by Jeannette Haley
Growing up in the late 40’s and early 50’s, as far as I’m concerned, was the best (and probably the last) decent era to grow up in. The name of the game was “cowboys and Indians,” and there were plenty of heroes to use as role models. Galloping up and down the sidewalk on our stick horses we rode the imaginary range with Gene, Roy, Hopalong, Zorro, Cisco, and the Lone Ranger, along with a host of other rootin’-tootin’-shootin’ Western winners. Good, of course, always triumphed over evil. Most of us wanted to grow up to be cowboys or cowgirls, living on a real ranch with real horses, and dogs like Rin Tin Tin or Lassie, somewhere out in big sky country Montana.
Sometimes we played “house” or “doctor” but nothing beat the all-American West. To this day, my favorite movies are the good old Westerns with beautiful horses—movies that depict rugged, hard-working, decent church-going people of character and fine moral fiber, set in a background of towering mountains, pine forests, blue skies, clear streams, and happy endings.
Back in those simpler times a lot of us kids went to Sunday school to learn about Jesus rather than be entertained. The idea of “playing church” during the week never crossed our minds. After all, religious matters and the church was God’s house, and not a play house.
The idea of serving God in the ministry was cut and dried. After all, the definition of serving God had for decades already been relegated to a distinct class of individuals who were somehow “different” from the rest of us, and who had been “destined” to be in the ministry. Breaking it down even further, everyone knew that traditionally only the male gender was allowed to stand behind the pulpit in a church and be the minister, although usually it was women who filled the more difficult, but sometimes lesser valued and often forgotten, ranks of workers known as missionaries.
For girls in that Ozzie and Harriet era it would’ve been more acceptable to choose a career as a duplicate Annie Oakley sharp shooter than to be called into the ministry as far as overseeing a church on American soil. Of course, it’s always been perfectly acceptable for a woman to be sent out as a missionary (apostle) to preach the Gospel (evangelist) in a foreign field to establish a church (overseer or pastor), and make disciples to Christ (teaching both men and women) by forth telling the Word (prophet). Do the words double standard, prejudice, and just plain idiotic come to mind?
While it may be obvious what is wrong with this picture, the real problem goes much deeper and originates with our definition and perception of “ministry.” To gain an understanding of the true meaning of ministry, we need to go back—all the way back—to the Bible and Jesus’ teachings where we can gain an insight into the principles and definition of real ministry.
According to both Scripture and Webster, the word ministry means “the office, duties, or functions of a minister.” Webster defines minister as “servant.” It’s that simple. There is no great mystery with “the ministry” as the age-old established religious systems would have us believe (or the power-hungry and greedy heretics either, for that matter). The ministry is simply servant hood. Yet, people have been systematically conditioned to perceive the ministry as being an elevated entity unto itself thus granting unquestionable power and control to the few elite “at the top.” No priest, pastor, preacher, prophet, or pope should ever be placed on a pedestal and worshipped. All such are merely fallen human beings. There is only One who is worthy to receive worship, allegiance and adoration, and His name is Jesus, the Son of God, the King of kings, and Lord of lords, God incarnate, who is the Head of the church, which is His body made up of born again believers.
It’s easy to fall into the pattern of exalting as special, separate and distinct the ministry or people who are “in ministry,” but this is nothing more than idolatry, and all such people-worship is displeasing to God. Even in Old Testament times, with the establishment of the Levitical priesthood by God, the people were likewise instructed by God through the Ten Commandments as given to Moses, to worship God, and God alone, not the priest or the priesthood. Idolatry of any sort was strictly forbidden.
Not only is idolatry a dangerous result of exalting the concept of the ministry, but disobedience to God is a result as well. Why? Because we are all saved to serve. We may not all be called to oversee a body of believers, or go out as missionaries, and so forth, but we are all called to follow Christ, and to be the light and the salt of the world. The truth is, far too many people think they are “saved to sit.” Or, in other words, saved to go do their own thing and live their own lives in this world with Jesus merely tacked on so that when they die, they “get to go to heaven.” Nothing could be farther from the truth.
Keep in mind that ministry is serving God. Much so-called service to God in this world may be beneficial to the poor and needy, but without the life-changing Gospel, it has no eternal value because it presents “another gospel;” that is, it is only a man-centered social gospel. Andrew Murray gives us valuable insight into service to God. He wrote: “We must not regard the cleansing in the blood of Christ as the end, the final aim, of redemption. It is only the beginning, the means to a higher end—the fitness for the service of the living God. It is the restoration to the fellowship of Him who has life and gives life. The blood gives cleansing from dead works, the works of the law and of self, with its own efforts; it brings in a living relation to the living God. God and His fellowship, a life in His love and service, the living God and the enjoyment of His presence,–this is the aim of redemption.”
