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…to equip the saints for the work of ministry… —Ephesians 4:12
All of us who have labored in the church on any level for any length of time are familiar with the partial quote here from Ephesians, Chapter Four. Indeed, Ephesians Four has generated enormous discussion amongst church leaders for the last fifty years and helped shape many of the so-called modern church movements, including the current global apostolic movement. It is an amazing Book and Chapter Four is a stunningly dense treatise. In it are the keys to church structure, ministry and personal calling definitions, and the path to unity and spiritual maturity, both personally and as the Body of Christ corporately. The manifestation of its truth and the incarnation of its glorious principles has only one major obstacle: human nature.
Two major culprits in virtually all of us are in play, especially for those of us in “full-time ministry” in the church. They are dangerously subtle and wrapped within a host of legitimate rationalizations. They are the “twin towers” of meeting human needs and giving ourselves to building “successful ministries” (personal Kingdom-building). I think it’s fair to say that all of us in ministry have, and may still be, trapped with the clutches of these enemies. I see them at work everywhere and recognize their footprints within my own life. Let us now briefly identify how they set their trap.
Let’s deal with human need. What could possibly be wrong with meeting the human needs that surround us? Due to the limitations of this commentary, I will limit myself to only two answers to this question. Firstly, Jesus did not tactically meet the needs of the vast majority of the people surrounding Him. He walked by thousands and selectively healed and raised few from the dead. In His own words, “…he can do only what he sees his Father doing.” (John 5:19)
Human need is a condition of the fallenness of humanity, not a sign that God is doing something special at the moment. This is a really tough reality for us to deal with. Aroused compassion is a very powerful and Godly virtue; the challenge is properly discerning our role in the moment of its arousal and in the real face of personal suffering.
Jesus dealt with some human need tactically in the moment, but all human need strategically at the Cross. We are called to do the same and this requires deep listening to the Holy Spirit rather than spending ourselves endlessly on people and things God has not called or equipped us to truly “fix.” Where do you think the angry mobs came from shouting to Pilate to crucify Jesus? What had He done to offend to the level of demanding His death? I’ll tell you what is obvious to me: These were the fathers and mothers whom Jesus didn’t heal their children, raise their loved ones from the dead, meet their obvious financial needs, or manifest God’s Kingdom the way they believed the true Messiah would! Crucify Him, indeed; He didn’t meet our human needs.
The second piece of this human-need issue is especially hard to hear by those multiple thousands leading churches around the world. The Apostle Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:12 “to equip the saints for the work of ministry.” Please, please, hear this: The primary role of ministry leaders is to find those called within the congregation who have the gift to care for and council the people within the congregation rather than doing that work themselves. Pastors and elders are dropping like flies or quietly living in hidden desperation, burning out in overload trying to “pastor the needs of the flock.” Jesus equipped the twelve to equip their twelves to meet human needs. The church will never become what it must become until church leaders focus on discovering the gifts in their people and training them to do the work of their ministry in homes, at work, and in society at large. Meeting human needs, the way most current church paradigms are attempting to do so, creates inefficient leadership pyramids, robs people of the responsibilities that would mature them and release their latent callings, and greatly limits the capacity of the church to grow in both size and spiritual growth.
Moving now to the issue of personal Kingdom-building, it too is clothed in subtle garments of distorted human reasoning and the hidden pride buried in our hearts. The first and obvious thing we can observe is this: God wants “excellence” within the church and every facet of its ministries. “Amen, brother.” Secondly, God wants His church to be a city (or neighborhood or community) set on a hill. The church should represent the nature and power of God. “Amen, sister.” The members of the church should clearly give their primary time, talents, and treasure to making these things happen. “Say it again, people.” Now all of these things have a measure of truth within them, depending on what the desired effects really should look like and the dependency upon the motives of those seeking to create them. There is only one huge problem here brethren: How are we separating the glory we want for God and the credit we want for ourselves?
After forty-four years of full-time ministry in church leadership around the world, I must observe that far more building things for God and ourselves exists than we really have the courage to examine and deal with. Paul notes in these Ephesians Four verses that the fruit of equipping the saints for the work of their ministry will produce:
- A growing church
- Unity of the faith
- The knowledge (replication) of God’s Son in our lives to mature manhood
- A fullness in Christ that stabilizes us and eliminates the nonsense of fluctuating doctrinal fads and fables
- A multi-faceted body made up of honored and connected people who are driven by whom they are as a group rather than by ministry “stars.”
May we move to this as we seek to follow Jesus’ model and Paul’s admonition to release the callings within the people as a primary goal. And that is… THE BOTTOM LINE.