The questions “what is ministry?” and “who is a minister?” are central to any discussion of a more inclusive paradigm of ministry. These questions were very much on my mind as I began to research the nature and scope of lay staff ministry in the United Methodist Church by profiling church websites and conducting online survey research. I wisely made the decision not to include or exclude certain categories of staff from this inquiry based on their job titles or my own preconceived notions of what that their jobs entailed. Instead, I cast the net as widely as possible and included anyone who was identified as church staff.
I now believe that God guided me in that decision. For I have learned that the answer to these questions is not found in titles, or job categories, or any preconceived notions about who is responsible for what within the faith community. Casting the net widely allowed lay staffers involved in all types of work to tell me about their ministries. Their survey responses amounted to a staggering testimony to the unique ministry of those called to serve on the front lines of local church ministry. Had I decided ahead of time that only certain categories of staff were “ministry professionals” I would never had heard the witness of a church bookkeeper who sees herself as a steward assuring that church funds are spent wisely, or another who sees an opportunity to minister every payday by writing Scriptures of encouragement on the employees’ paystubs. I might have excluded the preschool director who sees her role as an opportunity to reach unchurched families, to foster positive relationships that might lead them to Christ, and to be a spiritual leader for the preschool staff. I might not have heard the witness of a church musician who said:
I have the opportunity to do more than ‘perform’ but to give glory to God through the arts, the opportunity to participate in some small capacity in God changing someone’s life through something I’ve done, and possibly the opportunity for someone to come to know Christ through the art I’ve helped present.
Ultimately, however, the definition of ministry must flow from our understanding of Scripture, history, and doctrine. My next series of posts will examine an inclusive paradigm of ministry through the lens of an inclusive theology of ministry.