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, 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, 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. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from 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. (Ephesians 4:11–16 ESV)
The key idea of this paragraph is missed. Christ gave the variety of teaching leaders to equip God’s people for the work of ministry and for building up the body of Christ. Rather than thinking of our leaders as doing these important works, sometimes the thought can be to appoint shepherds and hire preachers to do the work of evangelism on behalf of the local church. The thought can be that the work of ministry is the job of the preacher or the job of the shepherd. This is likely caused by the pastoral system seen in the mainstream denominational world. However, the apostle Paul teaches that the purpose of these teaching gifts is to equip God’s people for kingdom work and service. These gifts were given so the everyone would be able to do work in God’s kingdom, reaching out to the world and building each other up. Christ did not want just a few gifted people doing the work. Christ gave these gifts of apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers so that everyone could grow in the work. There has been an inversion of thinking in the religious world where there is a clergy/laity distinction. In this system, the few do the work and the rest watch. Yet Paul pictures leaders preparing others to do the work. What prevents leaders from preparing God’s people for work and service?
First, it is easy to adopt the above clergy/laity mentality. When the leaders call for the flock to do the work, this may be seen as a foreign idea to the flock. Too often the flock may think that the leaders are the only ones who can do any work. Leaders need to communicate and show the flock that there is work they all can do. Rather than giving guilt trips to the flock for not working, leaders can prepare the flock for the work by helping them see the gifts they possess and encouraging them to use those gifts. Often Christians see that they are not “gifted Bible teachers.” Therefore they resign themselves into believing that there is nothing for them to do in the kingdom. But this is only one of many works of service God has given. Encourage Christians who have the gift of exhorting, gift of generosity, the gift of service, the gift of zeal, the gift of encouraging, and the like to exercise them. Leaders must never communicate that the only work a Christian can do is one-on-one evangelism. Just because you are good at it and wired to be an extroverted evangelist does not mean everyone else is. Leaders prepare others to work by showing that there are other ways to teach. Further, leaders will show the importance of the other works and gifts in God’s kingdom, encouraging them to exercise those gifts.
Second, it is easy for a leader, particularly a preacher, to try to do all the work because it lends to job security. It causes the church to think that we need this preacher because he does all the evangelism work. As leaders, in our zeal to do the work of evangelism, we need to be teaching others how to do this work. The preacher should never be the only person teaching Bible studies with unbelievers. Leaders must show the congregation how to teach and give them opportunities to teach. Christians are far more likely to be willing to study the Bible with one of their friends than asking his or her unbelieving friend if they want to study with the preacher. Your friends and neighbors are more likely to study with you than with the preacher. Put yourself in their shoes. Would you rather discuss the scriptures with your religious friend, or with your religious friend’s preacher? Christians must be able to share their faith with their friends without the intervention of a preacher or shepherd. Leaders must never communicate that “you need us” at that study. Rather, leaders should encourage a “you can do it” attitude. Some ways leaders can help this is by showing the congregation how to teach your friends and neighbors. Leaders can also try to remove their fears and insecurities by answering common questions that might come up in a study so that they can be ready to give a defense of their faith.
Finally, leaders equip the flock through their preaching each week. In Nehemiah 8:8 we read that the Levites “read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.” Moses in Deuteronomy equipped Israel for the promised land by reading the law to them and then telling Israel to read it again when they cross over. Christians may be fearful to do the work of ministry and building each other up because they do not truly know God’s word. They know the doctrines and the topics of the scriptures. But they may not know why Ephesians is a great book to encourage people about their purpose in Christ, how 1 Peter helps give encouragement to those who are suffering for doing right, or how Philippians pictures a life of self-sacrifice as a Christian. We need more opportunities to get together and hear the word of God, not less. We need more time together to grow into the unity of the faith so that we can become mature in Christ together. Shepherds, evangelists, and teachers need to be frequently reading the scriptures and teaching the meaning so that all can understand. With this knowledge and encouragement of the scriptures, they will be equipped to do the work of ministry and the work of building others up.