Thursday, March 5, 2015

Who Does the Work of Ministry?

"Pastor, that's your job."

The words crushed me. Many years ago I was talking to several believers in my church when I mentioned there was a great need for people in the Body to visit the shut-ins and others in the church who could use some encouragement. By the look on their faces, I could immediately tell something was wrong but had no idea what it was. That's when one of the men spoke up and said "Pastor, that's your job."

The words didn't crush me because I felt attacked. I probably was being accused of not doing my job, but that wasn't why I was crushed. What truly wounded me was I realized, for the first time, that I was looking at a group of believers who had absolutely no idea why they were even saved. They had no clue about the power of the Holy Spirit they had at their disposal, or of the incredible gifts they had been given, or the fact that Christ had called them to the glorious task of taking the message of Christ into a desperate and dark world. They didn't understand the majestic teaching of Christ's Kingdom and the important task they were being asked to perform in the King's service.

That's why I was crushed.

Thankfully the majority of my church didn't think this way, but this group of Christians certainly did. Part of the confusion comes from the various ways Bible versions translate Ephesians 4:11-12. Notice how the King James version renders this: And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” In this translation, notice who is (and who is not) doing ministry. Let me help you visualize this:

And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; 
  • For the perfecting of the saints, 
  • for the work of the ministry, 
  • for the edifying of the body of Christ.”

According to that translation, it is the pastors who do the "work of ministry", not the congregation. No wonder that group of believers insisted it was my job! But most modern versions translate this very differently. For example, the ESV says: "And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ." Most versions say something similar. Notice here who is doing the ministry: it is the saints, not the 'clergy'!

So why are the translations so very different? To understand that we have to go back several hundred years. In the fourth century the Catholic church produced the Latin Vulgate, which was the most popular Bible version of its time. While that translation was good in many ways, their interpretation of this verse reflected a bias that had begun to creep into the church. Overtime, the church began to adopt the practices of the world. Just like political officials were considered more important than the commoners beneath them, church leaders began to view themselves in the same way. They were the ministers, and the job of the laity was to be ministered to. Several hundred years later, the King James Version, commissioned by the King of England, simply followed the interpretation of the Latin Vulgate.

But the original Greek doesn't allow this interpretation, which is why no modern Bible version translates it that way. The job of the apostles, pastors, evangelists, and pastors/teachers wasn't to do the work of ministry, but rather to equip the Body to do this work. Ephesians 4:7 says that "grace was given to each on of us according to the measure of Christ's gift". Everyone in the Body has been gifted, uniquely, to effective serve the Church "until we all attain to the unity of the faith" (Ephesians 4:13). 

This is an incredibly important distinction with major implications for the Church. It would, quite literally, undo hundreds of years of misinterpretation which, as a result, has rendered Christ’s church far less powerful and less effective that what it could have been. Notice the logic of Paul's thought in Ephesians 4:12-14,
  1. Specially gifted individuals equip the Body (v.11)
  2. The Body then does the "work of ministry for building up the Body of Christ" (v.12)
  3. This work continues until all "attain to the unity of the faith" (v.13)
  4. So that we will not be deceived by false doctrine (v.14)
Think about that! Do you realize that God's solution for the spiritual growth of your church and the protection against false teaching isn't your pastor! It's you! This was what was so tragic about the interpretation given in the Latin Vulgate and the KJV. It taught God's people that their job was to sit and be served, not to be the ones serving.

For generations Christians have lived under the false idea that God expects very little from them. They "get saved", go to church, maybe tithe, and try to avoid really obvious sins. In fact, the church even began to speak of being "called into ministry", by which we mean someone becomes a pastor or missionary. Such language, however well intended, is the Devil's lie. All believers are called into ministry1 Peter 2:9 says "but you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light." Also notice Ephesians 2:10, "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand." Those verses were not written just to your pastor, but to all of us. Every single believer.

Do you want to see your church growth spiritually?
Do you want to see people converted?
Do you want the gates of Hell to be defeated?
Do you want to keep your church free of false teachers and heresy?
Do you want to see your fellow believers become stronger in their faith?
Do you want to see love, mercy, truth, and unity flourish in your local church?

Then recognize that you are a minister. Visit shut-ins. Counsel those in need of God's truth. Follow up with visitors. Open your home to other believers in the congregation and encourage them in the Lord. Sure, you can't do everything, but you can do something. Waiting on your pastor to do the work of ministry is not only lazy, it's disturbingly disobedient and condemns your church to being immature and ineffective for Christ.

If your pastor ever talks about the need do to ministry, I hope you say, "Pastor, you're right. That's our job."

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