He goes on to say, “The glory of the creature is to serve God, to be a vessel in which He can pour His fullness, a channel through which He can show forth His glory, an instrument for working out His purposes. This was what man was created for in the image of God. The whole object of redemption is to bring us back to a life in the living service of God. It is for this the Holiest of All was opened to us by the blood as the place of service. It is for this our conscience is cleansed in the blood, as the fitness for service. A life in the Holiest of All is a life in which everything is done under the sense of God’s glory and presence, and to His glory; a life that has no object but the service of God.”
Christians can get caught up with the idea of ministry or ministers, but true ministry is not glamorous. Man-made “ministry” that becomes a popular man-promoting big business may appear to be “successful” and “glamorous” but, again, this is not true ministry. All it amounts to is a temporary, grotesque money-making scheme that leaves people spiritually impoverished, and very often financially ruined. God is not in it, and in the end all of the flamboyant hoopla and glitter will be cast into hell along with the wolves, swine and goats that promoted, adored and supported it.
In contrast, Murray explained: “They [the priests in Israel] were set apart by the sprinkling of blood (Ex. Xxix.19, 20). The object of this was (Deut. X. 8) to fit them to stand before the Lord, to minister unto Him, to bless in His name. One great reason why many Christians never enter into the full joy and power of redemption, into the life within the veil, is that they seek it for themselves. Let us beware lest we seek the access into the Holiest, the joy of unclouded fellowship with God, the power of the blood to cleanse, only for the sake of our advance in holiness or in happiness. The whole appointment of the sanctuary and the priests was that there might be men who could come before God to minister to Him, and then go out and bless their fellow-men. Christ entered through His blood within the veil, to go and serve; to be a minister of the sanctuary in the power of the blood, by which He could cleanse others and admit them too within the veil. To know the power of the blood to cleanse and admit within the veil, and give us part in the priests’ ministry of blessing men: this will come as we seek it as fitness to serve the living God.”
Thus, we see that all service, or ministry, begins at the point of intimate communion and service to God. Murray continues: “How much more shall the blood of Christ cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? The cleansing is for service. There was a great difference between the people in the outer court and the priests within the tabernacle. The former saw the blood sprinkled on the altar, and trusted for forgiveness; the blood was not applied to their persons. The priests were sprinkled with the blood; that gave them access to the sanctuary to serve God there. We still have outer-court Christians, who look at Calvary, and trust for forgiveness, but know nothing of the access to God which the more direct and powerful application of the blood from heaven by the Holy Spirit gives. Oh let us give ourselves to be priests, wholly separated to the service of God, wholly given up to God, for Him to work in us and through us what perishing men need,—our consecration to this service will urge us mightily to claim an ever mightier experience of the blood, because we shall feel that nothing less than a full entrance into, and a true abiding in God’s presence, can fit us for doing God’s work. The more we see and approve that the object of the cleansing must only be for service, the more shall we see and experience that the power for service is only in the cleansing.” (Excerpts from The Holiest of All, by Andrew Murray, pgs. 307-309.)
Years ago, long after the stick horse and games of cowboys and Indians had been set aside, my heart began to be drawn more and more to the Lord. By the time I was sixteen, His call on my life became not only a reality, but my burning desire. I wanted to serve Him, but I had no idea how this calling could be fulfilled. With no one to instruct, teach or guide me, I found myself caught in the worldly current of major detours. I didn’t understand that a person’s priorities would eclipse their goals.
Years later, when opportunities to minister began to surface, I jumped in with both feet; however, little did I know that there is a high price to pay before one can truly serve the Lord. Rayola, in writing to a new brother in the Lord, has summed it up well. She wrote: “I understand your zeal in your new-found liberty, but I must warn you, you have yet to be tested in your claims. We can claim great things about our new-found liberty, but we will not know if that zeal will actually stand when tested. (See Romans 10:2-4.) In fact, such zeal usually falls to the wayside proving to be more emotional, than actual reality. Testing is part of spiritual maturity. Spiritual maturity comes out of great tribulation. It is in the great testing that character is established. In fact, if you study the lives of all the great men of the Bible, they spent quality time in the wilderness being tested and prepared for their calling. In fact, I suggest that you do study their lives such as Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, Elijah, John the Baptist, and Jesus, and note their preparations.
“No doubt you are getting a glimpse into your calling. I remember when I first caught a glimpse of my calling; I was ready to fulfill it the next day due to my immature zeal. Guess what, it was eighteen years later before I realized that part of my calling being fulfilled. I realized that I needed to be prepared to walk in my calling. When we are first saved, we are considered novices. Without the preparation, all matters relating to any calling simply feed our pride. Looking back, I realize that my preparation has not been fun, but it has been necessary.
“I hope you know that I am not trying to throw cold water on you, but every new believer must have some tight reins put on them to protect them from the traps of pride and arrogance. Your focus must never be to see your call fulfilled, which is God’s business. Your focus must be on ensuring that God has His way in your life so that He can fulfill your calling. It is not what you do for God that counts; rather it is what you allow God to do in you and through you. Most of effective ministry is learning to listen to and obeying the voice of God, and learning what not to do. All of this preparation is done in obscurity. People had no idea there was a John the Baptist until he was prepared to enter the scene as the Voice calling from the wilderness. He had been prepared in obscurity.
