Lay Ministry for Dummies

You haven’t truly made it in life until you’ve written a guide for DUMMIES.

Today I’m going to talk about a ministry strategy known as lay ministry. This type of ministry mobilizes normal people to spread the word of God throughout every structure of society. In other words, work with a rough group of people who would never put on their Sunday best and visit church? Congratulations! You are now their missionary.

The principle is simple. Who can minister to a doctor better than a fellow doctor? Who can minister to a professional clown better than, well, another dude with big feet and a red nose?

The apostle Paul is the stud who first models this type of ministry for us when he chooses to be both a full-time tentmaker and a missionary. I call it a “ministry strategy” because Paul was very intentional about the connection between his professional work and ministry.

There is a lot that can be written about lay ministry, but in keeping with the spirit of the title, I’m going to keep this as short as possible–even at my shortest, this article is going to be posted in 3 parts.

Part 1: The preface will provide a crash course on the logistics behind lay ministry.

Part 2: The main body of this article contains my three main points, which seek to answer one question: WHY? Why did Paul choose this ministry model?

Part 3: Finally, the conclusion will provide applications for lay witnessing in today’s culture.

PREFACE: Paul’s ministry was successful because he was intentional in everything he did. The questions below will illustrate how Paul’s ministry worked. As you read them, I hope you notice that Paul wasn’t just a dude working at Quick Trip, who also happened to be a Christian. Instead, He was a Christian who chose a profession that would compliment his ministry style and allow him to travel the world spreading the gospel.

Why did Paul choose tentmaking?

The word which translates as “tentmaker” is thought to mean a leatherworker. If Paul had been a weaver, his profession would have been described by different words. The distinction between weaver and leatherworker is important because a weaver would be required to carry a loom with them wherever they traveled (and everyone knows that it requires at least three camels to move a loom). A leatherworker, on the other hand, could perform their job with a sharp knife, an awl, and a big curved needle. Also important, is the fact that tentmakers repaired tents for traveling traders and armies. Therefore, Paul’s skills were in demand all over the world. The point: Paul’s ministry was mobile and his chosen profession allowed him to move easily from one place to another. 

When did Paul fit in his spiritual ministry?

Paul didn’t just work 40 hours a week so that he could go home and be a Christian. Instead, he learned to effectively integrate “full-time ministry” with “full-time job” (And this doesn’t mean that you get to plan you Sunday School lesson while on the clock at work). Paul teaches us to have personal integrity and honesty, quality work, and to develop caring relationships (Col 3:23-25, Eph 6:5-9, 1 Thess 2:7-12). Additionally, Paul used his free time to continue his ministry for God. Outside of work, Paul was an active preacher, teacher and church planter.

Why did Paul choose not to receive financial support for his ministry?

In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul describes “The Rights of an Apostle.” Read the chapter all the way through, then read it again–my favorite verses are 25-27. Paul makes it clear that a servant of God deserves pay for their works, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain” (v. 9). He also makes it clear that it is the church’s responsibility to provide a living for their ministers (v. 14). However, despite all these truths, Paul choses not to accept pay for his ministry works. Paul’s decision is based on a personal conviction he has on his life, “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make use of my rights in preaching it.” (v. 16-18).

The defining factor for lay ministry is REWARD. Paul wasn’t rich. He didn’t make a lot of money and then give it all away. He didn’t owe anyone a weekly sermon. But he found reward in preaching the gospel free of charge. He considered it a blessing and a gift that he could both provide for himself and be a living witness to others. What do you find rewarding? How can God teach you to have reward in ministry?

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