March 5, 2014

A foundational understanding of ministry – Part 1

by Lyndon Unger

It seems like I’m apparently the “word study geek” here on the Cripplegate.  It’s not that I don’t write other things, but I have a blog that has around 350 posts and I find that the big study projects (i.e. the large word studies) are the things where I learn the most, hence that’s what I want to share with you all out there on the web.  Seeing that I am a little bit of a broken record with the word studies, I plan to do two mini-series and incorporate a word study into the first (see how sneaky I am there?).  The second series will be, well, somewhat different.  I promise that you will certainly not be disappointed, but I’ll leave everyone in suspense for now.


So, for my first mini-series, I’m going to spend two posts laying some foundational understandings regarding ministry:

In this post, I’m going to unpack the term “ministry”.

In the next post, I’m going to unpack some ideas about the “call to ministry”.

I’ve had several conversations with people and have heard the word “ministry” thrown around in so many various contexts that I’ve heard basically everything and anything called “ministry”:  I’ve heard of “church ministry”, “children’s ministry”, “soup ministry”, “puppet ministry”, “lawn maintenance ministry”, “skateboard ministry”, “break dance ministry”, “paintball ministry”, “beach ministry”, “van/bus ministry”, etc.


I’ve wanted to clarify the term for myself for a while, so I’m going to take the word “ministry” and figure out what it means in the scripture.  Since the seminary geeks complain when I don’t do original language work, I’ll do an OLCW (Original Language Cheating Word-study – when you do original language word studies that don’t need a knowledge of the original languages) and look at the Old Testament usages of the term in contemporary English translations and show my progress of thought:

1.  Let’s see where “ministry’ appears in the Old Testament.  We’ll start by looking up the occurrences of the word in the major English translations on

  • ESV – 3x – Numbers 4:47; 2 Chron. 7:6, 2 Chron. 8:14
  • NIV – 2x – 1 Chron. 25:1, 6
  • NASB – 2x – 1 Chron. 24:3, 19
  • NKJV – 5x – Ex. 31:10, 35:19, 39:1, 39:41; 2 Chron. 7:6
  • KJV – 4x – Num. 4:12, 4:47; 2 Chron. 7:6, Hosea 12:10.
  • I know there’s other translations, but this will more than suffice our needs since “ministry” doesn’t appear hundreds of times in the OT.

2.  Let’s check our references at and discover the Hebrew term in each verse:

Notice any patterns?


We have some common terminology that shows up regularly.  That makes life fairly easy.

3.  Now we’re going to check out each of those Hebrew terms, look at their occurances in the OT, and try to get a feel for their range of meaning:

  • Kahan – Occurs 23 times in the OT and, with basically 1 exception, it refers to the temple work done by a priest. As a verb, you could loosely say that Kahan means “priesting” (or some other summary term for the whole of priestly work).
  • Serad – Occurs 4 times in the OT and every time is used adjectivally to describe the cloths used in the temple (think table cloths or something like that).
  • Sharath – Occurs 92 times in the OT and it means “to serve” (verb).  It’s used in a common sense with reference to serving in a household/business (i.e. Gen. 39:4) and in a sacred sense with reference to serving in the tabernacle/temple (i.e. Ex. 30:20).
  • Abodah –  Occurs 141 times in the OT and it means “service/work” (noun).   It’s used in a common sense with reference to the work done in a household/business (i.e. Gen. 30:26) and in a sacred sense with reference to work done in the tabernacle/temple (i.e. Ex. 38:21).
  • Yad – Occurs 1615 times in the OT, and it means “hand”.  When it’s used in 2 Chron. 7:6 and Hos. 12:10, it’s shorthand for the work done by the hands of the priests.

Notice any patterns again?


The Hebrew terms that are translated “ministry” in English carry a specific idea, at least when they’re used in any sort of religious context, of being service and work done in the temple by priests.

Very Interesting.

