Participating in the Ministry of Christ

Approaches to the ministry of the church are legion. There are those who base their philosophy of ministry on tradition, purpose, programs, seekers, or events. There are those who find the answers to ministry in marketing, corporate management, or pop psychology. There are those who see the church’s accommodation to and adoption of post-modernity as signs of a coming revival. Pragmatism, entertainment, or a consumer-orientation are the driving forces for ministry in many churches. The latest buzz words are “emergent” and “missional.” The motives driving each of these approaches are commendable – there is a desire to carry out the Cultural Mandate, to obey the Great Commandment and to fulfill the Great Commission. For these motives we rejoice. But with all the various options listed above, what do we really mean when we speak of ministry?

“Ministry” is one of those terms we tend to use frequently in the church but almost never define. This can lead to confusion when people use the same word but do not mean the same thing by the use of that word. Let me suggest this definition: Ministry is the release of God’s grace to his people through which they participate in Christ’s purpose for his church. Because the ministry of the church is a supernatural venture, nothing less than the grace of God is sufficient, and that grace is released to us and through us by the Holy Spirit’s application of the person and work of Jesus Christ. When Paul describes his ministry, he speaks of it in the following way:

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect.  No, I worked harder than all of them – yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. [I Corinthians 15:10]

In speaking about ministry gifts in general, he states:

We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.  [Romans 12:6]

This raises a question: what is it that undergirds and underlies this work of grace in us as we minister? The answer to this crucial question lies in a solid theology of ministry as a foundation for that ministry. While recognizing that the Holy Spirit is the equipper of people for service, what is often missing is the theological basis for that equipping. That basis is the ministry of Jesus Christ.

To put it simply, we minister as Christians when we participate in the ministry of Christ. Our ministry is grounded in, centered on and in connection with the ongoing ministry of Jesus in the world. The church and individual Christians are not doing something additional to what Christ has already done and is doing. The church is called to continue his work of ministry in the world. Thus when we “serve,” we do so by sharing in his ministry.

So when we are involved in ministry, the release of God’s grace to us through which we participate in Christ’s purpose for his church, we participate in the ministry of Christ.  What does it mean to participate in the ministry of Christ? It means basically two things: that Christ is both the source and the pattern of ministry. Christ is the source of ministry in the sense that he provides the motivation, power and energy for ministry. We are not called to minister in our own strength, trusting in our own resources. This leads only to frustration, discouragement and burn-out. We are called to minister as we are empowered by him through his Holy Spirit [see Colossians 1:28-29; Acts 1:8].

But Christ’s ministry also sets the pattern for our ministry, that is, he models for us what the ministry is to look like. We continue the work that he began, doing the things that he did [see John 14:2; II Corinthians 5:16-20] .

As ministry is done with this perspective, in reliance upon his grace and his Spirit, we involve ourselves in participating in the ministry of Christ in this world.

What do you think?

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About Dr. John H. Harbison

Son of God, Husband, Father, Author of "Keeping Christ in Ministry,"Vice-President for Academic Affairs, College Pastor, Runner, Writer
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