A Lifetime of Service: A Model of Ministry
Jesus Christ saw his life in terms of service: “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mt. 20:28, NIV. All subsequent biblical quotations will come from the NIV). Christ found many opportunities to serve: he washed the disciples’ feet (Jn. 13:1-17), a task generally reserved for slaves (Au, 1985); he feed the hungry (Mt. 14:13-21; 15:29-39); he cared for society’s outcasts (cf. Mk. 1:40-42; Lk. 7:36-50); he healed the sick (Mk. 1:32-34); he taught his disciples how to live (Mt. 5-7); and he gave “his life as a ransom for many.” Indeed, he took “the very nature of a servant” (Phil. 2:7).
I must model my ministry after Christ’s ministry, for Christ’s served as God’s message. “In these last days [God] has spoken to us by his Son” (Heb. 1:1). Because God spoke through the Son, biblical writers hold up Christ as the Christian’s example. To persecuted Christians, Peter wrote, “Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps” (1 Pet. 2:21). Part of my following in Christ’s footsteps means structuring my ministry after Jesus’ service. This essay will examine my ministry in light of Christ’s ministry.
Ministry and the Gospel
The gospel’s connection with ministry becomes evident from Luke’s narrative where Jesus read from Isaiah in the Nazareth synagogue. Quoting Isaiah, Jesus said:
The Spirit of the Lord is
because he has anointed
to preach good news to
He has sent me to proclaim
freedom for the
and recovery of sight for
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the
Lord’s favor (Lk. 4:18-19).
“Preach good news” is euangelizomai in Greek, which refers to the preaching of the gospel (Stagg, 1966). This passage is quite illustrative of how Jesus viewed the gospel; he viewed the gospel as serving others.
The good news would be preached to the poor. In the context of the Isaianic passage, “poor” refers specifically to the exiles living in Babylon, those who are afflicted (Kostenberger & O’Brien, 2001). The “poor,” then, would be the disenfranchised or uncared-for in society. Ministry in light of the gospel means caring for the disenfranchised and uncared-for in society. The good news would also mean the “recovery of sight for the blind” (v. 18). While the blind could symbolically refer to those blinded by sin (Ash, 1972), Luke does not spiritualize nearly as much as Matthew (Harris, 2004) and Jesus did heal the blind during his ministry (cf. Lk. 18:35-43; Jn. 9:1-7). The gospel is likely being connected with helping the misfortunate. Thus, the gospel includes caring for the sick and misfortunate.
Paul also connected the gospel with service. To the Corinthian church, the apostle wrote, “I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, . . . . that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve” (1 Cor. 15:1-5). The gospel Paul preached, then, revolved around Christ’s service in dying for man’s sins and being raised again; the only reason Paul could preach the gospel was that Jesus had come and ministered to man by dying for sin.
For Paul, however, the gospel did not simply refer to the service Jesus carried out on behalf of mankind; Paul served God because of the gospel. To the Ephesian elders, Paul said, “I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me – the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace” (Acts 20:24). Paul’s service to God with his whole heart meant “preaching the gospel of his Son” (Rom. 1:9). The apostle even referred to himself as a “servant” of the gospel (Col. 1:23).
Paul’s service because of the gospel did not just extend heavenward, but he also served his fellow man. That service to his fellow man becomes evident when Paul wrote he proclaimed the gospel “free of charge” (1 Cor. 9:18; 2 Cor. 11:7); although the apostle had the right to be paid for preaching, Paul chose to communicate the gospel by giving to the Corinthians rather than taking from them. Paul’s service to others on the gospel’s behalf is also evident through his desire “to preach the gospel where Christ was not known” (Rom. 15:20). Paul, knowing that without the gospel’s proclamation men cannot be saved (cf. Rom. 10:13-15), desired to preach the gospel where “beautiful feet” had not yet been.
Thus, the gospel, for Paul, was inextricably linked with service. Christ established a gospel by coming to earth and giving up his life in service to man; Paul preached the gospel as service to God and to his fellow man. One can little doubt that Paul’s gratitude for the service Jesus offered on his behalf prompted him to serve God and his fellow man. Likewise, in my ministry, I need to come to terms with Christ’s ministry on my behalf and serve God and my fellow man accordingly.
Paul sought to emulate Christ, and based on his emulation of Christ, Paul encouraged others to follow him. “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). Paul did not simply hold himself up as an example, but he only encouraged others to follow him to the extent that he himself followed Christ. Because both Christ and Paul ministered and encouraged others to follow them, I will explore my ministry in light of the ministries of Christ and Paul.
