WHAT IS A CHURCH MINISTRY?

by Fr. Michael Lewis

 

Prior to any discussion that elaborates upon "A Model for Church 'Ministry Programs”, it would make sense to first understand — what is the definition of a Church Ministry-Program? As they are being used in the following articles, the words "Church Ministry Program", or simply "Church Ministry", refer to any person, persons, program or organization of the Church, who or which, alone and together, labors in love to accomplish the work of God's Holy Church here on earth.

Concrete examples of the various Church Ministry Programs that now exist here and at any church may be as follows: the Priesthood, Parish Council, Choir, Church School, Teen Gathering, Senior SOYO, and the Fellowship — ALL of which are expressions of what St. Peter calls "the royal priesthood". Each of these persons, programs, and organizations fulfills a unique ministry within the Church. It is very important to realize that these Church Ministry Programs are made up of people — "the people of God" — who are actively functioning as "the royal priesthood" by virtue of their dynamic participation in the Church Ministry and/or Ministries of their choice. These persons try to cultivate their awareness of which they are called to be as Orthodox Christians. These persons have also made the commitment to utilize their God-given talents, whatever unique talents they may be, in order to serve Christ and His Holy Church through their energetic participation in a Church Ministry. These persons minister to the people of God AND are ministered to by the people of God. In short, these persons are trying to actively be, and to more fully become "the people of God". In the words of St. Peter:

"You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people; that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were no people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy." (I Peter 2:9-10)

"The end of all things is at hand; therefore keep sane and sober in your prayers. Above all hold unfailing your love for one another, since love covers a multitude of sins. Practice hospitality ungrudgingly to one another. As each has received a gift, employ it for one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: whoever speaks as one who utters oracles of God; whoever renders service, (ministry). as one who renders it by the strength which God supplies in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belongs glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (I Peter 4:7-11)

 

A MODEL FOR CHURCH MINISTRY PROGRAMS

A realistic Church Ministry should be a balanced program that offers and encourages spiritual growth, moral guidance, witness, service activity, and social gathering. It should be a dynamic program in which the members both minister AND are ministered to … in Christ!

In distinct parish situations, a specific Church Ministry will take on its own unique character, depending on the nature and the preferences of those involved. However, its focus should always be at the core of those areas that constitute the Christian-life, namely: WORSHIP (Liturgia), WITNESS (Martyria), SERVICE (Diakonia), and FELLOWSHIP (Koinonia). What follows is a definition and a model for a balanced Church Ministry Program, whose foundation is securely anchored upon this core for Christian living.

 

WORSHIP (Liturgia): A SPIRITUAL RESURGENCE

WORSHIP (Liturgia) refers to our relationship with God through prayer, worship and the sacramental life. It is through Liturgia that we actually experience and get to personally know the personal Godhead — who is the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, “the Trinity, one in essence, and undivided". How and why each practicing Orthodox Christian worships God is an essential question that each must resolve if he is to be a true member of Christ's Church.

The Divine Liturgy and the Sacraments of the Orthodox Church provide basic spiritual nourishment, but they must become a meaningful personal experience for the worshipper, and not simply an empty form. The form must be filled with life-giving content. A living liturgical life is important to our daily existence, for Christ said:

"He that eats flesh and drinks my blood dwells in me, and I in him." (John 6:56)

And yet, one of the major voids that are felt in the lives of Christians in America is a meaningful liturgical life. If the Church is to fulfill her mission of leading the faithful to salvation, that is — to union with God — then we must make Liturgia an essential part of our personal, daily lifestyle.

To a great degree, faith is a personal matter, yet we do not exist in isolation, but in community. In the same way that the three Persons of the Holy Trinity are unique persons and yet share in the one Godhead, we, too, are each unique persons and yet share in one humanity. When we participate in Holy Communion — the Body and Blood of God the son we share in His humanity, which unites all mankind and we share in His Divinity, which unites us with God. This is why our purpose is not simply to imitate Christ, but, to live in Christ, and to realize a common holiness.

“As he who called you is holy, be Yours elves holy in all Your conduct; since it is written: ‘you shall be holy, for I am holy'." (I Peter 2:15-16)

Liturgia, then, means encouraging and developing a penetrating program for spiritual growth, both as individuals and as groups. All other dimensions of Christian life depend on this. Man does not live by bread alone, but must seek and come to Christ, be nourished by Him and confess Him as Lord.

