Participating in Ministry

We often use the term ministry to refer to the various ways in which we use our gifts on behalf of God in the world. I speak of my ministry as a spiritual director and retreat director, or of my ministry to my law students. Some are engaged in parish-based or other forms of pastoral ministry. Others engage in various other types of ministry.

I’ve been thinking since Sunday about how we speak about our ministry. People often speak of doing ministry or engaging in ministry. Near the end of Mass on Sunday, however, the youth minister, who was leaving the parish and thus was being recognized by the pastor and the congregation for his work, commented that ministry was not something he did, it was something he participated in.

Participate and do suggest different things. I think that is true on two levels.

First, speaking of doing ministry makes it easy to think it is my task that I am going myself. In reality, all of our ministry is a participation in the ministry of Christ. It is Christ’s plan we are participating in – and we do so with his assistance. Indeed, we couldn’t do it without his assistance.

Second (and this was the sense in which the youth minister discussed the difference), doing ministry suggests a separation between me an those whom I serve. Participating in ministry explicitly acknowledges that this is something I undertake with those that I serve and with the rest of my faith community.

It is a very slight word difference – do vs. participate – but one that I think matters to what we think we are doing, and therefore, in how we approach our ministry.