Reposted from August 26, 2011.
In Acts 6, we find that famous passage in which the occasion comes for the Apostles to designate the priorities of the Christian ministry. The twelve make it known to the congregation that, above all other ministerial responsibilities and worthy pursuits, they will devote themselves “to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Ac 6:4).
The Greek word translated “ministry” in that passage is diakonía. It comes from the verb diakonéō, the normal New Testament verb that is translated, “to minister.” While it eventually takes on the more technical connotation of what we think of as “Christian ministry,” its most basic meaning is to serve. In fact, it’s used this way in the very same passage. In Acts 6:1 we’re told of the problem that prompted the Apostles’ response: the widows of the Hellenistic Jews “were being overlooked in the daily serving (diakonía) of food.”
And the word is used in this most basic sense frequently throughout the gospels.
- Peter’s mother-in-law began ministering (diakonéō) to Jesus after He healed her. What was her ministry? The NASB says, “…she got up and waited on Him” (Mt 8:15, NASB).
- Similarly, the alert slave waiting for his master’s coming is said to wait on (diakonéō) his master and his guests (Lk 12:37, NASB).
- In Luke 17:8, the “unprofitable servant,” who is not thanked for doing his duty, is said to serve (diakonéō) his master while he eats and drinks.
- Finally, Martha complains to Jesus about Mary leaving her “to do all the serving (diakonéō) alone” (Lk 10:40), which of course included the practical preparations for Jesus’ visit to their house (see also John 12:2). Here again, ministry takes on this connotation of waiter- or waitress-like service.
If we seek to follow in the Apostles’ footsteps in devoting ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the Word of God, we must adopt the attitude of a diákonos in the various contexts of the Christian ministry. The biblical shepherd is to be a servant—a waiter who supplies the food of the Word of God appropriately according to the various hunger pangs of the flock that Christ has entrusted to him.
As I reflect on the implications of this illustration of the minister as waiter, I find that there are some really insightful parallels between the pastor and the waiter. Here are five of those.