The arena where Christ’s followers serve is outside the church, not within it.
When Christians think of serving God, they often see themselves doing so in the church: as a Sunday School teacher, usher, singer in the choir, member of the various church committees, full-time worker, etc. This narrow perspective turns the church into an inward-looking self-maintaining body. The Bible actually presents a different picture.
The church is where believers are equipped so that they can do ministry. Yet many Christians see ministry as the service (e.g. prayer, counselling, teaching, preaching) they receive in church provided to them by pastors, staff, or other appointed persons. This is contrary to what Paul wrote to the Ephesians in Chapter 4:11-12. Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers are to equip the saints (believers), who in turn are really the ones to do the ministry so that the church may be built up.
In order to build up the church, the ministry of the saints goes outside the church. What we normally call “ministry” within church is misleading. Within the church we equip. Outside the church we do ministry (i.e. service).
When we do not see this distinction, the church in paying attention only to the needs of its members becomes like a hospital, attending to the sick and wounded on long-term care. However, with this distinction, the church nurtures and equips members who are then mobilised to seek, serve and save those who are lost.
This mobilisation brings members of the church into the marketplace. Collins dictionary defines “marketplace” not just as “the commercial world of buying and selling” but also as “any centre where ideas, opinions, etc., are exchanged”. In other words, it is also where thoughts and values, and not just commerce, are transacted.
The marketplace is not neutral and amoral. It can be an evil place. Backstabbing takes place between persons; honourable principles are distorted. What may begin as a project to uplift working conditions of low-pay workers can be corrupted into financial schemes that profit institutions rather than persons.
Churches therefore must nurture and equip their members to do ministry in this kind of environment. Jesus said, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16, ESV). The “good works” in that environment is not prayer, Bible study, praise and worship. It is simply that we do good work, whether as a secretary, janitor, technician, salesman, lawyer, doctor, or whatever is our sphere of professional competence. It means that we are competent secretaries, janitors, technicians, etc.
Our ministry is the excellent service we provide in our workplace. It is in this way that we give glory to God our Father.
We tend to confine spiritual matters to the church arena. However, Paul wrote to the Roman Christians that when we “present bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God”, that is our “spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1, ESV).
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|Bishop Dr Wee Boon Hup –
was elected Bishop of The Methodist Church in Singapore in 2012.
He has been a Methodist pastor for 30 years.