 

WITNESS (Martyria): MANIFESTING THE FAITH

Worship is just the beginning. Man is both a spiritual and a physical being, and therefore the spiritual reality is expressed. . through the physical world. we cannot only have faith, we must also exemplify it in our life. WITNESS (martyria) is the living and witnessing of Christianity to others within the faith, to those who may have left the faith, and to those outside the faith, by sharing and actually living the Gospel Of Jesus Christ.

“If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me." (Matthew 16-24)

What is the natural consequence of our Martrria? St. Paul answers this clearly in his Epistle to the Romans:

“I appeal to YOU therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. DO not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal Of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good, acceptable and perfect." (Romans 12:1-2)

Witness (Martyria) is the logical extension of worship (Liturgia). If we are united with God, we will certainly reflect Him in our daily life. In the same way that Christ constantly reveals the Father "He who believes in me, believes not in me but in Him who sent me; and he who sees me, sees Him who sent me" - so too we must reveal that we are indeed "God's people". We should naturally confess Him, labor for Him in love, and witness to our faith in God through our example and our daily lifestyle "according to the measure of faith, which God has assigned".

 

SERVICE (Diakonia): MINISIMING THE FAITH

Christ came not to be served, but to serve, and He urges us to do the same. We can live in the image of God by loving and serving mankind. Orthodox Christians, and especially young adults, adults, may use their respective "charismata" (God-given grace/gifts/talents) to be kind and merciful just as Christ was when He walked among the sick, the poor, and the down-trodden … and extended His holy hand.

"Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit YOU? And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me'." (Matthew 25:37-40) "I go the extra mile …" (Matthew 5:38-48)

We relate well to Christ, who came to serve. The Peace Corps, for example, along with the many other volunteer services that exist, all witness to the compassion some people have for their fellow man, and to their willingness to be committed to a good cause.

St. Peter refers to this SERVICE (Diakonia — Ministry) as the “royal priesthood” (I Peter 2:9). Some like to call it "the priesthood of all believers". We all share in the mission of the Church, working side by side together with the ordained priest. SERVICE is lay ministry. The word "lay" comes from the Greek word "laos", which means "the people". We are all, together "the people of God". This means the bishop, the priests, the deacons, and all of the people. Together we comprise The Church. Each person is blessed with unique God-given talents, and each person is called by God to offer their very life, in love and thanksgiving, and to use their talents, not to bury them in the sand. Diakonia is a call to each Orthodox Christian to energetically participate in the active ministry of the Church.

As each has received a gift employ it for One another. as 'Good stewards of God's varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who utters oracles of God; whoever renders service. (Ministry), as one who renders it by the strength which God supplies in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. (I Peter 4:7-11)

"Every man, according to the will in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver". (II Corinthians 9:7)

 

FELLOWSHIP (Koinonia): COMMUNION IN THE FAITH

FELLOWSHIP refers to the way in which the Orthodox Christian brings his faith into his daily and social life. There is something holy about Orthodox Christians who gather together socially and who remain conscious that they are people of God. The relationship of the three persons of the Holy Trinity is perfect love as a community. By gathering together and showing love for one another, we emulate the Holy Trinity, gaining strength, courage, and patience to develop a truly Christian lifestyle.

Whatever we are doing, be it in the Church, social hall, home or gymnasium, we must remember that we are Temples of the Holy Spirit. Activities work, recreation, and thoughts must all be consistent with the reality that we are in constant fellowship with each other AND with God: The Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment, and the second is like it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself, on these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets." (Matthew 22:37-40)

In Fellowship (Koinonia) we are one. We gather together as the Body of Christ and work together in communion and in fellowship. We begin to realize and become aware that Christ is the focal point of all our activities and relationships with one another. Our love for Christ and our faith in the Holy Spirit begins to guide us as we center our lives around loving one another the way Christ loves us, unconditionally, unselfishly, and wholeheartedly. The presence of God is not only with us on Sundays: is always with us as we grow and learn to love one another in the spirit of genuine fellowship.

 

SUGGESTIONS FOR YOUR PERSONAL PROGRAM

This list is certainly not exhaustive. Feel free to add to it and to please be creative.

 

WORSHIP (Liturgia) includes anything having to do with worship, knowing God better, and salvation — communion with God.

