Last week I taught a day on Ephesians, and a question caused me to stop and ponder a familiar verse afresh.
‘He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…’ (Ephesians 4:11-12)
The way I’ve typically heard this explained, seen it modelled and taught it myself, is that those who have (or rather are) what we may call ‘Ephesians 4 gifts’ not only ‘do the stuff’ but equip others to do likewise. So a gifted evangelist ought not to simply travel to a church, preach the gospel and invite people to respond, but should also equip Christians to preach the gospel effectively as well. Similarly prophets should not simply prophesy, but teach and enable others to hear God too. I’ve seen this modelled a number of ways (very well in fact) where a prophet spends a weekend with a church, running a day of training on the Saturday and a service with prophetic ministry on the Sunday. Or evangelists run events to equip people in sharing their faith, followed by guest services in churches the next day.
All well and good. But that model works nicely for both of those ministries, and not so clearly for the others. Is a teacher’s primary goal to create other teachers, or to enable people (who may have no aspirations to teach whatsoever) to understand and apply God’s word rightly in their own lives? Is the role of an apostle really to equip the saints to be apostles too, or is it rather to pioneer, plant and strengthen churches and their leaders?
In other words, if I can put it like this, are the Ephesians 4 gifts meant to be self-reproducing ministries, or ministry-reproducing selfs?
Let me explain: Eph 4:11-12 doesn’t tell us that these ministers are meant to equip the saints to emulate them in their particular skill-area (i.e. prophets just make prophets, evangelists make evangelists, pastors make pastors), but to equip them ‘for the work of ministry’. That is, for allthat God has called them to do: understanding and applying the word, caring for others, healing the sick, exercising spiritual gifts, preaching the gospel… etc.
Now obviously we play to our strengths to a degree, but perhaps we should be thinking about the role of Ephesians 4 ministries in our churches more holistically. A prophet shouldn’t simply enable listeners to prophesy (or have the gift of prophecy; be prophets; look, sound, dress and smell like prophets – or whatever the outcome of Wilson’s Wonderings might be!!) but to be more effective right across the board. Likewise teachers, pastors, evangelists and apostles.
Actually, this is closer to my experience and also, as far as I can see, to the example in the book of Acts. Agabus ‘equipped the saints for the work of ministry’ in Antioch, not by training people to hear God more clearly, but by instructing them to care for the needy (Acts 11:28-30), and in Caesarea by foretelling the woes Paul would experience in Jerusalem, thus preparing him for the work of ‘apostling’ (Acts 21:10-14).
So too, observing evangelists has equipped me to teach better, learning the power of story and how to craft compelling narrative; receiving ministry from prophets has helped me to evangelise better, with a new sense of faith and boldness; and hearing teaching gifted teachers has equipped me to pastor people more effectively.
And personally it changes the way I think about my own gifts and how they may help people. If my own gift is predominately in teaching, I might be tempted to think that the contribution I am called to make is just to explain things and transfer information from one mind to a bunch of others. But understanding my purpose as not just equipping others to be strong in the areas in which I am strong, but rather equipping them for ‘the work of ministry’ – the whole work of ministry – means that I approach teaching with more holistic goals, asking broader questions like:
- How can my teaching help people to have greater faith to see miraculous things happen?
- How can I sharpen people’s ability to sharing their faith in a compelling manner?
- How can I teach in such a way as to help people take insights from Scripture and use them to comfort, strengthen and pastor others?
So… self-reproducing ministries, or ministry-reproducing selfs? What do you think?