“His purpose was to equip God’s people for the work of serving and building up the body of Christ until we all reach the unity of faith and knowledge of God’s Son.
God’s goal is for us to become mature adults – to be fully grown,
measured by the standard of the fullness of Christ.”
Ephesians 4:12, 13. (Common English Bible)
One crisis facing the church today is the crisis of pastoral identity. Congregations frequently have unrealistic expectations of their pastors. When the pastor attempts to meet each expectation, exhaustion and discouragement frequently follows. Yet, the greatest harm to pastors is often self-inflicted. Many pastors – wrestling with pastoral identity – attempt to make themselves essential to every project, activity and committee of the church. The difficulty is not only the inevitable exhaustion of the pastor but the church is harmed as well. The church can never do more than the pastor can stretch herself or himself to do. Christ’s goal, so eloquently stated here in Ephesians, is that pastors would prepare others for ministry by equipping every person to do his or her part. Perhaps the most important work of the pastor is to become nonessential for the work of the church.
Naturally, this will require the careful management of congregational expectations of the pastor. As a pastor seeks to entrust leadership of the church to wise volunteers and restrict their own personal involvement, some church members will claim that the pastor simply doesn’t care. This arises not only from a poor grasp of scripture and bad theology; it flows from a cultural expectation that the pastor be seen and active in every aspect of the church. This is reflective of our North American way of life – particularly the culture of affluent communities in the United States. Simply, the culture I speak of is one of “being served rather than serving.” Many affluent homes today have lawn service, house cleaning services, professional nannies to care for children and even dog-walking services. If there is something to be done or a responsibility to be carried out, someone is paid to do it. That culture has seeped into the life of the church. Increasingly I hear of churches that have had to “hire” Sunday school teachers for the children of the church. Rather that modeling the ministry of Jesus Christ “in service” to the surrounding culture the church has conformed to the patterns of this world.
Greg Ogden, a friend and leading voice in the renewal of the church has written that nothing less than a new reformation must take place in the church. The old reformation – what is popularly called the Protestant Reformation – was one that gave the Bible back to the people of God. The church prior to that reformation did not encourage personal reading of the Bible. The Bible was largely accessible only through it’s reading by the clergy on Sunday morning. The new reformation that Ogden speaks of is giving the ministry of the church back to the people. It is reclaiming this passage from Ephesians and multiple others readings from the Bible that clearly assert that the ministry of the people must be by the people, not just paid church professionals.
The practical value of shared ministry is that more can be accomplished by the many than by a few church professionals. The impact of the church upon the local community is increased and more lives are touched by Christ and the redemptive good news of the Gospel. But God’s call to each church member to ministry has a deeper, richer goal than accomplishing more ministries. Here in Ephesians we discover that God’s blueprint for our own growth in spiritual maturity is participating in the work of the church. The pastor that does everything may appear to be high-minded. But the trouble is that it denies followers of Jesus Christ the growth that God desires.