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The
Ministry of Helps


by Kim Harrington

     And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues.

1 Corinthians 12:28

     Everybody wants to be a leader, everybody wants to call the shots. Everybody wants a pulpit ministry--like the guy who walked up to a pastor friend of mine on the streets of New York and asked to speak in his church. "I'm an evangelist," he said. "Okay," my friend replied, "Hundreds of people are walking by us right now--evangelize!"

     God doesn't want everybody to be a leader or a teacher: "My brethren, let not many of you become teachers..." (James 3:1). In the body of Christ we need arms, legs, fingers, toes, and all the various organs and muscles, not just a bunch of heads! If everyone is a leader, then a state of lawlessness exists, in which, as in the days of the judges,  "...everyone did what was right in his own eyes," (Judges 21:25).

     Sadly, that’s the place many churches in our land are in today. It makes pastoring, or trying to govern God’s people, a thankless and difficult task, and good men are fleeing the ministry in record numbers. People approach the church with pretty much the same consumer mentality they bring to the shopping mall — you better deliver the goods, be nice and user-friendly, or I’ll simply take my business elsewhere. The concept of servanthood and faithfulness, sacrifice and dependability seems to be a thing of the past, or at least something that doesn’t apply to church anymore.

     The desperate need in all sorts of Christian ministries is for those who will dedicate themselves to the ministry of helps, a rather inglorious sounding title, but listed in order right after miracle and healing ministries in the above text. The Greek word translated "helps" means "to lay hold of, so as to support." In other words, a minister of helps is someone who commits himself to another ministry in order to support and assist in any way he or she can.

     I’m impressed by the ministry team of Billy Graham in this respect. One of the great reasons for his enormous success has to be the dedicated team that has worked with him since the early ’50s — Cliff Barrows, George Beverly Shea, and others, have been with him from the very beginning. They didn’t see their work with Billy as a stepping stone towards their own independent ministries, but rather as a lifetime calling. And in the process of helping his ministry, they have achieved personal ministerial success that they never could have attained on their own. How many records has Bev Shea sold, how many millions of people has Barrows taught over the years, that never would have been possible outside of Billy Graham’s ministry? When you commit yourself to the ministry of helps you lay hold of personal success that you might never have achieved otherwise.

     I believe that every member of the church, or any other ministry, is called in some way or another to the ministry of helps. God put you in your church to help out that ministry, not just to fatten yourself on the ministry of the paid staff. You are not called to be a consumer, but a servant. You’re supposed to be the clerk behind the counter, or the person stocking the shelves, not the impatient shopper. If "the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve," (Matt 20:28), what makes you better than Him?

 

Freeing the Hands of God’s Servants

     The job of the helps minister is to free the hands of the leaders to do the work that God has called them to do. In Acts chapter six, we read that a controversy had sprung up in the early church concerning the daily ministration of food to the elderly and widows. When the matter was brought to the apostles, they replied...

     "It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word."

Acts 6:2-4

     I can just picture the poor pastor who tries to put forth such an idea today. He’d be sharply criticized for his lack of sensitivity to the needs of the people—"Oh you’re too good to help out a little bit and maybe get your hands dirty? The people are your ministry, Buddy!"

     But if we’d follow the principles outlined in God’s Word, maybe we’d see some of the results that the Jerusalem church saw. Actually the ministry suffers when God’s leaders have to do every little thing in the church, when they’re occupied in mundane duties all week instead of prayer and the Word, and getting new vision from the Lord. In the first place, somebody is called to do the mundane things—and that person isn’t fulfilling his or her ministry if the pastor is doing it. Secondly, if one or two people have to do everything, they’re spreading themselves too thin, and probably doing a poor job, anyway. The do-it-all pastor and his wife really aren’t getting too much done. They need help to fulfill the calling God has given the church.

     And they need faithful, dependable help. The person who volunteers, but then turns up missing after a few tries, is worse than no help at all—because the ministry doesn’t get done by anybody, and someone has to quick pick up the slack at the last minute. If you’re going to be a help to your pastor you’ve got to be there on time and every time; there’s no room for not being in the mood, or forgetting to show up—somebody’s counting on you. This is your ministry, and you won’t prosper in any ministry unless you’re faithful in the little things He’s calling you to do now. Here’s what Jesus said about helps ministry and faithfulness...

     "He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much.

     "Therefore if you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches?

     "And if you have not been faithful in what is another man’s, who will give you what is your own?

Luke 16:10-12

     That’s a sermon in itself, but let me simply direct your attention to the three main points. You have to be faithful in little things or you won’t be given bigger things; you have to be faithful in mundane things, the more physical aspects of the ministry, or you won’t be trusted with true spiritual riches; and you have to be faithful under another man’s ministry before God will give you your own. There are no exceptions. That’s how it works in the kingdom of God.

     Who shovels the walks at your church?  Is there a mad scramble to clear them just minutes before the Sunday Morning Service?  Is the pastor out there on weekdays, huffing and puffing, instead of seeking the Lord? How about nursery help? Is the burden carried by the same couple of faithful people, or do the mothers end up missing most services because they’re busy dragging fussy babies off to the back room? Does the head usher have to run around drafting a few extra guys almost every service because someone didn’t show up? Who greets the visitors on those days? Who washes the dishes and keeps the kitchen clean? Who does the weekly bulletin? Does your pastor spend a great deal of his time answering the phone, trying to secure rides for people, paying bills, and typing letters? I can tell you from personal experience that those jobs aren’t getting done very efficiently if he’s doing them. That may be one big reason why some churches aren’t growing as they could be, too.

