What is Ministry?

Sounds like a simple question, doesn’t it? And because of its simplicity, the question can often be left unexamined. However, I want to suggest that simply assuming we know what ministry is can quickly paralyze church leadership groups!

The answer to the question about the nature and purpose of ministry can take many forms, but let me share with you a definition out of a wonderful new book, Eldership and the Mission of God, by J. R. Briggs and Bob Hyatt. Here it is: ministry is “meeting people where they are and journeying with them to where God wants them to be.” [1]

To give clarity to this definition and perhaps to correct many leadership assumptions, Briggs and Hyatt note several common incorrect definitions:

  • Ministry is not waiting for people to come to us and journeying with them. Rather, we go to them!
  • Ministry is not meeting people where they are and being content with where they are. That might be friendship—but it isn’t ministry!
  • Ministry is not meeting people where they are and journeying with them to where we want them to be. That is manipulation, not ministry.
  • Ministry is not meeting people where they are and journeying with them to where they want to be. That is self-actualization, not ministry.

Ministry is living and dwelling in the world and making ourselves and the witness of our congregations accessible to the people in our communities. As such, our mission pushes us out of waiting for someone to show up. Instead, ministry means rubbing shoulders with people where they are living and working. And our goal is not to make them good church members; rather, our goal is help them become disciples of Jesus Christ.

If your church is feeling a little stuck, one thing to consider is whether your leadership group has a healthy, vibrant understanding of ministry. In other words, do our churches and our programs exist for our sake, or do we exist for God’s mission in the world? Your understanding of ministry might just be the clue to a better self-understanding.

God’s blessings as you practice leadership for God’s mission!

[1] Briggs, J. R. and Bob Hyatt. Eldership and the Mission of God. IVP, 2015.
Header image by Benjamin Faust. Retrieved from stocksnap.io.


Dr. Carson Reed is Vice President for Church Relations at Abilene Christian University and Executive Director of the Siburt Institute for Church Ministry. He also serves as the Director for the Doctor of Ministry Program and holds the Frazer Endowed Chair for Church Enrichment in the Graduate School of Theology. Through the Siburt Institute, Carson does consulting work with congregations and church leaders across the country. His teaching and research centers on leadership, preaching, and issues surrounding faith and culture. Carson and his wife Vickie have been married for over 30 years and have four grown children.
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Author:  Publish Date: April 28, 2016

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CHARIS hosts conversations of and about Churches of Christ. The website is intended to support education for Christian life and community through contemporary discussions and historical sources that variously witness to the gifts (“charis”) of God among Churches of Christ, especially their plea for visible unity among Christians through ongoing renewal and restoration of Scriptural beliefs and practices among God’s people.

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