“If you want to serve God, here are a few suggestions.
1) Consecrate your whole life to God. This means you need to sell out to your right to any part of your life, not to fulfill your calling, but to know God.
2) Become sober and vigilant in your life in God. It is easy to swing from the mountaintops of ecstasy, but most preparations are done in the valleys of humiliation where Satan tests, tempts and hinders you in your life with God. It is also where idols are exposed and failure occurs. It is in the valleys that the depth of character is revealed, but the reality of God becomes more precious. It is important to note a valley always follows victories to keep us in check. Consider Elijah and Mount Carmel.
3) Keep in mind that we need to first learn to sit at the feet of Jesus before we will ever receive any real marching orders. You need to learn who Jesus is. It is not enough to know about Him or know of Him, you must know Him for yourself. I cannot stress this point enough.
4) Know that God is never in a hurry when it comes to your preparation. At this time you need to learn temperance of strength, lowliness of character and meekness in attitude. You must allow the inward character to be developed in you. Right now ministry may seem glamorous, but it is not. The great times of testing, obscurity, drudgery, and weariness will come soon enough. You must learn to walk in the light before the great darkness consumes this earth.
5) Learn to remain a student at all times. God is infinite and His ways beyond comprehension. In God’s kingdom we are called to follow and to serve. God never calls us to be a great leader in His kingdom; He only calls us to greater servitude.
“I hope this will give you some insight into true ministry. I have been in ministry for over 20 years. I am still learning about my God and I will continue to learn. Although I have seen many miracles and interventions of God, my conclusion is that I just want to finish this course in such a way that it will be pleasing to my Lord. Take this time to learn and cherish the reality of God. Keep your focus straight and narrow (on Jesus Christ).”
As we have seen, every Christian is saved to serve. The next question that is usually asked is, “How?” My answer to that is, Look around you. Who needs the Lord, and what needs to be done? What is God putting on your heart to do? Then, DO IT. Of course, the subject of Bible school or seminary training usually surfaces. I like what H. A. Ironside wrote about that in his book, Galatians. He wrote: “Paul was an apostle, ‘not of men, neither by man.’ I think he had special reason for writing like this. His detractors said, ‘Where did he get his apostleship? Where did he get his commission? Not from Peter, not from John. Where did he get his authority?’ Oh, he says, I glory in the fact that I did not get anything from man. What I have received I received directly from heaven. I am not an apostle of men nor by means of man. It was not men originally having authority who conferred authority upon me, it was not a school, or a bishop, or a board of bishops, at Jerusalem, that conferred this authority on me. ‘Not of men, neither by man.’ Even though God appointed me my authority was not conferred of man. St. Jerome says, ‘Really there are four classes of ministry in the professing Christian Church. First, there are those sent neither from men, nor through men, but directly from God.’ And then he points out that this was true of the prophets of the Old Testament dispensation. They were not commissioned by men, neither authorized by men, but they were commissioned directly from God, and of course this is true of the apostle Paul. ‘Then secondly,’ Jerome says, ‘There are those who get their commissions from God and through man, as for instance a man feels distinctly called of God to preach, and he is examined by his brethren and they are satisfied that he is called to preach, and so commend him to the work, perhaps by the laying on of hands. And so he is a servant of God, a minister of God, from God and through man. Then in the third class there are those who have their commissions from man, but not from God. These are the men who have chosen the Christian ministry as a profession; perhaps they never have been born again, but having chosen the ministry as a profession they apply to the bishop, or presbytery, or church, to ordain them.’ But as Spurgeon said, ‘Ordination can do nothing for a man who has not received his call from God. It is simply a matter of laying empty hands on an empty head.’ The man goes out heralded as a minister, but he is not God’s minister. And then Jerome says, ‘There is a forth class. There are men who pose as Christ’s ministers, and have received their authority neither from God nor from man, but they are simply free-lances. You have to take their own word for it that they are definitely appointed. Nobody else has been able to recognize any evidence of it.’ Paul was in the first class. He had received his commission directly from God, and no man had anything to do with even confirming it. But what about the saints at Antioch laying hands on him when he and Barnabus were to preach to the Gentiles? You may ask. That was not a human confirmation of his apostleship because he went there as an apostle of the Lord.
“How did Paul get his commission? He tells us in chapter 26 of the book of Acts….So Paul was an apostle ‘not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead.’” (Excerpts from Galatians by H.A. Ironside, pgs. 17-20.)
To summarize the definition of ministry: Every Christian is saved to serve. This service is first to God, and then to others for His glory, apart from the so-called “ordination” of man. Ministry that is pleasing to God begins with Him, never with self, nor is it for the purpose of exalting self, others or “the ministry” as a separate entity. True ministry issues forth from a life that is totally consecrated to God, existing only for God’s purpose regardless of the cost to self, and is solely dedicated to the glory of God.
May His holy Name be praised and glorified forever! Amen!