Let’s do the same thing in the New Testament:

1.  English Translations:

  • ESV – 22x – Luke 3:23; Acts 1:17, 25, 6:4, 20:24, 21:19; Rom. 11:13, 15:19; 2 Cor 3:7, 8, 9, 4:1, 5:18, 6:3, 9:1, 12; Gal. 2:8; Eph. 4:12; Col. 4:17; 2 Tim. 4:5, 11; Heb. 8:6.
  • NIV – 19x – Luke 3:23; Acts 1:17, 25, 6:2, 4, 8:21, 21:19; Rom. 11:13; 2 Cor 3:3, 7, 8, 9, 4:1, 6:3; Gal. 2:8; 2 Tim. 4:5, 11; Heb. 8:6, 9:6.
  • NASB – 20x – Luke 3:23; Acts 1:17, 25, 6:4, 20:24, 21:19; Rom. 11:13; 2 Cor 3:7, 8, 9, 4:1, 5:18, 6:3, 9:1, 12, 13;  Col. 4:17; 2 Tim. 4:5; Heb. 8:6, 9:21.
  • NKJV – 24x – Luke 3:23; Acts 1:17, 25, 6:4, 12:25, 20:24, 21:19; Rom. 11:13, 12:7; 1 Cor. 16:15; 2 Cor 3:7, 8, 9, 4:1, 5:18, 6:3, 9:13;  Eph. 4:12; Col. 4:17; 1 Tim. 1:12; 2 Tim. 4:5, 11; Heb. 8:6, 9:21.
  • KJV – 18x – Acts 1:17, 25, 6:4, 12:25, 20:24, 21:19; Rom. 12:7; 1 Cor. 16:15; 2 Cor 4:1, 5:18, 6:3;  Eph. 4:12; Col. 4:17; 1 Tim. 1:12; 2 Tim. 4:5, 11; Heb. 8:6, 9:21.

2.  Find the Greek terms:

  • Luke 3:23 – No Greek term for”ministry” is in the original.
  • Acts 1:17 – Diakonia
  • Acts 1:25 – Diakonia
  • Acts 6:2 – No Greek term for “ministry” is in the original
  • Acts 6:4 – Diakonia
  • Acts 8:21 – No Greek term for”ministry” is in the original.
  • Acts 12:25 –Diakonia
  • Acts 20:24 – Diakonia
  • Acts 21:19 – Diakonia
  • Romans 11:13 – Diakonia
  • Romans 12:7 – Diakonia
  • Romans 15:19 – No Greek term for”ministry” is in the original.
  • 1 Corinthians 16:15 – Diakonia
  • 2 Corinthians 3:7 – Diakonia
  • 2 Corinthians 3:8 – Diakonia
  • 2 Corinthians 3:9 – Diakonia
  • 2 Corinthians 4:1 – Diakonia
  • 2 Corinthians 5:18 – Diakonia
  • 2 Corinthians 6:3 – Diakonia
  • 2 Corinthians 9:1 – Diakonia
  • 2 Corinthians 9:12 – Diakonia
  • 2 Corinthians 9:13 – Diakonia
  • Galatians 2:8 – No Greek term for”ministry” is in the original.
  • Ephesians 4:12 – Diakonia
  • Colossians 4:17 – Diakonia
  • 1 Timothy 1:12 – Diakonia
  • 2 Timothy 4:5 – Diakonia
  • 2 Timothy 4:11 – Diakonia
  •  Hebrews 8:6 – Leitourgia
  • Hebrews 9:21 – Leitourgia

3.  Check out the usage of the Greek terms in the NT and try to get a feel for their range of meaning.

  • Diakonia – Occurs 36 times in the NT and it means “service” or “work”.  It is also  a term related to the biblical office of “deacon”. It’s used in a common sense with reference to any sort of work done for others (i.e. Luke 10:40) and in a sacred sense with reference to the work of the apostles done for Christ (i.e. Acts 20:24), work for the benefit of others in the church (Acts 6:1), work of 1 church for the benefit of another (Acts 11:29), the spiritual gift of “service” (Rom. 12:7), the work of the Holy Spirit on behalf of God (2 Cor. 3:8), and  as a general term for the work of the individuals within the church (Eph. 4:12).
  • Leitourgia – Occurs 6 times in the NT and it means “service” (noun). It’s used in a common sense with reference to any sort of service of others (i.e. 2 Cor. 9:12) and in a sacred sense with reference to the specific work done of priests in the temple (i.e. Luke 1:23).  You may recognize this as being the root word for the English words “liturgy”, “liturgical”, etc.

