Today, church ministry:
1. Can commonly be done by ‘ministers’ who haven’t necessarily been cleansed by the blood of Jesus. Yes, a pastor can ‘minister’ never having actually been regenerated by the Holy Spirit — having not actually yet experienced the cleansing and renewal of the Holy Spirit.
2. Is seen as an option rather than something that all Christians are to be engaged in. In early church times, everyone was involved in ministry — which is probably seen as a sign of having undergone a salvation experience. Those who see ministry as an option haven’t considered that there is always a role for anyone to play in the Kingdom of God. To serve should be considered a fruit of the Spirit.
3. Is more a noun — a thing of status, whereas in the earliest day it was a verb — a function. When ministry is a function incorporated into our life itself, we have a direct line of communion with the Lord. If it is a status, however, we do our works for the Kingdom in vain, which is not to say that God won’t use them.
4. Is no longer a shared activity as it was almost always in the early church. Ministry nowadays is very often done individually. Those who engage as teams honour how church was done from the earliest days. We need to remember that those who are still on the journey to faith need to see how we “love one another” in the actual midst of life.
5. Requires “authorisation” and follows more a secular model. In the early church authorisation always seemed to follow ministry — a deed done by faith. When we go forth “in the Spirit” we trust the Spirit and no human authority should clamp down on such a thing unless it’s unsafe, immoral, inappropriate or unbiblical. If a truly regenerate person follows a leading of the Spirit they are acting in obedience and they should be encouraged.
6. Intellect carries more weight than character. That flies in the face of the biblical worldview. Character, and giftedness, was always more important in the early New Testament church. This, I find a personal frustration, but I also honour the fact that God can refine us and sanctify us even more through our studies. But Degrees without character and giftedness are a waste of time and will prove vain.
7. Is very often led by young and inexperienced pastors, but the First Century church, and much of time since, church leadership was set apart for experienced people. Young people, especially in this day, are much more charismatic and attractive than those in their 40s, 50s and 60s, but we miss so much of the grace embodied in experienced persons when we promote those in their 20s and 30s to senior positions — especially when they have had few life experiences of suffering. Our gospel is a gospel of being sanctified out of suffering and of service out of that suffering.
8. Is done by ministers whose training is confined to colleges or seminaries, whereas ministers have traditionally been trained on-the-job, like apprentices, under Rabbis and the like. With such an emphasis on formal training there is less grounding in how to deal with people, relationships, conflict and actual forgiveness. It is possible to become accredited or ordained and to have never honed those ‘soft’ skills that require and form so much character in us.
9. Is not a local and circulating ‘activist’ ministry as many early ministers were. These early ministers were freed to serve in the areas of their gifts without being weighed down by the sorts of administrative tasks that deacons would carry out. There seems, in the earliest days, to be a more topical dividing line between those who are settled in ‘parish’ roles compared with those in ‘itinerant’ roles.
10. Is not often conducted by local ministers who have a long-term commitment to their local church like the far majority of ministers of past centuries had. Many ministers over the centuries gone have devoted themselves to decades in one place. This is still a good standard of success today.
11. Involves the ministry of paid pastors, which was basically unheard of in early times. The church might still support their minister, as they should, but there would often be some sort of tent-ministry that the trained leader would stay part of. Either way, paying pastors by salary emulates a secular model. Imagine if we could ‘pay’ our pastors more creatively according to their and their family’s real needs. This would mean we would have to know them, pray for them, and have a line of communication open that would allow the church to love their pastor appropriately.
12. Usually features pastors and church leaders who like to do all the ministry work themselves. But all throughout the history of the church, the minister would see their ministry as being that of an enabler of persons; an identifier of gifts in others that the good Lord would desire to use. This reminds me of my first senior pastor, who identified his role as most simply being an enabler of persons to unlock their giftedness. When a senior church leader sees people as God’s gift to the local church, he or she asks, “How can I endorse this person’s gifting, inspire them to use their gifts, and see them blessed through the use of their gifts?”
13. Does not seem to value as central the role of solid Christian doctrine as the vastness of the tradition of church leaders have in the past. We can reel off a series of high profile ‘pastors’ who spruik a prosperity doctrine, for just one instance. They we only have to think of Westboro Baptist in America’s south as another example of truth without love. The early church had three qualities in ministers of the gospel: 1) character, 2) “apt to teach,” and 3) “holding fast to the faithful Word.”
14. Is loaded with the need to have functional and in many cases elaborate facilities. The early church was built around people and not buildings. But we are often constrained if we don’t have amenities that live up to an impression we wish to give. The works of ministry are easily able to operate in the atmosphere of care and in the environment of acceptance, love and inclusion.
Church leadership and ministry today has moved a long way from the core ideals set up by the Apostles. The less we run our churches and our ministries according to secular ideals, the more we will bless the Kingdom.
Offering people a solacing sanctuary away from their fractious world is one cogent thing the church can give people of all walks of life.
© 2015 Steve Wickham.
Reference: these observations are a commentary on Michael Green’s 14 points as written in Freed to Serve (London, Hodder & Stoughton, 1983).