Every-Member Ministry: More of What It Isn’t
Over the past several weeks we have been looking at every-member ministry. We have seen that it is the need of the hour in many local churches and that such ministry is the responsibility of every church member. We’ve seen how each church member, equipped, empowered, and emplaced for ministry, is able to do this work, and we reviewed several easy ways to get started with this ministry. We’ve looked more closely at three key areas of ministry in particular and at blessings that it offers for both individuals and churches. Last week, we began a look at what every-member-ministry isn't with an examination of how it is not lone-ranger ministry or a denial of authority structures or gender roles in the church. This week, we'll conclude that theme by looking at three more potential misunderstandings.
EMM Doesn’t Deny or Diminish the Diversity of Gifts in Believers
Every church member is a priest of God, a member of the body of Jesus, and so is equipped, empowered, and emplaced as a minister of Christ. In Ephesians 4, Paul highlights the essential unity of every redeemed sinner joined to Christ by faith: “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph. 4:4-6). Church unity is a key concern in the New Testament and in all church ministry today, and so it is vital to highlight the oneness of Christians in Christ, sharing in the same faith and baptism and Lord. This oneness underlines a related Christian teaching, that every believer is equal in God’s sight: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). Since we’ve already seen that the difference between male and female is still recognized in the life of the church, Paul is not here arguing that there are no distinctions or differences among Christians. Rather, he’s highlighting that the unity and oneness we have in Christ transcends those differences.
As Pastor Clint Humfrey often points out, “equality of essence does not imply interchangeability of role.” In God’s economy, while human beings are equally valuable in his sight, he nevertheless places some in positions of authority over others. Unity is not opposed to diversity. Paul captures this truth beautifully in First Corinthians 12: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone” (vv. 4-6). One God gives many gifts to his people. The fact that Paul highlights the three Persons of the Trinity as the One True God who gives these gifts underlines the fact that diversity of gifts cannot and must not be opposed to church unity any more than the plurality of the divine Persons is not opposed to the oneness of God's being. So the fact that every member of a church is the same in one sense—having authority and being equipped to do ministry—does not deny the diverse and different ways in which each of those ministers will glorify the One God and build up their one local church in their ministry.
EMM Doesn’t Deny the Value of Special Training for Ministry
The Apostle Paul was uniquely prepared for his ministry to Jesus Christ well before he became a Christian. He studied the Torah under the great Jewish scholar Gamaliel (Acts 22:3). He was a Pharisee, one who studied the law in great depth (Phil. 3:5). His education was broader than just the Law, as he showed a familiarity with Greek philosophy and pagan poetry in referencing their works (Acts 17:28, Titus 1:12). Paul was not the only early Christian leader with such an education; Apollos is described as “an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord…[and] powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus” (Acts 18:24-25, 28). Does this mean that dedicated education and training is a necessity for Christian ministry? Not at all. Not every Christian leader was so educated, as shown by the examples of Peter and John, humble fishermen described in Acts as “uneducated, common men” (Acts 4:13) but whose boldness nevertheless “astonished” their hearers.
Because of the very real power of the Holy Spirit to do great things through men like Peter and John, throughout the ages some Christians have been tempted to disparage and diminish the value of education and training for ministry. That is a grave mistake, and Christian anti-intellectualism has done great damage in the modern church. God does not use only educated men, it is true. But he does use them, and sometimes powerfully. Think of Ezra, a “scribe skilled in the Law of Moses…. a man learned in matters of the commandments of the Lord and his statutes for Israel” (Ezra 7:6, 11). Consider Moses, who Stephen tells us was “instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and …was mighty in his words and deeds” (Acts 7:22). Every Christian is a minister of Jesus regardless of whether they receive any such training, and should minister with confidence whether they have it or not. But every Christian is also summoned to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18). Specialized training is only one way to do so, yes, but it is a legitimate way with a rich biblical pedigree. As such, it should be valued and celebrated by God’s people as yet another example of the diversity of God’s gifts to the church.
EMM Doesn’t Deny the Value of Specialized Ministries in the Church
Just as individual believers display a rich diversity of gifts in their own ministries, so too there is a place for a variety of organized ministries in the life of a local church. The clearest example would be the ministry of pastor-elders, given special responsibility to minister by Word and prayer to the flock (cf. Acts 6:4). Another example is the ministry of “serving tables” or the “daily distribution” seen in Acts 6:1-2, which the apostles as elders of the Jerusalem church delegated to seven godly men for the sake of church unity. Paul’s letters give specific instructions for specific kinds of ministry in the church. For instance, older women are instructed to mentor younger women (Tit. 2:3-6), and churches are not only to organize a collection but “accredit by letter” certain trustworthy saints to carry it (1 Cor. 16:1-3).
Again, the fact that every believer is a minister is not an argument that every believer’s ministry will look exactly the same. Paul’s whole point in 1 Corinthians 12-14, for instance, is the seemingly paradoxical observation that God gives a variety of gifts to build up a local church in unity, and that trying to exalt one gift or kind of ministry over and above others actually divides the church! In a healthy congregation, there will be all sorts of ministry going on. Some of it will be formally organized ministries like the eldership and the diaconate. Some of it will be informal, as church members individually or alongside similarly-gifted brothers and sisters notice and address needs on their own initiative without any need for central planning or direction. The result will be a living, breathing, growing body bound together not by an artificially-imposed uniformity but by the Spirit of God applying the Word of God to the glory of God the Father.