Who Are the Ministers?

By Mark D. Roberts

November 7, 2018

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.

Ephesians 4:11-12


Who are the ministers of Jesus Christ?

That may seem like a silly question. We know who the ministers are. They’re the ones who lead churches. They preach and pray. They’re called pastors or priests or teaching elders or reverends. They are the people who are “in the ministry.”

A child raising her arms.This common way of speaking is not supported in Scripture, however. In fact, the Bible urges us to use the language of ministry quite differently. For example, let’s look closely at Ephesians 4:11-12. Here we have clear identification of the kinds of people we would tend to call ministers: apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers. But are they the ministers? Are they the ones who do the ministry of Christ?

No, not according to this passage. Unfortunately, the truth of Ephesians 4:11-12 is obscured by the NIV translation. I’ll explain why. The NIV says that these apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers are “to equip his [Christ’s] people for works of service” (4:12). That might lead us to say the ministers equip the people in church to serve. But this misses the point altogether.

A more literal and accurate translation of verse 12 is found in the ESV and the classic RSV, where it says that the leaders are “to equip the saints for the work of ministry.” “Saints,” according to New Testament usage, are not extra spiritual Christians. Rather, all Christians are saints, that is, people set apart by God for God and his purposes.

So, the “saints” are to be “equipped.” Equipped for what? The NIV has “works of service.” The ESV and RSV go with “the work of ministry.” In the original Greek, “work” does appear in the singular (ergon). The word translated as “service” or “ministry” is diakonia. This is the standard Greek word that is usually rendered as “ministry” in the New Testament. In fact, the NIV often translates diakonia as “ministry” (for example, Romans 11:3; 2 Corinthians 4:1; 5:18). And when “ministry” appears in the NIV, it almost always represents diakonia.

Thus, according to Ephesians 4:11-12, the leaders of the church are to equip the saints—that is, all of Christ’s people—for the work of ministry. The leaders are not the primary ministers. Rather, the ministers are the people of God, who have been drafted into God’s ministry and who are to be equipped for their ministry by their leaders. When we call these leaders “ministers,” or when we say that they have gone into “the ministry,” we obscure the fact that, according to Scripture, all Christians are ministers… including you.

I’ll have more to say about this in future devotions. For now, let me encourage you to consider the following questions.

Something to Think About:

How does this exposition of Ephesians 4:11-12 strike you? Is this familiar to you? Is it new? Does it excite you? Does it perplex you?

Do you see yourself as a minister of Christ? Why or why not?

If you were to see yourself this way, how might you live differently today?

Something to Do:

The problem with the word “ministry” is that it sounds awfully churchy. We can speak of prime ministers or the British “Ministry of Transportation.” But mostly we think of ministry as something that happens in and around church. Therefore, if we were see ourselves as “ministers” in our “secular” workplaces, we’d think about doing things like leading Bible studies or praying. These are good things, to be sure. But ministry is so much more than this. Today, as you go about your work, think about how you might do your work as ministry, as a way of serving God and serving people.


Gracious God, as we seek to grasp your truth accurately, help us to see what your Word truly says. It seems that there is a wide gap between our common language for “ministry” and the teaching of Ephesians. Forgive us for obscuring what you have revealed to us. Forgive us for envisioning the church as a community in which a few professionals are the ministers and everyone else receives “the ministry.”

Help us to see with new eyes what your church is to be. Help us to see our leaders as those you have given to us to equip us. Help us to see ourselves as your ministers, and to live in light of this truth today. Amen.


Explore more at The High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project:
When the Ministers Aren’t the Ministers

Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

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