Equipped for Mission
"I remember seeing, at a circus, a man spinning, plates on eight sticks. He would just get all eight going and have to run back to keep Number One moving, and so on up the line. This seems to me an apt illustration of the role of the pastor, who has figured out the plates he wants to spin and looks through the congregation to find the right sticks. He gets it all going and discovers that the sticks Don’t keep the plates moving, so he is stuck with running up and down from plate to plate operating programs which the sticks are not motivated to spin."1
A comparison of the New Testament churches with the practices of churches today makes us wonder if the following scenario might not have taken place.
Satan calls a summit meeting of the rulers of darkness, the rulers of wickedness, the principalities, the powers, and the demons sometime in the second half of the first century A.D.
"I have called this extraordinary plenary session of representatives from every sector of the Evil Kingdom because we need a new strategy. Since the Pentecost sensation, we have had a standoff or worse with the followers of the Nazarene. Our strategy of intimidation, persecution, temptation, and murder has not stopped the church."
"We have Paul, that over-zealous missionary, in jail," said the Spirit Prince of Rome, "so we have their leadership under wraps."
‘‘Remember Philippi!" warned the Spirit Prince of Macedonia.
"Neither Paul nor the other leaders are our main problem," said Satan. "We have killed several of the apostles, but we can’t stop the ordinary people."
"That’s right," added the potentate of Palestine. "They talk about Jesus spontaneously, whether they have a leader or not. When we scatter them by persecution, it is like trying to stamp out a grass fire. In no time new leaders spring up."
"They don’t need a place to meet either," added a demon from Asia Minor. "When we have them kicked out of synagogues or public meeting places, they just worship in their homes. When we have services banned, they go to the catacombs."
"Why should they be such a problem?" asked an evil spirit. "They are unlearned and ignorant."
"They may not be educated, "said Legion, "but they are not unlearned in spiritual things. They can cast you out of someone in a moment. Their leaders equip and train them to face anything."
"Then how do we stop them?" asked Satan. "If we can’t stop them by force, we must be shrewder."
All the evil spirit beings sat in silent despair. Suddenly Satan stood to his feet. "I have it!" he exclaimed. "We will make Christians think that only leaders can witness!"
"Hey, that’s a great idea!" shouted the Spirit Prince of Greece. "We can tell them that leaders are different and no one else is equipped or ordained to do their jobs."
"And we can tell the leaders that they can have the authority in the church," said the Spirit Prince of Persia, "and they’ll gladly fall for that!"
"Right!" said a spiritual potentate. "We can even tell them that the offices of the apostle, the prophet, the evangelist, and the teacher are all combined in the office of pastor. Then the pastor will have so much work to do that the church will hardly grow."
"That way," added the Spirit Prince of Persia, warming to the discussion, "he won’t have time to pray or to study the Word."
"More important than that, " Satan said, "he won’t have time to equip the saints. Especially if we can keep him busy trying to do all the church’s ministries."
"Then we can get the ordinary Christians to gripe at him because things aren’t going well," added a demon, gleefully.
"We could even get them to say that the pastor gets paid to do the spiritual work, " said the Spirit Prince of Egypt, ‘‘and the Christians will forget that they are priests, too. We can tell them they have nothing more to do than to support the pastor."
"Right," interjected a potentate, "and we could give the pastor designations to make him different. For instance, we could say he is ‘full-time’ so the members will think their ministry is ‘part-time.’"
"We could say he is the servant of God so members would think they aren’t. We could even say he has surrendered for special service so that they think their service isn’t important."
"Then, if we could make him think he has special status through special spiritual gifts, ordination, or education," chipped in a lesser power, "we could wipe out the service of the people of God. They will think they are amateurs."
"We could even make them think that missionaries who go to other races are holier than anyone else. Then no ordinary Christian would ever dream he is to be a missionary," said the Spirit Prince of China.
