The Difference Between a Program and a Ministry

The Difference Between a Program and a Ministry

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Welcome to The Daily Prayer Team messages, each day includes a passage of scripture, a reflection and a prayer. Sponsored by Saint John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL.

And when this letter has been read among you, have it read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you read also the letter from Laodicea.  Tell Archippus: “See that you full the ministry which you have received from the Lord.”  I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand.  Remember my fetters.  Grace be with you. Colossians 4:16-18

There is a difference between a program and a ministry.  A program is any kind of an activity.  A ministry is an activity that relates to one of the two great commandments—it shows love for God, or service for neighbor.

The local YMCA and community centers offer an array of programs—art classes, aerobics, yoga, swim classes, self-defense classes and many more.  These are programs—they help people generally better themselves.  While they don’t necessarily dishonor God, they don’t have Him as any kind of focus.  And while they don’t necessarily hurt others, they don’t have service as a focus either.

It is true that there are some programs that fit nicely in a church community.  An occasionally movie night brings people together for food and fellowship.  Aerobics might fit under the guise of honoring God with healthier bodies.  However, if the church calendar is filled with bowling nights, cooking classes and a sewing club, they would resemble more of a YMCA than a church.

Many programs, however, can become ministries, with a simple change in focus.  A cooking class, where participants learn how to cook and then give the food to a local food bank would be a great ministry.  A sewing club that makes clothes for the homeless becomes a ministry of both fellowship and service.

I read a funny satire recently about different “ministries” that a church could start.  A “sleeping late” ministry could cater to those who come to church persistently late.  (I could think of a few people who could chair this “ministry.”)  A Friday night drinking “ministry” could be a great place to wind down after a stressful week.  And a golfing “ministry” would be a great cover for guys to get out of the house on Saturday mornings.  Of course, none of these examples are “ministries”.  They are “programs.”

The church exists to spread the good news of Jesus Christ and to serve one another.  Thus, everything that the church does should relate at least in some way to these goals.  Our church has an open gym each week for guys who want to play basketball.  There is nothing wrong with this, but it is not a ministry.  And the guys who participate, thankfully, do not use basketball as their only contact with the church each week.

There is another word that we like to use in ministry and that is the word “committee.” In our community, we are changing the word from “committee” to “ministry.”  As an example, we have a group of people who comprise our “welcome ministry.”  We used to call them the “welcoming committee.”  The reason to move away from “committee” and to “ministry” is because when we called them the welcome committee, we focused on the PEOPLE who welcome visitors.  Calling them a welcome ministry, we now focus on the people who welcome VISITORS.  “Committee” sounds like the business part of the group.  “Ministry” focuses on service.

Every activity that goes on at the church should ideally classify under “ministry.”  If something is more “program” than “ministry” it should be questioned.  Certainly if there are more programs than ministries, something is out of balance.

The Greek word for “ministry” is “Diakonia.”  The word “diakonia” means “service.”  Ministries are activities that serve—they glorify God, spread His word and serve others.  There is nothing wrong with having a church soccer team—that’s a nice fellowship and promotes physical fitness.  But a calendar full of soccer games and movie nights makes for a good community center.  It’s the calendar filled with ministries that resembles what a church should be.

Praise the Lord!  Praise the Lord from the heavens, praise Him in the heights!  Praise Him, all His angels, praise Him, all His host!  Praise Him, sun and moon, praise Him, all you shining stars!  Praise Him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!  Let them praise the name of the Lord! For He commanded and they were created.  And He established them forever and ever; He fixed their bounds which cannot be passed.  Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling His command!  Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars! Beasts and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds!  Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth!  Young men and maidens together, old men and children!  Let them praise the name of the Lord, for His name alone is exalted; His glory is above earth and heaven.  He has raised up a horn for His people, praise for all His saints, for the people of Israel who are near to Him.  Praise the Lord!  Psalm 148

Make sure you are involved not only in church programs but also in church ministries.  Make sure your church calendar is not only filled with programs but with ministries.

The Revised Standard Version of the Bible is copyrighted 1946, 1952, 1971, and 1973 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. and used by permission. From the Online Chapel of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.

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Fr. Stavros Akrotirianakis

Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015, has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0