"Ministry: One and All" by Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy
The earliest Christian communities cherished the gospel stories and took responsibility for sharing the good news verbally and turning words into actions that helped change people’s lives.
The church is much more a spiritual organism than it is a social institution. However, as churches grew, they began to organize congregations to do what a church needed to be doing: minister to people in need as well as teach and preach the gospel of Christ in an environment prolific with a variety of secular governments and numerous other religions.
Churches selected men and women in their congregations to take care of the multiple needs of the churches. In the First Century churches called older and more mature Christians elders—people who were chosen to serve the church as teachers who taught beliefs, counselors who dealt with problems, peacemakers who settled disputes in the congregation, supervisors who took care of and distributed the church’s financial offerings, and caregivers who constantly prayed for the congregation and visited people who were sick.
Churches also chose members who were called apostles, prophets, evangelists, teachers who trained ministers, and ministers with a vast variety of responsibilities. Interestingly, though, there was no office called a pastor in the churches though congregations provided the work of a pastor.
In Northminster Church, often you see in print or hear in conversation the term “Every Member a Minister.” Obviously that concept is based on the early churches’ multiple ministers. I understand why some people who hear those words are fearful of thinking of themselves as a minister. Numerous people have said to me, “We just want to go to church.”
Two observations about “Every Member a Minister” are important. In the life of a church, members of the congregation are recipients of ministries—worship, education, comfort, friendships, counsel, inspiration and more. In other times, the church needs ministries for itself—more members in worship, volunteers to help people in trouble, encouragement when the church needs promise. Church members are most faithful when they minister to the church with the same enthusiasm as they receive ministry from the church.
When we speak of God calling people to minister, we are not speaking of someone having to take on a responsibility in the church they are not able to do or even want to do. I like Frederick Buechner’s perspective about people being called by God. The great writer says, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
The kind of work God calls us to do is the kind of work that we already know we need to do for others—whether in the community or in the world. None of us are called by God to be someone we are not or to do something we cannot do. The services to which God calls us require only the gifts to which God has given to us. Ministering in, to, and for the church should be activities we enjoy.
The term ordain is not in the Bible. However, as churches matured spiritually as well as grew numerically, they embraced the concept of ordination and spoke of it as a symbol of God’s call to ministries. Being ordained, though, did not impart any rights or qualifications from God.
Later in church history, congregations dangerously became more institutional and more hierarchical. Subsequently, the rite of ordination became a matter of consecration as well as the identification of a special class of people. As you might guess, a hierarchy of leaders developed in congregations and were considered more important in the church than other members. In some traditions, ordained people were considered superior church members.
Thank God, that did not happen in all traditions. In the Free Church tradition, with which Baptists have most always identified, there was no spiritual hierarchy. In fact, many Baptist churches saw no need for ordination. During our church’s process of ordaining Dr. Darrell Cluck, he told us that the first preacher that wanted to ordain him, told him that he would only have to answer two questions: Are you really against sin, and do you like friend chicken?”
I don’t want to dwell here, but I must be honest with you. Though churches continue to do ordinations as spiritual ceremonies, both pragmatically and spiritually, many ordinations take place only for legal reasons—the biggest reason being only judges, justices, and ordained religious leaders can officiate in weddings and pronounce people “married.” Honestly, any person, minister or not, can do everything a church’s worship leader does without ordinations.
I still value ordinations for religious reasons. I don’t like ordinations done only to please the government’s law about religion. But, in our nation, marriage is a legal rather than a spiritual rite. No church can marry people. In our state a minister must be ordained to perform a marriage ceremony. In other states that is not a requirement. In our next-door neighbor, Arkansas, ministers have to be ordained and pay a fee to the government to be able to do a wedding.
Thankfully, most churches now recognize that God can call women and men to be ordained as youth ministers, ministers of Christian education, hospital chaplains, ministers of music, and numerous other ministries for serving God.
I commend D.H. Clark to you as a minister-musician who has written, directed, performed, and enjoyed music in houses of worship long before he studied and practiced as a superb doctor that brought new life into the world and nurtured people’s health. At that point in his life, he could have been considered a minister, even a pastor, who had listened to disturbed people, comforted people in bed needing medication, and grieving with church members who needed help. DH probably made more pastoral visits in hospitals than most ministers did.
D.H. is a model. His profession was not his most profound passion. He knew how to combine narrative and poetry, helping and healing, embracing science and faith. I say he is a model because I know scores of people who work in jobs in which they do not find the kind of fulfillment for which they long. A person’s profession does not mean that person must set aside her or his passion. People can do both—the work we need to do to get paid and the work we need to do to feel fulfilled. D.H. pursued his profession and expanded the ministry of our church.
We are all ministers with gifts. Each of us has a gift. All of us have been blessed by gifts in order that we can bless others by giving—that is God’s strategy. Each of us is needed. No gift is unimportant. Combined our gifts fill out the profile of ministries we can share with those around us.
D.H. Clark’s gifts and story have benefitted this church and community. D.H. has touched our minds and souls with music that sensitized us to hope, hospitality, the earth, prayer, comfort, Christian spirituality, gratitude, faith, and love. Through his music, D.H. has transformed a vision of fellowship, friendship, unity, cooperation, and love into emotions that we can feel and palpable goals toward which we can reach for realization.
With such discipline and devotion, D. H. shows us how we can do church together and be church for others—each of us doing what we have a passion for doing, finding fulfillment in our volunteer activities if not in our profession, and cooperating with each other to enhance worship and to enrich ministry for everybody.
Ministry: One and All—that’s him, that’s all of us!
Ordination will not change D.H.’s life, transform him into a different person. There is no magic here. He will not automatically have more wisdom. This service will not fill him with the Holy Spirit or consecrate him in a manner that makes him different from all of us. This ordination for D.H. will let him know more profoundly what he has already known—this church is grateful that he is a minister and believes that he can be and will be a representative of the Christian faith and the God who gave us life as we know it through the life of Christ. Our ordination of DH is our means of pledging our support for him to speak the truth in love and to incarnate that love in his ministry.
Earlier in the service I told you about the first question I had to deal with in my ordination interrogation. One of the last questions I fielded was “What will you do if we refuse to ordain you?” I had never thought about that. But, immediately I said, “I will go on and be a minister; God called me.” I did that at the beginning of my ministry. D.H. has been doing it for over sixty years—a ministry without ordination for which he never asked the question “Why?” that was important. God had called him! Now today, he will be ordained.
Holy God: From the moment we first discovered how to force air through our mouths to whistle, we knew that music was a divinely provided pleasure. With music came rhythm, expression, discipline, and dance. When conscience engaged music, concern developed for the ministry of music—music as a form of service as well as worship. For all who minister as musicians we give you thanks.
We praise you for the gifts of hymns and spiritual songs that offer counsel and substance to the ministry of music. Thank you, God, for the hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy” that allows us to worship you with dignity and for the “Doxology” that gives voice to our highest praise for you. We are grateful for the gospel song “I Love to Tell the Story” that enables us to affirm the importance of continuing the life of holy tales first told by nomads around campfires. We give thanks for the comfort extended by “Amazing Grace” and the hope engendered through “We Shall Overcome.” You have given us words and music through which to mourn singing “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen,” to embrace love in listening to “What Wondrous Love is This,” to expressing compassion as citizens of the world singing together “This is My Song,” and to declare the most basic sentiment of raw spirituality by means of the beautiful simplicity of humming “O How I Love Jesus.”
O God, for allowing us to be a part of the cosmic symphony that gives praise to you and your creation and expresses to fellow pilgrims, we thank you. Amen.