Blog - Grasping Vocation
When Words Get Out of ShapeTuesday, August 02, 2011
"We shape our buildings,” said Winston Churchill; "thereafter they shape us.” It’s also true that we shape our words—and then they shape us.
My last blog opened with a look at the words, "going to church.” This time, let’s mull over another set of words: "going into ministry.” When you hear that in English, you know it means becoming a pastor, missionary, and the like. But the phrase itself raises a question: If only a few Christians "go into ministry,” what do the rest "go into”?
By loading the go-into-ministry words with such limited meaning, we warp the way we see the work of believers by the millions. Combine that with the shrunken meaning attached to the word "calling,” and those same millions are, so to speak, "let off the hook.” If I have not been "called,” then I should not be expected to "go into ministry.”
Scripture, though, draws "ministry” in a far larger shape. Take two New Testament passages—one that speaks of "word” and one that speaks of "work.” In Acts 6:4, the apostles devote themselves to "the ministry of the word.” And in Eph. 4:12, Paul says church leaders are to prepare God’s people for "works of service.”
That word "ministry” and the word "service” are identical in the original New Testament language. Both translate the Greek "diakonia.” Diakonia means service. The work of serving food to neglected widows is diakonia (Acts 6:1). Jesus described someone who works as a waiter or waitress as a diakoneo. And he told his disciples that he himself was among them as a diakoneo.
Each Christian is called to become like Jesus, right? Then doesn’t it follow that God calls each of us to be, like him, a diakoneo, a servant? If that’s true, then none of us gets let off the hook.
How can we use English words that accurately describe the difference between serving as a pastor and serving as a programmer? I suggest we can find the key in the word and work passages noted above, Acts 6:4 and Eph. 4:12.
God calls all believers to serve him and to serve each other. Some have a ministry of word, while most have a ministry of work. Some mainly serve others with God’s Word, and some mainly serve others through their daily work. Both are vital, because together, they let people hear the gospel spoken and see the gospel lived out.
Believers who serve others with the word usually receive careful training to prepare them for that ministry. Why do Christians who serve others through their work seldom receive any preparation for that kind of ministry?