Today’s text fascinates as much for what it says as for what it doesn’t say. Were we to look across the spectrum at today’s growing churches we might think the text says something more like the following:
The gifts he gave were that some would be senior ministers, some lead pastors, some associate pastors, some youth ministers, some recreational activities directors, some children’s pastors, some worship leaders and some choir directors, to run the church, keep people coming back, learning the newest worship songs, moving on toward tithing, going on occasional mission trips, learning as much about the Bible as possible, and participating in as many varied church activities, committees and building campaigns as their schedules will permit.
I know. I know. That’s not generous and I repent of my cynicism and apologize for any offense to my many friends who are faithfully serving local churches in these ways. My point, and most of these friends would agree, is we are missing the point of Ephesians 4.
11 The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,
My friend, Alan Hirsch and many of his friends, have worked so diligently over the past twenty years or so to expose the richness of the wisdom of Ephesians 4:1-16 and to see it actualized across the global church. Their work is of profound importance and has enormous theological substance and practical outworking. They approach this text as the genetic code of the Body of Christ. Learn more here.
The point is that Jesus Christ, the Lord of the Church, through the person of the Holy Spirit, is now and until his return, gifting the Church all over the world with this fivefold ministry of Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Shepherds and Teachers. The truth is we cannot rise up into the fullness of the Body of Christ without them. Why do I say this? Look at v.12.
12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,
Everyone who claims the name of Jesus Christ is called to this ministry of building up the body of Christ. Many of you reading are now serving in these five dimensions of equipping leadership. Some of you are entrusted with these gifts in unique capacities as leaders in the Church. Because the church has not understood and appropriated this text over the past hundred years or more we find ourselves with an overabundance of Shepherds and Teachers and something of a dearth of Apostles, Prophets and Evangelists.
In fact, our friend (and my boss), Dr. Timothy C. Tennent, who writes for the Daily Text every Sunday, raises this concern as one of the most adaptive challenges facing seminaries today. They are engineered to train more and more shepherds and teachers and far less attuned to these other gifts. It’s another one of the reasons I am thankful for him and his leadership at Asbury Theological Seminary, whose generous boldness has seen fit to launch Seedbed and it’s mission to sow for a great awakening as a gift to the Church.
Scratch that thought. The Lord is indeed gifting us with these gifts and always has been. We have been asleep to their presence, or worse averse to their offerings. They get exiled to places like the “Evangelism Committee” where they bang their head against the wall for years, while the fire within them slowly burns down to embers.
Good news! The Holy Spirit loves embers!
But let’s remember the point. It comes in v.13 and following.
13 until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.
This is about growing up into the fullness of God. Remember this from the prayer in Ephesians 3? Remember our earlier conversation about the second half of the Gospel? The puzzle is coming together. Are you seeing how the pieces fit? We need these gifts in order for the Body of Christ to be built up in order for the the love of God to be manifest through the people of God that the world may come to know Jesus.
Abba Father, we thank you for your son, Jesus, who is not only himself the Church’s greatest gift, but who gifts the Church with every good gift that it might by His Spirit build itself up. Give me an openness to the way you would gift me for ministry. We pray in Jesus name, amen.
1. How do you compare and contrast the present day church organization as we know it with today’s text?
2. Do you gravitate toward one of the fivefold gifts? What shape does that take in you?
3. How do you see your own maturity and fullness impacted by the presence or absence of these gifts at work in your own church history?
This article was originally published on the Seedbed blog. Reposted with the kind permission of the author, J.D. Walt.