     When the church of Acts addressed the subject of helps ministries the blessing of the Lord came upon them mightily. They appointed seven men over the task of the daily food administration, and left the apostles free to do what God had called them to do. The result? "Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith." (Acts 6:7).

     In order for the local church to function properly and fulfill its God-given task, the ministry of helps is desperately needed: music ministers, sound persons, ushers, secretaries, bookkeepers, nursery workers, bus drivers, kitchen help, people to prepare overheads, edit films, make cassette copies of the sermon, man the bookstore, and do a thousand other tasks — not to mention the obvious things like Sunday School teachers and deacons. The modern church is a complex entity; its success depends on the cooperation and involvement of every member. The difference between immature and mature congregations is that the immature come to be ministered to, the mature come to minister.

 

First or Second Fiddle?

     Acts chapter six goes on immediately to talk about Stephen, one of the seven deacons, or helpers, who was installed that day. In addition to his table-serving, he entered into a public teaching and miracle ministry. The ministry of helps can be a stepping-stone to further ministry—though the person who views it that way probably won’t be promoted at all. The person who does the best job possible, who determines in his or her heart to be the best usher, the best sound man, the best bookstore clerk, will go far and be rewarded in the kingdom of God. "For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a good standing and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus. (1 Tim 3:13). On the other hand, the person who saves himself for the more important jobs will probably not succeed at anything at all. Remember Jesus’ injunctions about being faithful in that which is another’s.

     Paul had many helpers, each with various ministry gifts that contributed to the success of the ministry as a whole. Luke went on to write a couple of books in the Bible, Aquilla and Priscilla pioneered and pastored at least three churches. Others were called to "number two" positions for most of their lives. Consider Timothy — as long as Paul lived he worked with him, faithfully assisting in any way he could. That’s very unattractive to the present American mindset. Many would look upon it as a going-nowhere ministry — doesn’t that young man have any vision of his own? But like Cliff Barrows, he rose to personal fame and ministry success as a member of a team. And when Paul died, the whole ministry went to Timothy.

     There are advantages and perks in the "second fiddle" position. If you’re in the "number one" position outside of God's perfect calling, you can get very frustrated trying to be what you’re not. As the "number two" man, however, you have a certain security and position without having your own neck on the line in quite the same way as the number one man has. (If his ministry fails, he’s out of a job, whereas you’ll be received almost anywhere, having established yourself as a faithful, hard-working servant of the Lord). There’s also the advantage of stepping into a ready-made ministry and carving out your own niche in it, and perhaps some day, like Timothy, making it your own.

     Some people—to be honest, most people—are called to support the local church and pastor all their lives, to raise godly children, witness to their co-workers and neighbors, and faithfully perform the myriad of tasks needed to keep the modern church going. Your pastor needs your help to fulfill the vision God has given him. There are many opportunities for people who want to serve the Lord and advance the kingdom in their own community.

 

Helps Or Hindrances?

     The problem often is that people don’t want to serve in the areas they’re needed. They don’t want to go out witnessing or watch the kids in nursery—they want to teach a Bible study. (Frankly, most American churches have good teaching coming out of their ears, and many of the Bible studies produce more confusion and schisms than anything else.) Your church may need someone to jump-start the bus ministry, to staff the weekend youth ministries, to learn TV production for the Cable Access program you’ve been wanting to launch, or simply to be an usher who actually shows up on time.

     Those who want to help the ministry in their own way, rather than where they’re needed, end up as "hindrances" not "helps." You’ve seen them. They’re the ones who always offer up contrary advice and alternate opinions, who play Absalom to the Pastor’s David by encouraging the malcontents. Some of them have a pseudo-intellectual approach to spirituality and see themselves as broadening the ministry of the church, when in fact, they’re standing in the way of the ministry’s progress.

     Some want to lead, rather than follow God’s ordained leader. Others don’t want the actual position of leadership, but they want to control the leader and influence his decisions. Few want to follow. People are funny sometimes.

     But God has always given His vision to one anointed leader, not a committee. Others hook up to that vision and support it, not seek to redirect it. Successful ministries today are characterized by strong leadership with vision. Mediocre ministries operate by a majority rule, let’s-assign-a-committee, it’s-healthy-to-express-different-opinions kind of mentality. In the event that a leader is really wrong, he needs to hear from God, or other leaders especially appointed as his elders and counselors, not just anyone in the church with a list of grievances.

     We need the gift of helps operating in the church today, in all its varied manifestations. And in a day that is characterized more than ever by selfishness, lawlessness and rebellion, the church has to set an example of cooperation. Every church or religious organization can be as successful as Billy Graham’s (though perhaps not as large) by operating according to the principles laid down in the Bible concerning the ministry of helps.

 

Copyright 1998 Kim Harrington, Masterbuilder Ministries. All rights reserved.

 

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