Real Ministry – A Second Look

I have written much in the last few years about our skewed sense of what comprises “ministry” in the evangelical and fundamentalist world.  The results of this warped view of ministry are all around us.

People praise the “sacrifice” of ministry leaders, many of which are in leadership for their own purposes. Raw ambition resulting in workaholism and often cloaked in robes of “serving the Lord” has done much damage to families and to faith. In many cases, real “sacrifice” for these “full time ministry” people would mean turning the lights off and going home to their families and neighbors, not acquiring bigger and better tools to “serve the Lord.”

Also, people praise and follow “discernment” and “worldview” leaders “serving the Lord” in “full time ministry” (yes, a lot of quote marks and for good reason.) Many of these same individuals live  dysfunctional and unhealthy lives behind the scenes of their “full time service.” One of my online colleagues committed suicide in the midst of his obsession with  “warning about deception.” The idea that he should shut down his writing online and deal with his personal demons was a bridge too far. In the end, he chose to take his own life instead, leaving confusion and despair in his wake. So much for the power of Christ he had been promoting.  This had a big impact on me.

In the years I spent growing up in evangelicalism, there was a distinctly superior view of those in “full time Christian service”, as opposed to those who worked a secular job and came home to their families.  Missionaries who dragged their children through years of deputation (raising enough money to go to a far flung place) were viewed as higher level Christians than those going to their job of selling insurance or cars or what have you and raising their children at home. The tragedies (sexual abuse making big headlines in recent years)  in the lives of some missionary children left in MK boarding schools while Mom and Dad won the naives to Jesus is a prime illustration of wrong priorities. If you make a family, it’s your job to take care of those children, people. Really, it is.  If you don’t want to, stay single.  Families come with responsibility.

I am not opposed to those who work full time in some form of Christian service. But I believe  we are long, long overdue for a return to the doctrine of vocation. Luther and the Reformation presented a far different view than the medieval Roman church that emphasized the clergy/laity distinction. The  life of the full time “religious” was viewed as far superior to those just raising a family. Just raising a family. Think about that.

The view that true ministry is most often found in day to day life is something I have come to resoundingly support. I have personally seen the fallout from  a distorted view of ministry, particularly when families are neglected or misused in the process of purportedly serving God.

We need a return to this understanding that the unseen, quiet service to others is perhaps even more a form of ministry than standing on corners with bullhorns  or hosting your own religious  talk show, or holding conferences, endlessly talking about deception and false teachers.  There is a place for sincere concern, but even recent harm of other Christians online and on the airwaves serves as a stark reminder of how we need a return to humble service of others as our primary service to God—service in our homes to our own families, to our neighbors,  and anyone God brings on our path in the course of a day.

This excellent words by T. Austin-Sparks (one of my favorites lately) points this out. It was written a long time ago (Sparks died in 1971) , but his writing has the sweetness of truth in it.

I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works; and the last to be more than the first.Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee…(Revelation 2:19-20)

Oh, that we should get some better idea of what the service of the Lord is than that it is platforms and pulpits and open-air meetings. Beloved, service for the Lord is just as important when it is rendering some kindly act of helpful service to some rather depressed child of God in the ordinary domestic things of daily life; just as valuable as getting on the platform and giving a message. You see it is strengthening the hands of the Lord’s children, it is coming in to check the crushing overweight of the adversary, coming alongside to lift up the testimony in some life or home where the enemy is trying to crush the testimony out – and the testimony is something maintained in domestic relationships, in family life, private life. There are too many who want to give up their domestic service and go to Bible College, failing to recognize that that service there may be just as valuable to the Lord as their going out to the mission field. It is spiritual, not technical, not organized, and you may be as much a priest of the Lord in going round to some home tomorrow where the enemy is pressing in, and giving a practical hand in helping with the washing, as you may be a priest in standing on the platform….

There are many priests of God whose voices have never been heard in public, who have never been seen in a public way, who are unknown, hidden very often in the assembly and yet in secret history fulfilling a most valuable ministry. Get adjusted over this thing. We have to come to the point where we deliberately decide as to whether the Lord is worthy of this, and abandon ourselves to it because of our appreciation of Him, the Master. You see, this servant abandons himself freely, voluntarily, for all time to the service of his master because he has come to love his master.

By T. Austin-Sparks from: The Servant and Service of the Lord



9 thoughts on “Real Ministry – A Second Look

  1. Lynn says:

    “We need a return to this understanding that the unseen, quiet service to others is perhaps even more a form of ministry than standing on corners with bullhorns.”

