At about age 15, I spread open my hands in prayer, in a posture of childlike surrender, for God’s service in whichever way, place, and time he wished. And though I barely understood what that ‘service to God’ fully entailed, on my knees that day, I committed to actively serve God’s mission on earth with the best of my years, time, strength, money, mind, and heart.
God heard my prayer and answered my request beyond my wildest imagination. Now more than twenty years into my ongoing service to my Lord, I realize something fascinating about our call to service as Christians that I didn’t fully understand then.
First, I have discovered that our ministry call as Christians, as urgent as it is, is never a primary call to meet a specific need, fill a ministry position, or advance a particular action. Rather, our call is to see, know, follow, and embrace the totality of one person’s words and acts. That person is Christ Jesus.
Consequently, the effectiveness of our ministry is not found in or measured by our many external accomplishments or intellectual attainments. Instead, it is found in how faithfully we know and follow Jesus, and in the work, power, and presence of the Holy Spirit—not in our plans, strength, capacity, power, or might. This can be a great struggle to put into practice, especially for those of us who are highly driven.
Thirdly, I’ve come to see that Christian ministry is not exclusively for official priests. Neither should it be restricted to the church building.
It’s true that ministry within predominantly Christian circles is essential. This has been integral to my calling and work in many contexts in Africa, Asia, and Canada (as a missionary team member, a young adults pastor, a missions pastor, a musician, a speaker, or something else).
However, I have also experienced extended periods in which the only proof of my service to God was my willing heart, an open hand, and the Bible. Did my lack of ministry context signal an end to my ministry? Not at all. When God chooses and sends his servants, he sends them to all sorts of places, and only occasionally into a local church setting.
The Measure of a Servant
From a biblical perspective, our ministry callings to an official role or position in a particular ministry setting are secondary matters. Let me show you why.
Think of the great patriarch Abraham. Was he an official priest? Not in the conventional sense of clergy. He was an ordinary farmer who heard God’s voice in his homeland of Ur of the Chaldeans. We are not told exactly how he heard it, but he listened when God spoke. He trusted God’s words and promises, obeyed him at all costs, and became what we now know as the father of many nations. Today three world religions trace their spiritual heritage to him (Christianity, Islam, and Judaism).
But what was Abraham’s secret? It was his faith. He was preoccupied with the person, presence, and voice of God such that his occupation and location were secondary issues. God was his primary vision, calling, leader, and friend. That posture made all the difference.
Think also of all that was recorded of the great kings of Israel and Judah in the books of Kings and Chronicles. Out of 18 kings of the northern kingdom of Israel, the only one who was halfway decent still had an ugly mixture of good and bad attributes. And out of the 23 kings (and one queen) of Judah, only four thoroughly pleased God, with a handful only partially doing so. Passages like this one carry a familiar echo throughout the history of Israel: ‘And he did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, according to all that his father Amaziah had done. Nevertheless, the high places were not taken away’ (2 Kings 15:3–4, ESV).
The workplace is the key to fulfilling the Great Commission.
God’s estimation of their commitment to him in worship and devotion was more important than all their combined achievements. While their other successes were to be further explored in historical books other than the Bible, the primary emphasis in the Bible is whether or not they served God wholeheartedly. This means that what we do for God is not as crucial as our sincere and heartfelt commitment to him.
Likewise, most of Jesus’ disciples were uneducated commoners. They were ordinary people—fishermen, tax collectors, and the like. They were not official clergy or priests serving in the temple in Jerusalem. Yet these people were equipped and empowered by the Spirit of God to do remarkable things. So, again, what was their secret? Their relationship with Jesus and the power of the Spirit made those ordinary people extraordinary.
Most of Paul’s missionary companions were dedicated laypeople. Yet traveling across the world’s leading cities, they pioneered a new kind of missional engagement that sent the gospel all over Europe. Again, it was the Holy Spirit’s power in them that brought life through their efforts.
Or what about the young girl Mary, who was overshadowed by the Spirit of God to be the earthly mother of Jesus? Think of how ordinary and yet extraordinary her calling was. In changing dirty diapers or wiping a drooling mouth, God’s presence saturated her home life. That was her ministry—her high calling. She was not an official clergy, yet her home was her parish.
Consider also that the angel Gabriel visited Elizabeth’s husband, Zechariah, a priest serving at the altar in the temple. While Mary responds, ‘I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled,’ Zechariah asks the angel, ‘How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years’ (Luke 1:18, 38, NIV). Hence, Gabriel casts blindness upon Zechariah for lacking confidence in God’s ability to fulfill his promise to give them a son.
Imagine the missional potential if every follower of Christ was trained and equipped to follow him 24/7.
The two stories placed side by side in the book of Luke subtly demonstrate that ministry in the temple rarely signals ministry faithfulness. Thus, Mary seemed to have more faith in God to fulfill his promises than Zechariah, an official priest and clergy serving in the temple.
Ultimately, these biblical examples demonstrate a simple truth about our service to God: his power and presence make all the difference in our lives. That is why our salvation could not come by our own works but by our faith in what God has done on our behalf. Prayer, humility, faith, and dependence on God should always be our ministry work’s central objects and focus.
Therefore, our commitment to ministry should always simultaneously be a commitment to follow Jesus persistently (no matter what and where) and to be filled, empowered, and led by the Holy Spirit (no matter what we are doing or where we are going).
Reviving Whole-Life Ministry
This fundamental truth about our ministry call opens the playing field of service for many others. It means that whether I’m a priest or businessman, a porter or accountant, a single woman or married man, what is most important is that I’m a devoted follower of Jesus, bearing his name in all those spaces, living with integrity, shining his light, being empowered and led by the Spirit while loving my neighbour as myself. God desires that self-denial, discernment, love, Spirit-empowerment, surrender, humility, courage, and Scripture lead the way in our service to Him—not position, need, or success in our efforts.
To mobilize the whole church for the mission Jesus has left us, we also need to honour and recognize authentic ministry service in at least four principal areas: clan (family), career (occupation), community (neighbourhood), and congregation (local church and ministry). A crucial part of missional revival involves Christians becoming better skilled at ministry in all these places, where they interact with and serve people from diverse religious and non-religious backgrounds, in Jesus’ name.
Paul said in Acts 20:24 that every Christian has a set course to run and complete. This course was given to us by the Lord Jesus himself. Like Olympic athletes, we must train successfully to run that course. The future of the Christian movement will depend on how we value, train, and empower the ‘lay’ membership of our churches; for they are the majority. Before our Lord returns, may it be so.
Why are there so many who don’t know Jesus? Jervis Djokoto implores God to revive his church.
- From the chart ‘Evaluating Kings of Israel and Judah in 1–2 Kings’ in the ESV Study Bible, https://www.esv.org/resources/esv-global-study-bible/chart-11-02/.