November 28, 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 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
The title of yesterday’s devotion was “What About Ministry Outside the Church?” I addressed an understandable but mistaken interpretation of Ephesians 4:11-13, one that limits the label of “ministry” only to actions that are obviously related to a particular church and its programs. Rightly understood, Ephesians shows us that our ministry is much more than this.
In fact, the way I phrased yesterday’s question is part of the problem. It reflects a common way of speaking about the church, but a way that falls short of the biblical understanding of church. In Ephesians, the church is not a particular organization, one with programs and buildings and budgets. Rather, the church comprises the people of God. It is the living body of Christ, in which all Christians participate. The church isn’t limited to one particular community, one location, or one gathering of people. Rather, it is the sum total of all who have received God’s grace through faith in Christ. Ephesians does not denigrate the value of the local, gathered church. But its focus is broader and bigger.
According to Ephesians, if you’re a Christian, then you are an invaluable member of the church, the body of Christ (see 4:15-16). This is true when you’re gathered with other members and when you’re scattered in the world. You’re just as much a member of Christ’s body when you’re sitting in front of your computer on Monday morning as you were sitting in a worship service on Sunday morning.
This means that, speaking accurately, there is no Christian ministry outside of the church. Yes, there is ministry outside of the walls of the church. And there is ministry beyond the programs of the church. But all acts of Christian ministry are done by Christian people, who are members of Christ’s body. Thus, all ministry is an expression of the church, the church gathered and the church scattered, the church in corporate worship and the church working in corporations, the church feeding the homeless and the church running grocery stores to sell food.
So, when you do your daily work in service to Christ and to others on his behalf, you are part of the church in ministry. I know it’s hard to think this way because we are so accustomed to viewing the church as an organization, a place, and a collection of programs. But, without denying the importance of the local church incarnate, when we see the church through the lens of Ephesians, we will also see the ministry of the church in radical different terms. In fact, we’ll recognize that the majority of the ministry done by any congregation is not found in church programs, but rather in the actions of the members of that church as they live their lives “out there” in the world, in studios and vineyards, in boardrooms and classrooms, in stores and libraries, in service industries as well as worship services.
Something to Think About:
When you’re “out there” in the world, in your place of work, in your school, in your home, do you ever think of yourself as part of your church? If so, when and why? If not, why not?
If you were to think of yourself more often in this way, what difference might it make?
What would happen in your church if people began thinking of the ministries of the church, not only as church programs, but as what the members of the church do through their daily work?
Something to Do:
Try an experiment. See if you can think of yourself as part of your church when you go about your work today. Later, reflect on this experience. Was it hard? Easy? Exciting? Strange? Confusing? Or something else?
Gracious God, thank you for binding us together in one body. Thank you that we belong to each other. Thank you that each member of your church matters, not just to you, but also to the health and mission of the church. Thank you for the fact that, as I go into the world to do my work, I am still a part of your body.
Help me, Lord, to see all that I do from this perspective. May my work this day be ministry to you, ministry done by your church because, indeed, I am part of your church. To you be all the glory. Amen.
Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online commentary:
Reconciling the Whole World (2 Corinthians 5:16–21)
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.