    I think the same, but the church does not view those things as real ministry. i know of someone who was criticized by the church they were attending because they choose to use their gifts feeding the homeless in a soup kitchen. I mean really?? Never mind that our Lord has said that whatever we have done for the least of these you have done for me. I feel like most of the criticism came because they knew of the person gifts and abilities and wanted to utilize it for their pet projects. Never mind following what the Holy Spirit leads you to do. Unbelievable.

  2. Ingrid says:

    Funny how when you are suddenly at the needy end, like a meal when you’ve been really ill and have a family, or when you desperately need a human touch – a kind face from someone when you are deep in depression, or when you have a financial need that is overwhelming,
    it all very much does seem like ministry. Not many in Big Name Ministry ever get there. I saw the net worth of one of the leading Bible teachers recently – a national/international conservative celebrity pastor. I was staggered at the wealth. Really shocked. They are rich, increased with goods and have need of nothing, or so they think, so it’s obvious why they don’t view helping those in hard times as real ministry. Maybe they will grant that, in a sort of offhand way, but THEIR contributions in media or wherever is far more significant. After all, it reaches thousands, not just one person. OK, I’ll grant them that it reaches thousands, but Jesus was very clear that when we ministered to the little guy, the one without anything to return, that we were doing it to Christ himself. It also says that in ministering to others we have, at times, ministered to angels, while we were unaware of it. I’m going with the words of Jesus. Angels come in strange packages sometimes. Not very attractive packages, but angels nonetheless. “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” Hebrews 13:2

  3. Linn says:

    Thanks so much for writing this, Ingrid! So encouraging! Yes, we who love the Lord Jesus, serve Him in a hidden way…to our families. Our eyes are on Him…there are no other “middle men” to “impress” , we endeavor to live for His Glory alone! I’m a stay at home Mom– It’s a lonely job but someday we will have No Regrets when we stand before the LORD!

  4. Denise says:

    As Jesus tells his disciples in Mark 9:41, “For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward.” How easy it is to dismiss the unseen acts of “nobodies” who serve the Lord where He has placed them. It is a lonely job, as Linn said, but great rewards are in store. Thanks again for the encouragement, Ingrid.

  5. carol robertson says:

    “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7

  6. Pat Fitzgerald says:


    If you ever get a chance, you should check out the 2008 film “Doubt”. When I watched the main character in the film (played by Meryl Streep), I couldn’t help but be reminded of you.

  7. Carolyn says:

    Ingrid, you said, “In the years I spent growing up in evangelicalism, there was a distinctly superior view of those in “full time Christian service”, as opposed to those who worked a secular job and came home to their families.” Yes, we’ve also seen and personally experienced that incorrect attitude. There is no two-tier system in the church. Also appreciate Lynn’s comment.

    For those few persons in full time ministry, they must be both Biblically qualified and called by God, and always REMEMBER that is was God who did the calling! I agree with you that the problems begin when people are in ministry of their own accord and/or for their own purposes, which I’m afraid happens far more than we’d like to realize. Disordered lives would be a sign that someone shouldn’t be in ministry, because having your family in order is a requirement (and that is not just outward appearance, either). Suicide???!!!

    But for the vast majority of Christians, who incidentally work “ordinary” jobs to financially support the few in full time ministry, vocation IS God’s call for their lives. These ordinary jobs are no less honorable, no less important, and no less useful to the Lord.

    I appreciated Denise’s quote of Mark 9:41, that’s what came to my mind as well. A small deed, done with love in Christ’s name, will be rewarded. I would venture to say that MOST of His work here is of that manner, unseen acts by “nobodies”.

    Great post, Ingrid.

  8. Margaret L. Been says:

    So true! For years I sat under teaching which amounted to “sheep beating” for not doing enough for the Lord”–“doing for the Lord” being interpreted as running around doing a public service type ministry. Period.

    I knew better, and remained in this church because the actual Bible teaching was literal, sound, and excellent. That was so good, that I simply prayed inside myself for the congregation when the pastor would get side tracked into a sheep beating session.

    One thing that annoyed me was a constant diatribe on “putting the Lord first”. We know from our training in outlining material that one cannot have a “first” without at least a “second”. Therefore “putting the Lord first” implied that the pastor considered there to be a “second” in which the Lord was absent or inconsequential.

    The Bible truth is that we believers are in Christ and He is in us. Therefore, in all things He is to be preeminent in our lives (Colossians 1:16-19). Christ IS our life! He is the center of everything He has given us to do on earth, and we are accountable to do everything for His glory. Families are full time Christian service. If He has given us a talent for music or art, those gifts are Christian service. Our professions, our jobs, our recreational pastimes? All Christian service, for God’s glory. He is preeminent in all, even in a ministry of preaching or missions–providing those things are also done for His glory.

    Now I guess I have been diatribe-ing. But I am thankful see that I am not alone in my understanding of what it means to “serve the Lord”!

    Margaret Been

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