Everyone a Minister
I remember seeing a picture a number of years ago that was titled as the winner of the “Not My Job” award. And what it showed was a road and in the middle of that road a big, dead, flat possum. Roadkill.
And the road had obviously just had its double yellow line repainted. And you can probably guess where this is going. Because that possum, right in the middle of the road, had two nice and bright yellow lines painted right over it. Whoever painted the road must have seen the roadkill, and decided that moving it was not his job, and just painted right over it.
We laugh. But perhaps it’s a nervous laughter. Because I wonder how many of us have done the same thing. How many of us have seen something that needed to be done, a mess that needs to be cleaned up, and just assumed that someone else would take care of it, because it’s “not my job”?
The question before us this morning is “whose job is ministry?” Whose job is it to do ministry in the church? Whose job is it to make and keep this church a healthy place? Whose job is it to serve and care for the people of this church? Who is supposed to do the ministry around here?
This question comes to us after three weeks in 1 Timothy 3 learning about overseers and deacons. Overseers or elders or shepherds lead the church and care for the church and feed the church. And deacons are the servants who have responsibility for the administration of the church’s physical needs.
And I hope, as you’ve heard these things, that you’ve been encouraged by the way that Jesus cares for His church. Jesus has given us an administrative structure that works really well and is designed to help the church flourish. And if you come out of the past three weeks feeling cared for by Jesus, that would be a good response.
But there’s a danger lurking just on the other side of that feeling. The danger is the belief that the elders and deacons are there to do ministry for you. The danger is the feeling that you don’t need to worry about ministry because other people are taking care of it. The danger is thinking that serving the church and making the church healthy and doing ministry is someone else’s job.
But the message for us today out of Ephesians 4 is that we are the church, and ministry is not just someone else’s job. Every one of us is a minister.
Now Ephesians 4 is a bit of a step outside of 1 Timothy this morning, but not too big of a step. You’ll remember that Timothy was in Ephesus, and it’s likely that the Ephesian church would have received this letter from Paul no more than five years before Timothy showed up. So as Timothy is working to establish healthy elders and deacons, they should have this material from Paul’s letter in their minds already. And we want to get to the same spot today.
Ephesians 4, like 1 Timothy, is all about the church. It begins by calling the church to unity, telling them that they already have unity in their “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father” (Ephesians 4:5–6).
Ministry Given to Each of Us
And verse 7 tells us that we each have something else in common.“But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift” (Ephesians 4:7).
Now we might hear this phrase and think, “Of course grace was given to us. When we were saved. That’s something else that we all have in common.” But if we were to turn back a chapter and see how Paul has just used these two little words “grace…given,” we might draw a different conclusion.
Ephesians chapter 3 opens up with these words: “For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles— assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you” (Ephesians 3:1–2). God’s grace was given to Paul for the Gentiles.
And what he means by that is explored more in verses 7 & 8 of chapter 3: “Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:7–8).
The grace given to Paul was the ministry of preaching to the Gentiles. And with that ministry obviously came the enablement to perform that ministry. But the grace, as defined by verse 8, is the ministry itself. Ministry is grace.
So often we think that when we serve the Lord, we’re doing Him a favour, and when we get to heaven Jesus is going to greet us with a song of thanks, just like that unbiblical Ray Boltz song. But Paul knew better. He knew that getting to serve God—being given ministry—was undeserved grace.
There’s a number of other examples in the New Testament which use these same two words—“grace given”—to speak of the same thing, and I’m going to post a few on the blog this week. But for now we can see that just in Ephesians chapter 3 Paul has twice referred to his ministry as a grace given to him.
So when Ephesians 4:7 says “But grace was given to each one of us,” we should understand this in the same way. Ministry has been given to each of us.
And this interpretation is confirmed when we read verse 11 and 12 in our passage. “And 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).
Apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers are all a part of God’s gift to the church. According to Ephesians 2:20, apostles and prophets had a key role in laying the foundation for the church. And in an ongoing way, in the present day we benefit from the gift of evangelists and shepherds and teachers.
Remember that “shepherd” is just another word for “pastor.” And that’s actually how several translations render this word. And there’s a close connection here between pastors and teachers. Just like in 1 Timothy. The shepherds teach.
And God has given these teaching pastors to the church not to do ministry for them, but, as verse 12 says, to equip them for ministry. The grace of ministry has been given to every Christian, and it’s the job of the pastors or elders to train and equip them for that ministry.
It’s very common to hear pastors talk about being “called to ministry.” But this passage is calling every single one of us to ministry. And it’s the job of the pastors to equip God’s people for the ministries God has graciously given them.
The Goal of Our Ministry
And that’s really the whole message this morning. That’s the big idea. And we’re going to spend some time talking about what this might practically mean for us in the way that we think about church. But first we need to look at verses 13-16. Because these verses show us why this is so important. Why should we buy in to this idea of everybody doing ministry? And what is this ministry all about?
