I've recently been giving a lot of thought to the way Christians in our culture have come to view the concept of Christian ministry, so I thought I'd share those thoughts with you. My main concern is that we have come to neglect many vitally important aspects of ministry as our understanding of its definition grows narrower and narrower.
I very frequently hear people say that "Your single years are a blessing because you have so much more time to serve God and be involved in ministry without the responsibility of a spouse and children".
While I agree that being single is a blessing in many ways, I take issue with the idea that a family somehow ties a person down and renders them unable to serve God. People who make statements like this are overlooking the fact that having a Christ-centered marriage and raising a family, instructing your children in godliness, is serving God. Especially so in the world we live in today.
Divorce rates have been climbing for years, even as marriage rates fall.
Christian children are not, by and large, being raised and trained to be strong soldiers of the faith or to be strong leaders of the next generation, and statistics show that by the time they reach middle school age, 2/3 of them will have turned their backs on the faith completely. Without these warriors and leaders of the faith, the next generation will perish spiritually.
Training children in godliness is the foundation of all other ministry. If we aren't doing that, everything else is for naught anyway.
Singles, don't let well-meaning people's attempts at encouragement twist your perception of what ministry and service to God are. Yes, you can serve as a single too. But your service will not stop once you marry and start a family. It is only beginning then.
Parents, don't let yourselves get caught in the trap of thinking that ministry is something separate from what you're doing, that just because you're not going on missions trips or preaching you're not serving God. Raise your family according to God's instructions. That is serving God.
Another misconception I often see in Christian circles is that there are only a small handful of vocations that can be considered ministry.
My late grandfather often pointed out that twelve of his sixteen grandchildren and grandchildren-in-law were in full-time ministry, occasionally alluding to his disappointment with the four who weren't. I was one of the latter.
Don't get me wrong - I adored my grandfather - but his perception of 'ministry' was too narrow. In his mind, if you weren't a pastor, a professor at a Bible college, a missionary, or the wife of one of those, you weren't 'in the ministry'.
But, as I often told him when he brought it up, I know I am doing what God wants me to do, I strive (even if I don't always succeed) to make Christ the focus of every aspect of my life, and I share my faith with others every chance I get. I consider my life to be full-time ministry for that reason. As the Bible says, if the whole body were the ear, how would we smell? If the whole body were the eye, how would we hear?
If all of Christ's sheep were pastors, who would they shepherd?
Don't let your view of what Christian ministry is become too narrow. I've heard pastors weeping over how few people commit themselves to full-time ministry, when right in front of them sit families who have dedicated their lives to raising godly children, to training the next generation of faith warriors, to sharing the gospel with people they meet in their day-to-day life.
God hasn't called all of us to be pastors or missionaries. He's called some of us to be construction workers. He's called some of us to be doctors. He's called some of us to be home-school moms. He's called some of us to be writers.
And if we do what He has called us to do while striving to make Him the center of every aspect of our lives, we are serving Him. That is ministry.