 

  1. Participate in corporate prayer and the sacraments, such as the Divine Liturgy and Holy Communion, as often as possible. This includes the weekday services, feast days and vespers, since you are striving to live an Orthodox life, and not to simply be a once-a-week Christian.
  2. Find a Father Confessor (either your parish priest or another Orthodox priest) with whom you can intimately discuss personal and spiritual problems and questions. He will be your priest for the Sacrament of Confession, having the training and the grace of God to guide your spiritual life of reconciliation and union with God.
  3. Learn the Church calendar and the cycle of spiritual life and prepare properly for Feast Days and sacramental participation.
  4. Fast according to the church calendar in order to develop spiritual depth and strength.
  5. Develop a private prayer life that is both meaningful and helpful to you and those for whom you pray.
  6. Give alms, with prayer and thanksgiving.
  7. Read the Holy Bible.
  8. Read about your Orthodox faith.
  9. Seek to experience God through others who are seeking God, through Orthodox discussion groups and religious retreats.

 

WITNESS (Martyria) means commitment to Christ and His Church, exemplifying and spreading your faith in your daily life.

 

  1. Analyze what impact your growing commitment to Christ will have on your values, goals, activities, friends and priorities in life. Compare your commitment to that of the saints and to the principles by which they lived and for which they died.
  2. Study and understand the views of your Church on moral issues and the dignity of human life. As you internalize these views, consider how to defend them and live by them.
  3. Examine the ways in which your moral sense should affect the decisions you make in your student, professional, and daily life.
  4. Stress your responsibility to God and His Church. Give of your time, talents and resources.
  5. Seek out other Orthodox Christians and share yourself and your spiritual concerns and experiences with them.
  6. Witness to your faith through service to the Church School, the Choir, Teen Gathering, Senior SOYO, and Fellowship, as a Chanter or as a Parish Council Member.
  7. Participate in discussion groups, retreats, and forums where you can learn to develop your Orthodox identity, as well as testify to your faith.
  8. Serve on a Welcome and Hospitality Committee for Orthodox Christians who may have recently moved into the area or who are simply inactive. Help them feel that they belong.
  9. Sponsor or assist philanthropic and humanitarian projects. Represent your parish in local organizations — The Cancer Society, The Red Cross, etc. Let it be known that you represent the local Orthodox Church, and that the Church's commitment to Christ also means concern for the community at large.
  10. Assist in familiarizing others with Archdiocese Institutions: The Antiochian Village, St. Ignatius, etc.
  11. Promote Public Relations for the Church. Witness can be expressed by your participation and updates in The Word Magazine, The Archdiocese Web Page and by your support of the ACORN program (Antiochian Christian Orthodox Radio Network) to have it aired locally.

 

SERVICE (Diakonia) refers to serving Christ and His Church as lay ministers — "the royal priesthood" — in the fulfillment of the Church's mission … both to its members and to the world.

 

  1. Ministry to your parish:
    1. Extend hospitality to visitors and new members.
    2. Provide educational materials by helping to support the parish library and a rack of religious tracts and pamphlets.
  2. Ministry to shut-ins and senior citizens:
    1. Obtain names from your priest.
    2. Show concern and provide companionship by phoning or visiting these people, who are often lonely.
    3. Assist with shopping or delivering food and medications.
    4. Provide transportation to church services and functions.
  3. Ministry to other adults and to youth:
    1. Assist in guiding young people to plan their careers and professions, choose schools and find summer jobs.
    2. Encourage creative involvement in the life of the Church by suggesting what young people have both to gain and to offer.
  4. Assist your parish in fund-raising activities. Encourage and physically support projects which compliment the Church's dignity and project its Christian identity.
  5. Be a good steward. Offer your self to God in thanksgiving for His steadfast love and blessings on you. Support your church by giving of your time, talents and treasury. You, and all your God-given resources and talents - whatever they may be are all valuable and vital "tools" in the hands of God.

 

FELLOWSHIP (Koinonia) is the social side of Christian living, where the Christian is aware of the presence of God in all of his activities, even away from the Church. It is "to love one another, in word and in deed".

 

  1. Educational development: attend seminars on social political, economic and family life.
  2. Cultural development: attend lectures on cultural heritage; share in American and other cultural activities, such as dances, meals, concerts, plays and other functions.
  3. Recreational activities: go on outings, excursions, and field trips; participate in recreation that is consistent with your Orthodox Christian values.
  4. Athletics: organize inter-church teams where possible. Keep in mind that the Church's purpose in sponsoring such activities is to cultivate fellowship and Christian love among participants.
  5. Share meals with a sense of Christian awareness and thankfulness; such as at coffee hour, SOYO and Fellowship meetings, or a parish picnic. Remember that we can also fast together with one another.

