On mission and ministry …

On mission and ministry …

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“What is the difference between a ministry and a mission?”; someone asked recently. The person was trying to work out how a ‘traditional’ missions organisation such as Wycliffe or SIM is different from an organisation that is more about addressing issues of poverty and justice and the like. Let’s say Tearfund for example. What would you say? The implication seems to be that you either do missions or you do ministry. The English understanding of the word ‘mission’ is that of a task or assignment that is given to someone, often with the added connotation of going somewhere; being sent to do that task. So the words of Jesus in Matthew 28:19 – ‘therefore go and make disciples …’ would be a mission; missions then meaning activities or organisations that do this.

In Acts 6 we find the account of the men chosen to serve the believers by doing the daily distribution of food. In verse 2 it seems to separate the work of the Word from the work of waiting on tables. In verse 3 it speaks of the ‘ministry of the word’. I do not pretend to be a Greek scholar, but the word used for waiting on tables and for ministry comes from the same root word. That word could be translated as a minister or servant. So in both instances it is about serving by carrying out a specific task assigned to a person. Ministry and service is the same thing. But I do not believe that ministry or service is an end in itself.

It has a very specific focus or objective, and that is to bring individuals to reconciliation with God. It is proclamation in word and deed. It is the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18). From reconciliation with God flows reconciliation with self and with others and with creation.

Back to the question – is there a difference between missions and ministry? I would say definitely not. It is one and the same. Maybe the questions arise because we perceive certain tasks or assignments as ‘mission’; and other tasks more as ‘ministry’. Yet all the tasks are assigned by the same person, that is Jesus; and all the tasks are to serve the same purpose. It is one body made up of many parts that do different tasks under the control of one head for one joint purpose (1 Corinthians 12)!

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