I have a pet peeve. It always gets me when people refer to ordained ministry as “the” ministry, as in, “How long have you been in the ministry?” The only “the” ministry is the ministry of the Church. Ordained folks are set aside for a handful of particular tasks within the larger Body. In the United Methodist Church, we understand those tasks for ordained elders to be under the headings of Word, Sacrament, and Order. Yes, we added “service” a few years ago, but service is a ministry that belongs to all Christians by virtue of their baptism and was added when we started ordaining deacons to service, probably so that we didn’t have deacons ordained to something that elders were not also ordained to. When we ordain deacons to Word and Service, in that instance, we are drawing on particular leadership within the service realm and pointing back to the ministry of food distribution in Acts 6 to which the early church appointed several folks to head up.
That being said, UM ordained elders are to attend to preaching and teaching and to oversee the teaching ministry of the congregation (Word), to oversee and administrate with discernment and integrity the Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion (Sacrament), and leading the spiritual life and ministry of the congregation (Order). That’s it. That’s all that makes the ordained ministry any different from the ministry of any Christian. That’s why, in addition to designations of “lay” and “clergy,” we also use the terms “general ministry,” referring to the ministry of all Christians, and “representative ministry,” referring to ordained ministry. The ministry of ordained persons represents the ministry of all Christians, since the teaching and sacramental ministries belong not to the ordained, but to the Church as a whole. For integrity’s sake, we set aside some (who also feel a calling to be set aside) for the purpose of prayful study and reflection so that we the Church may teach the Word, administer the Sacraments, and order the community’s life and ministry together with all the theological integrity that are due these important tasks.
“The” ministry belongs to the whole Church. A few particular tasks related to that ministry are entrusted to the stewardship and leadership of the ordained members of the Body, but the ministry rests squarely on the entire Body of Christ. Let’s stop disempowering the laity and overburdening the clergy by continuing to refer to the ordained ministry as “the” ministry. When we leave out “ordained” between “the” and “ministry,” we skew our meaning severely.