Pulpit preaching forms a large portion of my ministry. Because I largely preach expository sermons, I spend several hours weekly in sermon research. I aim to preach the text as the original hearers would have heard the Word and then make appropriate application using pertinent illustrations. I use several books for illustrations (e.g., Morgan, 2000; Tan, 1998) and occasionally tells stories from my experiences.
Jesus served by preaching and making appropriate application. After John’s arrest, “Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God” (Mk. 1:14). Matthew also records Jesus’ preaching activity: “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom” (Mt. 9:35). The Son made God’s message applicable through his many parables.
Paul also preached relevantly to his hearers. Several passages refer to Paul’s preaching the gospel (e.g., Acts 13:32; 14:7, 15, 21; 15:35). Paul preached in a variety of contexts; for example, he preached in the synagogues of Damascus (Acts 9:20), he preached in the marketplace and at the Areopagus in Athens (Acts 17:17; 22-31), for two years Paul spoke daily at the lecture hall of Tyrannus in Ephesus (Acts 19:9-10), and he addressed a church assembly (Acts 20:7). Because of different contexts, Paul spoke according to his audience. In the synagogue at Pisidian Antioch, Paul established Jesus to be the Christ by recounting God’s deeds among the Israelites and applying messianic prophecies to Christ (Acts 13:15-41). When Paul spoke at the Areopagus, Paul took an inscription from an Athenian altar and quoted Epimenides the Cretan and Aratus (Bruce, 1988), two pagan poets, to make his message applicable to Gentiles (Acts 17:22-31).
In addition to pulpit preaching, I have an active evangelistic ministry. I find prospects from numerous sources: visitors to church assemblies, non-Christian spouses of members, contacts made through hospital visitation, and social contacts. In conducting a study, I utilize Stewart’s (1975) “Open Bible Study” (OBS). I use OBS, for the study gets prospects into Scripture, provides time (normally three weeks) for prospects to evaluate their lives in relation to Scripture, and calls for a decision at the study’s conclusion.
When doing personal work, I am following both Jesus’ instructions and example. Jesus commissioned the church to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Mt. 28:19). Not only did Jesus instruct the church to go to the lost, but he himself went. For example, Jesus offered forgiveness to Zacchaeus (Lk. 19:9), and he urged the rich young ruler to follow him (Mt. 19:21).
In doing personal work, I also follows Paul’s instructions and example. To Timothy, Paul wrote, “Do the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim. 4:5). Paul could instruct the young evangelist to do an evangelist’s work, for he himself had done so. Although one largely reads of Paul’s doing evangelistic work with large audiences rather than on a personal level, he shared his faith on a personal level. When the jailer in Philippi asked what was required for his salvation, Paul and Silas replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). Onesimus, the run-away slave, became Paul’s son during the apostle’s imprisonment (Phm. 10).
When they are ill, church members expect the minister to visit them. One minister said, “When people are in the hospital, it is not sufficient for an elder or associate to make a visit – they want the preacher” (Crisp, 1993, p. 17). I definitely have felt that pressure: I have been summoned to the hospital in the middle of the night, spent the night at the hospital, spent the day with a family while a loved one was in surgery, and dropped by to check on ill congregants.
Caring for ill congregants, follows Jesus’ example, for Jesus served those who were sick. “Jesus healed many who had various diseases” (Mk. 1:34). He restored sight to the blind (cf. Mk. 10:46-52), he cleansed the leprous (cf. Mk. 1:40-44), he restored hearing to the deaf (cf. Mk. 7:31-35), and he allowed the lame to walk (cf. Mk. 2:1-12). Jesus ministered to the sick while exhibiting great compassion.
Paul, like Christ before him, cared for the sick. Paul healed a lame man in Lystra (Acts 14:8-10), he freed a slave girl from her possessive spirit (Acts 16:16-18), and he healed Publius’ father (Acts 28:8). The apostle encouraged his protege Timothy to drink a small amount of wine because of his “frequent illnesses” (1 Tim. 5:23). Paul did not abandon the preaching of the word to care for the sick, but neither did he abandon the ill solely to preach.
Counseling can take much of my time. In my last full-time work, I provided much directive help; for example, he has helped a sister come to terms with her husband’s adultery, he has assisted a brother learn to manage his anger more productively, and he has helped a family deal with long-standing sibling rivalry. In counseling, I seek to aid the counselee to become more Christ-like.
