"And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until 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..." (Ephesians 4:11-13).
The human hand is amazing. With the 19 joints of its five fingers and palm, we can touch, feel, hold, grasp, caress, manipulate and gesture. Our hands allow us to sign our name, paint a picture, play musical instruments, wield chain saws and type newspaper columns.
Too often, we take the hand for granted. But then we meet someone whose hand has been crippled by the loss of one or more fingers, and we begin to appreciate how much each of those fingers, from thumb to pinky, means to us.
The Lord gave His Church five fingers as well. They are the five equipping ministries described in Ephesians 4 — apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. Their purpose is to empower their fellow Christians for ministry in the world.
The promises of Ephesians 4 are staggering. If the whole Body of Christ is united by these equipping joints, with each member doing their part, then we will be built up in love and attain "the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:13-16).
I read these promises and say, "Wow!" Then I reflect on why we have, after almost 2,000 years, so utterly failed to grasp what those promises offer.
We are missing fingers, Church! In fact, most congregations are trying to function with just one finger — the "head pastor," who is expected to preach, teach, nurture, administrate and do it all. But one pastor can't. The Body wasn't designed that way by the Lord. And because we are operating by human design rather than the Lord's, a third of our pastors feel burned out within their first five years of ministry. Seventy percent do not have any close friends. Seventy-five percent report severe stress.
As to the members of our congregations, only a minority are engaged in any ministry, and those who are focus primarily on keeping their own church doors open. The vast majority of Christians are, in a nutshell, ill-equipped for the ministry God has for them.
We cannot fully address the functions of the five equipping ministries in this column, but here are some "springboard" thoughts.
First, we need preachers and evangelists. They proclaim with exhortation the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Holy Spirit and the Kingdom of God (Acts 2:14-41). Even after we receive Jesus, we need that exhortation. It recharges our batteries.
But we have to recognize that exhortation is not discipleship. We must be taught to obey everything Jesus commanded (Matthew 28:20). And we need to acknowledge that the best pastors are usually not great preachers, and vice versa.
Second, our teachers (preachers, pastors or others) need to be freed to teach the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27).
As it stands, the teaching most Christians receive is limited to the doctrines prescribed by their denomination or tradition. But there is no gospel of Luther, Calvin, Wesley or Smyth. While we can be instructed by the teachers of yesterday, we cannot let them edit what we read in the Word or insist on an interpretation that may be contrary to what the Spirit and Word speak into our heart. Jesus said we have only one Teacher (Matthew 23:8-10). These winds of doctrine are what have too often divided us.
Third, we must recognize prophesy is vitally important for the Church being built by Jesus Christ (Matthew 16:18; Acts 2:17-18). God doesn't just want us to read His Word. He wants us to hear His Voice.
Prophesy encourages, comforts and builds up the Church (1 Corinthians 14). It can direct people to their calling and gifting (1 Timothy 1:18, 4:14). So let us test prophesy, but not despise it like we have (1 Thessalonians 5:20-21).
Fourth, our pastors need to understand how, in addition to their love of God and people, they can be equipped with divine gifts of wisdom and healing (1 Corinthians 12:8-9). Guidance and healing are part of what shepherds do.
Finally, we must shed our institutional hierarchies and reestablish the biblical model of apostolic leadership. "Apostle" means "one sent out." The Lord sends out apostolic servants just like He was sent out by the Father (John 20:21). The true ones will always look like Jesus — humble yet courageous, and sacrificially selfless (Matthew 20:25-28).
Some are sent to penetrate new territory, like Paul, Barnabas, William Carey and Hudson Taylor (Acts 13:1-3, 14:14). Some are called upon to confront error and redirect the Church, like Paul, John, Martin Luther and John Wesley. Others, like James, influence and connect congregations in a region or city (Galatians 1:19). Like a thumb enhances the other fingers, apostolic servants magnify the productivity of the other equipping ministries.
In these days of increasing darkness, the guiding hand of the Church must utilize all five fingers. Only then will we be equipped for the ministry this world so desperately needs.
God bless you, and God bless our community.
Doug Tweed and his wife Christie are founders of Friends of the King Ministries. Readers may reach Doug by visiting the website friendsofthekingministries.org