Statement on the Meaning of Minister
The term “minister” has been used culturally to define a narrow group of individuals who hold a special office within the church responsible for carrying out certain “sacerdotal” duties. The New Testament, however, defines a minister in a much broader manner. The word “minister” translates the Greek term diakonos, a term that originally denoted a table waiter but eventually came to encapsulate the general concept of “service.” Throughout the New Testament, it came to form the foundational thought for the ministry of Christians because it was able, more than any other Greek term, to express the concept of loving service and care for others.
The term, in fact, derives its definition from the person of Christ himself and the gospel he preached. Service (i.e., ministry) is a distinguishing mark of Jesus’ life. As the prophesied Servant of the Lord (Isa 42:1-4; 49:1-6; 50:4-7; 52:13-53:12), he fulfilled “by word and deed . . . the great themes of obedience, witnessing and suffering, climaxing His servanthood with the giving of His life for the world.” His own words testify to the fact that he “did not come to be served but to serve [diakoneō] and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matt 20:28; cf. Mk 10:45).
Scripture clearly teaches that the ministry modeled and lived out by Christ is to characterize the ministry of his followers. He taught his disciples that, contrary to the authoritarian manner of secular rulers, true greatness as a disciple of Christ involves a life of humble service (Luke 22:25-27; cf. Matt 20:25-27). As he washed the feet of his disciples, he told them, “If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example that you also should do as I did to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him” (John 13:14-16).
Every Christian—those who have repented of sin and placed their faith in the redemptive death and resurrection of Jesus Christ—have been freed from the dominion of sin and the law and have become servants—ministers—of God. It is true that the term “minister” is used in conjunction with particular offices within the church (1 Tim 3:1ff). But, as Robert Saucy explains, “By choosing the term diakonia to describe the work of the ministry, the early church deliberately steered clear of the many alternatives which would have pointed toward the concept of office and distinction in rank.”
After an examination of the other possible word choices, Schweizer concludes that in diakonia “the New Testament throughout and uniformly chooses a word that is entirely unbiblical [non-Old Testament-based] and non-religious and never includes association with a particular dignity or position. Thus it can be applied to apostleship (Acts 1:17, 25; Col 1:25) as well as to all saints (Eph 4:12).
It is the ministry of the word (Acts 6:4), of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:18), of the new covenant (2 Cor 3:6), as well as serving tables (Acts 6:1). All in the church serve in the capacity received individually from the Lord (Col 4:17).
Christian ministry is intimately connected with the fellowship and body life of the church. When believers are saved, they are baptized by the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:13), and each given spiritual gifts. These gifts, called “ministries” by the apostle Paul (1 Cor 12:5), vary in function and expression, but all enable believers through the Holy Spirit to minister to the body for the mutual edification of the church, in preparation and anticipation of the Lord’s return (Eph 4:1-16). All believers, then, become ministers to the church and the world, each tasked with the responsibility to exercise their specific ministries within the body according to how they have been gifted (1 Pet 4:10).
Ministry in the Christian life is a comprehensive idea, encompassing both body and life. It involves one’s time, energy, and resources, regardless of whether one holds a particular office in the church. There are indeed certain gifts and ministries which warrant distinction for the orderly operation of the church. Thus, certain individuals are appropriately set apart “as being endowed for certain regular ministries.” But their task is but one expression of the variegated ministries that make up life in the body of Christ and their office does not bifurcate the church into those who “minister” and those who do not.
Thus, everyone employed at Anchorage Grace Church—whether pastors, directors, secretaries, custodians, etc.—and all those who have committed themselves as members in the church— whether employees or volunteers serving in designated roles—are considered ministers whose responsibility is to minister to the body, model Christ to others, and represent and carry out the overall mission of the church. (ARTICLE V, Membership in this Constitution defines Anchorage Grace Church Members and specifically Qualifications, Duties, Rights and Privileges, Discipline of Members, and Termination from Membership.)