Jesus counseled those who came to him (Isom, 1991). Isom notes four methods Christ used to counsel: questions and answers (Jn. 3:10-12), parables (Mt. 13:1-52), confrontation mixed with evaluation (Jn. 4:16), and teaching (Mt. 5-7). Jesus’ sought through his counseling ministry to assist people to live in accordance with God’s will, not necessarily to help them live happy lives. Thus, when the rich young man came to Jesus (Mt. 19:16-22), the Lord did not tell him how to be happy with his riches but how he could have eternal life.
Paul also had something of a counseling ministry. Individuals can change their behavior by changing their thinking (Flatt, 1991); to that end, Paul counseled the Romans, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:2). Paul encouraged the Corinthian congregation to do something of an “intervention” with the man living with his father’s wife and to hand the man over to Satan (1 Cor. 5:5); the church was to expel the sinful man from their midst “so that the [flesh] may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord” (1 Cor. 5:5). Paul’s purpose in strongly counseling the Corinthian church was to help the sinful man become more Christ-like.
I also serve through a benevolent ministry. When I was with the Alum Creek church, I often answered the phone when people called the church seeking help; I would take a message and pass word along to a deacon. When opportunities presented themselves, I did take a more active role in the congregation’s benevolent ministry. I often took groceries to families in need, took needy individuals to the doctor or pharmacy, assisted in raising funds for needy families, and organized “Give-Away” days where the congregation gave away food and clothing.
My benevolent ministry takes shape from Jesus, who both cared for the poor and taught his disciples to do so. As Jesus encountered hungry multitudes, he fed them miraculously (Mt. 14:15-21; 15:29-39). When a young man asked Jesus how he might have eternal life, Jesus replied, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possession and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven” (Mt. 19:21). Jesus said those blessed of the Father had cared for him when he was in need: “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in. I needed clothes and you clothed me” (Mt. 25:35-36).
Paul had an active benevolent ministry. Paul was “eager” to care for the poor (Gal. 2:10). When the church at Antioch learned of a coming famine, they decided to send aid to the Judean “elders by Barnabas and Saul” (Acts 11:30). Paul encouraged the Corinthian congregation to give weekly a sum of money for “the collection for God’s people” (1 Cor. 16:1-2). Before Paul could visit the Roman Christians on his voyage to Spain, he needed to make sure the needy saints in Jerusalem had received the gift from the churches in Macedonia and Achaia (Rom. 15:25-28). The apostle reminded the Ephesian elders that through hard work “we must help the weak” (Acts 20:35).
Structure of the My Ministry
Pulpit preaching affects evangelistic outreach. In Paul’s Ephesian ministry, his public proclamation complemented his private proclamation; he said to the Ephesian elders, “You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house” (Acts 20:20). In my own ministry, the public proclamation has complemented private proclamation. For example, an individual began attending the Alum Creek congregation because of the building’s proximity to his home; as Jeremiah heard my sermons he developed many questions which opened the door for private teaching. In another case, I had studied with a member’s spouse, but she refused to obey the gospel. Unbeknownst to me, Deborah’s difficulty in being baptized lay in that the thief on the cross was not baptized; Deborah responded to the invitation to be baptized on a Sunday morning when I discussed the thief’s salvation in passing.
Pulpit preaching affects my visitation ministry. Because I have a visible role before the congregation, I become to many the representation of the church. Thus, my visitation ministry is expected by the sick. On another level, my visitation ministry lends credibility to his preaching, for in his visitation ministry, the community sees how I am putting Christianity into practice.
Pulpit preaching also influences my counseling ministry. Because my preaching ministry makes me visible to congregants, they often seek me out when life makes little sense. My preaching ministry requires taking a biblical text, understanding the passage in the original context, and applying truth to modern life. Counseling requires me do exactly the same thing, and as I gain more expertise in applying biblical principles through preaching, I find helping individuals through crises flows more easily.
Pulpit preaching also impinges on my benevolent service. My being involved in benevolence allows me to practice truths I expound weekly. Because my pulpit ministry causes me to be the most visible representation of the congregation, those to whom I minister connect my service with the church’s helping them. My pulpit ministry also allows me to appeal to the congregation to be involved in benevolence; for example, I have often mentioned the monthly pantry item from the pulpit.
My evangelistic ministry and my visitation ministry greatly influence one another. As I visit members’ relatives and friends, I often establish rapport with those relatives and friends. I can then take that rapport to share the gospel. I have worked individuals whom I met in the hospital when they were facing life-threatening ailments, and many of them were excellent prospects for conversion.
