The Biblical Ministry of the Church
Hallmarks of a Healthy Church
We all have ideas re: what it means to be committed to God and what the church is all about. But what are God’s thoughts on this subject? What is he looking for? What does he want from his people? Consider…
In OT He places a premium on acts of service as marks of love for Him and as tangible obedience to him. NAS Deuteronomy 10:12 "And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require from you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to keep the LORD'S commandments and His statutes which I am commanding you today for your good?
And, in the NT being committed to God means serving Him in tangible ways rather than mere theory. NAS Ephesians 2:10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
In light of the fact that the church is at the center of God plan we can conclude that His whole program in this era is predicated members of local churches actively performing works of service. So it is entirely appropriate to ask every believer, “What ministry do you have in your church”?
What I’m really saying is, “as a general principle, if you claim commitment to Christ, and you also have no ministry in your local church, your claim of commitment to Christ is suspect.”
I put that statement in bold so that there is no doubt about what I’m saying. (Also, so that you will have a clear target to shoot at!) Now that I have your attention and perhaps your ire, let’s examine Ephesians 4:11-13.
FOR REASONS KNOWN ONLY TO GOD, A VARIETY OF FLAWED HUMAN LEADERS ARE SOVEREIGNLY GIVEN TO THE CHURCH v 11
Now verses 12-13:
HUMAN LEADERS ARE GIVEN TO THE CHURCH SO THAT THE CHURCH CAN ACCOMPLISH ITS DIVINE MINISTRY 12-13
Have you ever wondered why a church has a pastor(s)? You would probably agree that of these 4 gifts, the focus in this era in an established church is on the pastor-teacher. Why so? Why has the Lord of the church placed pastor-teachers in the church anyway? Some would answer, “to provide me a listening ear and help me through the rough spots of life”. Others would say he is hired to do the religious work of the church. Then there are those who believe the pastor-teacher is primarily in the soul saving business. Some think he is the voice of God Himself while others view him as a professional CEO.
Well, perhaps we should know what the Scripture says about the question. V 12 begins with a simple statement that shows the reason for the pastor-teacher’s existence. One little preposition sets the tone (proj = toward or perhaps here “with a view toward” – cf NIV “to” NAU “for”)). Connect this to the “gave” in v 11. So this is what God had in mind.
Leaders are to prepare the church for the accomplishment of its ministry. 12a (“for the equipping of the saints”)
The pastor invests his time in “the saints”. He does this by means of “equipping” (note KJV “perfecting” and NIV “prepare”). What is this? The term basically means to be fully adequate or complete (katartismo.n = down + fit or complete). There seems to be 2 principles drawn from this term…
The training principle. Literally we might catch the meaning of the term by the notion of “screwing something down for a tight fit.” (Ilust: old fashioned storm windows). The idea is to equip or outfit for a purpose.
Therefore training for the work is essential (Lk 6:40 A pupil is not above his teacher; but everyone, after he has been fully trained, will be like his teacher). To put it another way, everything must be in it’s place ready to function (NAS Hebrews 11:3 By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible).
This is done primarily by teaching and living the Word.
The corrective principle. In extra biblical writings this term was also used in a medical context with the notion of setting a bone. Of the 13 uses of the verb in the NT at least 3 are have a related remedial flavor. For instance, in Matt 4:21, the disciples are “mending” their nets.
The idea is that lives get broken by normal wear and tear or by abuse and neglect; and they have to be put back together again so they can be restored to effective use. This may include pain (Illust: doctor sneaking up on my son to set his broken finger by saying “this won’t hurt”). This may also include corrective discipline (Gal 6:1 we are to “restore” a brother in sin).
Why is mending necessary? Because Christ wants his church to serve Him and it can’t do so with torn nets.
Though the ministry of the church is clearly hard work, it is just as clearly service. 12b (“for the work of service”)
We are now told what the church is to be prepared to do. This and the next phrase both begin with the same preposition (“unto” = eij denoting movement toward). Yet there seems to be a slight difference in connotation. Here the preposition gives the general definition of work the church is to do while the next phrase gives the result of the work.
The work of the church is work. It is accomplished by labor (ergoj). Every member should be “working.” The pastor-teacher is to outfit the members so they can work. This is a novel idea!
However, there is a delightful twist. The “work” (the product of labor) is a result of ministry. The term “service” is of the same family as our “deacon”. Deacons serve. Several observations are helpful in catching the meaning and application.
Service in the church is not confined to officers of the church. There is no article here – it is not “the” ministry. Service in the church is the privilege of every member of the church.
