I’ll Take “Christianese” for $500, Alex

I am in a different church almost every weekend. Being in itinerant ministry for nearly 45 years I figure I have been in no less than 2500 different churches, participating in their worship services. I like to observe these services and imagine what a visitor, an outsider not familiar with church culture, might be experiencing. I like to try to view the service through their eyes.

On this Sunday, as I sat in the front pew waiting to take to the platform for my performance, I was treated to the litany of announcements coming from the pastor. There was the need for volunteers to help with the Children’s Ministry. The Hospitality Ministry was looking for someone to bring donuts to the service next Sunday. And the Parking Lot Ministry wanted to let us all know about the resurfacing of the parking lot happening next week, advising anyone coming to the Women’s Ministry luncheon on Saturday to park in the street.

So many ministries! When I was a kid growing up in the church, the word “ministry” was not thrown around so casually. If someone was in ministry, the assumption was that they were the pastor of a church or a missionary. The word “calling” was frequently used in connection to “ministry.” As in being called into the ministry. If you look up ministry in the dictionary you see this definition: “the office, duties, or work of a religious minister.” Clearly the word is used more in line with a vocation than with a simple act of service.

Today the word is used for almost any activity, service, group or project in the church. I am a little conflicted about the use of the word. I use it too, of course. I tell people I am in full-time ministry as a professional actor/storyteller. For me it is tied to the vocation and the calling that I have on my life. The main purpose of my work is to spread the Gospel.

The current use of the word seems to imply that anything you do as related to church life is a ministry. There is great emphasis in a number of churches on “finding your gift” and using that gift in service to the church. Acts of service can certainly be a ministry. Whatever your gift, talent, or ability, you can now have a ministry. I have no problem with that. But I wonder if using the word “ministry,” for many, is a way of letting ourselves off the hook. Does matching my abilities, talents and passions automatically make it a ministry?  If I like to play the drums and play in the worship band, is that a ministry?  If I like sports and play in the church softball league is that a ministry? If I pass the donut shop on my way to church and pick up a couple dozen donuts to take to the church coffee hour, is that my ministry? Perhaps the answers to these questions are more a matter of the heart of the individual doing the service.

On the other side of the coin, if we volunteer at a local school, bake a cake for a non-church related-fundraiser, or help the senior citizen next door with their yard work, is that a ministry? Because a lot of people do those things that don’t claim to be Christian or a part of a church.

I wonder what the church visitor is thinking. What does he or she think ministry means in the context of this worship service? Something to ponder as I take the stage to share my ministry. I look forward to being served by the donut ministry in the lobby after the service.

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