Notice any patterns again?


In the New Testament, the Greek terms that are translated “ministry” carry the idea, at least when they’re used in any sort of religious context, of being service/work done in the temple/church by either the shepherds or the sheep.  That “work” includes all the activities of the priests (administering the sacrifices, teaching the Torah, etc.) and the eldership of the church (preaching, evangelism, counseling, teaching, etc.).  Beyond that, ministry includes things like providing financial/material assistance to struggling churches (Acts 11:29; 2 Cor. 8:4) and materially caring for the believers in the local church (Acts 6:1).

So what does that mean?

First, it means that there’s one common denominator to “ministry”: the church


Ministry is the work of the church by those in the church for those who are the church: it’s shepherd and sheep work.

Second, it means that certain things that are labelled “ministry” in an effort to sanctify them aren’t actually “ministry”, at least in the sacred sense.

  • The act of building a skatepark most likely isn’t “ministry”, though “ministry” could be done at a skatepark (i.e. evangelism).
  • Being a professor at a Bible college most likely isn’t being “in ministry”, though it’s possible that “ministry” work could be done at a Bible College.
  • Hanging out with teenagers most likely isn’t “ministry”, though “ministry” could occur around teenagers.
  • Making “Christian” movies most likely isn’t a “ministry”, though it could facilitate “ministry” or lead to “ministry”.
  • Feeding the poor outside the church most likely isn’t “ministry”, though it could definitely lead to “ministry” or be done concurrently with “ministry”.
  • Running a Christian bookstore, or a Christian retreat center, most likely isn’t “being in ministry”.

I could go on, but I’m guessing that I’ve already mentioned something that someone may find hard to swallow (especially the last few points).  Either way, I search the scriptures to learn and conform my thoughts to the scriptures, not vice versa.

Lyndon Unger

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Lyndon is a pastor/teacher who’s currently between ministry work and in the Canadian Mennonite Brethren Witness Protection program. If you think you saw him didn’t.
  • Thanks for this. I also read Oswald Chambers every morning and today’s was about ministry as well. It got me to wondering what my ministry is, and yours gives me a better definition of what ministry actually means. 🙂

    • Lyndon Unger

      Thanks for the encouraging thoughts Melissa. Also, thanks for reading the Cripplegate at all! Apparently the entire planet is at the Shepherd’s conference and I’m here on the Cripplegate, all by my lonesome.

      *sad face*

  • bumbutcha

    I’m wondering if it is somewhat questionable to equate the temple with the church and assign equivalence to temple duties and church ministry. After some 2,000 years what we conceive as the church has morphed from a group of believers living amongst each other and ministering to one another at a certain location to a building or institution run like an organization. Can it be that hierarchical authority and specialized ministries which are essential to maintain the functioning of the organization is done so at the expense of addressing the needs of the organism? How many churches do you know of exist to meet the practical needs of its members or the legitimate needs of believers in other locales as was the NT practice? Most of what comes from tithes/giving goes to the upkeep of the organization we call church. The old adage that 20% of the people in a church do 80% of the work infers that most do not have a ministry but remain as spectators. Our orthodoxy proclaims the priesthood of every believer as one who ministers but our orthopraxy all too often falls short of that.

    • Lyndon Unger

      I agree, but I don’t believe that I equated the temple with the church or assigned equivalence between the temple duties and church ministries. All I did was show that there was conceptual continuity between the words that are translated as “ministry” in the OT and NT.