Service in the church includes ministry of all kinds. There is something for everyone – from scrubbing to singing; painting to praying; typing to teaching; diapers to directing; encouraging to evangelizing. You name it. It can be done as a ministry.
Service in the church is a ministry not a job. There is a difference. Ministry is motivated by love for the Lord and His church. A job may be done for less noble reasons. Even the most mundane task can be turned into ministry. (Illust: my son's neighbor lady whose aged husband went to the church everyday just to check out the building).
Service in the church should be an expectation of every member of the church. Worship yes. But also tangibly serve.
Service in the church must be woven throughout the curriculum and program fabric of the church. Kids should learn to serve in the church at a young age. Teens should enjoy serving.
Service in the church happens best when people are able to serve in areas in which they are both skilled and enjoy. People serve more cheerfully when they enjoy what they are doing.
When the church rightly accomplishes its ministry, edification results. 12c (“to the building up of the body of Christ”)
As believers do works of service the entire church body is built up. This is the second eij (“unto”) phrase, but with the emphasis on result (NIV “so that”).
The concept of edification is foundational to the life of the church. As you may guess from the translation, literally the term (oivkodomh,) as a noun refers to “any type of building or structure which encloses an area” (Louw-Nida); and as a verb it means to build a house (oikoj house + demw build).
Edification is a process. The idea of spiritual development is central. (Illust: pictorial history for each of the building programs of FBC). So the Lord expects that his churches will be further along today than they were yesterday.
Edification involves everyone. Perhaps what the Lord meant when he said “I will build my church (Mat 16:18 same word, verb form) is that he was going to use his people to do the building. This fits with 4:16 where the church builds itself and 1 Thess 5:11 where we are to build up each other.
Edification focuses on quality rather than quantity. Inner growth is paramount, not more bodies. If God-given numerical growth comes, it will be as a by product of spiritual growth.
Edification doesn’t just happen. Leaders must lead and the church must minister. Both are vital. Do you get the connection?
The church must pursue noble spiritual goals as it ministers 13 (“until we all attain to…”)
Ministry in the church is designed to be ongoing. (“until” mecri is a time word). We never fully get there. Thus the ministry is permanent. Don’t quit now!
Ministry in the church is best done when everyone ministers (“we all”). Not limited to a select few; the 80/20 rule (20% of the church does 80% of the work) is scandalous. True maturity and unity are almost impossible when only a few minister. The goal is that everyone reaches maturity – thus everyone must minister (build up). We are not seeking workers; we are passionately interested in people catching the vision of spiritual maturity.
Ministry in the church is always headed somewhere (“attain”). The term is katantaw – normally means to reach a goal. The time and place are set and you arrive there on time. Fascinating entomology: kata down; antaw meet face to face or come opposite. So Paul wanted to “attain” the resurrection of the dead (Phil 3:11). There are three stated goals ( eij statements). Compare these goals to those you commonly find among churches today that are driven by strategy and consumerism.
Balanced unity (“the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God”). Our oneness should revolve around both a common doctrine (the faith) and a common experience - evpi,gnwsij - with Christ (the knowledge…).
Complete maturity (“a mature man”). Mature means reaching the end (teleioj). Spiritual maturity is reached when there are no defects and no more growing to be done; every facet of life is perfectly aligned with God’s design! Thus, we always have something to work on, no matter how old we are or how long we have been a Christian.
Consistent holiness (“the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ”). In other words, our goal must be to match the full blown character of Christ. The “fullness of Christ” is our standard. What is this and how does it work out in our pursuit to be Christ like? Consider that His fullness may have something to do with… a) all that he is; b) his filling the entire universe 1:23; c) everything being influenced by him.
Whatever, I think we must conclude that every part of our life must be influenced by Christ. The Father desires this for us NAS Romans 8:29 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son,
I wonder what the Lord of the church thinks about the works of service being done by his churches. Do you suppose he is impressed?
Illust: Around Thanksgiving a few years ago, radio commentator Paul Harvey shared a true story of a woman and her frozen Thanksgiving turkey.
The Butterball Turkey company set up a hotline to answer consumer questions about preparing holiday turkeys. One woman called to inquire about cooking a turkey that had been in her freezer for 23 years.
The operator told her it might be safe if the freezer had been kept below 0 degrees the entire time. But the operator warned the woman that, even if it were safe, the flavor had probably deteriorated, and she wouldn’t recommend eating it.
The caller replied, “That’s what we thought. We’ll just give it to the church.” (Paul Harvey 11/22/95)
I wonder if many of us are merely throwing scraps to Christ’s church and calling it service.
© Copyright. Joseph Flatt. 2016. All rights reserved. May be used for educational purposes without written permission but with a citation to this source.