Celebrated Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl remains best-known for his indispensable 1946 psychological memoir Man’s Search for Meaning. Frankl introduces his concept on‘Existential Vacuum’ or meaninglessness or emptiness. He uses the term ‘existential’ in three ways. Firstly the term refers to existence itself, which is specifically human mode of being. Secondly it refers to the meaning of existence. Thirdly it refers to the striving to find meaning in personal existence. Emptiness is not an experience of those who are lonely but it is for all those who fail to find meaning in their life. For Frankl, it is an experience where people think that their life has no purpose, no challenge and no obligation. People who go through this vacuum try to fill it with material things, pleasure, sex, power or job.  The quest for meaning or question about one’s own existence in the world is significant in relation with ministry. What am I living for? What is the purpose of my life? These are pertinent questions which everyone has to ask himself or herself.

Ministry from Biblical and Theological Perspectives

The word Ministry has come from the Greek word diakoneo, meaning “to serve” or douleuo, meaning “to serve as a slave.” In the New Testament, ministry is seen as service to God and to other people in His name. Jesus provided the pattern for Christian ministry.“For the son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many”- Mark 10:45. This is the fundamental basis of Christian ministry. Ministry is a service to others without expecting any reward. Jesus is the epitome of a suffering servant who emptied and denied himself to serve the world and to redeem the world. Jesus’ ministry was to transform humanity. He recognized their worth and dignity and taught them to serve others. He healed their physical infirmities and he opened their eyes to see spiritual realities. He fed the hungry and released those who were in bondages. The central purpose of his ministry is found in Luke 4: 18-19, often called as the Nazareth Manifesto. Jesus has quoted prophet Isaiah’s words to declare the task of his ministry saying, ‘to bind the broken, liberate the captives, release the imprisoned and comfort those who mourn’.

There are three distinct ministries in the Old Testament namely, the prophetic, the priestly, and the kingly. These three are essential within the covenantal relation between Yahweh and Israel. Israel was a called out community that engaged with other communities and proclaimed their faith in the living God. The election and call of Israel is the foundation of the service of Israel to God. Prophets, priests, and kings were the chosen people who shared God’s vision. In the NewTestamentthe ministries of prophets, priests and kings come to fulfillment in Jesus Christ, who is himself the Prophet, Priest, and King.Jesus continued his ministry through apostles. The Twelve were chosen, appointed, ordained, and sent by Jesus Christ himself. Apostles were the eyewitnesses of the resurrection. Their testimony is the living foundation of New Testament church and its ministry.  They shared the vision of ministry in their life and later the church continued the ministry of healing and redemption through her communion with Christ.

Theological foundation of ministry is based on the image of Christ. Church manifests the image through her life in the world. According to Bernard Haring, Church is meant to be a faithful image of Christ whose redeeming presence is therapeutic, liberating and healing. Church is not just a community that worships together but church is called to continue God’s ministry in the world. Etymologically, the term community refers to the obligations, gifts or services that persons bring to one another; thus, what they have, they have partly “in common”. Church is a faithful community which should not experience themselves as immunities, but as resources for persons. The Indian Christian Theologian, Dr. M.M Thomas envisioned a church which participates in the humanization of the world and enters into a dialogue with other religions and secular movements. For him, church is an open community which is a Christ centered openness and it is not exclusive but rather the most inclusive. Therefore church is not an exclusive community that satisfies itself but church is responsible to participate in the struggles of the entire creation.  Church should be an ethical, alternative model for a community life.

The laity and ministry

We have a ministry for the laity. The laity is the people of God. Laity represents varied culture, education, social status and frame of mind. The participation of the laity is seen from the very beginning. The laity are not the resources we pool for the projects. But laity is also involved in the ministry of the church. They are simply not labourers who work in the vineyard but they are being part of it; they do not only belong to the church but is being the church. The leadership and presence of laity in every ministerial endeavours make God’s ministry relevant to the community around us. It is the laity who continued the ministry of Jesus from the beginning of Christianity. The whole church is invited to continue God’s ministry. As we read in Peter 2:9, “you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people” and it implies the church as a whole as the people of God has a ministry and priesthood. So not just the ordained ministers but every member of the church is a called minister. In Sister Dr.MarySruti Joseph’s view the lay faithful are personally called by God and receive a ministry and mission on behalf of the church and the world.

Challenges of ministry in late modernity

Ministry for the diaspora community: We need to redefine the methodology of ministry in a multi religious, multi-ethnic and globalized context. It is a fact that ministry is formed due to the challenges in the diaspora context. From sociologists’ perspective, the first generation of the migrated community live with a nostalgia about their homeland. They glorify their past and try to follow what they have followed, practiced and learned in the past. They would try to render the same on to the next generation. The second generation has a legacy to continue but they live in the present context where the nostalgia of the homeland is not relevant to them. They relate with the new context in which they have been living. They love the tradition, roots, faith of their parents but would also love to follow what they see as the best in their context. The third generation of the migrated would integrate the values of their grandparents and parents. The second and third generation experiences tremendous exposure in culture, religion and life. The ministry of the church is located in this particular sociological and religious context.

