Every-Member Ministry: A Closer Look At Three Key Ministries
Several weeks ago, we began looking at every-member ministry as the need of the hour in many local churches. We saw how ministry is not the sole responsibility of clergymen, but rather the responsibility of every church member. We looked at the Biblical teaching that every Christian believer, being biblically-equipped, Spirit-empowered, and emplaced in a local church, is actually able to do this work. And last week, we reviewed several easy ways that every believer can get started in the work of ministry.
This week, we’ll continue looking at practical ways that every believer can “do the work of ministry,” by examining in a little more depth three important forms of every-member ministry.
Just like other areas of Christian ministry, evangelism was never intended by God to be the unique responsibility of specially trained pastors. While it is true that Paul told Timothy, as a young pastor, to “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim. 4:5), and while certain Christians are, in God’s providence, uniquely and spiritually gifted for evangelism (Eph. 4:11), the New Testament makes clear that evangelism is every believer’s responsibility. The only man explicitly labelled “evangelist” in the Bible, “Philip the evangelist,” was not a pastor but rather “one of the Seven” (Acts 21:8) specially set aside by the Apostles—as pastors of the Jerusalem church—to care for practical ministry needs and so free up the Apostles for Word and prayer (Acts 6:1-6). In other words, Philip was a deacon, and yet he fearlessly proclaimed Jesus (cf. Acts 8). Paul exhorted the Corinthians: “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ: be reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:20). Was Paul speaking strictly about his own ministry as an apostle? No—because, by following Paul’s argument, we see this “ambassadorial office” belongs to every believer. Because Paul begins verse 20 with the key connecting word “therefore,” this ambassadorship flows out of, results from, his argument in the previous verses, where Paul is stating that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation…all this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:17,18). Did you follow that? If anyone—no exceptions—is in Christ, he is a new creation, and this is because God reconciled us to himself and gave us a ministry to do. What ministry is that? One of reconciliation. God is reconciling sinners to himself through Jesus, and he does so by means of a ministry (v. 18) and a message (v. 19) of reconciliation given to reconciled sinners. So if we follow the logic, anyone who is in Christ has been both reconciled to God and entrusted with a ministry and message to reconcile others to God as well. “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ.” Or, in other words—we are all evangelists.
How well do you know the Gospel? When we do membership interviews, we ask every candidate to share the Gospel with us in their own words. Part of that is to gauge how well the candidate grasps and can articulate the truth, but another key part of it is to send a message to every member of our church that Gospel-sharing is your responsibility. Can you explain the Gospel to another person? A great place to start is in the same passage we were looking at, by memorizing 2 Corinthians 5:21: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” It’s all there. The human problem, sin: can you explain what that is to someone else? Our need: righteousness—how can we, who are filthy rebels, be accepted by a holy God? Only “in him,” by being joined to God’s Son Jesus Christ, who lived the perfect life we could not and so the Father counted that life as ours (there’s the righteousness), and who died as punishment for what we deserved (there’s our sin being counted to him). It’s only “in him” that we can be reconciled to God, and how we become “in him” is by repenting and believing in Jesus alone as our Saviour.
Christian ministry begins with, but never leaves, the Gospel. The Gospel is Christian ministry. Study it. Preach it to yourself. Meditate on it. Memorize it. Rehearse the Gospel in the car when you’re driving, alone or with someone else. Collect tracts and always have one handy, and be ready to explain the Gospel. Invite neighbors into your home and walk through Christianity Explored with them. “Do the work of an evangelist,” since it is your work!
Yes, even visitation is an “every-member ministry!” That may come as a surprise especially to Christians of the Puritan or Reformed tradition, who have read Richard Baxter’s excellent book “The Reformed Pastor” and its heartfelt plea for a minister to catechize his flock through visitation. Baxter’s ecclesiology, however, had its drawbacks, which need to inform how we read his book. He wrote from an Anglican perspective which saw the entire local community as his church, and not from a biblical understanding of the church as a community made up of born-again believers. That meant the ministry he described was: first, very much an evangelistic one to a “mixed people” of both believers and unbelievers; and second, one that by definition could never be an “every-member ministry” in his own church because his congregation was not and could not be a community of born-again and confessing believers. In a proper New Covenant understanding of the church, however, every member of a church should be a believer, and therefore every member is a minister. Consequently, every member, and not just the pastor, should be able to do “community evangelism,” as we just discussed. But more than that—every member of a local church, each one a priest of Jesus Christ, can do visitation ministry.
