As you might expect in the context of a church plant, I spend a lot of time, along with our other Elder, Wade, thinking and talking about church. Part of the challenge is to realize that baggage of “tradition” (in both the good and bad sense) we bring into Church of the Cross. In a sense, we have a clean slate, but that doesn’t mean we’re free to “do church” any way we want. Instead, we feel the joyful but weighty responsibility to re-filter much of church through the Scriptures. As we’ve been doing this, one passage has been rocking my world. Consider Ephesians 4:11-16:
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
Consider in particular, verses 11 and 12. Paul says that certain people have been given to the church, but notice who it is that is to do the work of ministry: the saints. The “apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers” are given to equip the saints, not to do the work of ministry for them. While this may not initially seem like a big deal, the more I think about it, the more I wonder if our modern approach to church and “ministry” is entirely in keeping with passages like this and the many “one another” passages.
Here’s what I mean (and please feel free to push back if you think it’s necessary): in many (most?) churches, when a need arises, the members voice their need to the leaders, expecting the leaders to meet that need. The leaders, of course are paid to do exactly such a thing, and the easiest approach to meeting needs within the body is to create a program or a class. So, for example, if there are many young families, the easiest solution is a parenting “class.” If people are struggling with how to read their Bibles, the easiest solution is a class, taught by a paid staff member, because, after all, we pay them to “do ministry,” right?!
But of course, this should prompt the question of whether or not this approach actually equips the saints for the work of ministry. My inclination is that, no, it doesn’t. Instead, it makes us dependent on others (whom we pay) to answer our questions and meet our needs. But what if Paul, in keeping with the spirit of the “one another” passages had something else in mind?
Would it look any different if leaders in the church saw their “job” as equipping others to do ministry rather than doing ministry for them? I think it would mean more of an emphasis on relationship, accountability, community and discipleship. An environment in which we are truly encouraged to “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:1-2). I wonder if much of the way we have come to view ministry is more about the transmission of information than it is actually about equipping “the saints for the work of ministry.”
For those of you who have lived in the more top-down ministry model of classes and programs, have you really felt equipped for the work of ministry? Is it right to think that when we pay others as “church staff,” it is natural to expect them to “do ministry?” What would it look like to equip people through community and discipleship rather than classes and programs?