      It’s also worth noting the discontinuity as well: namely that the “ministering” in the OT was done by the priests but in the NT the “ministering” is down by everyone.

      You asked “Can it be that hierarchical authority and specialized ministries which are essential to maintain the functioning of the organization is done so at the expense of addressing the needs of the organism?”

      – Sure. It can be so. Is it?

      You asked “How many churches do you know of exist to meet the practical needs of its members or the legitimate needs of believers in other locales as was the NT practice?”

      – Well, the one I attend does so. We’re a smaller church with a limited budget and we support a half dozen other churches in other parts of the world. I feign no knowledge of whether other churches do this to a similar, greater, or lesser extent.

      You said “Most of what comes from tithes/giving goes to the upkeep of the organization we call church.”

      – Speak for yourself. I’m not part of that “we”. The church I am a part of doesn’t own a facility for the simple purpose of investing far more of their money back into the immediate needs of the congregation and supporting international church/missions work. As time goes, we will likely be forced to buy/build a facility simply because we’re outgrowing our ability to rent anything in the area that will fit us all and meet our needs. We’re not exactly in a town with a whole lot of options.

      I also recognize and admit that most church work is done by a select few. Outside of complaining on a blog, what exactly are you planning to do about it?

      • bumbutcha

        Although I agree with your interpretation of ministry, the application of such a definition becomes somewhat distorted when applied to the church as it exists today. We have ministries such as parking lot ministry, usher ministry, soundboard ministry, setup ministry etc. While they may fit the scriptural description of ministry and church attendees do benefit from their service, these ministries exist primarily for the benefit of keeping the organization smoothly running on Sundays. So we have specialized ministries including the pastor’s ministry on Sunday which is primarily to deliver the sermon. By the same token, those in the pews invite unsaved family and friends to church in the hopes that they will become saved by coming to church – in effect by those doing ministry in the church. So the big picture is that we have a minority of people doing specialized ministry within the organization for the benefit of the majority who have been conditioned to sit and listen without much participation on their part except to sing along in worship and listen to the pastor’s message.
        You asked what am I planning to do about it. I opted out of the system many years ago – went the house church route. It’s certainly not a panacea as it has it’s own set of problems but it does address many of the issues in the traditional church setting.

        • Lyndon Unger

          Bumbutcha – we have some rather significant theological disconnects here.

          If various ministries in the church fit the scriptural description, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re needed just because they occur on a church campus.

          If you think the pastor’s ministry is primarily sermon delivery, then I tremble to think of how bad the church was that you emerged from.

          People who invite their friends and family to church with the hopes that something on Sunday will “save them” aren’t really participating in evangelism. Doing ministry in the church cannot possibly save anyone, and would likely only deceive someone into thinking they’re part of the church when they are not.

          The majority of the church sits and listens without much participation? Then the conditioning of the church has to change. The people in the pews, and the pastor manning the pulpit, all need to get their focus back.

          How exactly does the house church model fix the problems of the big church? What exactly will happen when 150 people hear about your awesome house church and want to come?

          • bumbutcha

            I’ll respond to you according to each of your paragraphs for easier comprehension.

            The particular ministries ministries I cited only exist because the church as an organization needs them to facilitate the Sunday worship service. In the large church setting you need a sound system so all can hear; you may need parking lot attendants to direct traffic, etc. but except for one day out of week, these ministries are not essential nor even remotely pertain to the lives of the people who attend church. On the other hand a church may have ministries that provide direct and ongoing assistance to members such as food distribution and financial assistance. That’s why I am hesitant to refer to the “operations” of the church as “ministries” as compared to the latter case where individuals/families do receive direct needed benefit from relief-type ministries.

            I wrote that the pastor’s ministry on Sunday is sermon delivery. I don’t know what church you go to but every church I’ve been in on Sundays had the expectation that the pastor gives the sermon. That is not to deny of course the pastor has other responsibilities during the week.

