What is essential for ministry?
In our modern world, many will tell you, “You need _______,” and the church is no way to escape it. From a beautiful website, big budgets, fog machines, or even a paid staff; many people will tell you all sorts of things you “need” for ministry. Still, our experience has been that you do not need a lot for ministry to happen. But the things you do need are absolutely essential.
My friend Brandon Reynolds at Willamette Christian Church helped me think through this question a little better. He says the better thought is this: how would ministry stop happening? In other words, what are the things where, if you took them out of ministry, it would cease to be “ministry” all together? After all, people have been doing ministry for thousands of years on limited resources. What are the things we absolutely need for ministry to happen?
God: It may seem obvious, but it must be stated. There is no ministry happening if God’s Holy Spirit is not involved. There’s a passage in Exodus 33 where Moses is about to advance the people of Israel into the next phase of their journey. As God tells Moses to go, Moses replies, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? mIs it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth” (Exodus 33:14–16)?
Moses understood that leading God’s people without God’s presence is a fruitless journey. Ministry already has enough headaches as it is, you do not want to try to work God’s work without God’s help. Jesus promised, “ And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32). Without God, you may be doing a lot of things, but you’re not doing ministry.
Scripture: How do we know if God is involved? After all, isn’t it possible to have a huge church and a growing ministry but God’s spirit isn’t involved? One only needs to read a bit of the Old Testament to answer this question, “yes.” Likewise, it’s possible to disciple someone for years with very little visible fruit and yet God is powerfully working in their life. But how do you know?
Paul tells Timothy, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16–17). The Psalmist asks, “Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation” (Psalm 25:4–5).
The connection between God and his word is close to inseparable. Jesus is called “the Word made flesh” by the Apostle John. We will know we’re doing God’s work and God’s will so long as we stay deeply attached to Scripture.
Self: Yes, you, are essential to ministry. Without you, God will be doing things through other people in powerful ways and you will miss out. This can happen when the “cares of this world” begin to entice you. You’ll find yourself around ministry but not doing ministry. You’ll be observing a lot of what God is doing, but never participating in it.
It is interesting to note how much Paul tells his story in his letters and sermons (Acts 22:1–21, 2 Corinthians 11:1–12:10, Galatians 1:11–2:10, etc.). He sometimes uses multiple chapters to tell his churches about what he has gone through. When telling the Galatians, he tells about his turning point: “But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles” (Galatians 1:15–16).
God has given you a story to tell another story. Paul was a Pharisee, teacher, and murderer, but he was given that story to tell the greater story about Jesus’ work in his life. But God used him. And God will use you and your life in order to have you deeply participating in ministry. He’s given you a life in order to lay it down. You can, after a while, be able to say what Paul says to the Thessalonians: “So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God abut also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us” (1 These. 2:8). Paul and his pastors shared the gospel, but they also shared their “own selves.” How are you sharing yourself in your ministry? It is essential.
Others: If it’s just you, God, and Scripture, you’re having a devotion time and your life is probably filled with very little issues. But once you involve others, you’re doing ministry. Ministry is all about how you take the things God is doing in Scripture and in you out into the world.
Jesus told his followers to “make disciples of all nations.” And the word “nations,” in that passage is ethne in the Greek, which can be translated, “people groups” or “all kinds of people.” The people God is trying to reach will be done through other people.
*Brandon Reynolds at Willamette Christian Church should take the credit for this answer. I took his wisdom and gave it to my students.