The importance of ministry: St. Paul the Apostle, talking about the various gifts of the Spirit, said, "… As God has dealt to each one a measure of faith … according to the grace that is given us …" ; "If prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence." (Rom 12: 3- 8) In all this, ministry is foremost of everything due to its importance. And the Lord Christ took upon Himself the form of a servant to serve mankind, and said, "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many." (Mk 10: 45) If so, how much rather should we serve, and how honorable ministry actually is!
The apostles also accomplished spiritual ministry as well as social services. When appointing the seven deacons, they said, "We will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word." (Acts 6: 4) On this spiritual ministry, St. Paul likewise said, "… has given us the ministry of reconciliation … therefore we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us; we implore you on Christ's behalf, be reconciled to God." (2 Cor 5: 18, 20) To his disciple Timothy, he said, "Do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry" (2 Tim 4: 5) and about St. Mark he said, "He is useful to me for ministry." (2 Tim 4: 11) Concerning the social service, he said, "These hands have provided for my necessities, and for those who were with me." (Acts 20: 34) Again praising the Hebrews, he said, "For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister." (Heb 6: 10)
It is clear that the church fathers had the spirit of ministry rather than domination. They served people and sacrificed themselves for them. Priests also considered themselves servants of their churches, serving the Holy Sacraments, God and the congregation. St. Augustine the bishop of Hippo prayed for his congregation, saying, 'I ask you, O Lord, for my lords, Your servants.' Though a bishop he considered those whom he served as his lords. They were servants in the true meaning of the word, for they labored to the farthest extent of their ability, "In journeys often, in hunger and thirst, in cold and nakedness, in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness, in fastings …" (2 Cor 11: 26, 27) They watched out for their souls, as those who must give account (Heb 13: 17).
The church fathers were like candles that melt to give light to the others Beautiful indeed are the words of the spiritual elderly father on ministry: 'Wherever you go, be the smallest of your brothers and their servant'! The attitude of grandeur is not an evidence of power but rather a war, for the powerful is the person who trains himself to be a servant.
St. Amba Sarabamon Abu Tarha (the Veiled) used when he was a bishop to go by night secretly to the houses of the poor, knock at their doors, and leave the food he carried to them and go away happily. <BR>Amba Moussa the Black likewise used to carry water to the cells of the monks; and St. Pinofius trained himself to do the disdainful works scorned by the others, such as cleaning the water closets, sweeping the monastery, removing away garbage… etc.
The fathers did such services happily, without being required to do them and with no murmuring. They did them with humbleness, feeling glad to serve their brothers. One of the saints, seeing a brother struck with leprosy, carried him to his cell, served and provided for him for three months, thus receiving the blessing of such a service. So many fathers served the sick or the elderly for long periods, like St. John the short who served his spiritual father Amba Bemwa with amazing patience until that father reposed in peace blessing him and saying about him, 'This is an angel, not a human being!' Others used to help anyone in trouble, as the Lord said, "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." (Mt 11: 28)
Love of ministry: Two things we should focus on with respect to ministry: love of ministry, and spirit of ministry. Love of ministry makes a person keen on helping whoever is in need. But, since it is difficult for one person, in spite of deep love, to serve everybody alone there exists specialization in the field of ministry. Some would enjoy serving orphans to provide them with the parental love they need; others prefer to serve the sick, the elderly, the nursery children, the poor families, the students living away from home, or girls exposed to deviation and loss.
Love of ministry accompanies a minister at home, at work, and everywhere. Even while eating, a minister cannot rest until he is sure that none at the table needs anything, not even a cup of water, some salt or bread. He helps with preparing the table and cleaning it after eating, not leaving that to the mother, the sister, or the wife. When he rises up he makes his bed, arranges his clothes instead of leaving them to someone else to arrange them. Unlike this type is a person who does not serve the others and even is a burden on them to serve him. A true minister is very sensitive for the needs of the others, always thinks about what they need and provides it.
This is the mission of the active shepherd or successful spiritual minister. They try to find out what people need and think of projects and activities that may satisfy their spiritual and financial needs even though they are not required to. So many are those who criticize, but so few who care about correction, for criticizing is easy, but correcting is the spiritual phase full of practical love leading to the kingdom. It is easy to drive away a naughty boy from the class, while he actually needs correction. To serve such a naughty child or abnormal boy is the deep ministry that has a big reward. Moreover, it is a good thing to serve where the name of Christ has no place, where people mock religion and the religious, or where some have never served the church and do not want.
The majority of ministers seek easy ministry where they enter into the labors of others and build upon the foundation laid by others. On the contrary, great strugglers labor for establishing ministries that had no existence, and do not object if others enter into their labors. The Lord Christ did this and left us an example to follow. He said, "The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest." (Mt 9: 37, 38) These words apply as well to the present time, for in spite of the thousands of ministers, the laborers are very few, I mean the laborers in whom the Spirit of God works, whose ministry has deep impact and increasing fruit, on whose mouths the living and effective word of God works.