Is that biblical? James, the Lord’s brother, thought so. Addressing Christians in general, and not merely pastors, James describes visitation as a basic expression of true religion itself: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (Jas. 1:27). Unless one wants to argue that the duty to remain “unstained from the world” is exclusively for pastors and not all believers, the logic of James’ argument is clear: visiting fellow believers in difficulty is something we’re all called to do.
What about non-crisis visitation, then? Are all believers authorized to be visiting each other to encourage and pray for each other, even when there is no “affliction”? I would argue yes. While the New Testament doesn’t explicitly say it in so many words, when we see the early church regularly gathering in one another’s homes for fellowship (cf. Acts 2:46) and prayer (cf. Acts 12:12), it’s plain that Christians were regularly in one another’s homes for church events. That is the “church culture background” into which Paul gave instructions to all the Thessalonians to “admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak” (1 Thes. 5:14)—he told this to a group of people who he probably assumed were in each other’s lives, and homes, regularly. And consider that Paul does, in fact, command the other side of visitation, namely, hospitality, as a duty every believer is expected to perform for fellow church members: “Show hospitality to one another” (1 Pet. 4:9). If we are to be inviting one another into our homes as a regular part of our ministry to each other, it logically follows that visiting one another is equally such a ministry!
Every-member visitation, then, isn’t the scheduled and programmed “work your way through the church roll” that Baxter did with his flock. Rather, it’s a commitment to be in the lives of other church members on an ongoing and regular basis, going out of your way to visit them and be visited by them, and seeking to encourage and exhort and admonish and pray together when you gather. It’s a commitment to accept invitations from others, and when you visit them, to be intentional about building them up and doing them good. So when you visit another believer: ask how they are doing! Ask what they are reading, what they are struggling to understand! Ask what their prayer requests and praise reports might be! And, pray with them! Maybe even read a Bible passage or sing a song!
We just saw that the early church met regularly in private homes (Acts 2:46; 12:12; cf. Acts 20:20; 21:8; 21:16). It might be tempting to some to look at the qualifications for elders, which include being hospitable (1 Tim. 3:2; Tit. 1:8), and assume that hospitality is therefore “pastoral ministry.” Like so much of the rest of Christian ministry, however, while pastors are indeed called to hospitality, it is not exclusively or even primarily a pastoral ministry. Again, the New Testament makes clear that everybeliever is called to this ministry. Widows who were considered for support from the church were to be evaluated on their exercise of this ministry (1 Tim. 5:10). Paul commanded the entire Roman church to show hospitality alongside other general, every-member instructions such as giving financially, praying, service, love, and honour for one another (Rom. 12:13). Peter reminds his readers not only to “show hospitality to one another” but to do so “without grumbling” (1 Pet. 4:9). The book of Hebrews expands this ministry beyond just the scope of the local church to include “strangers”—including possibly both Christians from abroad and unbelievers (Heb. 13:2).
So hospitality is ministry, and one every Christian is called to. The New Testament does not specify how often this must take place or what it looks like; rather, it simply assumes that it’s a regular and unremarkable part of life in the church. Again, if every-member visitation ministry can be considered the “other side” of every-member hospitality, then everything we just said above about visitation applies to hospitality. It’s not a centrally-managed, formally governed, church-driven program; rather, it’s an organic, spontaneous, natural expression of life in the church. It’s being intentional about inviting others in and then doing them good and building them up when they arrive: talking to them, asking how they are, praying for and with them.
And hospitality doesn’t need to be confined to private homes. Maybe your home is not all that large but you want to bless one of the bigger families in the church. Maybe your home is very busy and filled with young children and you’re an exhausted mother who would be better off exercising hospitality out of the house! So, you can be creative. Invite another family to the park for a picnic if you like and bring the food. Ask a newcomer out to a restaurant after church. Organize a baby shower at the church. There’s so much room for every member to be innovative and creative in showing hospitality—what can you come up with? Go do it!