the weblog of Alan Knox

Attendees or Ministers?

Posted by on Sep 18, 2009 in edification, gathering, service, spiritual gifts | 8 comments

About a year and a half ago, I wrote a post called “Attendees or Ministers?” There is problem in the contemporary church (although the problem is not a recent church). In general, we consider some to be ministers while others are not considered ministers. Minister simply means servant. The two words are completely interchangeable. It is interesting reading through the NT and seeing where the translators decided to use “minister” and where they decided to use “servant.” This decision says more about our contemporary mis-understanding of “ministry” than it says about the underlying text.

Are you a child of God? If you are, then you are a minister.


Attendees or Ministers?

Recently, a friend of Jeremy’s (my son) used a word that I had not heard before: Chreaster. Apparently, a Chreaster is someone who attends church meetings on special holidays like Christmas and Easter, thus “Chreaster”. In a recent article about Chreasters, a reporter comments:

The usual response of church leaders is, “Oh, well, at least they get it right twice a year.”

I understand his comment, and I agree that this is probably the usual response of many church leaders. Many are excited to have extra attendees on special holidays, and most would admit that its better for people to attend twice a year than never attend at all.

However, I think this response reveals a mistaken understanding of the church meeting – assigning a sacramental value to merely attending a church meeting. In fact, I would suggest that there is very little value in merely attending any and every church meeting, even if someone attending every church meeting held during the year.

Yes, I realize that this is a broad and general statement. But, if our goal is for people to merely gather together, to listen and sing along to some songs and to listen to a sermon, then Chreasters and even regular attendees meet our goal.

But, if our purpose in meeting together is edification, then attendance at a meeting does not accomplish that goal. Instead of attenders, we should desire to see our meetings filled with servants (ministers) who use their spiritual gifts in order to build up one another and help one another grow in maturity toward Jesus Christ – whether there are two servants present or more. Attendance is not our purpose. Edification must be our purpose. (See my post “But I have perfect attendance…“.)

As I was thinking about the difference between attendance and mutual ministry, I remembered this passage from Peter O’Brien’s commentary The Letter to the Ephesians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999) in the Pillar New Testament Commentary series. In this passage, O’Brien is discussing Ephesians 4:7-16, specifically vs 12-13, and the difference between the “special ministers” of 4:11 (apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors and teachers) and other “ministers”:

[T]he letter as a whole has emphasized Christ’s riches being received by all the saints (1:3; 3:20), while the immediate context of vv. 7-16 is framed by an insistence at the beginning of the paragraph that each believer was given ‘grace’ (v. 7), and at its conclusion that the whole body is growing from the head as each part (v. 16) does its work. If it is only the leaders of v. 11 who perfect the saints, do the work of ministry, and edify the body of Christ, then this is a departure from Paul’s usual insistence that every member is equipped for ministry. It is better, therefore, to regard those enumerated in v. 11 as helping and directing other members of the church so that all may carry out their several ministries for the good of the whole. (pg. 301, emphasis in original)

Thus, we can have as many attenders as we like, but they do nothing to edify the body. What we need, instead, are those who are willing to spend the time, energy, and preparation necessary to know others, to serve others, to help others, to teach others, to guide others, to speak to others, etc.

There are certainly times when I gather with the church in which I have nothing to say and nothing to do to serve others. This happens occasionally. There are times when God brings me together with other believers because I need to be served. However, if this happens week after week, month after month, year after year… there is something wrong. God brings me together with other believers to benefit them, not only for my own benefit and certainly not to simply attend a meeting.

Helping Chreasters become regular attenders may be good, but it is not the goal. Instead, we should help all believers use their gifts and give all believers opportunity to use their gifts to build up others during the meeting of the church. God does not call together attendees; he calls together ministers.


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 9-18-2009

    To some degree it depends on how you define the terms, but, I would offer this short axiom.

    “All Ministers are Attenders, but not all Attenders are Ministers.”

    One cannot minister unless they are attending, but attendance does not guarantee ministry (service).

  2. 9-18-2009

    Thanks, Alan.

    Now how to figure out how to minister in a traditional church setting with few oppurtunities for the laymember to serve (besides choir)…

  3. 9-18-2009

    Tracey’s comment begs the question: should attenders who want to be servants/ministers continue to invest and participate in a context where they are not looked to for service/ministry and have little or no opportunity for this?

  4. 9-18-2009


    If you are gathering with a group of believers and your ministering to them is neither appreciated nor desired, I would question whether you should continue to gather with them. In too many contexts, the average “member” is expected to do little more than show up and put money in the plate and actually ministry is not expected nor welcome. if a church preaches the Word and adminsiters the sacraments in a traditional way but the Body is not permitted to minister, is that really a church?

  5. 9-18-2009

    Thanks Alan – I’ve blogged about the body ministry aspect of your post.

    Regarding Chreasters (funky name) I wonder if sometimes we view coming to church as some streams view certain sacraments: being able to bring about salvation, having a power of themselves to save. It’s a little like trying to think up ‘exciting’ new ways of presenting the gospel while masking that it’s the gospel we’re trying to tell people: as if speaking the words in their presence has a magic power to save them. I wonder if regular occasional doses of church actually helps maintain immunity, rather like a vaccine?

    Tracey – I wish I had an easy answer, but in a traditional setting it’s really difficult. Best advice I can give, try to befriend the people that lead the church, love them if you can, let them know you and ask if there’s places you can serve them.

  6. 9-18-2009

    Joe (JR),

    I understand what you’re saying. It sounds like Hebrews 10:24-25. You can’t stir up one another to love and good works if you never meet together. We also have to make sure to never place “attendance” above service. I often tell people that if their neighbor needs help when the church is meeting, they should help their neighbor.

    Tracey and (Rick),

    I usually suggest that people in more traditional churches start spending time with others. Invite them to your house. Go out to dinner together. Then, as you get to know people, you will also get to know their needs. Start serving in those needs.

    I will warn you though, that this type of relational service can get in the way of church programs. If you choose relational service over church programs, some church leaders will see that as being rebellious.


    So, you’re saying that the Reformational “marks of the church” are not enough? 🙂


    Yes, exactly. “Attendance” is sometimes treated as having sacramental value, even if the person doesn’t use those words. I wrote a post about this last year called “Christian Sacramentalism.”


  7. 9-18-2009


    I might offer a perspective that may help answer the question: must service be to the entire body? Even in a local church where “the powers that be” hoard all the service, person-to-person service remains out of their control. Things like taking the time before the service starts to notice folks that seem burdened and speaking with them, noticing visitors and helping them find a seat or the bathroom or nursery, being the person who puts things away and picks things up, placing yourself as an impromptu greeter, and a host of other things.

    Let us not be of a mind that places ministry in only up front, whole church positions. Now, I say this as a member of the band–an up front, whole church position–but my most impactful service in my local church is to a group of five fellow believers with whom I journey through the Scripture (currently Isaiah). We’ve no official status, no budget, no “pastoral leadership.” And yet, our little group, raised enough money (mostly through recycling) to replace all the dining tables at a local rescue mission. We did not ask for permission, nor did we ask for official support. We saw a need and acted as servants.

    I wonder sometimes what would happen in the local church if more people became aware and acted as servants.

  8. 9-18-2009


    Any list of the “marks of a true church” that doesn’t include “love” is an inadequate list!