Effectiveness of ministry:The twelve did not start their ministry until the Spirit came upon them and they received power from Him (Acts 1: 8). Having that power from on high (Lk 24: 49), "Their line has gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world." (Ps 19: 4) Deacon Stephen being filled with the Holy Spirit and wisdom, stood before three councils and they were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke (Acts 6: 10). Also by the work of the Spirit in the apostolic era, "The word of God spread and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem." (Acts 6: 7) "And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved." (Acts 2: 47) "Then the churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and were edified. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied." (Acts 9: 31) We have so many instructors, but the spiritual ministers are so few. Take for instance a minister like Paul the Apostle; he labored more abundantly than all the apostles (1 Cor15: 10); he suffered and struggled more than the others with deep concern for all the churches and with such zeal which he described by the words, "Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation." (2 Cor 11: 28, 29) He was called "the apostle of the Gentiles", for his ministry extended from Jerusalem to Antioch, Cyprus, Minor Asia, Greece, and Rome. He wrote 14 epistles and preached even when he was in prison!
The ministry of one Paul is more effective than that of thousands! There may be fifty ministers whose ministry has no zeal, but when a new minister joins them the ministry turns into a flame of fire by the power of the Spirit in him! The tongues of fire that descended upon the disciples on the Day of Pentecost gave them a fiery tongue, and fiery words and ministry, with zeal in the spirit, in prayer, in traveling and in moving from one place to another. Their ministry was like live coal that reached the whole world turning it into fire that kindled the hearts with faith.
St. Augustine, for instance, the influence of his ministry was not confined to his generation only, but we still benefit from his contemplations up till now. Tadros the disciple of St. Bakhomius likewise when he became a monk his influence was very deep on the monastic life in all monasteries. We also read about St. John the short that the whole scete hanged on his finger! It is a fact that in every generation there were distinguished ministers of a special type, "Chief among ten thousand." (Song 5: 10)<BR> We have many ministers in ordinary classes, but those who have the ability to serve in youths meetings, university groups, preparatory courses for new minister, or who can serve as speakers, those are few. However, in spite of the need, some ministers compete or fight each other regarding certain ministries, leaving many fields with none to serve! In their fighting and competing they give a bad example far from spirituality and lacking the spirit of love, cooperation and self-denial. They become stumbling blocks!
Fields of ministry: If we really love the souls that need ministry everywhere, we will not compete each other, for there is much space for ministry. Ministry is not competing, but sacrificing. Who competes the others actually loves himself, whereas who loves the ministry and is occupied with it always tries to make it succeed in all ways and at the hands of anybody. Such a minister will not complain of its hardness, but rejoices at seeing it grow, and finds pleasure in bearing the burdens of the others as the Lord Christ has borne the burdens of the whole world. Therefore, he will not refuse any ministry nor chooses for himself, for his main concern is the need of the others!
It is good to find some ministry for those elderly retired persons to benefit from their free time and from their experience, talents, and abilities. On the other hand, they will benefit from the ministry liveliness and energy. They will feel that they still have a mission in life and both the society and the church do not dispense with them. Women also have many fields that need their service, whether in Sunday Schools, social services, cleaning the church, or organizing women in church.
A woman also may be consecrated as a deaconess.<BR>In this field she can supervise nurseries and student houses, help with handwork and sewing, organizing women for the holy communion or for baptism, visiting families and sick people, or comforting the sorrowful. As the Lord said, 'in My Father's house there are many mansions." This applies not only in eternity, but also on the earth, for there is a place and dignity for every one in God's house.
Characteristics of spiritual ministry:Fervency and heat of the ministry: It is the type of unlimited sacrificing ministry, as St. Paul says, "For necessity is laid upon me; yes, woe is me if I do not preach the gospel! … I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more … to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men that I might by all means save some." (1 Cor 9: 16- 22)Visitation for ministry: Our father apostles used to follow up the ministry they had founded, whether by letters, or by sending their disciples, as St. Paul sent Titus and Timothy. He also visited them by himself, and said his words full of love, "Let us now go back and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they are doing." (Acts 15: 36)Ministry full of the Spirit and power: Beautiful are the words of the Scripture: "With great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all." (Acts 4: 33) It is the nature of the spiritual ministry to be powerful, because it is by the Spirit, and because the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword (Acts 4: 12). His word does not return void, but accomplishes what He pleases, and prospers in the thing for which He sent it (Isa 55: 11).Ministry full of love:The Lord Christ loved His own … He loved them to the end (Jn 13: 1), and with the same love the apostles ministered, not a mere official ministry