How to decide whether to serve in a ministry

11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
~ Ephesians 4:11-13

Do you wonder what your place is in the church?

If you are a Christian, you don’t have to be. Every Christian is called to be involved in God’s plans and purposes in Jesus Christ, performing works of service to build other people up in faith and knowledge. This isn’t something that is left to the ‘ministers’ of the church – in Ephesians 4:11-13, we see that the works of service are meant to be performed by God’s people.

But, did you catch the place of these ‘ministers’? The apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers are given by Jesus Christ to equip God’s people. Often, we can think that the ministers of the church are the ones who are ‘doing ministry’. This is true, but only insofar as every Christian is to be involved in ministry. The ministers of our church are given to equip all of God’s people to be involved in ministry. Every member of the church who calls Jesus as Lord is called to bring the message of Jesus Christ to others in some way.

Ministries exist in our local congregations, and outside in other organisations. But, how can we prayerfully decide whether to participate in a ministry? How can we think about whether to say ‘yes’ to serving in some way? Before we seek to answer this question, it is important to distinguish between formal ministry positions and informal ministry positions.

  • formal ministry position is one where influence and responsibility have been entrusted in a recognised way. Examples include youth leading, being part of the music team, organising a weekend away, and leading a small group.
  • An informal ministry position is one where there is no formal influence or responsibility entrusted to a person, but where they can continue to serve and bring the word of Christ to others. Examples include speaking to someone visiting after church, inviting your neighbours over to share the gospel of Jesus Christ, meeting up with someone in a 1-to-1 fashion, and praying for others throughout the week.

These distinctions are fairly arbitrary, but it is important to realise that Christians can be involved in works of service without needing to have some formal position in a church or Christian organisation. We are all members of the body and can serve in different ways (1 Corinthians 12:12-14).

So, how can we decide whether to participate or serve in a ministry? Here are 5 questions to consider.

1. Is this a ministry that aligns with God’s plans and purposes in Jesus Christ?

God is rescuing His people in the world, redeeming them through the blood of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:3-10). He is also building up His people in order to see them mature in Christ to be witnesses of Him throughout the world as we wait for Jesus to return (Ephesians 4:11-13, 2 Corinthians 5:16-21, Titus 2:11-14). God calls us to love one another, love our neighbours, and care for the poor, needy, and neglected (John 13:34-35, Luke 11:25-37, James 1:26-27). If we understand that God is on about these plans and purposes, then our service should be performed in alignment with them. If we can’t see how a ‘Christian’ ministry is seeking to follow and work for these, then we should reconsider our involvement.

But, there are many ways to serve that do embrace God’s global mission and mobilise people to go out and glorify God.

2. Will I be able to faithfully serve in this way while remaining faithful to my other commitments?

We should not neglect where God has placed us to serve. Faithfulness in all things is a distinguishing feature of Christians in a world that can let go of, or pick up, commitments whenever it suits you. Faithfulness to family (1 Timothy 3:12), faithfulness in work (Colossians 3:22-25), and faithfulness in love for one another (3 John 5-6) are only three examples.

If you are considering how to serve, it is important to remember that any commitment you take up will take up time in your weekly schedule. It does not honour God to have said ‘yes’ to serving in many ways, but to be absent, too tired, or inefficient within those areas of service. It is also a form of deceit to say that you can serve in some way but then be unable to follow through with that commitment. However, if we can serve with faithful commitment while honouring other ways in which we should demonstrate faithfulness, then what a blessed circumstance to be in! It is a way to publicly display selflessness instead of selfishness.

3. Is this a ministry where I will grow in my godliness and thankfulness?

Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians that God’s will for us is that we would be sanctified in godliness (4:3-8) and that we would be thankful in all circumstances (5:16-18). We should emphasise that Paul specifically mentions sexual immorality as a sin that we are to be sanctified in, and we should take his words seriously. God’s will for us is growth in godliness and thankfulness. If serving in a ministry would go against your conscience, or lead you to sin and be consumed by lust, or envy, or anger, then you should seriously reconsider your involvement.

Thankfully, there are many ways where our service can help remind us of the joy of our salvation, and also help us to realise our own sin. Service is a way to grow as we direct our attention outwards and realise what a privilege it is for us to be a part of what God is doing. What a reason to be thankful!

4. Is this a ministry that I would support even if I weren’t participating in it?

One way to consider whether your desire to serve in a ministry is driven by a love of power is to ask this question. For example, if I wouldn’t recommend my Youth to go to a ministry, then why would I accept an offer to preach at that ministry? Service is a privilege and not a power-grab. We should support and serve in ministries that we believe are valuable and helpful regardless of our involvement.

5. Is this a ministry where I will be supported in my service?

Christians are called to bear each other’s burdens, loving each other and caring for each other (Galatians 6:2). We don’t use people or expect them to work out a way to cope with the stresses of life themselves. Consequently, our ministries should be places where we are supported and encouraged. Ministries that strain people to the point where they feel used, burnt out, or joyless should not be entered into.

Serving God is a tremendous joy that we do together as sisters and brothers who have been bought by the blood of our saviour. We want to support each other – in word, prayer, and deed – as we wait for Jesus to return and complete His work and bring His plans to perfect fulfillment.

James Chen

James is a Philosophy graduate from the University of Sydney and is currently a teaching and learning manager of a senior high school tutoring centre. James is a member of St. Paul’s Anglican Church, Carlingford and loves reading and teaching the Bible.