When I was growing up, I thought that serving the Lord meant being a paid full-time pastor. I thought being in ministry meant having an official title in your church, along with status, authority and responsibilities.
As a teenager, I joined the church band and helped to lead worship. I served during the week at rehearsals and prayer meetings. I served on Sundays, sometimes all day. But even this didn’t feel like “ministry” to me.
I’ll never forget the day that changed all that. I was doing my HSC and still playing in the church band. I was feeling stretched, like every spare minute of my day was taken up with study. I don’t know if you remember your school days, but I sure remember that final year. Every waking moment would find me studying.
I began to feel overwhelmed with my commitments. I talked to my mum about how I felt, like I was drowning in busyness. She made a statement to me that I have never forgotten. She said, “Well, you are studying full-time, and you are also doing part-time ministry.” Ministry, she called it. No-one had called it that before, not even people at church.
Realisation dawned. I came to see that even though I was a volunteer in the band, unpaid for my service, it still counted as ministry. I always knew that the band commitments were hefty, between band meetings, rehearsals and playing in actual services. But until my mum’s insightful comment, I had not acknowledged that my willingness to serve might count as ministry.
I pulled out of ministry for a time in order to focus on my studies. And yet, I did not completely withdraw from ministry either. I say that because my perception of what counts as ministry started to expand.
Since that time, I have begun to see many different acts of service as ministry. I would certainly consider any voluntary position in a church as a ministry role. But I’m not just talking about service done in church. I don’t think we can say that only acts committed in church count as service to the Lord.
I think that ministry boils down to doing what you think God wants you to do. That might include using your skills and talents to help others, which glorifies God either directly or indirectly. It might involve pursuing a certain job or vocation, perhaps your whole life long. For me, the term “ministry” also encompasses moment-to-moment obedience.
What I mean by that is doing stuff God tells you to do that might be outside of your “normal” ministry. It might mean you take a bit of a risk. For some, that might mean talking to a stranger (and not just at church). For others, it could require generosity of heart or of wallet. Ministry can be an ongoing commitment or a one-off act of kindness.
These days, I tend to give phrases like “serving the Lord” and “getting involved in ministry” a lot of latitude. God has gifted each one of us so uniquely; our ministries are all going to look unique as well.
Because I am musical, I see music as being a major part of my life-long ministry. But I don’t just mean playing music in church. Sure, helping to lead worship with God’s people is a beautiful and noble endeavor. However, my ministry is also in my time of preparation at home; my time of playing around with a new song idea; my time of sourcing inspiration from musicians around the world (not always Christians); and my time of listening to the music of the ocean.
This is a far cry from my misguided teenage understanding of ministry. I now understand that anything I do to learn and grow my gifts is part of ministry. Anything I do for inspiration and refreshment is as much a part of ministry as is the playing in public, knowing that everything I do in secret is for Him. And every little piece of “ministry” matters to Him. Always.
*Photo courtesy of the beautiful St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta NSW.