            I think your reply proves my point. I agree they are not really evangelizing. I would venture to say that the majority of Christians feel uncomfortable with evangelizing others or defending the faith as they for one reason or another, feel ill-equipped. It therefore becomes much easier for them to invite people to church where they hope that the atmosphere and the pastor’s messages will take hold and eventually save someone.

            I agree with you that the conditioning needs to change but how is that accomplished within the established framework? If it is a given that the Sunday service is the “big event” in the life of any church, what needs to change on Sundays? On Sundays the people are conditioned to sit in the pews and take their cues from the worship bulletin which maintains the order of service. A few people like the Sunday School teachers and the pastor exercise their teaching gift. Ushers/greeters exercise their gift of hospitality but the majority simply “attend” the service. This does not jive with 1 Cor 14:26 – when the brethren meet together each one is expected to participate and edify one another. Mutual participation should be the norm but in our traditional service, the spotlight only shines on a select few.

            150 people wanting to come would no doubt be a great thing but practically speaking, numbers are rarely a problem in house church as the size of people’s living room is the limiting factor. The simple solution is other people opening up their own homes to accommodate any added growth. The aim is to multiply groups and keep them small in size rather than form one big group in order that relationships are fostered, spiritual growth is maintained and discipleship occurs.

          • Lyndon Unger

            Ah. I get it.

            So the ministries that run week long and have an “in house” impact on families are the more important ones, and the work that needs to be done on Sunday is not really ministry?

            Well, you’re simply incorrect. I don’t say that lightly or glibly either. I’ve gone through every single usage of the word in the entire Bible, and your meaning of “ministry” doesn’t appear in the scripture…therefore I’m fairly confident in telling your that you’re objectively wrong.

            Pastors preach AND do other things? Yup.

            I don’t speak for a majority of Christians. At my church, people don’t invite their friends to church hoping that they’ll get saved because they’ve been taught well enough that they know the pastors’ messages don’t save anyone. People give their friends the gospel hoping that God will grant them repentance.

            How is change accomplished in the established framework?

            I’ll tell you how it’s NOT accomplished: throwing in the towel and running off to a house church where you can finally “do church right”. That’s a recipe for discouragement, not healthy churches…I’m old enough that I remember the fascination with house churches that happened in the 90’s, and NOBODY that was in house churches then is still in house churches. They’ve all shut down, and most shut down in sea of tears (the problem elements of churches, low and behold, are the people not the structures or programs. A change of programs and structures with the same people only provides a new manifestation for the same old problems).

            But here’s a start: we get together, the leadership comes together and evaluates their current practice in the light of scripture (as rightly understood), prays that the Lord would bring unity in conviction to arrive at a plan of action, and then the leaders explain the intentions for change to the congregation. The leaders then listen to (and critically evaluate) feedback, propose a plan of implementation, commit the whole process to the Lord (as is done throughout), and moves ahead through the growing pains of change.

            That’s not exactly the process, but that’s a rough idea.

          • bumbutcha

            Sorry Lyndon but you’re so joined at the hip to your one model of doing spectator church that tragically you can’t see the forest from the trees. Please give me your biblical warrant for only the pastor and a few others exercising their spiritual gifts when the church meets on Sundays instead of the following 1 Cor 14:26. Do you deny that most church attenders sit in the pews and do not participate in the service by actively ministering to one another? You can evaluate and implement all you want but essentially you are only making minor tweaks to the model you’re wed to.

  • Jeff Schlottmann

    thank you for this. my church is getting involved with a comminuty cleanup project, which i have no problem with. but the pastor basically said this is a relationship building situation for our church. which i also jave no problem with. but he made sure we know that the idea is for there to be very little preaching. but his end goal is that people from our town will take notice that our church is involved and eventually come to church.
    now it may or may not be the best time for full on preaching, but there’s a real attitude of ‘avoid it if you can’.
    also, i regret to say i’ve never done word studies, so this is great. i’m learning from you guys. thank you.

    • Lyndon Unger

      Glad I could be if some sort of help or encouragement Jeff. We’re always glad to try to set a somewhat decent example in things like thinking as a Christian or word studies.

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