The Call of Ministry
Ephesians 4:11-12 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.
The word “equip,” in v. 12 is generally used in reference to act of mending something that is broken. In Matthew 4:21, Zebedee and his sons are “mending,” the nets. Mending is another form of the word for equip. In 1 Thessalonians 3:10Paul tells them that his desire is to “supply what is lacking in their faith.” The word “supply,” is a form of the same word translated as mending and equipping. Equipping, mending, or supplying. These are forms of the same Greek word. It means to bring someone or something to completion (perfect and adequate in every respect) and fit for its intended purpose. That is the sense of the final verses of this section. Ephesians 4:15–16 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.
The body, speaking words of love to one another grows up into the head, it grows up to Christ, who sits at the right hand of the Father. We reach our heavenly perfection together, growing up to Christ, the measure of holiness. Equipped. Joined together, working properly, building itself up in love.
God has always worked through his children to train up his children.
Romans 10:17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. Nehemiah 8:7–8 …the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law, while the people remained in their places. They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading. Galatians 6:1–2 Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
Douglas Wilson expounds on this idea,
“The teaching of Scripture on this point is very clear. God requires uninspired teachers to exposit His Word and apply it to the lives of God’s people. The Bible does not say that worship services should consist of Scripture reading only—with no interpretive voice inflections. On the contrary, the Bible tells us that we are to receive much of our religious instruction from uninspired sources—parents (Deut. 6:6–9), husbands (Eph. 5:25–27), elders (Heb. 13:7), and fellow Christians (Heb. 10:25). And if some of the believers are tempted to give too much wide-eyed credence to their fallible teachers, then their teachers should warn them about that, just as they warn them of other sins. And because all human teachers are fallible, it is very important for them to stick as close to the text as they are able. Those who refuse to listen to such teachers (and who refuse to read books by them) may do so in the name of honoring Scripture, but they are really kicking against the requirement of Scripture. They say, in effect, that the Bible should be honored—so long as it is kept barren and produces no teachers, and no books. And incidentally, it must also be remembered that although they maintain that they sit at the feet of no man, there is at least one kind of human teaching they do think highly of—whatever has been forged in their own brain.”
A healthy church member is devoted to the teaching of the local church, its ministers, and its members.
As Paul David Tripp explains, “the times of formal, public ministry are meant to train God’s people for the personal ministry that is the lifestyle of the body of Christ.”
Timothy Keller writes, “Every Christian should be able to give both…instruction and admonition…a common word for strong, life-changing counsel… that conveys to others the teaching of the Bible. This must be done carefully, though informally, in conversations that are usually one on one. That is the most fundamental form of the ministry of the word.”
He goes on to say that a Church’s “gospel ministry should be pulpit-centered, but not pulpit-restricted.”Healthy church members are ministers to one another. 1 Peter 2:9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
What does this mean? Bearing and proclaiming the divine word can be very hard. We don’t like confrontation or being “judgy.” We don’t want to pry or have others pry. But we must mature in this. We must be exegetes of the bible, and likewise, exegetes of people so that we know how to apply the word of God to those around us.
In his book, Crosstalk, Michael Emlet writes, “Reading the Bible without reading the person is a recipe for irrelevance in ministry. Reading the person without reading the Bible is a recipe for ministry lacking the life-changing power of the Spirit working through his Word” (p. 90)
To make sense of our lives, each of us relies on a complexity of largely unconscious beliefs and assumptions about ourselves, our identity, purpose, and our environment. “Ministry,” says Emlet, “is about helping others see the storylines by which they are living” (p. 71).
Failure to recognize the dominant story that is shaping and directing the course of one’s life leads to a solution-focused approach that looks “a lot like putting out multiple brushfires” and that will likely neglect what most needs to be addressed (p. 79). Are we the villain or hero? Is the story of our lives a tragedy or a comedy?
Emlet makes the same assertion as Keller, Wilson and Bonheoffer, “Any attempts at ministering God’s Word that do not fundamentally connect the good news of the Redeemer, Jesus Christ, with the details, themes and plotlines of people’s lives will miss the mark” (p.7).
