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Equipping the Saints for Ministry

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In the classical Protestant paradigm, the clergyman, the ordained priest, is “the Minister.” Whether a Presbyterian preacher, Anglican priest, or Baptist pastor, he does the work of the ministry while the laypeople either sit silently or can help with practical things around the church building.

Evangelical churches have mostly adopted that clergy/laity distinction with the role of the pastor. In our churches, the pastor does most of the “ministry.” And they’re burning out in record numbers. What’s gone wrong? And how might we do things differently?

In Ephesians 4, Paul took a different approach:

And he himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into maturity with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness. Then we will no longer be little children, tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning with cleverness in the techniques of deceit. But speaking the truth in love, let us grow in every way into him who is the head—Christ. From him the whole body, fitted and knit together by every supporting ligament, promotes the growth of the body for building itself up in love by the proper working of each individual part (Eph 4:11-16, emphasis added).

Paul explained that Christ gave different gifts: some to be apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. And notice that he gave them for a specific purpose, namely, “to equip the saints for the work of ministry.” According to Paul, who does the ministry?

The saints, i.e., the people themselves.

In other words, there is no “Minister” in Pauline churches. Everyone has work to do. And the work is specifically to promote the growth of the body, so we can all be united and mature. If you wonder why Christians are so divided and immature, it might very well be because we’re not following Paul’s pattern.

Some people think the New Testament presents the radical idea of abolishing the clergy. That has it backward. Instead, it abolishes the laity. For Paul, there are no spectators in the Body of Christ. Every member is gifted for ministry.

And that brings me to how you can turn your small group into a functioning New Testament house church.

What are the pastor and teacher meant to be doing? Equipping the saints for the work God has designed them to do as the church. Their work is to train others to do ministry.

Frankly, that’s a challenge to me.

I love theology. I’m a theology nerd. There’s hardly a topic I don’t love discussing over coffee. But that’s not necessarily a good thing. Why not? Because I’m in danger of losing sight of my priorities as a pastor and teacher. I can get so caught up in some minor point of doctrine or interpretation that I can easily focus on it rather than focus on equipping the saints for ministry. Theological trivia is not necessarily contributing to that purpose!

If pastors and teachers kept their equipping goal in mind, how would it change their day-to-day ministry?

I was talking to a friend who (gently) remarked that his former pastor was an excellent Bible teacher, but he didn’t know his people. That will happen if you never take your nose out of your books (mea culpa!).

However, a pastor or teacher working to turn a small group into a functioning New Testament house church will probably not have that problem. That kind of pastor has to be with his people—in their homes, eating together, being ministered to by all the gifts in the community, and gently guiding them to fulfilling their individual ministries.

The more he builds others up to do their ministry, the better they will minister to him, and instead of burning out, he’ll be reignited.

Send your questions or comments to Shawn.

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