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