Blog - Grasping Vocation

When Words Get Out of Shape

Tuesday, 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?

Comments (5)

Joe Alexanian (8/2/2011 3:35:22 PM)
The basic point of the blog is excellent. I couldn't agree more. Allow me to point out, however, that the Greek word "diakoneo" is the verb "I serve, I minister." It is not a noun. The noun "diakonos," meaning "servant, waiter, minister, deacon," is the correct form of the Greek word for the second half of the blog.
Ron Henry (8/2/2011 4:09:52 PM)
I believe you take this to another level as to the polarizing effect words have on relationships, and this even changes over time. Today, Christian could be polarizing, where 20 years ago it was not. All words and word groupings should edify and promote relationships, not separate us.
Larry Peabody (8/2/2011 4:43:01 PM)
Thank you, Joe, for your sharp eye. I stand corrected.
Henry Paasonen (8/2/2011 5:40:19 PM)
"God calls each of us to be, like [Christ], a diakoneo, a servant." How often the Lord has had to remind me of that lesson: I am to "wash feet" as Jesus did. My question: Is that a "call" in the technical sense of a vocation? I find it helpful to consider that by our very nature in Christ, each of us is already a servant (Gk.doulous) of King Jesus. Impossible to be otherwise in relation to Him. Indeed, we are His servants by our very nature -- not by a special call. Servanthood is our identity, now. We are simply to be who we are -- to be a servant -- which does not require a call. As we see in Romans 1:1, for instance, Paul simply is a "servant" but then, in addition, he is "called to be an apostle" and "set apart for the gospel of God". -- most particularly to preach to "Gentiles". In the Scriptures, that is vocation. Many people can have such a vocation. The next question follows from what you also wrote: "Some have a ministry of word, while most have a ministry of work." Is such a duality view of vocation not possibly misleading? Whether in Luke 10 or in other Scriptures, each follower of Christ has a "ministry of word". Rather than a duality view of vocations, I suggest that the issue is rather one of Scriptural "offices" in the body life of a local church. New Testament terms such as "elder" and "pastor" and "bishop" come to mind, however one goes on to define them. In the nature of the structures and organization of a local church, only a very few followers of Christ need to be called into and burdened with those "office" roles. Still, the "ministry of word" is not limited to them. Our view must be broadened and be more inclusive of all followers of Christ since each has his or her distinct spiritual gift, and all such gifts require the "ministry of word" in one way or another. Indeed, one of the Scripture verses you site, Ephesians 4:11-12, speaks of men and women who are gifts in themselves as "apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastors and teachers" -- not "offices" in the church but gifted roles in the structural body of the church as well as in the dynamics of every day life. Whether on Sunday or Monday, these gift natures or heart tendencies can be lived out, wherever one may be or in whatever place one may work or live. Therefore, certainly in my experience, a congregation may have not a very few men and women who are enabled and empowered by the Spirit to be "apostles" (pioneers, sent ones), "prophets" (proclaimers), "evangelists" (gospel persuaders) and "pastor/teachers" (shepherds, pastoral care givers). Not offices. People gifts, in themselves. Curiously, in each church I have been privileged to serve as a lead pastor elder or church planter or overseas missionary, I could easily see that all the people in the congregation could be identified as belonging to one of those four gift tendencies in the church: The pioneering type, eager to start new projects or to project a vision for whatever work he or she was burdened for. The proclaimer type, eager to share or preach or apply or study the Word. The gospel persuader type, eager to build effective bridges of good news to those who know not Christ. The pastor/teacher type, eager to care and counsel others. They are all into the "ministry of word". &;lt;smile&;gt; The priesthood of all believers. Thank you, Martin Luther.
Larry Peabody (8/3/2011 7:22:25 AM)
Thanks, Henry, for your thoughtful response. Just one comment. I don't see it as a "duality of vocations," but rather a difference in emphasis. That's why in the blog I wrote that, "Some mainly serve others with God’s Word, and some mainly serve others through their daily work." Not exclusively this or that, but "mainly."

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