One of my great concerns for the church in America today is the consumer mentality that has become so pervasive. Unfortunately most pastors complain about it a lot but then propagate that reality in their churches unintentionally. Rather than equipping our people, we are enabling them. Ephesians 4:11-13 has an important word to offer to us to that end. Consider these words:
“And He personally gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, for the training of the saints in 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 a mature man with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness.”
I see four major implications of this text that must not be missed by church leaders.
1. God gives the church leaders. (v. 11)
Leaders are not in their role simply because of giftedness or desire, though both of those things are important. Leaders exist in their roles, first and foremost, because God has ordained that they be there. Your role as a church leader is a commission, an assignment from the God of the universe. It cannot and should not be approached with lazy, half-hearted effort. Leaders are given as a personal gift from God. Notice the text. Leaders do not just exist. They do not just exist because God put them there. They exist as God’s gift to the church. The idea here is that church leaders are intended by God to be a good and gracious gift to the church.
2. Leaders equip the body. (v. 12a)
It is difficult to overstate this. God does not give us church leaders so that they can simply “do ministry.” This text reminds us that He gives us leaders to equip the body, as a whole, to do ministry. In the American church we have even modified our vocabulary about the vocational expectation of a pastor to indicate that when we assume certain aspects of pastoral leadership that are focused on serving the needs of others we are now known as being “pastoral.” This belies a belief that what it means to be pastoral is to minister to the needs of others. This is unfortunate because, not only is it not faithful to the biblical text, but it is enabling, rather than equipping the church. While this practice can sound noble, and while the pastor should certainly be a servant, we do a disservice to the people we serve and the kingdom of God if we as leaders do the ministry that God has called the whole church to do. I want to suggest that while “pastoral ministry” is part of our responsibility as the body of Christ, the unique responsibility of the church leader is not to be extraordinarily good at “doing ministry,” but instead to invest our lives equipping the body to serve. Not only that, though, the Bible is clear that the ministry will not be done well when we assume that posture, and the church will not grow when we assume that posture.
Far too often we have developed a form of church that reflects our consumer-driven society. “Church” is where people go to receive goods and services, and the pastor’s job is to deliver those goods and services. In this model, we don’t create disciples. We create customers.
3. The body is built up. (vv. 12b-15)
The ability of the church to be built into the image of Jesus is dependent upon the leadership training and handing off ministry. Allow me to say that again. The ability of the church to be built into the image of Jesus is dependent upon the leadership training and handing off ministry. This cannot be stressed enough. The spiritual growth and maturity of the church is incredibly dependent upon the church leadership’s capacity to develop the body to serve in ministry. Colossians 1:28-29 reminds us, “We proclaim Him, warning and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ. I labor for this, striving with His strength that works powerfully in me.”
I know so many pastors and church leaders who are living out this passage, and yet they are frustrated because much of their effort seems to be ineffective. I suggest that our effectiveness as a pastor or church leader is extraordinarily connected to our capacity to hand off ministry to others. Notice how Paul says the church will grow when leaders are developing others and handing ministry off to them. Paul says that the church will grow in unity, knowledge, doctrinal stability, gracious speech, and the character of Jesus. Is it surprising, then, to note that many of these described character traits are absent from the church today? Could it be that our insistence on doing what we should be equipping others to do with us is radically inhibiting our churches?
4. Jesus is glorified. (v. 16)
All this equipping, this “building up of the body” is done as Jesus enables it to be so, and it is done to bring Him great glory. As we serve passionately, equipping the body for the work of ministry, the body matures into what God intends for them to be. His bride is made perfect (or complete) as they mature, and that maturity does not happen apart from equipping. Notice the progression of the text concerning what Jesus accomplishes in the church as leaders equip the church instead of enabling the church. The text explicitly points out that when church leaders equip the body, this is what would happen in the church:
Jesus brings the church together (unity in diversity)
Jesus makes the church grow
Jesus increases the church’s capacity to love
Jesus helps every believer to reach their potential
Ultimately, in the end, all of these things serve to make us like Jesus and advance Jesus’ mission. If we want to lead churches to be like Jesus, if we want to lead churches to advance Jesus’ mission, then we must determine to do the hard work of equipping the people. We must hand off ministry. Unfortunately, the reality is that in too many churches this kind of ministry shift would be challenging. Objections are sure to come from lazy church members who are happy as consumers, but I fear that the greatest objections will come from pastors who are fearful of doing the hard work of leading this kind of change or who feel personally fulfilled when the church is radically reliant on them being Pastor Superman.
Remember this radically important lesson. You church’s mission effectiveness is directly tied to ministry multiplication. Yes, this is hard. It may even be costly, both personally and professionally, but I am confident that the future success of the church is dependent upon it.