We live in an age of professionalism and specialisation. If our air-con breaks we phone the air-con specialist. If our child is sick, we don’t go to the GP but the paediatrician – who sends us to another specialist. If the bulb goes in our car’s headlamp, cars today are so sophisticated, we often have to take the car to the specialist at the dealer to replace a simple bulb.
Even in the church, the minister is seen to be the professional. The thinking is that we need ministry done – so we pay the minister to do the ministry. If he does his job well we are happy and might put more money in the thank-offering.
Ephesians 4:11-12 breaks this Christian professional mindset. It says,
(v11) And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, (v12) to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…
The earlier verses tell us that God’s victory over his enemies is seen in the ascension of Jesus Christ to heaven. Now Jesus, as the exalted Lord, gives different gifts to his people, the church.
The apostles and prophets
What gifts does Jesus give to his church? V11 gives us a list. These are not all the spiritual gifts, but the word-gifts, that is, gifts that have to do with the speaking of God’s word. We don’t have apostles and prophets today. Apostles were those men commissioned by Jesus himself for the establishment and formation of the church. Prophets were the men and women in the New Testament era who spoke God’s word directly to his people before the New Testament was compiled. Ephesians 2:19-20 tells us that the apostles and prophets were foundational gifts and therefore not needed, necessary, required or given today.
The gift of evangelism is a special gift of being able to explain the gospel and win people for Christ. This does not mean that every Christian should not be involved in evangelism, but that God has gifted some to be especially effective.
The pastors and teachers
Literally v12 says “shepherds and teachers”. It implies that church leaders are to exercise care and leadership over God’s flock. The main way the shepherd cares for God’s flock is by teaching them God’s word. That’s why the gift of shepherd and teacher are closely related. All pastors should be able to teach, but not all teachers are able to be pastors.
Note the important points: the exalted Christ is actively leading his church by giving gifted leaders to the church. One of the main duties of these leaders is to teach God’s word. Why has Jesus given these leaders to the church? V12 says, “to equip the saints for the work of ministry”. Notice that, contrary to the practise of the Roman Catholic Church, sainthood is not a special category for really holy people but the designation for all Christians. The gifted leader’s job is to equip or enable Christians for the work of ministry. He is to prepare and train God’s people for service.
Who is to do the ministry? Our age of professionalism says: we pay the minister; he is the professional; we are the paying customers. In other words, we pay the minister to do the work of ministry and we watch him and tell him how he’s doing. Ephesians 4 says that is wrong and unbiblical thinking. Biblically, we pay the minister to study God’s word so that he can teach and equip us to do the work of ministry.
The mission field
Doing the work of ministry does not necessarily mean we all have to become missionaries to China. It does mean that we are all involved in witnessing for Christ, evangelism, caring for one another, visiting the sick, encouraging, praying, and building good relationships with visitors to our church and non-Christians. Of course the minister is a Christian too, so he should be doing some ministry, but not all the ministry. I sometimes get told, “The church should really do this or that or the other.” I’m glad for the enthusiasm and my standard response is, “So why aren’t you doing it? It seems to be a concern and passion of yours! You are the church!”
Workers not customers
Notice it says the “work” of ministry. The word for “work” is the word for manual labour and for the exertion of energy. In other words, ministry is hard work. Ministry is not easy; it takes careful preparation, sweat and time. Therefore according to Ephesians 4:12, Christians are workers not customers. This verse does not, differing from popular opinion, say, “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to do all the work of ministry so the saints can hear a good sermon on Sundays and shake the pastor’s hand.” The sad thing is that some Christians subconsciously think like this. Christians (me included) are tempted to be consumers, customers and clients; not workers, labourers and ministers.
Organic church growth
What happens if all God’s people are doing the work of ministry? V12 ends by saying, “for building up the body of Christ”. The church is strengthened and grows. The opposite is also true. If God’s people don’t do the work of ministry the church is weakened, or at least it is not as strong as it could be, humanly speaking. The exalted Christ has given pastors to his church to equip his people to do the work of ministry. We are workers not customers. And as we all do our work of ministry the church is strengthened as we grow in our convictions, maturity and Christ-likeness (v13).
The truth of Ephesians 4:12 is very liberating for pastors. The question we must ask ourselves is not, “How big is our church?”, but rather, “Are our people being equipped for ministry?” Church size is not the issue, but rather member training is. (Some) Pastors need to stop trying every cutting-edge-programme, latest-trendy-model-of-ministry, and trick- in-the-book to grow their churches and rather spend time equipping their existing members for ministry – by faithfully teaching God’s word. Under God, the by-product of this faithful equipping is real church growth. We need to please God, not people. Brothers, we are not the only ministers.*
I recommend John Piper’s book, “Brothers, we are not professionals”.