You are a Minister of the ChurchThe Catechism of the Book of Common Prayer is a series of questions and answers about the Christian life of faith. There is a question: “Who are the ministers of the Church?” The answer is: “The ministers of the Church are the laity, bishops, priests and deacons.” That’s right – the laity is the first order of ministers of the Church. At baptism, you become a Minister of the Church.
Too often, when we think of “ministers” in the Church, we have an immediate mental image of an ordained minister. But the truth is the people of God, the laity, are the Ministers of the Church – bishops, priests and deacons are a small subset of the larger ministry of the laity.
When we are first baptized, it may seem strange to think of yourself as a Minister of the Church and you may wonder what that means. I think it means several things:
- Christ has called you to show the love of God to the world in words and actions
- God wants you to use your unique gifts and talents to serve others
- The Holy Spirit wants to draw you closer to God through a focused life of prayer, worship, and study of the Scriptures
Differences between Volunteering and MinistryThere are some qualitative differences that distinguish volunteers from ministers. Don’t get me wrong, volunteering is very important! But volunteering is something that is not unique to Christians – even atheists can volunteer. Being a Minister of the Church is qualitatively different from being a volunteer. The following table helps point out these differences:
Ministers of the Church
Being vs. Doing
What you do
Who you are
Locus of Motivation
When we think of volunteering, we usually do so in terms of what we do. We volunteer for the PTA, the Red Cross, the local library, or the fire company. Volunteering is focused on what we do, but ministry is about who we are.
In terms of commitment levels, volunteering is discretionary. We can volunteer … or not. The choice is mine. When you are baptized, you become a Minister of the Church. This is not something discretionary – it happens … it’s required. It’s a part of your “Christian DNA.” So the question isn’t whether or not you will be a Minister of the Church; rather, the questions are: “To what kind of ministry is God calling me?” “How do I live into this ministry?” and “What will the quality of this ministry be?”
Volunteering and ministry are also different in their locus of motivation. When I choose to volunteer for something, the major motivator is internal to me and usually centered in my personal feelings about what I’m doing. When the motivation is internal, we tend to stay where things are comfortable. In ministry, the motivation is centered in God’s call to you. This may mean you will be called to step outside your personal comfort zone when you engage in ministry in order to be faithful to what God needs you to do and be for the world. It may seem daunting, but trust God to give you everything you need to meet these challenges!
What gets confusing is the overlap between volunteering and ministry. For example, just because you are a Minister of the Church does not mean you cannot be a volunteer firefighter. In fact, being a volunteer firefighter may very well be where God is calling you to serve on behalf of the Kingdom! Remember, you are called to use your unique talents and gifts to care for God’s people and all of creation which may include volunteer opportunities.
How Do I Know What My Ministry Is?Our ministry is shaped by our vocation. Frederick Buechner once described vocation as that place where your deepest joy meets the world’s greatest needs. God is calling you to use your unique talents and gifts for the sake of the world’s great needs in a way that brings you deep joy.
God works with you in this whole ministry thing. God will not ask you to do anything outside of what you were created to do. I have never had a knack with advanced mathematics or hard sciences – they are very difficult for me and they don’t give me joy. It is clear God didn’t call me to be a nuclear physicist or a cardiologist! God doesn’t work against our nature … why would God do that? God created each of us with a unique set of gifts. Our task is to discern where those gifts can be used for ministry. Discernment begins with a few key questions:
- “What brings me deep joy?”
- “What kinds of activities can I do for hours and not be tired?”
- “Where to I experience extreme aversion?” (Remember, ministry is not about God punishing you by making you do stuff you hate; joy is a big part of this!)
Don’t Forget YourselfWhen you are a Minister of the Church, you are called by the Holy Spirit into a closer relationship with God through regular prayer, worship and study of the Scripture. As Ministers, we all need to make sure we are centering our life in these spiritual practices in order to grow in the knowledge and love of God and be effective in our various ministries.
Ministers of the Church must attend to their physical needs too. You need rest! God knows that. You also may need a break from a ministry you’ve been doing in order to refresh yourself. Giving yourself to the point of exhaustion is not what God wants. You are not God – you can’t run on empty!
Attending to our spiritual needs involves having a regular prayer time each day when you can focus on what God is doing in your life. Regular worship brings us into the community of faith in order to be renewed to continue our ministries. Study of the Scriptures ideally takes both communal (group study) and individual forms. As Ministers, we need to know the “Big Story” of how God has connected with people and we learn this through the study of Scriptures.
Continuing to give of yourself without attending to your spiritual and physical needs will result in burn out. When we ignore our inner spiritual life, we lose the balance in our life. We neglect not only our own needs, but the needs of our families and friends too. This can have catastrophic consequences for the minister and their family and can result in anger and bitterness towards the Church.