And the answer is found in these verses, which paint a beautiful picture for us of what it looks like when we’re all on the field involved in the ministries God has given to us.
Verse 13 begins by telling us what happens when we are built up and equipped for our ministries. We attain “to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the son of God,” “to mature manhood,” and “to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”
Wouldn’t you want to be a part of a church like that? A place where people were absolutely unified because of their shared faith and knowledge of Christ? Where they were mature and lived up to their full measure in Christ?
That’s what happens when everybody is equipped for and involved in ministry. Verse 14 expands on this picture of maturity by telling us that the goal is “So 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” (Ephesians 4:14).
How many of us have met Christians and churches who bounce around from one fad to the next, from one program to the next, constantly rearranging their theological furniture every time the next bestseller comes out? They are like boats being tossed around by human teaching. This is what happens when we are not mature, when we are not being built up and equipped for ministry.
But verse 15 tells us what the church is supposed to look like. Here’s the alternative to being tossed around like a little boat. “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Ephesians 4:15).
“Speaking the truth in love” is such a huge and a rich phrase. It means so much more than saying the right thing in a nice way. It points us towards our responsibility to speak the truth of God’s word to each other. To remind each other of the gospel. To challenge each other, to encourage each other, to counsel each other from the rich treasure house of God’s word.
So often when we see a brother or a sister struggling, or needing encouragement, or just needing to grow, we don’t say anything, at least to their faces. The best we might do is pray for them. But this verse is summoning us to go further. To be a community of truth speakers, who are driven by love to speak God’s truth to one another.
Because it is by speaking the truth in love to each other that we “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Ephesians 4:15). Spiritual growth—growing to me more like Jesus—is not just a solo project. It’s not just a matter of reading the Bible and praying on our own. One of the major reasons we need to read the Bible and pray on our own is so that we’ll be ready to speak the truth in love to one another. Because that is the way that the body grows.
And then verse 16 finishes this section off by telling us that it’s from Christ that “the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which is is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”
Jesus makes His body grow so that the body, with each part working properly, builds itself up in love.
The Big Shift
And so we come back to the big idea: if you are a Christian, you’re a part of the body. Which means that you need to be working properly so that you can play your part in making the body grow, as verse 16 says.
Look around the room. Helping these people grow closer to Jesus is your responsibility. Their spiritual growth is not just someone else’s job. Speaking the truth in love is not just someone else’s job. Building up the church is not just someone else’s job. Ministry is not just someone else’s job. It’s yours.
Now for some of you, depending on your background, this could be a huge shift. Because in some Christian traditions, the pastor in the church is called what? The minister. And he’s basically viewed as our private chaplain. He’s the guy who takes care of us. He’s the guy who meets my needs. And if he’s not meeting my needs, then I’ll find another church with another pastor who does.
I think that this attitude is one of the greatest problems in the Canadian church today. It’s consumerism. We are the consumers and the church is a product and our involvement with the church only goes as far as our comfort, our desires, our opinions, our feelings. And it’s all about us.
But the church is not a product to consume. The church is a body. And if you have been saved by Jesus Christ, than you are a part of that body. You might be a finger. You might be a knee. You might be an ear. But you’re a part of the body, and you have a part to play in that body, and the health and growth of that body is, in some measure, your responsibility.
And maybe that’s a big shift for you. I remember reading someone say that when they became a Christian, it was like being given a new pair of ice skates. And for the next few years they enjoyed twirling around the ice by themselves, enjoying their joy and freedom in Jesus. And maybe they saw church as a public skate time, when they got to do their fun skating thing with all of their friends.
But slowly they started to realize that they had it all wrong. They realized that they hadn’t been given skates just to twirl around by themselves. They had been given skates because they were actually on a hockey team. And they had practices they needed to show up for and a championship to win.
And they made a very important statement. They said that while they understood this truth in their heads, it would take some time for their lifestyle to catch up.
And that is a very perceptive statement. Because if you understand what Ephesians 4 is describing this morning, you’ll understand that it is talking about our very lives. It’s not just about Sunday morning. It starts here, where we come together to worship and be equipped. But what we’re equipped for is what we get to go do the rest of the week: live out the life priority of building up the body of Christ through the ministries that God gives us.
Making it Real
Now let’s make it very real here: what are we actually talking about here? What do we mean when we say “ministry”? What does this look like?
I suspect that when many people think about “getting involved in ministry” at a church, they immediately think about what ministry programs that church has. Now it’s true that we have programs here at EBC. Awana is a program. Sunday School is a program. Helping Hands is a program. Small Groups is a program. Programs are a really helpful way to foster ministry in a church. They are an important part of the trellis: the structure we build for the vine to grow on.
Bur programs are just a chunk of trellis. The vine that grows on them is what we’re really after. For example, we organize the program of Small Groups for the goal of getting people close to each other so that real relationships can be built so that we can speak the truth in love to one another.
