What is Ministry?

More and more people in ministry today, so what exactly is ministry? How do we do ministry, and why? As I will show, ministry is closely tied to who we believe our God is, and who we are in relationship to God.

There has been an enormous renewal in how the term “ministry” has been understood since Vatican II. Before this time, ministry was considered the work of ordained clergy - not even the services provided by vowed men and women in religious orders were called ministry!

Today, the word “ministry” is used to describe any service that a person provides in the name and expression of the Christian community. Grounded in the gifts of the grace of the Holy Spirit, ministry in the life and experience of the church is a much larger reality than the ministry of the ordained clergy. It consists of a broad spectrum of services that have come into existence over the centuries.

This spectrum continues to expand as new forms of service for the nourishment and leadership of the church continues to emerge under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This is to be expected as the needs of our church community grow and as new challenges in the world demand new ways of providing service to those to who long to hear the liberating news of the gospel. This point was powerfully articulated by the Second Vatican Council:

To carry out such a task, the Church has always had the duty of scrutinizing the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel. Thus, in language intelligible to each generation, she can respond to the perennial questions which people ask about this present life and the life to come, and about the relationship of the one to the other. We must therefore recognize and understand the world in which we live, its explanations, its longings, and its often dramatic characteristics. (Gaudium et spes, no. 4)

Who do we believe our God is? Who we are in relationship to God?

Whilst ministry seeks to respond to needs on a practical level, how we do this finds its grounding in our understanding of God and our relationship with God. Whether we believe that God is eternally distant or the innermost core of being will have a tremendous effect on how we minister. Whether or not we believe that we are loveable, and can be loving in return, will determine how we practice ministry.

What is ministry?

Ministry is a public service grounded in the gospel and performed on behalf of the Christian community for the promotion of the reign of God.

Ministry has its foundation in
The love of God,
The love of self,
And the love of neighbor.
It is always other-centered.

When we live love, we live in God, and in the Spirit sent by God, and if the image of God means a life of self- value, mutual relations, and care for the world, then these qualities brought together are the hallmark of authentic ministry.

We are most alive, and minister most effectively, when we acknowledge our equality and solidarity with others, and with creation itself.

Self-centeredness has no place in ministry.

To really love and minister as image of God results in “ love-centered” ministry.

If we are ministering in Jesus’ name, love must be the core of everything we are and do.

The theological Richard McBrien explains how important this point is:

If love is the soul of Christian existence, it must be at the heart of every other Christian virtue. Thus, for example;

Justice without love is legalism;
Faith without love is ideology;
Hope without love is self-centeredness;
Forgiveness without love is self-abasement;
Fortitude without love is recklessness;
Generosity without love is extravagance;
Care without love is mere duty
Fidelity without love is servitude
Every virtue is an expression of love (1 Cor 13).

Ministry through the eyes of St Paul

For Paul, love was intimate union with Christ, and he manifested this love in his ministry. He did not minister to his communities in a detached manner, but became intimately involved in the lives of the people he served, and expected no reward except that of being able to offer his love to others.

Paul knew that there was a cost to his ministry, which he relates to participation in the cross of Christ; but he also knew that the cross was not the end. As Jude Winkler points out, “Like Christ, Paul was attempting to transform what had previously been a source of alienation into means of union: union with God and union with those for whose sake he was suffering.” He realized that ministry in the reign of God is other-centred to the point of total surrender.

Jesus was Paul’s primary example for his ministry, as he is for us. Jesus speaks of his ministry as the good news of the dawning of the reign of God. His whole being and his ministry are defined by his total trust in God, who is the one who commissions him and empowers him. In this trust, he is fully responsive to the will of God and to the needs of others. He reaches out in the special way to those who are alienated from society: he is the human-being who lives completely for others in solidarity especially with those who society defines as outside the social or religious structure.

The defining characteristic of Jesus’ ministry is service.

This is requirement for anyone who wants to minister in his name, as Winkler says:

The disciple is to serve those who cannot repay one’s activates through the prestige that one might gain by association with them. One is to minister to them through the power of God and not through one’s own power.

The ministry of Jesus can be summarized as revealing the love of God to humanity. Those who minister in his name are also mandated to share the revelation that they have received - the revelation that they are created in the image of a loving God. Jn 15: 4-5. Jesus asks us not simply to remain with him but to remain in him, in a relationship of total union in ministry.

Fr George Kolodziej sds