Down to Earth Disciples
My beginning Greek students are well aware that the expression ho laos tou theou means, “The people of God.” And the New Testament teaches that it is the entire people of God who are “set apart” for the ministry of Christ and His priesthood. Hence any time we talk about ministry in the church we must always be clear that ministry is simply the function of all God’s people. The shepherds of God’s flock (pastors) are, to use Paul’s famous analogy, also part of the Body and never the Head. The latter is Christ alone. Thus there can never be a separation between the members of the Body and its leaders, though there may be a distinction between the two. And all of us – leaders and led alike – are disciples, followers of Jesus committed to taking the Gospel to the entire world.
Understanding this great truth eliminates the temptation to come across as superior in the church. It puts simply and plainly a point I try to make in my new book The Jesus Paradigm, in which I portray the entire membership of the Body as engaged in “fulltime Christian ministry,” by which I mean humble service for Jesus. There is nothing here of the showy. No top dogs or head honchos. Jesus brings us all down to earth.
As it happens, two fulltime pastors will be going with us to Ethiopia this week. While a distinction exists between them and the rest of us, there is no separation between us. Moreover, we will all share the same ministry – representing Christ and His upside-down kingdom, bearing witness to Him wherever we go, carrying on His work of reconciliation according to the gifts He has given us. I cannot emphasize too strongly the point I just made: that although there are distinctions within the Body of Christ, there is no separation between its members. As I said above, all of us belong to ho laos tou theou, as the Greek puts it, and all of us belong to the “laity” (a word derived from laos). Each of is a servant of Christ and of each other. Some call this “the priesthood of the laity,” through I prefer the expression “the priesthood of all believers.” I believe that a scriptural view of Christian ministry begins here – with the notion that all ministry in every aspect is derived from the priesthood of Christ. Our priesthood is organically one with His. Thus all ministry is ultimately His ministry, carried on in His Body and directed, like His own earthly ministry, toward the world. Each of us – whether “ordained” or not – is genuinely a minister, an active participant in Christ’s priesthood. Everything that is important in life plays into that priesthood ministry or flows from it. I myself desire nothing more in life than to be a minister in the world, a servant of servants, a missionary for Christ. A Victorian poet once stated that the church’s motto should be simply “Amo” (“I love”). Our job is to prove to an estranged and alienated world that God still loves it and to do so in concrete and practical ways. Missions is nothing but the outgoing of God’s love, the giving of it to others.
This is the crucial point for a Christian minister. Our Christian vocation is to act for the Lord by preaching His Gospel to every creature. It is most unfortunate that in many circles the pastor is called the “preacher,” as if this term belonged exclusively to him. The preaching of the Gospel is the privilege of every follower of Christ; indeed, all of life has a proclamatory quality to it. To state otherwise is to succumb to what Dietrich Bonhoeffer so vividly called “cheap grace.” God’s grace is given to His people, not so that we might enjoy it quietly in our churches, but so that we might do the agonizingly difficult work of serving – “ministering to” (the Greek word diakoneo means both things) – the needs of others.
So off we go to Ethiopia again – pastors and non-pastors alike – equally united under the motto “All the people of God doing all the work of God,” believing that along with the assignment, God gives the power and grace to succeed. All of us are brothers and sisters in Christ who gladly echo the words of Jim Irwin as he journeyed back to earth from outer space:
As I was returning to earth I realized that I was a servant – not a celebrity. So I am here as God’s servant on planet earth to share what I have experienced that others might know the glory of God.
May 20, 2009
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com.