Every-Member Ministry: Ministry Is Your Job Too
Last week, we saw that the need of the hour in many evangelical churches is for every-member ministry. Even more than the need, however, the authority of God’s own inerrant Word calls every Christian to service as a minister of Jesus Christ.
Part of the reason many churchgoers are passive and many churches cultivate a “hired hand” attitude toward their pastors is a misunderstanding about what “ministry” is. “Ministry” is not a professional discipline, like, for instance, engineering or medicine. It is not a specialized profession that requires an advanced degree or a particular kind of accreditation. What are pastors (elders, overseers) for, then? Paul describes “pastor-teachers” in his letter to the Ephesians as “gifts” to the church: “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers...” (4:11). And what is God’s purpose and design in giving this gift? He goes on: “…to equip the saints for the work of ministry....” (4:12). The purpose of pastors is to equip the saints—everyday, “ordinary Christians”!—“for the work of ministry.” That means “the work of ministry” belongs to “the saints,” and not only to the pastors. As if to drill in this point further, Paul goes on to describe the “result” of this equipping ministry: “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (4:13). Paul describes this maturity in four different ways, but taken together they all underline the fact that Christian maturity and fullness and knowledge are not supposed to be the privilege of a professional or clerical elite. Maturity—and the work of ministry that this maturity equips us for—is the goal of “all,” not merely the pastor-teachers.
The role of pastor-teachers is, as Paul’s title suggests, to “shepherd” and to “teach.” Shepherds lead their flock, feeding and watering them, guarding them from wolves, keeping them from wandering off. And teachers, well, teach! This, then, means the bulk of a pastor-teacher’s work is “Word work.” After all, it is actually the Scriptures that “equip” the believer, since, as Paul reminded Timothy, it is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17) It’s for that reason that Paul commands Timothy to “preach the word…in season and out of season” (2 Tim. 4:2), and to “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching” (1 Tim. 4:13). It’s for that reason that he tells Titus to “declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority” (Tit. 2:15). It’s no wonder that the apostles, as the first pastor-teachers of the first local church in Jerusalem, were compelled to delegate the “ministry” (diakonein) of tables to others in order to dedicate themselves to the “ministry” (diakonia) of the Word and of prayer (Acts 6:2,4).
This is not—at all—to say that pastor-teachers are therefore exempt from the rest of “the work of ministry.” As those set over the household (1 Tim. 3:5) pastors are responsible for all that goes on in the household, not just the Word-work, and the need to devote themselves to the Word does not mean pastors are somehow “above” the rest of the work of ministry. Far from it! They do it too. Indeed, as Pastor Clint just preached this past Sunday, the New Testament is full of exhortations to look to and follow the example of more mature believers, and particularly (but NOT exclusively!) pastors: “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us” (Phil. 3:17; cf. 2 Thes. 3:9; 1 Tim. 4:12; etc.) Christian leadership follows the example of Christ, who not only washed his disciples’ feet (John 13) but then told them to do likewise.
But, at the risk of stating the obvious, the point of setting such an example through service is that those who look to the example will follow it. And the whole idea of pastors delegating deacons and others responsibility over physical needs in the church is to ensure that all the ministry of the church gets done, rather than having to choose between the ministry of Word and prayer on the one hand and all the rest on the other.
That’s not to say that “pastors do spiritual work and other Christians do the rest.” The New Testament paints a much different picture. As we read through Acts and the Epistles we see “ordinary Christians” doing much of what modern evangelicals mistakenly assume is “the pastor’s job.” Philip, one of those who took the “ministry of tables” off the apostles’ hands, did evangelism (Acts 7:4-8; 26-40). Priscilla helped clarify the Gospel for Apollos (Acts 18:26). James describes “visitation” as a basic expression of “true religion” rather than a pastoral specialty (Jas. 1:27). Paul gives the responsibility for “counseling” not merely to pastors but to all his readers: “admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak” (1 Tim. 5:14). Even the ministry of correction is one that is given to the whole congregation and not merely the pastors, as the first two stages of corrective church discipline Jesus describes in Matthew 18 are for any believer to follow.
So: if you are a Christian, the work of ministry is your job too!
Now that we’ve seen both the need for you to do it and now your responsibility to do it, next week we’ll talk about your ability to do it. (Spoiler: you can do it!) And this we will do if God permits (Heb. 6:13)!