What comes to mind when you think of a minister? If you are like most people, you think about church buildings and pulpits, preachers and priests, missionaries and Bible school teachers.
And you would have good reason to think of these people. They are all acting in the office of diakonos. Throughout the epistles, this word is translated as minister. It is the source of our word "deacon."
And John uses the word when he tells the story of Christ's first miracle (John 2:1-11). You know the story.
Jesus and his disciples go to a wedding in Cana, and the wedding party runs out of wine. When Mary points this out to Jesus, he tells her, "My time is not yet come." But Mary doesn't seem to care. Instead, she tells the servants to obey Jesus, "Do whatever he tells you to do." Jesus tells them to fetch a lot of water—somewhere between 120 and 180 gallons. They fill several jars with the water, then serve some to the master of the banquet.
At some point, the miracle occurs. And the master of the banquet is astonished by the high quality of the wine.
Who do you think are the ministers in this story?
We have quite a few options to choose from. You might think Jesus himself is the minister, providing wine for the feast. Or perhaps Mary is the minister, taking initiative to solve a problem. The disciples could be ministers, standing ready to support Jesus in his work. The master of the banquet could be the minister, heading up the entire wedding feast.
These roles all seem like a kind of ministry, but John doesn't use the word diakonos to describe any of them.
The ministers in this story are the servants. The people who follow the commands of Jesus by fetching the water he has told them to fetch—and serving that water to the master of the banquet. It must have seemed like a strange set of commands, but they did what he asked them to do.
That is the role of every minister in and out of the church. When we do what God asks us to do, he works miracles through our work.
And we need to pay close attention to the location of these ministers. They aren't just obeying God in the temple or the synagogue. The place where people traditionally met to worship and talk about God was not their place of ministry. Their place of ministry was their daily work. They were just going about their normal business, and Jesus showed up.
Jesus always shows up in our work. Teachers and students shouldn't be surprised to learn that Jesus is sitting in one of the desks. Doctors shouldn't be surprised when Jesus visits them for a physical. Lawyers will find themselves defending Jesus. Accountants will file taxes for Jesus. Painters will whitewash walls in Jesus' house. Stay-at-home mothers will clean house and prepare fine meals for Jesus. Short-order cooks are flipping burgers for Jesus. Fancy restaurants are preparing fine cuisine for Jesus. And in both places, the waiters are filling a full glass of ice water for Jesus.
This is not a metaphor.
Jesus shows up in our places of work, and he asks us to serve him. If you're like me, you have trouble recognizing Jesus. Or worse, you forget to look for him at all. But he isn't hard to find.
Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me" (Matt. 25:40).
We can make it complicated. We can devise systems and theories and structures for serving God. But it isn't hard.
Service to others is service to God. Period. So let's get to work.