Ministry is Service

Posted on March 8, 2018

by John E. Thomas

Kelly Noll asked this question on Facebook:

What exactly does “ministry” mean to you? My friends and I see this differently. I think it is along the lines of when Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you.” Meaning we pray with them and they in turn experience healing and change through the power of the Holy Spirit. They have an encounter with God and usually receive some kind of revelation of His love at that point. But my friends believe that if I am not always giving materially (even to people who are not in need) then I am rejecting others and not showing them the love of Jesus. I guess I am wondering if Christians attempt to minister from the hurt places in their soul to heal another? And if so, has this ideal replaced the type of ministry Jesus showed us to do? I have never seen, in a culture where people have an expectation of receiving more things, how people really experience God by getting more food or money. On the other hand, I have seen prayer just about move mountains hundreds of times. Given the choice, I would rather give the way Peter did instead of fixing casseroles or whatever. Sorry for the lengthy response but this is really an ongoing issue with me. Thank you.

The word for ministry (diakonia) in the New Testament is better translated as service. It is literally the work a slave does. The root is diakonos which is translated as deacon, minister, or servant.

So how does that play out in the life of a believer? Let’s take a look at some of the verses the word is used in to get a better feel for the context. This will help us understand how to apply it in our lives today.

The first time it is used in the New Testament is in Luke 10:40—the story of Mary and Martha. Martha complained because Mary had left her to do all the serving (diakonia) alone. The context here was not operating in spiritual gifting but in doing practical work around the home such as cleaning and cooking.

Next, it is used in Acts 1:17 to talk about Judas being an apostle. “For he was counted among us and received his share in this ministry.” Verse 25 continues, “to occupy this ministry and apostleship…” So ministry here is used to speak of the work that the Twelve did while with Jesus. Service. They made sure Jesus had what He needed, cared for the people that came (sometimes better than other times), and took care of the practical parts of the ministry (like caring for the money purse).

In Acts 6 this word is used to talk about serving food to the widows, which is where we first see deacons appointed in the church. They were to go about the work of serving the people’s physical needs while the apostles spent time in prayer, study, and preaching.

In Acts 11:29 the word is translated in the NASB as relief. It is talking about the offering that was received for the believers in Jerusalem because of the famine that was prophesied as coming to the region. Interesting, service, or ministry equals giving.

In Acts 12:25 it is used to talk about the missionary journey Paul and Barnabas had been on. In Acts 20:24 and 21:19 it is used to talk about Paul’s life for the Gospel and preaching around the world.

It is used in a variety of different places but I want to just look at one more. 1 Corinthians 12:5 says, “And there are varieties of ministry, and the same Lord.” This is my main point. All of our service, whatever it may look like, should be done with the expectation that God will cause the results to be exponentially greater than our work.

We may wash the feet of the homeless or of kings. We may say a kind word to a stranger or a friend. We may hand out food to a bum or teach in a church. We may give to a ministry or a neighbor. No matter what we do, if it is done as to the Lord, He will place His power on it and cause it to accomplish kingdom purposes.

1 Corinthians 12 is just before 1 Corinthians 13—the love chapter. If we go about being moved by love and doing whatever love requires we are doing ministry. That is my definition of ministry—whatever love requires in the moment. I recently taught about the role of compassion in power ministry in my resource Anointed to Love

This causes us to rethink what it means to be “called to the ministry”. It is perhaps not as glamorous as some have made it seem or many thought it was. It is not a place for promotion or advancement, Biblically it is the place of selflessness.

As Jesus said, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)

So Kelly, it is not an issue of one or the other, it is both. It could be handing out something materially and it could be saying, “Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have I give to you.” Both could be Biblical ministry as long as the heart is in the right place.

And that brings up the other part of your question, “I guess I am wondering if Christians attempt to minister from the hurt places in their soul to heal another?”

Yes, that can happen. This is one of the reasons for what we call “inner healing”, especially among those that minister. Wounds from our past can cause us to do the right things for the wrong reason.

Let’s say someone grows up in a home where their mother is overbearing and their father is emotionally distant. The mother can then try to use the children to fill her need for emotional support that she is not getting from her husband. The child that allows that to happen grows up thinking that love is equated with doing things for others.

Love includes doing things for others, but it does not equate with doing things for others. Love sometimes requires us to say no, even when someone wants something really bad. Love includes boundaries, so true ministry must include boundaries.

Jesus did not allow His ministry to be directed by the needs of other people, even though He ministered to their needs. Early in His ministry He was in Capernaum. Because the power of God was there to heal people started bringing the sick and demonized from all around to the house where Jesus was ministering and as many as He prayed for were healed.

Jesus took a break to sleep, woke up early, and went out to a quiet place to be with the Father. His disciples found Him there and told Him, “Everyone is looking for You.” There were still a lot of sick and demonized people waiting to be healed and delivered. What was Jesus’ reply? “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” (Mark 1:29–39 authors paraphrase)

Compassion will cause us to serve. We must love people. But we must love God first which means that we will not fulfill every need we run into—we can only minister what we have been given.

When we are not whole emotionally we can end up responding in two unhealthy ways. We either allow every need we see to dictate our agenda or we hide under the guise of boundaries and don’t respond to any need. As we become more whole we are able to enter into people’s need so that it moves us but does not control us.

Elijah House is an amazing ministry that helps people bring their unhealthiness to the Cross of Jesus Christ and receive the healing that has been made available. I would encourage anyone to explore their resources and prayer counseling. It has been a huge help in Dawna and I’s life. 

Thanks Kelly, good question!