In considering “what is ministry” and “who is a minister” we must begin with the fundamental premise that ministry belongs to God. Ministry is part of the mission of God. The church and ministry exist to serve God’s mission of redeeming and transforming the world. We are invited to be partners in God’s mission. But the mission belongs to God. In every arena where we work, God is already at work. Ministry is not the possession, privilege, or prerogative of any human agent or institution. No one has a right to a particular ministry or task. For ministry is not a privilege or a right, but a service. Few would dispute the principle that ministry belongs to God. Yet as ministry has grown larger and more diverse, the tendency has been to divide it into more and more narrowly defined, hierarchical categories. Everyone wants their piece of the ministry pie. There are rules about who is authorized to do what and who has authority in different contexts. While the differentiation of roles and responsibilities is part of any complex organism, distinctions drawn too narrowly and rigidly encourage a territorial mindset. The resulting turf wars abrogate the belief that ministry belongs to God.
In this era of expanding lay ministry, clergy often describe their role as “empowering laity for ministry” or “giving ministry away” to the laity. While such phrases are well-intended, they rest on the assumption that ministry is the clergy’s to give away. The Holy Spirit, not the clergy, empowers the body of Christ. And we are given ministry not by leaders, but by God. For ministry belongs to God.