November 13, 2018 • Life for Leaders
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.
When I became senior pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church, since I was new, I thought it would be good to preach a series of sermons on Christian basics. One of these sermons focused on Ephesians 4:11-12. Faithfully interpreting the text, I talked about how the members of my church were the ministers of Christ and how I, as “pastor and teacher,” was their equipper. I believed that I was sharing good news with them, not to mention biblical truth. I expected my members to be encouraged and excited by a new way of seeing and living.
Most of them were. For many, the idea that they were ministers was affirming and motivating. But this was not true for everybody. After my sermon on Ephesians 4:11-12, an influential church leader I’ll call “Steve” cornered me on the steps. I could tell he was unhappy. He pointed his finger at my chest and said, “Pastor, you’re trying to get out of your job! You’re trying to get us to do it for you. We pay you to do the ministry. So stop telling us to be the ministers of this church.”
Honestly, I was a bit stunned by Steve’s reaction to my sermon because I believed that what I had said was so clearly taught in Scripture and that it was actually good news for church members, including him. I had never had anyone in my professional life accuse me of trying to get out of work. I’m many things in life, but not lazy. Squelching my defensiveness, I said to Steve, “Hey, we aren’t going to be able to settle this on the church steps. So why don’t we get together next week and talk about your concerns. Let’s see if we can figure this out together.”
When Steve and I met, he had calmed down, so we had an open conversation. I walked him through Ephesians 4:11-12 once again. I listened to his concerns about pastors not doing their job. I reassured him that I was not trying to get out of preaching, teaching, praying, and shepherding the congregation. But I helped him see that I was doing these things, not because I was “the minister,” but because I wanted to equip and empower Steve and the rest of my people for their ministry. As we talked, Steve’s attitude began to shift: “You mean if I wanted to teach a Bible study in this church, I could do that, and you would help me?”
“Yes,” I said, “that’s a fine example.”
“I’ve always wanted to do something like that,” Steve said, “but have never felt like I could.”
To make a long story short, Steve left my office that day excited about the possibilities for his ministry. He no longer thought of me as a lazy pastor, but rather as his coach. He started to pray about what he might be able to do in the life of the church. In time, Steve did indeed lead a Bible study. Moreover, he used his leadership gifts to help our church develop an extensive adult education program. And he began to see his work life as a business owner in new ways and as an opportunity for ministry.
I know things don’t always work out so neatly. For all I know, there may be some pastors who are trying to get out of their work. And I suppose there are church members who really don’t want to be involved in ministry. But, in my experience, when Christ’s people really grasp who they are as ministers, it can change their lives. It can give them new energy and vision. It can also change a church, and a business, and a neighborhood, and beyond.
Something to Think About:
Does your church help you to be equipped for your ministry, broadly defined? If so, in what ways have you been equipped?
In what ways would you like to be equipped?
How might you help your church to be a place that truly and effectively equips all of God’s people for ministry?
Something to Do:
The next time your pastor preaches or prays something that helps you to do your daily work as ministry to God, let your pastor know about it. Encouragement goes a long way.
Gracious God, please help your people to see who they are as your ministers. May they embrace their identity and calling with excitement. May they learn to serve you in church and in the world. May their pastors equip them for their daily ministry of serving you in all of life. May your church be built up, and may all things be united in Christ, through the efforts of your ministers. Amen.
Explore more at the Theology of Work Project:
Equipping churches empower and collaborate with people in the congregation to lead the ministry
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, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.