Why We Must Insist On Every-Member Ministry
My subject today is every-member ministry, and I shall creep up on it carefully. I would like to begin with an observation I made during a recent mission trip to Ethiopia. Pastors there are experiencing burn-out at a rate similar to that in the US. As in America, the pastor is considered the religious professional, the expert, not the equipper and catalyst. He is expected to do the work for the “laity,” not the one who transforms the “laity” into ministers.
Let me be clear: This approach to ministry is nothing less than pathological. We are talking about a devastating form of ill health in Christ’s Body.
The biblical understanding of the church is truly revolutionary. All believers are priests and therefore ministers (Rev. 1:6). The people we call “ministers” are not appointed by Christ to do the work for the members, but to prepare them for their work, so that the whole church may be built up. Each member of Christ’s Body has a task to perform. The description of the church that Paul provides is a far cry from the clericalism and professionalism of our day.
In chapter four of Ephesians Paul says that every member of the church has a work to do, and for its accomplishment every member has a share in the inexhaustible grace of Christ (4:7). The grace that saves also grants power for ministry! Indeed, only on the basis of the ministry of all Christians has God promised that the church can reach maturity (4:11-16).
What, then, is the role of the pastor-teacher? Pastor-teachers are God’s change agents for the flow of dynamic energy for spiritual growth. They are not CEOs but catalysts for equipping the saints. “Equipping the saints” is, in fact, the heart of the pastoral ministry. Spending time and energy on other things is a misuse of their calling.
This is precisely where so many of my Ethiopian – and American – pastor friends struggle. Rather than following the biblical principles and patterns of New Testament church leadership their tendency is to acquiesce to the expectations of their peers, thus promoting the unbiblical division of God’s people into an elite class of “ministers” and a vast second-class body of believers known as “lay people.” Rather than encouraging and teaching each part to do its work in the Body, they pile responsibilities on a few with special gifts for organization or promotion. As a result, the institutionalized church blinds believers to many potentially kingdom-building ministries.
Again, the solution to the problem is to understand that each believer has received grace for ministry, and that ministry is for all believers. The basic point of Eph. 4:1-16 is that a true New Testament model of ministry involves all the people of God who, by the grace and power of God, are free to serve in the work of the kingdom of God. It underscores the need for those entrusted with leadership to equip all believers for the work of the ministry. Indeed, the chief priority of pastoral leadership is discipling men and women for the kingdom.
Following the Ephesians 4 model of ministry will not be easy in a day of religious professionals. One of the greatest obstacles to genuine renewal is the institutionalized church itself. In the spirit of the Old Testament, the church has set up a professional priesthood that feeds the “Superstar” idea. The contemporary church makes little room for spiritual gifts and fails to appreciate “God’s varied grace” that is manifested when all the gifts are affirmed and operate cooperatively. Pastors have not been taught that the function of local church leadership is to identify and awaken these gifts that are dormant within the community of believers.
If we would take every-member ministry seriously, as was done in the early Christian church, the dull picture of our contemporary churches would be radically altered. Instead of churches designed for “preacher function,” they would intentionally promote “body function.” Formal teaching would be accompanied by informal teaching. Every member would contribute to the success of the Body. Pastor-dependency would be replaced by mutual edification (1 Cor. 14:26). By serving one another in love, we would begin to create satisfying and lasting relationships with each other. And as the Body obeys its Head, Jesus Christ, it “grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its job” (Eph. 4:15-16).
If we would truly be the Body of Christ, we must insist on every-member ministry in our churches.
August 9, 2005
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com. If you would like to know more about becoming a follower of King Jesus, please feel free to write Dave.