Ministry for the multi-ethnic group: It is a fact that Church sharesvaried cultural diversities. Present day church is not a community of same ethnic group. Church has widened its boundaries to other communities. It may be through our evangelistic works or through our communal, maritalrelationships. Church has been traveling from its traditional, exclusive ethnic identity to multi-cultural identity. Therefore we need to accommodate and appreciate people who belong to various linguistic, cultural backgrounds. Church cannot limit its ministry to one area or to one community. She needs to serve the communities or identities in which it is rooted. The new initiatives of the church to reach out to people who belong to different cultural backgrounds are the best examples of the effective ministry. The diversified nature of church and its ministry is a challenge we face in the globalized era.

Ministry in changing trends: Globalized world provides various trends and exposure in the area of spirituality and religion. People are exposed with new contemporary movements. The tradional church goers are influenced by thesetrends.The contemporary spiritual movements cater secularized people. They use powerful mediums and entertainment icons to promote their ideology. They make use of uninterested people in the traditional way of worshipping. Apatheism is a major challenge in today’s world. Apathy means lack of interest or concern. There is a growing number of individuals who have become apathetic. Apatheists are just uninterested in issues pertaining to God. They are satisfied with monotonous activities in the church. Those people are vulnerable in nature and are fragile. They may be misguided or misled. The challenge for the church is to minister among the people who move away from the church for various reasons.

Ministry through media:We need to be aware of media explosion and we need to effectively use the media. We cannot neglect the influence of media in our life. Social networking has become very common in every society. There are advantages and disadvantages for social networking. Many are addicted to internet and are living in the virtual world. But we can have a ministry for the online communities. We must create new avenues to communicate through visual and print media. We need to seriously think about e-mentoring to cater and to reach out to the present generation.

Ministry for the youths: Recent studies have shown that young adults leave the church when they leave for college. This is labelled as youth exodus that pertains to all over the world. There may be many reasons for their detachment from the church. But the question is whether we are able to satisfy the changing demands of the younger generation. We need to be aware of ministerial demands. Demands are determined by the changes with times. We live in a late modernity or postmodern world. Younger generations are post-traditional in general. Post-traditional attitudes arise when tradition dominates. Tradition has its own significance but sometimes it is described that choices are already prescribed by the traditions and customs. Younger generations who live in post-traditional times don’t really worry about the precedents and options set by previous generations.A society can’t be fully modern if attitudes, actions or institutions are significantly influenced by traditions, because deference to tradition – doing things just because people did them in the past – is the opposite of modern reflexivity. We need to be open to the recent developments in the society and the present day challenges that our youths face. The message of the gospel never changes, but the methodologies used to reach individuals for Christ must change because we live in a fast-paced world. Church needs to extend its hands to reach out to the younger generationsby all means.

Ministry for the Families: We are in a crisis at the moment. Our world is turning against an idea of marriage and we hardly reflect about marriage.We talk more about relationship which may be the result of the influence of globalized culture.The focus is no longer on marriages because of the divorces and broken relationship that surges within their communities. There are an increasing number of gay marriages and open marriages, broken marriages and extramarital sex that challenge the real family system in our society. As we celebrate family Sunday in our church we should not forget the fact that the Church consists of widows, orphans, divorced and divorcees who are the victims of family problems, who must be catered in our broader family relationship. That’s why today it’s more important than ever to turn back to the Bible and remind ourselves of how God intended marriage to be. Whether you’re a husband, a wife, single, married, a widower, a mother, a father, a friend or a child, we all should understand not just more about marriage, but understand more about God and his relationship with us.

The issue of marriage has become a serious discussion in recent days. Marriage is being re-defined by organizations like the LGBT and GLAAD organizations. However, the issue of homosexual marriage is not the only issue where marriage is being redefined. The church must define the biblical roots of marriage and where it stands on these issues. The church must ask such questions as: What is marriage? Why is there a marriage covenant? What is to be recognized as marriage by the church? It is high time to minister the families who are undergoing various challenges in life.

Church and its effective ministry

Dealing with the persecution against church all over the world is of utmost significance in the present world scenario. Christians are being persecuted in Kenya, Egypt, Syria, and Iraq. In India, the ideology of being of one religion, one culture, and one language is being accelerated. Churches are being attacked in various places. We cannot be passive observers as these atrocities occur. The role of the church is not to be silent against the injustice, oppression and violence but to be a channel of peace, healing and liberation. Church cannot be confined within the structure  but the church needs to share its presence in the world. Church is called to minister for the most vulnerable, oppressed and silenced in the society. Dr. George Zachariah in his article, “Church without walls: Church happening in the street” introduces the ‘Night Ministry’ which is an ecumenical ministry of various churches in the city of Chicago. A group of volunteers, consisting of nurses, paramedics, social workers and counselors under the leadership of a pastor travels through the byways and alleys of the inner city from 10pm to 4am. They meet the homeless in the street and provide them food and clothes. The bus has all the facilities to provide the needy with the medical assistances. The night ministry envisions a church happening in the street. People who are in the street experiences church in their life. We demand the needy to be present in the church but we are called to stretch our hands to the needy. Effective ministry becomes feasible only when the church takes up such initiativesand addresses social issues.

Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church

Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church

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