And he himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers,
for the equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry for the building up the body of Christ
Ephesians 4.11-12 gives us a distillation of the work of the pastor. The words pastor and teacher are explained by three phrases: for the equipping of the saints, for the work of the ministry and for building up the body of Christ. In a roundabout sort of way this gives us a perspective of how the church should be run. It is not the case at All Nations, but it is easy for the pastor’s work to get overshadowed by many other tasks whether it is meetings, administration, or looking for volunteers, etc. None of these things is necessarily bad, but it is easy for the equipping of the saints to get lost or forgotten.
But what does it look like to equip the saints? We catch small glimpses of this here and there that the ministry of the word is the foundation for equipping the church. This is what Paul instructs Timothy to do in 1 Timothy 4.13. Paul commands Timothy, a leading elder in Ephesus, to devote himself to public reading (of the scriptures), exhortation, and teaching. The book of Timothy is one of the few glimpses we get of the New Testament church and how it functioned. We see here that Timothy is to devote himself to using the word across the life of the church. Now, it would be silly to say that he only do these things to himself for his own benefit. He might have read to himself, but even still, he would have read the scriptures aloud. That means even if it isn’t the appointed day for the congregation to meet, everyone who is spending time with him would be able to hear the word as he read it (almost no one read in their heads in the ancient world). Perhaps he even set aside time to equip brothers and sisters in smaller meetings by reading portions of scripture together during the week. However, exhortation and teaching probably happened intentionally once a week: on the appointed day of worship (Sunday, the day of resurrection). So for Elder Timothy, reading the word aloud, exhorting, and teaching was the primary way of equipping the saints.
If we return to Ephesians 4, it seems like the equipping of saints is expressly for two purposes: 1) So that the saints can accomplish the work of the ministry and 2) so that the body of Christ would be built up. In other words, the ministry of the word is to enable church members to do ministry in their lives throughout the rest of the week and so that the body would be built up. The assumption is that every Christian is called to the work of the ministry. We could ask how did the church spread so quickly through the Roman Empire? We should remember that the message of the gospel challenged the morality of Roman, and Greek culture. Yet, I think it is because the saints were equipped with the word and so were prepared for a living ministry in their everyday lives. You see, their lives were transformed. There is an overwhelming freedom in repentance and belief! The manner the early Christians lived was potent for the spread of the gospel throughout all the cities of the Roman Empire and beyond. There is a wonderful book called The Patient Ferment of the Early Church, which describes the spread of the early church. We acknowledge that it was miraculous and a work of God, but we also should observe that God used each individual believer to build his church. It wasn’t just the elders and pastors. It was each and every member in the church who had been equipped with the word and lived with this patient ferment.
In considering these things, we should reflect on our own lives. Do we prepare ourselves for our weekly encounter with God’s word? If God’s word reveals to us God’s truth, shouldn’t we always come to the word with zeal? Do we energetically respond to his word on a regular basis? May we respond properly to God’s word as we seek to live faithfully.