The Bible’s Viewpoint

Who Is a Minister?

ON THE eve of Jesus’ sacrificial death, his closest friends got involved in a heated argument. According to Luke 22:24, there “arose a heated dispute among them over which one of them seemed to be greatest.” This was not the first time that such an argument had erupted among Jesus’ apostles. On at least two previous occasions, Jesus had to correct their thinking.

How sad that on this critical night, Jesus found himself having to remind them again what a Christian minister should truly be. He said: “Let him that is the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the one acting as chief as the one ministering.”—Luke 22:26.

It should not surprise us that the apostles had an erroneous idea about the importance of position and prominence. Prior to Jesus, their principal example in the matter of religious leadership had been provided by the scribes and Pharisees. Instead of giving people spiritual guidance and direction, these false ministers endorsed rigid traditions and rules that “shut up the kingdom of the heavens before men.” They were position-oriented, prominence-seeking, self-centered individuals who performed their works “to be viewed by men.”—Matthew 23:4, 5, 13.

A New Type of Minister

Jesus, however, introduced a new concept of spiritual ministry to his disciples. He taught: “Do not you be called Rabbi, for one is your teacher, whereas all you are brothers. Moreover, do not call anyone your father on earth, for one is your Father, the heavenly One. . . . But the greatest one among you must be your minister.” (Matthew 23:8-11) Jesus’ disciples were not to imitate the religious leaders of their day. If they wanted to be genuine ministers, they had to imitate Jesus. What kind of example did he leave?

The Bible often uses the Greek word di·aʹko·nos for “minister.” The Encyclopedia of Religion explains that this word represents “not status but the serving relationship of the minister to the one  served: following the example of Christ . . . is at the heart of the Christian understanding of ministry.”

In harmony with the correct definition of the word “minister,” Jesus spent himself giving to others. “The Son of man came,” he explained patiently, “not to be ministered to, but to minister and to give his soul a ransom in exchange for many.” (Matthew 20:28) Jesus unselfishly used his time, energy, and ability to help others physically and spiritually. Why? Because he felt pity for the spiritually abused crowds that flocked to see him. He wanted to help. Generous love is what motivated his ministry, and he wanted his disciples to display the same giving attitude.—Matthew 9:36.

Through his life course, Jesus set the pattern for future ministers. “The harvest is great,” he said, “but the workers are few. Therefore, beg the Master of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest.” (Matthew 9:37, 38) Yes, Christ’s ministers were to be workers in the greatest work the world has ever seen—providing spiritual comfort to all mankind by preaching and teaching the good news of God’s Kingdom.—Matthew 28:19, 20.

This focus on giving and on serving the needs of others is what made Christ’s approach to ministering so distinctive. He taught his ministers to be laborers, spiritual fishermen and shepherds, not mystics and academics in special garb and regalia.—Matthew 4:19; 23:5; John 21:15-17.

The Bible’s View

Sadly, over the centuries this elevated, selfless concept of ministers as self-sacrificing preachers and teachers was distorted. What began as the Christian ministry evolved into a formal, hierarchical institution. Orders and ranks were formed, and they were invested with prestige and power and often accumulated great wealth. This created divisions. A clergy class developed that was mostly devoted to administering religious sacraments and counseling the errant. First-century Christianity changed in succeeding centuries from an active religion where everyone was a minister to a passive one where only a handful of specially trained and accredited individuals could preach and teach.

However, the Bible identifies a Christian minister, not by distinctive garb, elaborate ritual, a salary, or state decree, but by his unselfish labor. The apostle Paul outlined the attitude Christian ministers should display. He encouraged them to do ‘nothing out of egotism but with lowliness of mind.’—Philippians 2:3.

Paul certainly practiced what he preached. Adhering closely to Christ’s pattern, he never sought his “own advantage but that of the many, in order that they might get saved.” He understood and keenly felt his responsibility to “furnish the good news without cost,” as he said, “to the end that I may not abuse my authority in the good news.” He was not “seeking glory from men.”—1 Corinthians 9:16-18; 10:33; 1 Thessalonians 2:6.

What an outstanding model of a true Christian minister! Those who imitate his excellent example and walk in the selfless pattern set by Jesus Christ, giving of themselves freely to provide spiritual help and the comfort of the good news to others, show themselves to be true ministers of God.—1 Peter 2:21.