is the universal ordination of people into the universal ministry of the people of God: ‘we are baptized by one Spirit into one body … Now the body is not made up of one part but of many’ (1 Cor. 12:13-14). Leaders are merely people who serve other servants in a particular way. (138)
Finally, Stevens reflects on the Greek term diakonia. It is the word we translate “service” or “ministry.” It is work done in the employ of another. All of the people of God do service or ministry. We are all called to diakonia. Stevens writes:
So it is significant that many of the Greek words available to distinguish an official ministry from ordinary diakonia were not used by the inspired New Testament authors: telos (office), time (task, emphasizing the dignity), arche (mageistry) and leitourgia (publilc service or priestly cultic service). With the exception of telos, when these words are found in the New Testament they refer to Jewish priests, Moses, to pagan civil officers and sometimes to Jesus, but not to church leaders. When Paul does use a priestly word, as he does in Romans 15:16, it is the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel, not ministering at the altar, a priestly ministry that all believers share. (140)
There is much more to cover from this chapter but we will quit here for today. I believe that what Stevens has written in this chapter goes right to the heart of our dysfunctional confusion about the nature of the church and how we see our daily lives connected the larger things of God. What do you think? Am I hyperbolizing?