In the November 2006, issue, I wrote an article entitled “Revolutionary Concept or Strictly Biblical,” where I mentioned the importance of ministry in regards to our stewardship, the two being closely linked.
For many of us within Orthodoxy, however, ministry can be a rather vague word. Many of us may think that ministry belongs solely in the domain of the Priest. But this is not the case. In Christian circles, ministry and “ministries” may be seen as those vehicles through which we bring people to Christ, by word and by deed.
The word ministry is taken from the Greek (diakonia) meaning the service or ministering of those who execute the commands, and of those who by the command of God proclaim and promote religion among men. (Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament.) In other words, there is a strong component of obedience to the will of the master.
Below, let’s review two different forms or definitions of the word, ministry.
At the end of the Gospel of Matthew, our Lord gives us what has become known as the Great Commission. He says, “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, teaching them to observe all things I have commanded you. . .” (Matt. 28:19-20). Now, any and all programs that are established to enhance this mission may be considered ministries.
A second definition involves service to those in need. Perhaps the most direct and poignant parable of Christ that explains this is found in Matt: 25:31-46, the Parable of the Last Judgment, or Second Coming. Here our Lord teaches us to feed the poor, give to those who thirst, take in the homeless, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and visit those in prison.
Though these may be two rather distinct definitions, they are truly inseparable.
What do we personally gain from ministry? First, there is the sense of spiritual fulfillment of doing Christ’s will, this leading to Christian maturity. Those who engage in ministry become His disciples in a more complete sense by following His teachings. There are many biblical passages including the Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man (Luke 16:20-25), and the Epistle of James 2:14-26, that are all consistent with the teaching that our works and our faith are both essential aspects of moving toward our salvation, which is life eternal in Christ. Here, I must take a moment to again explain as I did in my first article, “Faith, Works, and the Grace of God,” that we are saved through the grace of God – a free gift as Saint Paul explains it in Romans 5 – grace through faith working through love (Gal. 5:6). This understanding of grace must be seen as a most important premise for all writings on Stewardship. Nonetheless, we have our obligations as can be seen directly in Luke 17:7-10, “We have done what was our duty to do, (vs. 10).”
Love is exemplified through action, which is another way of looking at ministry. Here we preach the Gospel by living the Gospel, whether it be in our normal daily lives or within the Church (though our daily lives must never be viewed as distinct and separate from the Church). All of this plays an important part in our journey toward salvation. What we truly need to focus upon in this world is the abundant life through the inexhaustible riches of Christ by following His teachings, which are centered upon love. This is true discipleship in Christ, a complete lifestyle, and this indeed is true stewardship.
What has ministry meant for the Church? Throughout history, the Church, through ministries supported by the people (active stewardship), has brought the Gospel message of Christ to all nations. Again, this has been done by word, by deeds (acts of mercy), and with the miraculous signs of our Lord and Savior. Without ministry, bringing the saving Grace of Jesus Christ to the entire world would not have been possible.
Where does all of this leave us today? People, especially the younger and more idealistic ones, want to see that we, as the Church, practice the Lord’s actual teachings, and that we are willing “to put our money where our mouths are.” History shows that the Church grew almost exclusively because of Her ministries in exemplifying the faith of Her children. Indeed, all growth – spiritual and financial – has always been ministry driven. The Church preached the Gospel not only by word but also through action: she fed the poor, clothed the naked, visited the sick, visited those in prison, etc, and thus showed tremendous love for humanity. Christians were even willing to die for their beliefs during times of persecutions, and during plagues in caring for the sick. As a result, people responded to the call of Jesus, to a life in Him and toward His promised salvation. Indeed, dare we preach the Gospel by word without first preaching it by example?
What ministries could we utilize in our churches that would enhance our spiritual health, our growth in numbers and our financial support? Below is a short list of ministries, which can both enhance the mission of Christ and help us all to lead a more perfect abundant life in Him in service to humanity while we ourselves travel that road toward salvation:
• Soup Kitchen, Food Bank and Clothing Bank (There are those communities that do this very effectively);
• Christian Fellowship for different age groups;
• Outreach and Evangelism;
• Youth and Young Adult Ministries;
• Religious Education for both adults and children;
• Orthodox Christian Fellowship: Campus Ministry at local colleges and universities;
• Crisis Counseling and Care;
• Communications to the general public;
• Parish Book Store;
• The Ladies Philoptochos, which could be key in all other ministries;
Many more could be added, and all of these can assuredly augment the growth of parish communities in spirit, physical numbers and in stewardship. Yet the one common thread that runs through each and every one of these ministries is the ministry of prayer, and the power of prayer to invigorate us as we engage in ministry.
In closing allow me to reemphasize the link again between stewardship and ministry. Our stewardship, our time, abilities and our resources give us the strength to minister to those in need. When people see the fruits of ministry, they refocus their support through their own stewardship. Thus, stewardship and ministry become inextricably linked – totally indivisible – each being both the cause and the effect of the other.