The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-12)
Somewhere things got out of balance. There are a lot of theories about how it happened, all of them likely to have some merit. But for all the reasons that it happened, the consequences of this have taken their toll on the health and vibrancy of the church.
The thing that got out of balance was ministry. The Bible is clear, Jesus’ own ministry was clear, our Lutheran theology is clear: everyone is a minister! But something got out of whack and as a result we began to define the “Minister” as someone who had gone to seminary and worked full time for the church. This is not at all what we teach. But somewhere inside many (all?) of us we seem to believe it.
So this lesson offers a very important corrective to this misconception. All the roles in the church with titles (like “apostles” or “prophets” or “pastors”) are there for the sake of the whole church. And they are not working instead of the whole church. In fact, it is his or her job to be sure the church has what it needs so that everyone can minister. And while ministry includes work within the church, it is equally important to help people use their faith and callings as parents, neighbors, employees and citizens in their daily lives. Ministry can and does happen anywhere and everywhere that God’s people are involved.
What needs to happen in the American church is that congregations need to teach ministry as the norm for what it means to be involved in a congregation. If someone does go to seminary, he or she should already be a trained minister before they get there. That’s the congregation’s job! Being a leader in the church is about learning how to equip and train people for the ministry they already have. And the work of the church should be shaped by this calling to help equip everyone for the work of ministry and the building up of the body of Christ.
So, take a few minutes to reflect. What and where do you do ministry? How can the church help you do it better? Share your thoughts and ideas with your church leaders. If we do this well, all of us will be better ministers and God will be glorified in new ways in the work we do.