If you were asked, “Fellow Christian, what is the work of ministry, and who is to accomplish it?” how would you answer?
Many people would answer that the “work of ministry” would involve church-related and church-centered efforts and programs, and that the work is to be done by “ministers,” primarily preachers/evangelists. Such an understanding of the work of ministry is deeply entrenched in the minds of far too many Christians. Modern cultural forces of consumerism, specialization and the secular/spiritual divide have converged to exacerbate this mentality. It is easy to look at Christianity and the church in the same way as one would look at other things to be consumed; it is easy to feel that the work of Christianity is better left to the “experts” and “professionals”; it is easy to fence one’s spirituality off from the rest of one’s life. Not a few Christians have developed the mindset, however justifiable, that as long as they assemble with the church frequently (“worship”), read their Bibles, and pray, they are “good and faithful Christians” doing the Lord’s work. But what does God say about the work of ministry and who is to accomplish it in Scripture?
And he gave some to be apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, unto the work of ministering, unto the building up of the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-12).
God’s expectations for the work of ministry and for “ministers” according to the New Testament are nothing like the expectations common among many Christians. Yes, God has made provision for people to fulfill certain roles in the church, but the work is not given for them to do alone; they are to furnish completely, or equip (in ASV “perfecting”), the saints for the work of ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12)! The Apostles and prophets, directed by God, modeled and set forth in their preaching and writing the work ministry and how it was to be accomplished (Ephesians 2:20, 2 Timothy 3:14-16, 2 Peter 3:1-2). Evangelists proclaim the Gospel, encouraging believer and unbeliever alike, and provides encouragement and training for saints to go about proclaiming the Word as well (2 Timothy 4:1-2). Pastors (or elders) are to shepherd a local congregation on the basis of their proven character and faith, not as overweening lords, but as examples for the flock (1 Timothy 3:1-8, 1 Peter 5:1-4). Teachers communicate the deposit of the faith in word and deed, entrusting the message to faithful Christians who can teach others also (2 Timothy 2:2). Those who fulfill those roles—Apostles and prophets in the past, evangelists, elders, and teachers then until now—must be active in their work of ministry as well, but it is not for them alone to do the work of ministry. They have been entrusted with their responsibilities and roles to equip and encourage all Christians to participate in the work of ministry!
Be not deceived: God expects every Christian to participate in the work of ministry!
According as each hath received a gift, ministering it among yourselves, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God (1 Peter 4:10).
Each has received a gift and each is to use it to minister to others according to Peter! We do well to remember that “ministry” and “minister” are simply fancier terms for “service” and “one who serves.” All Christians have ways in which they can serve God’s purposes in His Kingdom. All Christians must strive for holiness and sanctification, manifesting the character embodied in the fruit of the spirit, and abstaining from the passions made evident in the works of the flesh (Galatians 5:17-24, 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8). All Christians must assemble and participate in the acts of the assembly (Hebrews 10:25). All Christians must do good to all people as they have opportunity and visit widows and orphans in distress (Galatians 6:10, James 1:27). Yet different Christians have different abilities, experiences, strengths, and weaknesses, and God has so composed the body of Christ so that all those parts can work independently and interdependently to build itself up and give Him glory (Romans 12:3-8, 1 Corinthians 12:12-28). Elders, evangelists, and teachers must encourage, equip, and train their fellow Christians to recognize these talents and abilities and how to use them to the greatest advantage of the Kingdom of God (Ephesians 4:11-12). They, by themselves, can only provide so much service; God did not make it their job to do all the work but to help encourage all Christians to do His work!
Let none be deceived: the work of ministry is not merely “someone else’s job.” The work of ministry is not merely the preacher’s job or the elder’s job. The work of ministry is the job of each and every single Christian in the Lord’s vineyard, including you! Elders, evangelists, and teachers may have the responsibility to help encourage you to understand what God has revealed and to exhort you regarding how you can help accomplish God’s work, but in the end you are responsible for using your talents wisely for God’s purposes (Matthew 25:14-30). The work of ministry is for all Christians to accomplish at all times in every aspect of life (Ephesians 5:17-6:18); may we seek to accomplish the work of ministry in the Kingdom of God so that we may grow to maturity, build each other up in love, and obtain the resurrection of life!
Ethan R. Longhenry