 

SUGGESTIONS FOR A GROUP "CHURCH MINISTRY" PROPGRAM

Many group activities overlap with those suggested for the individual program, so, each Church Ministry group should refer to that list, as well as the next, which is, again, far from complete.

 

WORSHIP (Liturgia). Christ said, "For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them. (Matt. 18:20)

 

  1. Begin the year or any other appropriate occasions with a Divine Liturgy, Vesper, or Thanksgiving Service, possibly followed by a party to help worship be seen as a celebration.
  2. Observe the calendar and Lenten periods. Orthodox Christians must strive to be in complete harmony with the liturgical life of the Church. Often we don't do this because we are ignorant of the ecclesiastical cycle and its meaning. Fellowship in this learning effort will be edifying.
  3. Attend church, including mid-week set-vices, as a group in order to learn to live your faith on a daily basis.
  4. Participate in corporate prayer as a family unit and receive Holy Communion together.
  5. Develop a basic Religious Education program to encourage spiritual resurgence and train leaders in the Church. Among basics to be studied are:
    1. The Holy Bible. The Holy Tradition.
    2. The meaning of the Divine Liturgy.
    3. Church History. The Holy Fathers.
    4. Moral issues, scientific- social and political theories and events from an Orthodox Christian perspective.
  6. Organize spiritual retreats for your group on the local and/or the regional level. Hence, the real need for our Midwest Region!
  7. Bring guest speakers to the church in an adult lecture program.

 

WITNESS (Martyria) must be accomplished with both tenacity and restraint. The first step in bearing witness to your faith is to know your faith; the second is knowing yourself in relation to God; both of which are accomplished through WORSHIP. The third step is the daily manifestation of what you know about your faith to others. Together in a group, this can be done through discussion and action.

 

  1. Determine the needs of your parish.
  2. Since most Western Christians know little about Orthodoxy, make its presence known. Represent your Church in ecumenical programs and-project an Orthodox point of view.
  3. Read Orthodox-Sources and recommend them to others.
  4. Seek out young adults and young married couples and tell-them about the local church programs.
  5. Sponsor or assist in philanthropic projects as a group.
  6. Organize programs that will introduce the Archdiocese Church Ministry Programs to the faithful, possibly by showing films.
  7. Help your church and its activities get press/radio coverage.

 

SERVICE (Diakonia) is the call to participate in a collective ministry; it is in fact, lay ministry. Which is becoming increasingly important in the life of the church, as parishioners find that the church cannot survive without working members, not just an overworked priest. A group can often do more than individuals alone.

 

  1. Assist the priest in the teaching function of the church.
    1. Fund, organize and establish a church library.
    2. Open a church bookstore with browsing hours after church.
    3. Sponsor bringing a speaker or a film that is educational for a mixed audience.
    4. Sponsor a teen so they can attend the Antiochian Village.
  2. Serve the faith by visiting and assisting the poor, bedridden, or aged.
    1. Some elderly fear being alone. Create a list of those who reside alone. Take a name ax)d telephone that person daily at approximately the same time to ascertain that the person is alive and well.
  3. Encourage others to be active in the life of the church.
  4. Organize a "Parish Resource Center" of the particular talents of all parishioners who want to help the church in some way.
  5. Represent your parish in local organizations: Cancer Society, Heart Fund. Red Cross, Hospital Volunteers, etc.
  6. Organize, sponsor, and assist in an honorable fund raising project for the benefit of the Church's ministry.

 

FELLOWSHIP (KOINONIA). Christ said, "You shall love your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. (Matthew 22:37-40)

 

  1. Host a monthly open house or the Sunday coffee hour where people can meet each other.
  2. Sponsor lectures on controversial topics, perhaps on social, political, economic, family life or on cultural heritage.
  3. Organize a "nature day" for children and all that are interested.
  4. Attend concerts, plays, and cultural functions as a group.
  5. Organize a volleyball, basketball, or softball team. Invite other parishes to play.
  6. Schedule weekly/monthly meeting around SOME program for social interaction and good Christian fellowship.

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