The Pattern of Word Ministry

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 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.

(Ephesians 4:11-13 NIV)

In previous posts we’ve thought about:

  1. The Mission of the church – we are disciples who make more disciples
  2. The Practice of the church – we devote ourselves to teaching, fellowship, meals and prayer
  3. Our Attitude to the church – we seek to serve one another.

I wanted to reflect this time on a key aspect of church – word ministry. It’s hard to miss the importance of the word of God in the Bible and we’ve already seen that teaching the word is central to discipleship (Matthew 28:20) and central to the meetings of the church (Acts 2:42).

How should that work in the church? Well Paul gives us some guidance in Ephesians 4.

The Role of Word Ministers

In a passage on the gifts that the risen Lord Jesus gives to his church (Ephesians 4:7-10), Paul emphasises 4 (or possibly 5) gifts he gives to the church: apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastor-teachers (or pastors and teachers) (Ephesians 4:11). Now there’s some debate as to the continuance of the first two of these gifts beyond the first generation of the church (these seem to be foundational gifts in Ephesians 2:20), but what is clear is that the uniting factor behind the ministry of these people is the word of God. They are all involved in proclaiming God’s word to people.

If we just focus on the last two gifts, evangelists and pastor-teachers, I suspect many of us would have a fairly clear ideas as to their roles, which would go something like this: the job of the evangelist is to tell unbelievers the word of God (I.e. the biblical gospel) so they can believe and the job of the pastor-teacher is to teach people the word of God (I.e. the Bible) so that Christians can grow in their faith.

But, while there is of course truth to that, the surprise is that Ephesians 4:12 doesn’t say that. Jesus gives these gifts to the church to equip the whole church for ministry or service. I.e. the word ministers don’t do all the ministry, not even all the word ministry, they equip every believer to do that ministry.

What might this look like in church? Well there will be those set aside to be word ministers (pastor-teachers or elders and evangelists). They will teach from the Bible to believers to build them up, but also to unbelievers to witness to them. However, these word ministers will also be intentional in training everyone in ministry. It might be the evangelist helping a group of church members to explain the gospel for themselves from the Bible, or the pastor-teacher going through how to understand and apply a Bible passage for yourself and how to then do a little Bible study with a younger Christian on that passage. There are all kinds of ways this might work – but the gifted word ministers are there to train or equip all the church members in ministry.

The Role of Church Members

Let’s just have a look at how Paul shows that. In Ephesians 4:12, we see that everyone is equipped so that the whole body might be built up and we see that this involves content (I.e. the word of God), because in v.13 this about growing in the faith and knowledge. The ministry the church members are being trained in is word ministry.

As we read on, we find the following:

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

(Ephesians 4:14-16 NIV)

So the ministry that everyone is involved is word ministry again. It involves speaking the truth lovingly (Ephesians 4:15) and this is to deal with false teaching (Ephesians 4:14).

What might this look like in church? Well perhaps the first thing to say is that we might need a shift in mindset. The pastors and elders are not the only ones doing the ministry. We all are. They’re not even the ones doing all the word ministry. We all are.

With that shift in mind, we want church members making sure they know the gospel and actively looking for the chance to share with unbelievers. We want conversations after the message on Sunday talking about the passage and how it might challenge, encourage, or change us. We want active discussion in Growth Group as we speak the truth in love to each other to build us up. We want phone calls, discussion over lunch or whatever it is might be where we take the word of God and talk to each other about it. The options are infinite, but the responsibility here is for every believer in the church. The growth in unity and maturity of our church is down to each of us and all of us!