Part 11 of series: Choosing a Church: Some Recommendations
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You might expect the Senior Director of Laity Lodge to say something like this. After all, I’m part of an organization committed to the ministry of the laity, the non-ordained people of God, if you will. But the idea that every Christian is called into the ministry of Christ didn’t originate with Howard Butt, Jr., the founder of Laity Lodge. Rather, it flows from the pages of Scripture.
You can find the ministry of all of God’s people throughout the New Testament. It’s found in Acts 2, when the Holy Spirit is poured out upon the earliest believers in Jesus, an action that Peter interprets in light of the prophecy of Joel in the Old Testament:
“In the last days,” God says,
“I will pour out my Spirit upon all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy.
Your young men will see visions,
and your old men will dream dreams.
In those days I will pour out my Spirit
even on my servants—men and women alike—
and they will prophesy.” (Acts 2:17-18 // Joel 2:28-29)
If the Spirit will now be poured out on all people, then all people will be empowered for ministry.
The ministry of all of God’s people is found often in the letters of Paul. In 1 Corinthians 12-14, for example, Paul explains that the Holy Spirit empowers every Christian with special gifts, which are to be used for building up the church. We find no hint in this passage of professional clergy who do ministry and non-professional laity who receive it. Rather, all believers are to be actively involved in the ministry of Christ.
Paul’s letter to the Ephesians contains one of the clearest and most compelling biblical descriptions of the ministry of all of God’s people:
Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love. (Eph 4:11-16)
Notice that all of God’s people are “to do his work and build up the church” (v. 12). More literally, this sentence says that the saints (hagioi in Greek, meaning all believers, not just special ones) are to be equipped “for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” Ministry is what all Christians do, and all are necessary for the church to be what God intends it to be. This is especially clear in verse 16, which underscores the necessary participation of each member in the body.
So if every Christian is called into ministry, what do those we sometimes call “ministers” do? What is the role of pastors, priests, and preachers? Verse 11-12 show that these people have the responsibility of equipping the people of God for their ministry. The clergy are not to do all the ministry themselves. Rather, their particular ministry involves preparing the people in the church for their own ministry in the church and the world.
Given what Scripture teaches about ministry, it follows that you should look for a church that believes this and does it. So, Recommendation #8 reads: Choose a church where you will be equipped and encouraged to live out your life as a minister of Christ. I realize, of course, that I’m swimming upstream here. Ordinarily, people look for churches that provide the ministries they value. They want “ministers” who do “ministry” well, preaching, praying, caring for the people, etc. And churches generally play into this vision of church as well, enticing potential new members with lists of need-meeting ministries and one or more professional ministers. I don’t think it’s wrong for churches to have need-meeting ministries or professional ministers. But at the top of the list of ministries offered by churches should be equipping ordinary Christians for their ministries. And at the top of the job description of every pastor it should read: Equip members for ministry.
You might expect that megachurches are especially vulnerable to falling into the “we provide great ministries and ministers” trap. But, in my experience, megachurches often do a fine job teaching their members that they are to be ministries and then equipping them for ministry. This is one reason why churches become megachurches, actually. It’s often the smaller, more traditional churches that feature a traditional “pastor as minister and members as ministry receivers” model. This is one reason why such churches are not growing, and may well be struggling to stay alive. However, there are megachurches that are almost entirely based on the charisma and celebrity of the preacher, and there are smaller, traditional churches that are committed to equipping members for ministry. So don’t let the size or style of the church get in the way of an honest evaluation of the church’s commitment to the ministry of God’s people. (Photo: Saddleback Church in Orange County, California, where Rick Warren is pastor. This megachurch, with over 15,000 members, does an excellent job equipping and encouraging people for their ministries in the church and in the world.)
How can you know if a church will equip and encourage you to live out your life as a minister of Christ? First, look for evidence of a biblical understanding of church and ministry on church websites and in other printed material. Do they talk about equipping people for ministry? Do they feature the ministries of God’s people?
Second, listen to what you hear in worship services. Churches that value the ministry of God’s people will feature the ministry of God’s people in their corporate gatherings through lay witnesses, lay worship leaders, etc.
Third, see if the church you’re interested in offers any classes for training people in ministry. Some churches have intentional programs that train folks to find and do their ministries.
Fourth, ask questions of church members, such as: Does this church encourage you to live as a minister of Christ in your daily life? If people can answer this question positively, chances are that you’ve found a church that truly values the ministry of God’s people.