Life is full of material – gifts of character and plot – providentially authored by God and we must learn how to exegete the text, just like we are learning to exegete the bible. Our biblical Hermeneutics matter, so too do our Hermeneutics for interpreting the story of our own life, and the lives of those around us. Suffering comes to us all, but when it comes to giving counsel, it matters if you are dealing with Job or Jonah. Peter or Judas. Especially, when your knowledge of the situation is so limited. We are working with sanctified wisdom, but still creaturely wisdom.
There the kid is on the couch with a fist full of hair and a pair of scissors. There’s the husband on the couch watching baseball on a Saturday afternoon while the yard looks like a safari. There’s the clickbait.
There is a friend telling you something in confidence. There is your sister asking you how you can believe in a God that allows miscarriage. Here’s the rainstorm just as you finalize the tent in your campsite. All these plot points require a response from you. What kind of character are you? What kind of story is being written?
Each of us live our lives as a saint, a sinner, and a sufferer. The Christian’s fundamental identity is that of a regenerated, forgiven, and accepted child of God. Though sin’s power has been broken, sin’s presence remains, influencing our motives, thoughts, and actions. To varying degrees and in different ways, we are likewise sufferers because we have been sinned against, and we live in a fallen world. We tend to focus on one, or perhaps, two of these realities when we seek to help fellow believers but doing so results in a truncated understanding of the person we are trying to help, as well as, a failure to bring necessary truths to bear on a person’s life.
We must minister the biblical truth of who and what we are, to one another in a gracious and firm way. As an aid, these three categories help guide us – saint, sinner, and sufferer.
The Bible confirms the identity of the saint (Ephesians 1-4). Here are some questions that you can use to affirm someone in their identity in Christ.
- What evidence of God’s grace do you see in the person’s life?
- How does the person already exhibit the character of Christ in word and deed? Use examples from scripture.
The Bible comforts the sufferer. Here are some questions for the sufferer.
- What significant situational anxieties are you currently facing?
- Consider intrapersonal, interpersonal, and extra personal influences, such as health, relationships, and cultural pressures.
- What were the significant aspects of life outside the person that are influencing them?
- Ask if the person has been sinned against?
- Are they seeking reconciliation? Galatians 6:1-2; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; James 5:19-20.
- How is the person coping?
- Avoidance, medicating, anger, despair, condemnation?
- Fear, confusion, shame, guilt?
- Bible reading, prayer, singing, or fellowship with Christians?
The Bible confronts the sinner. Here are some questions for the sinner.
- What desires, thoughts, emotions, and actions are out of line with the law of God?
- What motives, themes and interpretations of life ‘compete” with the biblical story?
- Discover the narrative and presuppositions that are guiding the person and leading to sinful words, attitudes, emotions, and actions.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer encourages us with our responsibility.
“Christians are dependent on the Word of God spoken to them. They are directed outward to the Word coming to them. Christians live entirely by the truth of God’s Word in Jesus Christ. If they are asked “where is your salvation, your blessedness, your righteousness?,” they can never point to themselves. Instead, they point to the Word of God in Jesus Christ that grants them salvation, blessedness, and righteousness. They watch for this Word wherever they can. Because they daily hunger and thirst for righteousness, they long for the redeeming Word again and again. It can only come from the outside. In themselves they are destitute and dead. Help must come from the outside; and it has come and comes daily and anew in the Word of Jesus Christ, bringing us redemption, righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. But God put this Word into the mouth of human beings so that it may be passed on to others. When people are deeply affected by the Word, they tell it to other people. God has willed that we should seek and find God’s living Word in the testimony of other Christians, in the mouths of human beings. Therefore, Christians need other Christians who speak God’s Word to them. They need them again and again when they become uncertain and disheartened because, living by their own resources, they cannot help themselves without cheating themselves out of the truth. They need other Christians as bearers and proclaimers of the divine word of salvation.”
The more you understand a person’s situation, the more you understood the person. God’s word can be tailored to people in specific situations. The more you understand the situational factors at play in a person’s life, the more you bring the Word to their specific need in a helpful way.
One of the delightful aspects of ministering to brothers and sisters is when someone returns to report growth that goes beyond the issue we originally hoped for. Always acknowledge it!
Remember that the bible speaks to the underlying intentions and attitudes of the heart. Confirmation, comfort, and confrontation—all have a place in personal ministry, and the Scriptures function in all three modes (p. 101).
What we must learn how to build one another up in love, using the word of God. May the Lord grant you deeper understanding of his story, your story, and the stories of those living around you.