DISTINCTION BETWEEN MISSION/MINISTRY AND PRIVATE MINISTRY

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SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ ACTS 13:13-25; PS 89:2-3,21,22,25,27; JOHN 13:16-20 ]

Jesus said, “I tell you most solemnly, whoever welcomes the one I send welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” Jesus was conscious that He was sent by the Father. He did not come on His own accord but as the Son, He was sent by the Father to do His will. “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.” (Jn 4:34) He knew He was sent by the Father. He did not send Himself. For this reason, whatever He said or He did, it was done in the name of the Father.

In the first reading, St Paul systematically explained why Jesus is the Lord and Messiah as sent by the Father. When invited to address the assembly at the Synagogue, St Paul took pains to illustrate through the scriptures that Jesus was the man prophesied and foretold by the prophets that He would be the one to establish the Kingdom of God. Jesus was the one anointed to be that descendant of King David. “I have selected David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart, who will carry out my whole purpose.” This promise was realized when God “raised up for Israel one of David’s descendants, Jesus, as Saviour, whose coming was heralded by John when he proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the whole people of Israel.’”

To be sent is to be appointed and to represent the One who sends us. Regardless whether we are missionaries or ordained ministers, the point is that the origin of mission is that we are called and sent. This is true for all ambassadors. They can only speak on behalf of the country. They do not speak in their own name. The opinions they express are not their own but what the country wants them to say. Jesus too taught in the name of His Father. To listen to Him is to listen to the Father. One who is sent does not speak in his own personal capacity. We must make a distinction between our personal opinions when we speak as individuals and when we function as servants of the Church, otherwise we will confuse people. When we are speaking in our own personal capacity, people need not agree with us. But when we speak in the name of the Church, we must be clear that we are expressing the mind and heart of the Church. We are after all, servants of the Church, not the master!

This also explains why the Church officially does not call church organizations “ministries”. The Church makes a distinction between mission or ministry and lay apostolate and private ministry. The word “ministry” refers to ordained ministry because a minister represents Christ and His Church. When we are sent by the Church, it is called a mission. When we are appointed to act on behalf of the Church, it is called a ministry. Both mission and ministry are official delegations of the Church. To be a minister is to act on behalf of the Church. He acts in the name of Christ. In fact, a priest acts in persona Christi capitis. He is a servant of the Church. As ministers and missionaries acting in the name of Christ, it means that we do not undertake what we like to do but what the Church wants us to do. In other words, we must be sent.

In the case of St Paul, he was fully aware that he was sent. Earlier on, he was called by the Lord in Damascus. “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” (Acts 9:15f) Then he was sent by the Christian community in Antioch. “While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.” (Acts 13:2f)

We do not send or appoint ourselves! This is the mistake of many involved in mission and ministry. They choose what they like to do and what they enjoy doing. Those tasks that they do not like, they won’t do. They think mission is a hobby, a part-time distraction, a leisure activity. It is not a matter of what we like to do but of being called and sent for the work of God. When we pick and choose what we like to be involved in, we are serving ourselves, not God or the Church. It is fulfilling our personal interests and desires; not a question of responding to the call of God. That is why although many of us claim to be working for God and are involved in the mission of the Church, we are in truth practicing private ministry. We are doing our own thing. There is no commitment. When things get tough, we leave. It becomes a private ministry.

This was the case of John Mark, the deserter. We read that “Paul and his friends went by sea from Paphos to Perga in Pamphylia where John left them to go back to Jerusalem.” For whatever reasons, he did not see through the mission that he was appointed to do. Scholars suggest that perhaps he was afraid of the challenges of the precarious journey, or he could be missing his mother, or unhappy that his cousin, Barnabas, handed the leadership to Paul. Regardless, John Mark acted on his own impulse. It was not from the Lord. Unfortunately, this is the way most of us in ministry conduct ourselves. If things go our way, we will serve. If things do not, we abandon ship.

But because we are influenced by the Protestant Churches, we tend to loosely use the word “ministry”, meaning service to church organizations. Mission or Ministry is different from private ministry or joining a church organization. Mission is a very serious calling. In private ministry or in a lay organization, we choose which one we want to serve in. Ministry in this sense is service, rather than being a “minister”. Consequently, those who join church organizations mostly join because they feel attracted to a particular organization. It is not so much that they feel called to join an organization but more out of a personal interest. They come and go as they like. Today, we join an organization freely, but if we are not happy, we can simply resign. We do not even have to give reasons and they cannot stop us from leaving as well. Not so for those in the ministry. A priest cannot just resign from his ministry. He has to apply for dispensation simply because he is an official minister appointed by the Church. It is not a matter for him to decide what he wants to do. He has to consult and discern with the Church with regard to his ministry.

Of course, having established that ministry is different from joining a lay apostolate or a church organization; it would be good that we also be guided by the basic principles of those chosen for the ordained ministry as well. We too need to also ask the question, what the Church is asking of us and what the Church needs. If we serve just to fulfill our personal desires, even though it is still an act of service, we cannot really claim that we are serving God. We are still serving our own interests and sometimes seeking personal fulfillment rather than seeking to do the will of God. True mission must come from prayer and discernment, seeking His will as to what He is asking of us for His church. It cannot simply be because of personal interests.

For this reason also, if we are serious in fulfilling the will of God and to find confirmation that He is sending us, whether as ordained ministers or simply to serve the Church in the various lay organizations, it is done normally through the head of the community. In the local church, it is the bishop who calls. In the parish, it is the priest. Only by cooperating with the head of the community, can we be certain of God’s will. We listen to our superior or the head of the community only because he is the anointed one of God. The psalmist says, “I have found David my servant and with my holy oil anointed him. My hand shall always be with him and my arm shall make him strong.” Through dialogue and discernment with those in charge, we must be ready to submit to obedience once a decision is reached. If we cooperate with God’s grace, we will find happiness. This is what the Lord said, “Now that you know this, happiness will be yours if you behave accordingly.”


Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved


Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
  • Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
  • Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
  • It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.

Note: You may share this reflection with someone.

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