Eight years ago, Mark Asher had a heart attack and a near-death experience, prompting him to make much-needed changes in his life and to serve the Lord. Soon after, he started, but never completed seminary studies as his views on homosexuality, marriage, and the role of women in the church differed sharply from that of his church. In spite of this lack in credentials, he ministered to the sick; counseled women with a history of being abused; and developed after-school programs for at-risk youth. In recent years, one of his followers purchased several shirts for him with clergy collars. Since then he has insisted on being called “Pastor Mark”.
While many can argue for or against whether “Pastor Mark” is really a minister, let’s first ask ourselves “what does ‘minister’ mean?” After a bit of research, I learned the term, “minister”, dates back to 1250–1300 AD. In its purist form, “minister” is a verb, rather than a noun and refers to serving. With the advent of organized religion, however, the term evolved over time to be a noun too; referring to a member of clergy who has been given authority by a governing body to serve a spiritual community. Typically, a modern-day minister:
- Preaches God’s Word;
- Administers sacraments such as baptism, communion, confirmation, reconciliation, marriage, anointing of the sick, and last rites to the dying;
- Facilitates religious services;
- Lives an exemplary life with honest control of life and behavior;
- Administers discipline;
- Cares for the poor and visits the sick and incarcerated; and
- Preserves traditions/rituals of their faith.
Who dictates whether an individual has a capacity to serve as a minister? Traditionally, regardless of denomination, a person who has a calling notifies church authorities that s/he wishes to become a minister then attends a seminary for a number of years to study his or her faith. Upon graduation, s/he graduates with credentials in religious studies. Thanks to the Internet, though, many individuals now bypass the traditional route, never set foot inside a seminary, and become a minister with a credit card and the “good will and experience … gained during a lifetime.”
Regardless of “Pastor Mark’s” route, a larger question remains …”do ministers serve?” or “do servants minister?” There is a very distinct difference between the two. In the former situation, only select individuals can serve God and their community as a minister. In the latter instance, each of us have the opportunity to be servants of God by ministering to our community.
So how did ministers come to dominant a community? Historically-speaking, it came about as a need. Ministers were often more educated than their followers. There was a time when they were not only viewed as a member of clergy and as a spiritual leader, but also as a teacher and a counselor.
So you say… “well..this may be true, but in today’s world, do we still need a minister to tell us what to do and how to live our lives?” Well… maybe. Many benefit from working with a minister; especially when the follower is treated as a “minister in training” and is not only given a chance to learn and grow, but to minister too. Unfortunately, a growing percentage of ministers have abused their authority in recent years, accusing their followers of insubordination or worse. A greater percentage of followers though often learn and grow beyond the knowledge and capabilities of their minister as they develop spiritually. When either scenario occurs, the relationship no longer works as the inherent imbalance between them widens and intensifies, with the imbalance often leading to abuse – be it emotional, mental, physical, and/or sexual in nature as the minister insists on their follower “towing the line”.
With a more educated population, the US as a whole is moving away from ministers and organized religions and towards self-guided spirituality. With this transition, changes are inevitable. Consider these trends:
- Americans are more educated than ever! In 2003, over four-fifths (85 percent) of all adults 25 years or older reported they had completed at least high school; over one in four adults (27 percent) had attained at least a bachelor’s degree; both measures are all time highs.
- In the United States, 83 percent of adults now consider themselves “spiritual.” This figure is rising in tandem with a steady increase in the percentage of Americans who are dissatisfied with organized religion. Other data show that spirituality increases with maturity, suggesting that as advanced societies age, this proportion will increase significantly.
- During the last thirty years, the number of young people entering the ministry has greatly declined. In most Christian denominations, the percentage of ministers under age thirty-five is about 6 percent, while clergy above the age fifty-five account for more than 40 percent. As a result, there has been a substantial increase in lay involvement.
- Newer religions (such as B’hai) do not have ministers; rather members self-direct their spiritual growth and have an opportunity to serve on a board to guide spiritual growth among their community.
With more and more men and women from all walks of life taking on a more active role in their spiritual development, support, counsel, and knowledge are sought from peers rather than from an authority figure. Beyond group dynamics, more men and women are serving their community in less formal ways too. After discovering their God-given talents, they have a “calling” to share their talents and knowledge with others in new and meaningful ways.
“So do we still need ministers?” PROBABLY NOT. A better question to ask though is, “Do we still need servants who minister?” YES. In fact, we need servants now more than ever! As each of us are called upon to serve, we have the free will to answer or ignore that call. It is only when we truly serve that we love others. Further, this “call” to serve others comes to each of us in a unique way through our knowledge and talents gained through life experiences.
So let’s keep it simple, Mark Asher. God calls each of us to be a servant who ministers to the needs of others. And when we answer that call, no fancy title is required.
Remember…”those who can serve best, those who help most, those who sacrifice most, those are the people who will be loved in life and honored in death” ~ Annie Besant
 American Fellowship Church (http://www.amfellow.org/)
 US Census Bureau (http://factfinder.census.gov/jsp/saff/SAFFInfo.jsp?_pageId=tp5_education)
 Why Is There A Minister Shortage? (http://www.helwys.com/learningmatters/lm_pages/minarchives/minarchv_ministershortage.html)
Remember … touch a life today “The Little Way” by following the lead and need of others. Also, if you ever thought to yourself, “I wish my customers, knew…”, then be sure to visit White Light Communications at http://www.tothewhitelight.com.