I find that one of the most misunderstood concepts in the church today is in the area of who is responsible for the discipleship that is to take place in the church. Many in the pew are convinced that discipleship is the sole function of the pastor instead of the responsibility of each member. There are other reasons that many church members don’t approach helping people with their problems. Some believe they don’t know what to say, others say they have not been trained to do that sort of thing, while still others convince themselves that discipleship is just not their “spiritual gift.” But each of these ideas falls short of the teaching of Paul’s words in Ephesians 4:11-16.
This foundational text is most often used to teach of the various leadership that God has provided to the church. It is taught, and rightfully so, from pulpits and classrooms around the world that God has gifted the church with leadership. What often gets blurred in this emphasis is the reason for which God gave these gifts to the church. That reason is found in the verse 12: ”to equip the saints for the work of the ministry.”
What is this work of the ministry of which Paul speaks? From the context we would have to concede that the work of the ministry is specifically a people based ministry, a ministry that we are to engage in for the gospel growth and sanctification of others in the church. As Paul Tripp says in Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, “God never intended us to simply be the objects of his love. We are also called to be instruments of that love in the lives of other people” (Tripp, p. 18). Paul’s words to the Ephesians believers is for the purpose of the sanctification of other saints in the church. What he essentially presents to believers is that each member is partly responsible for the sanctification of their fellow members in the church.
This means that a pastor’s responsibility is more than just the public ministry of Word through preaching each Sunday, but also his private ministry of discipleship and counseling as well as the training of his people to also do the private ministry of the Word. We live in a professional society and are often susceptible to the thought that we need a professional to help us. In many areas of broad society this is true, but according to Paul in Ephesians 4 our sanctification was not meant to be placed in the hands of our pastors only or worse yet those in the community of “professional” help. The assistance we need in conforming to Jesus Christ is not from a professional with a couch and a notepad, but instead in the loving arms of our local church body. God’s plan, as it’s recorded in Ephesians 4:11-16, is that through the faithful ministry of every part, the whole body will grow to full maturity in Christ.
Just a cursory reading of this text and one cannot miss the emphasis on the concept of growing and building. With words like equip, build, attain, mature, and grow up it is clear what Paul had in mind for this text: that the church has been given leadership for the purpose of training the individual members to disciple and help each member grow in conformity to Jesus Christ. Paul’s words to the Roman believers in Romans 15:14 confirm that discipleship is something expected for every believer. He says, “I myself am satisfied about you… [that you are] able to instruct one another.” Paul’s words to the Galatian believers have this same “every person, every day” ministry thrust when he says, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness (Gal 6:1). Paul calls individual believers both in Galatians and Romans, like he does in Ephesians, to do the work of discipling and counseling one another.
Often times when we hear “ministry of the Word” we automatically think of the public proclamation of God’s Word (i.e. preaching). Preaching definitely fits that definition but I think we have to ask ourselves, “Is that the only kind of ministry of the word that there is in the church? Just public preaching on Sundays?” I believe that Paul, as a good pastor/teacher does, is tutoring his sheep into a broader definition of “Ministry of the Word.” What he does in Ephesians 4:11-16 is show that there is a private ministry of the word that must accompany the public proclamation of the word in order for the church to be what God intended it to be. These two ministries of the word, public and private, must complement each other. In other words, the church needs both in order to survive. It needs pastors to faithfully exposit the truth of God’s Word while at the same time it needs believers coming alongside one another for the practical application of those same truths. This is God’s prescribed way for church growth.
David Powlison in his Journal of Biblical Counseling Article entitled “Ministry of the Word” recounts Jesus’ ministry in Mark chapters 7-11. In these chapters Jesus gave sermons, he did a lot of talking with people and it doesn’t seem to be surface level chit chat. It was intentional honest conversation about both the understanding and application of the Gospel. Out of the conversation recording in Mark 7-11 the majority of those conversations weren’t public preaching to the masses as we might expect, but instead it was the private ministry of the word to his disciples. This shows us that Christ himself, while not neglecting the public ministry of the Word, like Paul had an emphasis and the private ministry of the Word as well. Whether he was teaching or preaching he was talking with people in a way that was moving them towards discipleship—either initial or continued discipleship.
So Pastor, according to Ephesians 4 what are you paid to do? Will your ministry be an emphasis on the public preaching ministry of the Word only? How much time are you devoting to discipling God’s people to be disciplers?
What about you church member? Do you see your responsibility as a church member as mainly one of referral? Are you part of the body so that you can refer others who are struggling to your pastor? If you, both pastor and member, want to see your church grow then compliment the public ministry of the word with the private ministry of every church member in discipleship to one another.
Article by: Jeremy Stephens
Link to Instruments in the Redeemers Hands: http://amzn.to/2vrWfLz
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