Ministry–Church Work

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ… —Ephesians 4:11

The function of ministry (διακονία), the central occupation of Christ’s church is attendance—not like a fan attending a baseball game, but like a servant or a waiter waiting a table. To attend also suggests benevolent aid, and official service, service as an official. It is also historically related to teaching and the duties of the diaconate. Christians are to serve Jesus Christ first and foremost. And one’s work is the primary channel of service. The modern idea of voluntary work and service creates another false dichotomy. Church work is not to be understood as the professional management of the church organization, or as voluntary work by the laity for the church organization. Rather, church work is the ordinary labor associated with one’s calling, occupation, and/or employment.

Ministry does not mean what we call church attendance or church involvement. Rather, church involvement today is more related to the work of apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers. And church attendance is more like a weekly pep rally or Bible study. For the most part we correctly understand ministry to be related to worship, but we mistakenly think that worship is no more than what happens in church on Sunday mornings.

We have confused the idea of attendance, meaning “to work for or be a servant to,” with the idea of attendance, meaning “presence at an event.” While there is nothing wrong with attending worship services at your local church, that’s not what Paul was suggesting here. What we think of as the local church—the building down the street—was not in existence at the time. Sure, Paul was familiar with local synagogues, and they provided the model for Christian churches, but Paul was not growing a social organization called the church. He was growing the organism of Christ’s body in the world. God’s intention from the beginning has been to own human culture by eliminating all forms of culture that oppose Him. And this is the central idea that has driven cultural conflict wherever Christianity has spread. God’s ultimate purpose is the elimination of sin and evil from human culture. God has been working to replace the culture of Sin1 with the culture of Christ. The elimination of sin is actually a good thing!

We know that liturgy is defined as the work of the people, and we understand liturgy to be what happens in the church service on Sundays. We think that liturgy means the order of the Sunday worship service. Of course, it has come to mean that over time—and it is true to an extent. But there is so much more to real worship than what happens on Sundays. The Sunday service is only the tip of the worship iceberg. Understanding Christian worship correctly and fully (holistically) will seriously impact our understanding and definition of the Christian church. We need to understand these various terms biblically, and not rely upon our common usage because common usage obscured the biblical definitions eons ago. Common usage blinds us to the biblical meaning because the common usage has deteriorated the true biblical meaning.

(from Ephesians–Recovering the Vision of a Sustainable Church In Christ, forthcoming, 2014)

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