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[ what is a 'minister'? - some heavyweight views ]

'who me Lord?' What is the literal meaning of words in the scriptures that are often translated “minister” or “ministry”?  In his book The Shape of the Ministry, Melinsky notes that “All the ... terms [doulos, diakonos, huperetes, poimen, apostolos, leitourgos] are chosen from the world of secular service in its many forms. … All of them denote someone of inferior social status whose prime task is to see that someone else’s will is carried out.  When Greek came to be translated into Latin, the word minister lay to hand.  It comes from minus meaning ‘less’, and it was used to refer to cup-bearers, under-officials, legal assistants and mediators.8

These words suggest the inclusion of all God’s people in the task of ministering his grace and love to his world.  It involves all Christians –  disciples of Christ who seek to follow him in all details of their lives.  The aspect of that Christian life here under discussion is that of service, to God, to sisters and brothers in Christ, and to the wider world, its members and its institutions. 

In his book Practising Community - the Task of the Local Church, Robin Greenwood writes, “The first [principle] is a renewed understanding of baptism, supported by respected scholars of all the major denominations, and experienced as authentic in the lives of many Christians.  This emphasizes that every committed member has a rightful share in the mission and ministry of the body of Christ.”  This leading (Anglican) writer on church and ministry goes on to note developments that flow out such as “an acceptance of the responsibility of the whole people of God as the primary agents of Christian ministry, rather than ... merely the recipients of ministry.”   And that “... for the vast majority of laity it would be a recognition that the main focus of their ministry lies in the opportunities presented by their everyday responsibilities and challenges amongst the people and in the communities with whom they are engaged.”9

This is not a view peculiar to the Church of England, it is common cause across the church traditions.  The Methodist Dr Esther Shreeve has recently written10 “But what was very moving was to see over thirty people all going out to minister in a wide variety of situations, the course having equipped them as well as it could. I had the opportunity to speak to them that weekend about ministry - ministry in the context of being the other side of the coin of discipleship, the outworking of the faith and commitment of the laos, the People of God. I based much of what I was saying on recent Methodist reports, particularly. Called to Love and Praise (1999):

The word laos hardly ever denotes lay people as different from leaders and presbyters. The ministry of the people of God in the world is both the primary and the normative ministry of the Church, for the Church is as much itself in the world as it is in the Church ... the ministry is expressed in Christ-like giving, in social action, and in witness to the Christian gospel … In Methodism, the ministry of lay people has been essential to the very functioning of the church from the start ... the partnership of ordained and lay ministers remains vital to the work and well-being of the Church.11

Other churches have come to see this in recent years; the Roman Catholic Church, post Vatican II, has seen some interesting developments, as Peter McIsaac has pointed out:

The Second Vatican Council, then, calls the laity to exercise their unique ministry in the Church’s mission, which comes from their privileged place in the world. In the daily labours of their working lives, the laity are at the heart of the world where the Church needs to bring its healing, reconciliation and transformation. But they do not only bring the grace of the Church to the world; they also bring the needs desires and sufferings of the world into the worship of the Church and before the altar.”12

Or we can note the Vision Statement of one of many community churches:

  • Every member actively involved in praying for the church, the city and the nations.
  • Every member operating in the gifts and power of the Holy Spirit.
  • Every member brought to Christ-like maturity and released into ministry.
  • Every member demonstrating the love of God to one another.
  • Every member bringing people to Christ and contributing to world mission.13

These are but a small selection from many recent publications affirming the role of the laos, the people of God, as ministers of his grace, mercy, love and truth.  Logically or theologically, the conclusion is hard to escape: Paul writing to the young church meant what he said:

"The gifts he [Jesus] gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ ..." (Ephesians 4:11-12)

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