My visitation ministry and my benevolent work are closely related. As I visit with the sick, I always offer service, and I have discovered many opportunities to minister. I have picked up a prescription at the local drug store for one sister, and I fed another sister while she was in a rehabilitation center recovering from a fall in which she broke both arms.
My evangelistic ministry links with my counseling ministry. Because individuals come for counseling when their lives are not going well, they are in an excellent position to come to Christ either for the first time or for renewed repentance. As I work with counselees, I call theme to live up to Christian standards.
As a result of my benevolent ministry, I have had numerous opportunities to share my faith. I have been involved in delivering food baskets at Christmas to needy families; I would place tracts in each basket prior to delivery. I have also followed up with each family which the church aided benevolently. When one family with inadequate insurance lost their home to a fire, the church where I was preaching contributed financially to help the rebuilding and I has done much follow up and the family began occasionally attending services.
My visitation ministry and counseling ministry are so interrelated that at times the two ministries become one. In visiting the sick, I often find situations where counseling is quite necessary. Several years ago, I was called shortly after 2:00 am to be informed that a member’s son had shot himself and was in extremely critical condition. As I spent the day with the grieving parents at the hospital, I provided much counsel from how to deal with a former girlfriend to organ donation once the young man was declared brain dead. On numerous occasions, I have provided counsel to patients who feared they might die or to relatives who feared they might lose their loved one.
Often those who need benevolence also need counseling, thus the two ministries fit together. In an earlier work, I assisted a family whose children seldom had enough to eat. The root problem was that the husband and father neither knew how to manage finances nor could hold steady employment. Hence, I finally helped him with financial planning and career counseling.
Who Possesses the Ministry?
Ministry comes from God (Hart, 1984). Jesus viewed his own ministry as God’s possession. In answering the Jews who wanted to kill him, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does” (Jn. 5:19). In the same context Jesus also said, “The very work that the Father has given me to finish, and which I am doing, testifies that the Father has sent me” (Jn. 5:36). Jesus did not think his ministry was his own invention, his own task, his own choosing, but the invention, task, and choosing of God.
Paul also viewed his ministry as coming from God. Paul wrote, “I have become [the church’s] servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness” (Col. 1:25). Paul’s ministry had been given to him by divine commission; Christ told Paul, “I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you” (Acts 26:16). The Holy Spirit told the prophets and teachers at Antioch, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (13:3).
Similarly, my ministry is not my own, but God’s. The parable of the talents demonstrates divine ownership of ministry, for the man going on the journey “entrusted his property” to the three servants (Mt. 25:14); the servants had no ownership of the property, but their master had given them stewardship of his goods. Paul tellingly wrote about God’s ownership of ministry to the divided Corinthians:
What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe -as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. (1 Cor. 3:5-9).
To Christians arguing about who should have baptized whom, Paul essentially says, “Who cares who baptized you? That makes no difference whatsoever, for this is God’s ministry, not mine, and not Apollos.'”
What implications does God’s ownership of ministry have in my day-to-day work? First, God’s ownership speaks of the reverence with which I must treat ministry. I cannot preach sermons, share my faith with others, visit the sick, counsel individuals, or provide benevolence haphazardly; I must do so “as working for the Lord, not for men” (cf. Col. 3:23). Second, God’s ownership of ministry speaks of the ministerial standards which I must follow. Because ministry belongs to God, I must carefully follow God’s instructions; when I preach, I must hold God’s standard before my hearers; when I share my faith, I must share truth as revealed by God; when I visit the sick, the prayers I says need to be according to God’s will; when I counsel, I must guide individuals based on God’s standards, not Freud’s standards; when I provide benevolence, I need to point the needy to the benevolent Father. Third, God’s ownership of ministry requires that I evaluate himself properly. I am not indispensable for God’s ministry to continue; God’s work continues whether or not I am in the picture. I, when ministry goes well, must not think too highly of myself, for “it is God who works in [me] to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Phil. 2:13).
I seek to model my ministry after Christ’s ministry; therefore, I engage in pulpit preaching, evangelistic outreach, caring for the sick, counseling, and benevolence. Christ’s ministry did not belong to him, but his work belonged to the Father; I do not own my ministry, but he participates in the divine ministry. “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve” (Mt. 20:28). I do not dwell upon this earth in order to be served, but that I might serve God, the church of God, and man made in the image of God.
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