The Apostle Paul says something curious to the Corinthians:
“…if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ's behalf, be reconciled to God.” (2 Corinthians 5:17-20)
Paul uses some version of the word “ministry” fifteen times in the two letters to the saints in Corinth (and, subsequently, to us as Christians).
There are two things I would like us to see in this passage from 2 Corinthians.
One is that when “all things became new” one of the things Paul was communicating is that God no longer assigned “ministry” only to special humans….a priestly caste, if you will. Even though there would be different roles in God’s plan (apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers and evangelists, among other roles) under the new covenant ALL believers would have the right to minister to others.
The second thing is that the specific ministry ALL Christians have is to function as AMBASSADORS whose ministry is to RECONCILE humans with Jesus. Reconciliation as ministry, briefly put, means to lead others to willingly change so as to restore the relationship and fellowship that has been lost between God and all people due to the Fall of Man.
Jesus has reconciled us to the Father. Now we have the beautiful privilege of being the conduit through whom Jesus will further advance that reconciliation between God and the people with whom HE connects us.
Isn’t that amazing? What confidence He has in His own ability to do this through us!
There IS a problem, though.
Sometime between when that letter was written and now, man has taken a giant step backwards into a religious style in which a priestly caste, if you will, has been added to the simplicity of God’s intentions for HIS Church.
This priestly caste is called “the clergy” and it is nowhere to be found in Christianity in the Scriptures.
This earthly, man-made idea has caused almost all Christians to be pushed aside so “the professional ministers” can do the work of reconciliation, despite the fact that leaders are specifically COMMANDED to do the complete opposite: equip ALL Christians to do the work of ministry.
“And He (Jesus, our King) Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, FOR THE EQUIPPING OF THE SAINTS (the word “saints” means “living Christians”) FOR THE WORK OF MINISTRY, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ…” (Ephesians 4:11-13)
Because man has decided to take it upon himself to not only add a “clergy” class to Christ’s Church only a minuscule percentage of Christians over the last 1700 years has been equipped in any way to minister reconciliation to the people around them.
Is it any wonder that so many people remain lost, wounded and at the mercy of the devil?
Is it any wonder that so many Christians are frustrated and bored having been cheated out of their re-birthright as children of God?
Is it any wonder, further, that they seem to be abandoning Christian institutionalism in droves? Being a wasted resource takes a toll on a Christian even if he cannot label the cause of his frustration.
This being the case, as a leader in the Body of Christ, I feel moved to address this. Hence, I have written this and many other EQUIPPING articles.
I remember my own fear and insecurity when I was first faced with opportunities to minister Christ and reconciliation with God, knowing that I had not been discipled to do so. The only logical route presented to me was to “bring these people to Church” where everything would be fixed in their lives by their mere attendance.
But what I personally witnessed, to my dismay, was that the majority of these never got a personal touch from Jesus through anyone…even those “professional ministers.”
Sermons, Bible class or Sunday School lessons, retreats, VBS, Christmas plays, conferences, seminars were all expected to somehow repair things in the souls of people through some sort of mystical “spiritual osmosis.”
The result was that needs remained unmet and the people tended to leave as quickly as they came, often to never try Jesus or church again.
This is why “church (or institutional congregation) growth” is basically non-existent today. In most places, if people from other congregations didn’t move around there would be NO church growth. This dynamic results in the fragments of the ONE Body of Christ being in competition with each other for warm bodies and dollars.
This is sad because of the damage it does to people.
There ARE, though, some who are awakening to the idea of being ministers of reconciliation. This is exciting to witness and experience.
However, after 1700 years of error in this regard, when a “regular” Christian starts trying to exercise his re-birthright in this way he often feels as insecure in that as I did when I started.
I’ve found that it’s often helpful to have an “entry point of ministry” if you will.
All good ministry, I have learned, is based in relationship. This can take years or mere minutes if only we are willing to open our hearts to others.
