A ministry is usually defined as a program led by a minister. In the Christian faith, a minister may be a member of the clergy or a layperson. However, most religions have various ministries where every member can feel useful.
The most obvious first thought that comes to mind when asked about ministries is being a member of the clergy. Regardless of religion, this vocation usually includes a time of searching and discernment about whether this vocation is really the true path for a person. If a person decides this is the path he or she wants to follow, the next step is usually seminary or other religious education.
Although Jewish rabbis and Muslim imams, for example, are not "ordained," as such, they are considered the religious leaders of their congregations and as such, are educated to fill that role. This religious education may be at a university, or a school sponsored by the local congregation. Ministers of any religion generally study the history of their religions, their holy scriptures and other sacred writings and religious observance. Many religions also provide classes in counseling and even business, to assist the minister in conducting the business of the congregation.
Ministries in religious groups often focus on the education of the children. In the Christian faith, this includes the Sunday school program, which comprises classes for infants through adults, often before the main worship service. Jewish youngsters may also attend a religious school, where they learn more about their faith. Youth ministers may be appointed or hired to help coordinate the children's education programs. A youth minister or children's education minister may or may not have a degree in religion. Many are volunteers who love children and want to help them learn and grow in their faith.
Choir directors and those who serve similar functions certainly participate in the ministries of their congregation. They may or may not have a degree in music, although most do. Other church musicians, such as pianists and organists, also consider their contribution to their congregations to be their ministry.
Religious ministries also include such diverse activities as Hospice ministry, hospital visitation, prayer ministry, elder care, missions programs, food pantries and clothes closets. These ministries are often coordinated by laypersons within their congregations. In general, the only thing necessary to start a particular ministry is an interested person who is willing to recruit others.
Some ministries seem more mundane, but are vital to the functions of the congregation. These include administrative positions that help oversee the physical needs of the meeting place, finances and staff relations. Frequently, these are laypersons voted into office by a board of members, and they serve specific terms.
Ministries are available in as many varieties as there are members in any religious congregation. The only requirement is a willing spirit to serve others, and one's faith.