Life Is Ministry —

or All Ministry is Apostolic, Presbyteral, and Diaconal (Part 1)

by Edward L. Lee, Jr.

How’s that for a mind-boggling church-y title! But please, keep reading.

First, let’s start with the Book of Common Prayer. Go to page 855 in the Catechism and the section titled, “The Ministry.” It begins:

Q: Who are the ministers of the Church?

A: The ministers of the Church are lay persons, bishops, priests, and deacons.

Q: What is the ministry of the laity?

A: The ministry of lay persons is to represent Christ and his Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be; and, according to the gifts given them, to carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world; …

The rest of this section identifies and spells out the particular ministries of bishops, priests, and deacons with such words as “apostle” (bishops); “to bless and declare pardon” (priests/presbyters); and “servant” (deacons).

In short, we are a Church of four orders of ministers, not the traditional three. The first is the laity, the baptized, followed by the ordained ministries of bishops, priests, and deacons. This sequence is one of elemental and essential equality in its understanding of ministry, of Christian discipleship. It’s communal, not hierarchical, and certainly not patriarchal. The primary and front line of ministers are the baptized laity; the baptized ordained persons empower, support, and sustain the laity like, for example, the conductor of an orchestra. Yet the result is always a concert of communal endeavor and commitment, an enterprise of equals. That’s ministry.

Or as expressed insightfully by a perceptive presbyter:

“Life is ministry. Ordained ministry is a role within the ministry of the people of God, and I think we lose our bearings when we see it as something other than facilitating the whole.” (James Callaway, Trinity News, Trinity Church, NYC, Summer 2014)

Amen! Life IS ministry and the baptized laity live it daily in the tasks and on the frontiers of their lives. And it’s as apostolic and presbyteral and diaconal in character and function as that of those facilitating clergy who participate with them in Christ’s relentless yet glorious “work of reconciliation in the world.”

In my next blog (Part 2) I’ll break open those churchy words in the title and illustrate how every person’s ministry is apostolic, presbyteral and diaconal. Stay tuned.

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