Presented at Trinity Fellowhip on 05/02/1999

Ephesians 4:12-13

The Purpose of Ministry I

The pastors/teachers of v. 11 are given "for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the Body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith, of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ."


In chapter 4 we have learned that the first thing in walking worthily of our calling is to let the church be the Church; that to this end Christ gave Spiritual Gifts; that these gifts are distributed to his loyal soldiers as the spoils of his victory; and that they include the office of pastor/teacher. In v. 12 we learn how that office is meant to function: not to perform the work of the church's ministry itself, but to equip the saints so that together they all perform it. So radically different is this from the way things have been done in most American churches that we need to spend several weeks on Paul's philosophy of ministry. Today we will see an overview of that philosophy in v. 12.


The first thing we must notice here is that the Saints are the target of ministry. The target of ministry is not (except obviously in the case of the Evangelist) the unbeliever. Now, I can hear a certain kind of well-meaning Evangelical immediately jump up and object, "But won't that produce a church that is hopelessly self-centered, ingrown, and cliquish?" Well, yes it will, if you try to apply a half-baked version of the concept that does not understand the whole program. But no, it won't, if we are attentive enough to get the whole idea before we apply it. And besides, it doesn't matter what we think the results will be. The Apostle Paul says quite clearly and unequivocally that the role of the leaders is to equip the saints. Neither our laudable (if misguided) evangelistic zeal nor our understandable (if shortsighted) fear of becoming ingrown gives us the right to change the job description he laid down for the Church.

If the Saints are the Target of ministry, then Equipping is the Definition of ministry. It is not the pastor/teacher's responsibility to give the saints uplifting emotional experiences, nor to offer them lessons in self help and pop psychology, three easy steps to solving their personal problems, nor to make them feel good about themselves. Uplifting experiences, practical help, and personal affirmation will indeed come to them if he does his job, but they are byproducts of it, not the main focus. What is? to Equip them! For what? For service. He is to give them what they need in order to perform Christ's ministries--including evangelism--themselves. The picture is that of a soldier in basic training, a big part of which is becoming familiar with his equipment and learning when and how to use it. He learns not just to clean his rifle but to take it apart and put it back together. He practices shooting it at a target before he has to aim it at the enemy. To send him into battle without his equipment, or untrained in its use, is to guarantee his defeat.


If the Saints are the Target of ministry and Equipping its Definition, then Service is its Goal. The word translated "service" is diakonia, which means service or ministry. It reminds us of one kind of service that is named after it, the diaconate. And what did the first deacons do? They waited tables, making sure that Greek and Hebrew widows who were dependent on the Church for support both got fed. The picture is that of Jesus, girded with a towel, washing the disciples' feet. Diakonia, ministry, is much wider than waiting tables, of course. It encompasses discipleship, care for widows and orphans, evangelism, and education--all as an expression of Christlike servant love. And who is equipped to do this? The Saints! The officers do not DO the ministry; they EQUIP and LEAD the FLOCK as a whole in doing the ministry of the church.

That is why the biblical model is not ingrown after all: Because taking the job of outreach away from the Preacher is for the ultimate goal of increasing the total outreach of the congregation. The model of Pastor as Evangelist is simply inefficient on at least three different levels. First, if his messages are mainly evangelistic, he is preaching to the choir. The people who need to hear this message mostly are not there. We got away with using the church service for evangelizing (at the expense of worshipping and equipping, its proper function) in the past, when people were culturally expected to be in church whether they knew the Lord or not, but increasingly the inherent inefficiency of this approach is inescapable in today's world. Second, if the pastor tries to be an evangelist rather than an equipper, you will have one evangelist, who might even be pretty good at it. But if he does his actual job and becomes an equipper, you will have hundreds of evangelists. And third, the pastor who is not an equipper will ensure that the Church stays perpetually full of spiritual babies. Not only will his people be ineffective at evangelism themselves, but they will not be functioning very well as a community of faith that could possibly give the non-Christian any reason why he should want to join them. It looks like the Apostle knew what he was talking about when he laid the foundations for ministry after all.

Imagine an army in which only the officers engaged the enemy, while all the enlisted men simply watched from the sidelines. Well, that is the contemporary Church, all too much and all too often. What would it look like if it was actually working as it was designed? The officers would be equipping the enlisted men and then leading them into battle. As a result, you would have believers who were confident in their understanding of the biblical world view, who were experiencing spiritual reality in their personal lives and with one another, and who were therefore able to go out as ambassadors for Christ and as Christian citizens to make a difference in the world around them.


The phrase "building up" is often translated "edification." But edification has become such a Christian cliche that we have almost completely forgotten its connection to buildings, to edifices. In common usage someone who says he felt edified probably means that he was made to feel good about himself, that he had his self esteem built up. But that is not what is being built here. The verb does not even apply to the individual, but to the Body. It is the eternal Temple to the glory of Christ which is Paul's vision of the Church in Ephesians which is being built here. Edifying the Body means Temple Construction. So the Body is edified not when the individuals are made to feel good but when those who were outside of it come inside, when those who were on its fringes move toward its center, when those who were passive spectators become active participants in its ministry.

So what about the individual? Is he not to be built up too? Yes. But what does he need? He needs to BE useful so that he on that basis can FEEL useful. That, if Paul was right, is what he really needs--not the things he calls edification and may be after. And once again, Paul was right. When the Christian is serving the saints and winning sinners, then he will be personally encouraged, then he will feel good about himself, then he will also be solving his own personal problems. All the things he is looking for, seeking for himself, will be found when he is not seeking them at all but seeking the Kingdom. Oh. I guess somebody else said that too: "But seek ye first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you." Jesus of Nazareth.


Why does the American Evangelical Church today have so many numbers, spend so much money, make so much noise, and yet have so little impact? Because it is simply disobedient to the Apostle's directions about how it is supposed to be run. Will we be different? I control one half of the answer to that question. Will you provide the other half by taking up your equipment and using it? Then, "speaking the truth in love, we will grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole Body, being fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the Body for the building up of itself in love" (4:15-16).

Here endeth the lesson.
Dr. Donald T. Williams