And very often our most important ministry takes place outside of a program. If the person sitting next to you this morning is struggling in their faith or being seduced by false teaching or is in need of practical assistance this week, we can’t rely on a program to help with that. You need to help with that.
Someone met with me this fall to share their burden for a particular group of people in our church. And they wanted me to start a program to reach that group of people. And I told this person, “you do it. You go reach that group of people. You invite them into your home or to our satellite campus called Tim Horton’s and get to know them and speak the truth in love to them.”
What I’m hoping you’re picking up on here is that this work of ministry is all about relationships. It’s all about getting to know people and figuring out ways that you, in the particular ways that God made you, can love them and speak the truth to them.
And this is really scary to us Canadians. Actually getting to know each other? Actually having the courage to ask about someone’s struggles and challenges, or having the courage to be honest when asked? Actually taking the time to be with someone when they need you, or say the thing they need to hear, or do the thing to help them that only you can do?
And you’re telling me that this is not the work of trained professionals, but this is the responsibility of each one of us?
Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying. It’s big and scary and wonderful. And it’s what being a Christian is all about. Doing hard stuff is not just Melita’s job.
Where Do We Start?
So where do we start? Many of you started this a long time ago and it is your lifestyle. But what if it’s not? What if this sounds foreign and terrifying to you? Where do you start?
I have six practical suggestions for you for how to put Ephesians 4 into practice.
1) Show up to church 15 minutes early, and stay 15 minutes late at the end. These are baby steps. But it starts by just talking to people. This is why we have the fruit tray at the back after each service—so that you can stave off your hunger for a few more minutes and stick around and ask someone how their week was or what they learned from the message.
And parents, that’s why you need to supervise your kids back there and make sure that they are letting other people take advantage of that opportunity.
2) Join a small group. A small group is a fantastic way to get to know each other and play your part in building up the body of Christ. Please understand that small groups aren’t a magic bullet. It takes time, even in that setting, to build relationship confidence with each other.
But it does happen. And you’ve got those little white cards in front of you or on our website where you can sign up for one any time.
3) Show hospitality. We talked about this two weeks ago—that hospitality is a requirement for all Christians. 1 Peter 4 says “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling” (1 Peter 4:8–9).
Be deliberate about having people into your home to share your table and a bit of your life with you. Start with a goal of once every month or two. It doesn’t have to be fancy. And if your home needs to be fixed up first, then make that a priority, and in the meantime rent a table at Tim Horton’s for the price of a cup of coffee. It should be normal for us to spend time with one another like this.
4) Ask people their testimonies. In our small groups, we’re having each person share their testimony with the group. It’s such a great way to really start to get to know who someone is. So as you talk to someone in the foyer after the service, or over your dinner table or coffee table at Tim Horton’s, ask them their story. And ask them how they came to know Jesus.
I know that this is uncomfortable for us as Canadians, but who said anything about staying comfortable? Jesus told us to take up our crosses and follow him (Matthew 16:24). Crosses are not comfortable. And if we’re going to speak the truth in love to one another, we need to step out of our comfort zones and break past the small talk barrier. And asking someone their testimony is a great start.
5) Finally, look where you can serve, and do it. These first four suggestions are all about getting close to people, so that you can begin to learn about where their real needs are.
As you get to know people, you may find that one person struggles with discouragement, and you can encourage them by texting them a Bible verse as you pray for them. Someone else might be struggling as a parent, and you can share with them some of the lessons you’ve learned along the ways. Someone else might be struggling to understand their faith, so you meet with them every few weeks and read the Bible together and help them get grounded in the basics of the gospel. Someone else might be wrestling with a particular sin, and you work to remind them of God’s promises and let them call you at any time, day or night, to fight with them.
This is ministry. Building up the body. Speaking the truth in love in meaningful and relevant and helpful ways.
And it requires relationship. Really knowing each other. And once we actually do get to know people, we don’t need to look very hard to find ministry opportunities. You’ll see them everywhere. And you won’t be able to meet every need, but with some practice and experience you’ll figure out how God made you and how you can best serve others in helping them get closer to Jesus.
Because that is the goal here, like verse 15 said. Growing up into Christ. So ministry is about moving closer to each other so that we can help each other move closer to Jesus.
6) Come tonight. Most of you know there’s potluck here at 5:00 tonight. I encourage you to apply this passage by coming and being there. And then stick around for the meeting afterwards.
It’s an important meeting for our church. We’re talking about the budget which is a part of our ministry vision for 2020. We’re talking about elders and deacons. And we’re voting on a revision to our bylaws which will make it easier for people to become members, which is another really important way we can apply this passage and one which I hope many of you take advantage of.
Think of it this way. Coming to congregational meetings and being involved in the church’s ministry at that level is not just someone else’s job. You matter. The part you play in this body really matters. So I encourage you to take a step towards fulfilling Ephesians 4 by coming tonight.
Let’s pray. And then we’re going to sing a song that asks for Jesus’ help as we seek to play our part in his body.