Ministry is derived from a Greek word, diakonia, which connotes offering a service to others or attending to their needs, and also from diakoneo, which means, to serve. The essence of ministry is service, and church ministries imply the various avenues of service in a church.
Christ interpreted his life and work as a service, laying the pattern for Christian church ministries by saying that he did “not come to be served but to serve” (Mark 10:45). That became the test and criterion of the work of all others who followed him. From the very beginning, church ministries arose to meet the needs of the community in which the practitioners lived — and they did the same in every subsequent age.
Paul saw his own ministry as preaching the “Good News”.
Paul also pointed to the various communities endowed with a huge variety of gifts and services with a multiplicity of church ministries in such areas as prophecy, teaching, preaching, healing, and others.
In the first centuries of the Christian era as the church spread to all corners of the known world, the need for leadership and administration arose, and church ministries in leadership evolved in diverse ways in different cultural continuums. Structures became more defined, and there came about the episcopos (an overseer or bishop), the presbyteroi (elders), and the diakonoi (ministers).
From one century to the next a plethora of church ministries came about to serve the needs of the people in changing times. During the periods of persecution, the ministry of confessors and martyrs arose, and their courage and fidelity became beacons of inspiration for the suffering people.
In the Dark Ages, the monastic communities ministered to liturgical, spiritual, and educational needs.
With the rise of the cities in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, new church ministries arose: nursing the sick, housing and feeding the poor, and burying the dead during the frequent plagues. From the late Middle Ages to the more recent eras, various church ministries catered to all areas of education. New conditions called for changes and innovations to respond effectively to the spiritual and material needs of the times.
In current usage, church ministries are complemented with the ministries of more men and women who have decided to offer their services.
Church ministries as concepts have a more vocational meaning. Priests and pastors are ministers on full-time service, but they are not the only people involved in church ministries.
The men and women who dedicate their lives to the service are performing a concept that has been a part of the early churches to present-day churches: that every member of the church should be involved in the ministry of service to others. Ministry is no longer associated with being a cleric, but the service men and women do will always be associated with church ministries.