“Open your hearts to us. We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have cheated no one. I do not say this to condemn; for I have said before that you are in our hearts, to die together and to live together.” (2 Corinthians 7:2-3)
As we establish relationship with another, even if only a few minutes go by, we can ask God to reveal the “entry point of ministry”.
While studying the Book of Acts I saw something that exemplifies this.
The scene in Acts 2 has to do with Peter, speaking as led by the Holy Spirit after the very first time He filled believers.
“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know—Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it.” (Acts 2:22-24)
Having said this, Peter then quotes King David (Psalm 6:8-11):
“I have set the LORD always before me; because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices; my flesh also will rest in hope. For You will not leave my soul in Sheol, nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption. You will show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:8-11)
Peter quoted this particular passage because the Holy Spirit told him to do so.
“For David says concerning Him: ‘I foresaw the LORD always before my face, for He is at my right hand, that I may not be shaken. Therefore my heart rejoiced, and my tongue was glad; moreover my flesh also will rest in hope. For You will not leave my soul in Hades, nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption. You have made known to me the ways of life; You will make me full of joy in Your presence.’” (Acts 2:25-28)
Peter is speaking to Jewish people gathered in Jerusalem for Pentecost. Most of them were surely VERY familiar with that passage in Psalms. The Spirit has Peter quote David to appeal to the people because they hold David in high regard.
David matters to them.
Whenever we minister to people, something matters to them. How can we tell what it is?
Sometimes the Holy Spirit, like He does here, will make it plainly evident.
Other times, people will tell you what matters to them.
One day I was sitting in the home office of my pastor, Don Gunter.
There was a computer on the desk and on the screen was a slideshow featuring pictures of people.
As I watched those pictures flow by it struck me how much this revealed about Don's heart. People mattered to him. THOSE people God had brought into his life and sphere of influence mattered to him.
He and his wife Shari have pictures of people all over the place. At one time even the outside of her purse was festooned with pictures of people!
Just observing them and their home would make it evident that people were and are important to them.
My point is this: people reveal what matters to them and if we pay attention to the Holy Spirit or to what the people say or have or do we will know what matters to them.
This can often be the point of entry for ministry in which the Lord will virtually say to us, “THAT matters to that person. Speak to it."
When we obey Him, HE will enter their circumstance and begin to minister to their hearts through us.
What happens next in Acts 2 is that Peter is about to move into a discussion about Jesus. The Apostle will speak to the people about why the Savior is significant to them, using people and things that matter to them to do so.
Years later the writer of Hebrews does the very same thing, talking about angels, the Law, miracles, washings, Old Testament heroes…you name it…all of which are things that matter to them.
He will use these things to direct those Christians back to the Jesus from Whom they are drifting as persecution against the faith begins to rise up.
I think we can do that. I think ANY Christian can do that and I believe it is our birthright as reborn people…born again in Jesus.
That’s why I call it our “re-birthright.”
As we practice this we will be functioning as the agents of reconciliation…the ambassadors for Christ…that Paul said we would be.
What will that reconciliation look like in those people to whom we minister?
Some will receive Jesus as Lord and will be born again.
Some will be healed physically, emotionally, and/or spiritually.
Some will experience freedom from perversion, pornography and other sexual bondage, the debilitating effects of abortion, addictions and demonic influence.
Some will see their marriages and families restored.
Some will begin to walk in their own spiritual giftings and will begin to experience the excitement and satisfaction of themselves practicing the ministry of reconciliation.
Beginning to learn to do this as regular, garden-variety Christians (which, really, we ALL are) can be scary, intimidating, and overwhelming.
I think the discomfort we might experience is well worth the risk considering the wonderful things God will let us experience and witness on His behalf.
You’ll know you really do if you begin to embrace the idea, pray for God to guide you, look for ministry opportunities in your everyday life, and then, take that step into your own destiny in Christ.
To paraphrase Ephesians 2:10, speaking to my fellow Christian brothers and sisters: “YOU are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that YOU should walk in them.”
Let’s do that.
Our Father will be overjoyed to see us reclaim our re-birthright and the Kingdom results of that.