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Every-Member Ministry: What It Isn’t


Over the past several weeks we have been looking at every-member ministry. We have seen that it is the need of the hour in many local churches and that such ministry is the responsibility of every church member. We’ve seen how each church member, equipped, empowered, and emplaced for ministry, is able to do this work, and  we reviewed several easy ways to get started with this ministry. We’ve looked more closely at three key areas of ministry in particular and at blessings that it offers for both individuals and churches. Now, we’ll anticipate some pitfalls or misunderstandings of every-member ministry. Having looked at what it is, we’ll take the next couple weeks to discuss what it isn’t.
EMM Isn’t Lone Ranger Ministry
Every-member ministry is not a pretext for “lone ranger ministry.” The Bible does, indeed, speak very highly of the sufficiency of Scripture and of the power of the Holy Spirit in each believer. That sufficiency and power does not remove the need for church accountability. Again, Paul told a group of Spirit-empowered believers that they were not allowed to say to each other, “I have no need of you” (1 Cor. 12:21). That’s why we talk about it as every-member ministry, because this ministry is done as a part of a larger whole.
That does not mean it’s only ministry if it’s part of the organized programming of the church, or only if it’s done with other believers. Instead, the main point is that, while every member is encouraged to be entrepreneurial and creative in seeking ways to serve the Gospel in their daily lives, they always do so deliberately and self-consciously in accountability to and connection with the local church. They make sure their elders are aware of what’s going on, they make sure they are not making themselves or others less available for the church’s main gatherings, they make sure they aren’t reduplicating or contradicting what the church is already doing or teaching, and they make sure to uphold and value the fellowship and unity of the congregation in anything that is done.
EMM Isn’t a Denial of Authority Structures in the Church
Similarly, every-member ministry does not deny or flatten authority structures in the church. Arguing that every member has authority to minister is not the same as arguing every member has equal authority, formal or informal, in the life of the local church. The same Scriptures that remind Christians that Christ has “made them a kingdom and priests to our God” (Rev. 5:10) also command them to “obey your leaders and submit to them” (Heb. 13:17). While the priesthood of all believers does grant authority to all its members (authority to share the Gospel, to hold one another accountable, to minister, etc.), it does not deny the existence of higher authorities under God within that priesthood itself. Even the Old Covenant priesthood had “chief officers of the house of God” (2 Chron. 35:8) and “chiefs of the priests” (Neh. 12:7).
Within the church, God has given pastor-teachers (Eph. 4:11), also (interchangeably) called elders and overseers (cf. Tit. 1:5,7) to “care for God’s church” in a manner akin to the way each one would “manage his own household” (1 Tim. 3:4-5). Even as Peter reminds elders to “shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight” (1 Pet. 5:2), he also reminds those in the flock to “be subject to the elders” (5:5). This authority extends beyond the ministry of the Word and prayer to even the mundane or administrative concerns of the church, since the very first church elders are seen delegating responsibility for that task to what we now call deacons (Acts 6:1-6). While it’s common to hear church membership described in terms similar to the legislative branch of a secular government, it’s probably more Biblical to say that church members fulfill the executive functions of the church—because it’s the members’ job to carry out or execute the ministry. Like a police force where every member is deputized to enforce the law, but which still has a chain of command with officers and chiefs, every-member ministry is not at all incompatible with structures of pastoral authority within the church.
EMM Isn’t a Denial of Biblical Teaching on Gender Roles
Just as every-member ministry is in no way incompatible with the existence of authority structures in the church, it in no way denies the Biblical teaching on the differences between men and women. Every believer, male or female, is equal in Jesus Christ, purchased by the same blood and filled with the same Holy Spirit, and so (unlike under the Old Covenant) women as well as men are priests of God and thus ministers of Jesus Christ. That said, the same Scriptures that teach this radical equality of value and worth and standing before God also teach that the office of pastor (elder, overseer) is reserved for only qualified men, never women.
Women are given a crucial role in teaching and mentoring younger women (Titus 2:3-5), and the example of Timothy's mother and grandmother (2 Tim. 1:5) also shows that women have an important role in teaching children. However, in the context of mixed gatherings of men and women in the church, Paul commands women to “learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man” (1 Tim. 2:11-12). Both the act of teaching men and the exercise (not merely possession, as some have argued) of authority over men in a New Testament church is not open to women. Pastors may delegate, without relinquishing authority and responsibility, some of this teaching to other men who are being trained and tested, but not to women if it involves training men as well as women. This doesn’t mean that women may not, in one-to-one or private contexts, exercise every-member ministry responsibilities such as correcting a man’s faulty understanding of Scripture (cf. Acts 18:26). And it certainly doesn’t mean they cannot share the Gospel with men, or give encouragement by recounting their testimony or reports of God’s grace before the church. But “from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female” (Mark 10:6), which is why the New Testament gives specific instructions to men as men and to women as women.
To Be Continued…
Next week, God willing, we will look at how every-member ministry does not deny or diminish difference and varieties of gifts among believers, doesn’t devalue ministry training or schooling, and does not deny of the value of specialized ministries in the church.