A few days ago I was having a Bible study with some of my friends from church. As we were going through the lesson, an interesting conversation started about the unique role of ministering/preaching in the church—and about how it is different from the role of music/worship, or any other aspect of serving in the church. The Lord had already been dealing with me on this topic, and so this conversation allowed me to share some of what I was feeling with my friends. This blog post was born out of that conversation, and I’m thankful that they challenged me to dig deeper and figure out the true meaning of ministry.
To Minister Means To Serve
In both the Old and New Testament, the main idea behind ministering is to serve someone else. The OT word for “to minister”, שרת (shārath), is used to describe how Joseph “served” Potiphar (Gen39:4) or how Joshua was “servant” to Moses (Ex3:11). The most common use for שרת (shārath) is the work that the priests did in the temple of the Lord.
Whenever someone accepts to call to ministry, it is not because they want to advance themselves or put themselves first. As Jesus said, “Whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant” (Matt20:26-27). When we accept the call to ministry, we are accepting a job that requires constantly putting the needs of others before our own. This kind of selfless service is a holy thing—the priests ministered/served in the most holy place of the temple, the place where the Spirit and Glory of God sat upon the mercy seat—but it is still service; and that means putting others before ourself.
This idea is even more clear in the NT. The Greek verb διακονέω (diakoneō) and the Greek noun διακονία (diakonia) have the implication of serving someone a meal—being a waiter or waitress to them while they eat.
There they made him [Jesus] a supper; and Martha served/διακονέω (John12:2)…But Martha was cumbered about much serving/διακονία, and came and said to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve/διακονέω alone? (Lk10:40)
I believe that this meaning of “ministry”—the waiter/waitress implication of the word—is crucial. This meaning helps us to understand the unique role of ministry in the church: it gives us a picture of what ministry in the church looks like.
Are You A Minister?
The meaning of the word ministering/διακονέω (diakoneō) and the meaning of the word ministry/διακονία (diakonia) help us understand what it means to be a minister/διάκονος. As we have already seen, being a minister means to serve someone else food or drink (see also John 2:5,9).
This is why I believe that a minister is someone who preaches the word of God to people. The preacher is someone who “feeds the flock of God” (1Pet5:2). The preacher is someone who leads people to the bread of life (John6:35,48). The preacher is someone who gives “the milk of the word” (1Pet2:2, Heb5:13) to the newborn believer and who gives “strong meat…to them that are of full age” (Heb5:14). If you are a minister in the church, you are someone who serves the congregation by feeding them from the word of God by preaching.
This is why the Bible repeatedly connects ministering with the preaching of the word.
- But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word (Acts6:4)
- so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry…to testify the gospel of the grace of God (Acts20:24)
- Romans 12 associates ministry with prophecy, teaching, and exhorting—all preaching-esque activities
- do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry (2Tim4:5)
I submit to you that, biblically speaking, you are only a minister if you are a preacher/teacher of God’s word. To say the same thing with different words, you are not a minister unless you teach God’s word—even if you are a janitor, secretary, usher, door-greater, musician or singer.
If I’m Not A Minister, What Am I?
Let’s use music as an example. I can hear someone say, “But I thought you said ministering meant serving; so if I serve the church with music, doesn’t that mean that I am ministering to the church with music?”
Not quite. Ministering means serving; but not all serving is ministering—kind of like a Collie is a dog, but not every breed of dog is a Collie. Ministers and musicians both serve, but they serve in different ways. This doesn’t make one more important from the other; it just makes them different. Music and ministry both serve, but music isn’t ministry; kind of like a Collie and a Dalmatian are both dogs, but a Collie is not a Dalmatian.
When this topic was brought up during the Bible study with my friends, I went out on a limb and said something potentially controversial. I said—to the man our church calls “the music minister,”— “I try to avoid calling musicians ministers, because the Bible never calls music a ministry.” Thankfully he took it well!!
In all my looking, I haven’t found one time in the OT where music/musicians or song(s)/singing/singers are called a שרת (sharēth, minister); and I haven’t found one time in the NT where musicians/singers are called a διάκονος (diakonos, minister) or where song(s)/singing are described as διακονέω (diakoneō, ministering) or διακονία (diakonia, ministry). In the original languages of the Bible, music is not called a ministry and musicians are not called ministers.
In the entire KJV, the only verse that I can find calling musicians ministers is an obscure verse in 2Chronicles 7. But when we look at the original Hebrew, the word שרת (shārath) is not used.
the Levites also with instruments of musick of the LORD, which David the king had made to praise the LORD, because his mercy endureth for ever, when David praised by their ministry (יד yad, hand) (2Chron7:6)
This is the same word that is used in 1Chron6:31 the Bible uses יד yad/hand to describe “the service of song.” Music is a way that we serve the church by keeping our hands busy. 1Chronicles 25:6 refers to music as “the service of the house of God”—and here the Hebrew word for service, עבדה (abōdah), implies manual labor or physical work.
When we serve the Lord and his church with music, it is something that we keep our hands busy at. We serve the Lord by doing work. This is a completely different concept from serving the Lord by feeding his people his word. So, brother musician, if you lead the worship service, that does not make you a “music minister;” because according to the Bible, there is no such thing. But it does make you a servant; and for that, all of the saints and all of us word-ministers say, “Thank you!”
Happy In Our Place
When we realize what Biblical ministry is, it is a whole lot easier to do it well. Some people serve the Lord by singing; some people serve by ministering. That doesn’t make one more valuable from the other. It just makes them different. Both are necessary in the church. Instead of “comparing ourselves among ourselves”—which the Bible says is unwise—let’s all work harder at the job God has given us to do, and go forward into revival!
NOTE: My views on this have changed slightly due to more study on the topic. If you want to know my most recent thoughts on the topic, please read this article.