Purpose of this Session
What does the Bible say about ministry in the Body of Christ? Is there a special kind of Christian who is called to ‘ministry’ and other lesser Christians who are unequipped for such a calling? What is ministry? We consider these questions in this session and look at what the Bible says about specific areas of service in the Body of Christ.
Under the prevailing truth that we are all ministers of the anointing, a kingdom of priests and kings, the Scripture speaks about specific ‘ministries’ or functions within the Body of Christ. We will consider first the priesthood of all believers, and then look at specific areas of ministry as revealed in the Scriptures, specifically ‘deacon’ and ‘overseer’.
Specific functions mentioned in the New Testament include:
Bishop (overseer), Deacons (servants/assistants), Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Pastor and Teacher, Administration, Leadership, Giving and Mercy.
In later sessions we will also consider the ministry of women within the church, and tackle and discuss some of the controversial Scriptures that surround this area of doctrine and practice.
Ministry in the Body of Christ Overview
We cannot cover all the intricacies of ministry and function in the Body of Christ in just a few sessions, so we will be taking an overview of the basic ministries discussed in the Bible. We will not venture to teach the practical details of how such ministries should operate in the context of the local church. Such teaching and discussion is better suited to a ministry school, where practical skills are taught for implementation in the life of the local Body we are a part of. Instead we will look at the Bible’s broad descriptions of the nature of particular ministries, and the character of the ones whom God has called to function in them.
Ministry can most simply and accurately be defined as “service” or “function”.
Called to Service
The paradigm of ‘service’ is the primary thought behind all ministry in the Body of Christ, and the ministry of the ‘deacon’ (which simply means to be an attendant or one who waits upon another) is the foundational ministry of every other function in the Body of Christ.
Regarding ministry and leadership within His Kingdom Jesus said:
“But Jesus called them to him, and saith unto them, Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all. For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister*, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45 KJV)
*Jesus here refers to Himself as a ‘minister’ (the same word transliterated ‘deacon’ elsewhere in the Bible.
Strongs#1247. diakoneo, dee-ak-on-eh´-o; from 1249; to be an attendant, i.e. wait upon (menially or as a host, friend, or (figuratively) teacher); technically, to act as a Christian deacon: — (ad-)minister (unto), serve, use the office of a deacon.
A Nation of Ministers
The New Testament paradigm does not make ministry exclusive, quite the opposite. Whereas the Old Testament speaks of a particular tribe (Levi) set apart exclusively to minister to and for God, the New Covenant removes these boundaries and invites all to come boldly to the throne, and commissions all to serve and demonstrate the love and power of God to the world around them.
God’s desire was never to limit His expression to one group of people, but to raise a nation to display His glory among the nations, that all would see and come to Him in repentance and faith.
His original design for Israel was to raise a nation of priests:
“And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.” (Exodus 19:6)
Unbelief and fear prevented God’s dream coming to pass at that time and He was forced to raise the tribe of Levi alone to act as His ministers (although His anointing and calling also manifested itself at times through people of each of the tribes, the general ministry was exclusively Levitical).
His desire for a nation of priests however has now been realised in Christ:
“But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light:” (1Peter 2:9 KJV)
Through the nation of Ecclesia He displays His character, glory and wisdom to the spiritual world, and among the nations, calling them to Himself:
“[The purpose is] that through the church the complicated, many-sided wisdom of God in all its infinite variety and innumerable aspects might now be made known to the angelic rulers and authorities (principalities and powers) in the heavenly sphere. This is in accordance with the terms of the eternal and timeless purpose which He has realized and carried into effect in [the person of] Christ Jesus our Lord,” (Ephesians 3:10-11 AMP)
This is declared to be God’s eternal purpose, the Ecclesia (comprising both Jew and Gentile) being the very centre of it!
God has given each member of the Ecclesia a ministry, or function, within His Body, adding to and building up the whole. There are many members but not all have the same function (Romans 12:4-5), yet they still function together as one entity, displaying corporately the image of Christ to the world:
“For as in one physical body we have many parts (organs, members) and all of these parts do not have the same function or use, So we, numerous as we are, are one body in Christ (the Messiah) and individually we are parts one of another [mutually dependent on one another].” (Romans 12:4-5 AMP)
Originating in Christ Himself, the Head of the Body, each person has a special role to play, and a particular gift and grace to exercise, in service of others. Peter encourages every one to use their abilities in service of others within the Body. This is ministry. It is much broader and holistic than just preaching, teaching or leading worship. Our paradigm of ‘ministry’ must extend beyond the limits of a church ‘service’, or we will fall sadly short of the mark, and essentially disqualify the greater percentage of the Body from ever finding their place and fulfilling their function. Peter expressly says that ‘each one’ has something unique to offer.
“As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. Whoever speaks, let him speak, as it were, the utterances of God; whoever serves, let him do so as by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (1Peter 4:10-11 NASB)
Our natural abilities, aptitudes and interests are by design, no less than the spiritual gifts and callings He has given each one of us. All are given for the upbuilding of the Body in love.
“from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.” (Ephesians 4:16 NASB)
It must be stressed, the New Testament knows nothing of a two-tier community; the minister and the congregation; priest and people. This is a religious paradigm that dresses Old Testament models in New Testament clothing, seeking to pass as a new wineskin, yet underneath remaining unchanged.
“The clerical system of church management is exceedingly popular, but the whole thought is foreign to Scripture. In a church all the members are active. He [God] appointed some to take oversight of the work so that it might be carried out efficiently. It was never His thought that the majority of the believers should devote themselves exclusively to secular affairs and leave church matters to a group of spiritual specialists.”
Watchman Nee, The Normal Christian Life