Satan said: "Most honored potentates, principalities, powers, and demons, we have devised a most propitious strategy. It will take time to accomplish it, but it will work. We will revise our strategy and make Christianity respectable. That will dull the cutting edge and blur its distinctiveness to the world. We will convince men again, as we have in the past, that worship is to be done in a certain place and at a specific time. We will make them passive spectators of their hardworking leaders. Our kingdom will not be in danger if we can keep the church members passive and have to fight only overburdened leaders."
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Whether Satan deceived man or man followed his own fallen nature is not clear. But the contrast between church practices in the first century and church practices in the twentieth century is revealing. From the preceding dialogue, list three differences in practices.
History documents the taming of the church whether this scenario happened or not. A growing hierarchical system separated the clergy from the laity. The church began to assume that spiritual gifts were given only to the clergy and that where the bishop was there was the church. By A.D. 312 Christianity had become the official religion of Rome. Constantine made it popular to be a Christian. Men who wanted to live pure lives became monks. The monastery was considered the place for a pure Christian life, while the masses had to live in the world and become a part of it. Christianity entered the Dark Ages for a thousand years. Although the faithful rejected these trends and followed the Bible, they were too few to stem the tide.
Luther attempted to reinstate New Testament principles but fell short. He championed the priesthood of the believers regarding individual access to God but failed to carry the doctrine to its logical conclusion. Snyder says:
The presbyterian and congregational systems arising from the Reformation brought some practical improvements, but both systems rested on many an untested Roman Catholic assumption about the essential nature of the church. This is evident particularly in the doctrine of spiritual gifts and the general concept of ministry, where the Roman Catholic clergy-laity dichotomy was largely carried over.2
Baptists and other groups were called radicals during the Reformation because, among other things, they practiced the freedom and the responsibility of each believer to minister. However, as the centuries have passed, their practices often have belied their theology.
Howard E. Butt, Jr., a noted lay leader, spoke at a breakfast I attended just before our family went to Indonesia as missionaries. He said: "In practice, Baptists have developed a pyramid-shaped hierarchy, with the laymen on the bottom. They are to support the church leaders by attending services, helping do the church work, and giving. On the next level are the music directors. Above them are the educational directors. Near the top are the pastors. On the very top of the pyramid is the missionary. . . to Indonesia."
After he finished speaking, I told him, "I am a new missionary on my way to Indonesia!" He laughed. We both agreed that God has no such hierarchy.
WHO ARE THE SOLDIERS?
Thus far in this book we have examined the spiritual warfare between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of evil. The time has come to ask: Who are the soldiers? What is the job of the generals? Are the pastors, the teachers, the evangelists, the preachers, and the missionaries to fight the battle on the frontlines while the laymen just send more ammunition and pray for them? Have we slipped so far from the priesthood of the believers that only the ordained are qualified to fight? Have we elevated the ministry so high that only those with certain educational qualifications need apply? Have the laymen gladly accepted subordinate roles so that they will not be required to live up to the New Testament teaching about ministry? Is it easier to hire someone to fight for us?
The battle rages; and although the number of Christian soldiers increases, their ratio to nonbelievers decreases. The field is the world, and the people of God live in that world every day. More than three billion people in the world today do not follow Christ. The New Testament reveals both the message and the methods to accomplish God’s plan for getting the gospel to every person. This chapter addresses the first half of the problem-the role of God-appointed leadership. The next chapter will explore the corollary truth of the ministry of all the people of God. The people of God will never be able to perform their ministries until they are equipped.
GOD APPOINTS LEADERS TO EQUIP HIS PEOPLE FOR MISSION
Ephesians 4:1-16 describes both God’s purpose for his church and the means to accomplish it. In addition to teaching that every member has a calling and a spiritual gift, the passage says that Christ endowed the church with certain persons whose duty it is to equip the saints. "These were his gifts: some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip God’s people for work in his service, to the building up of the body of Christ" (Eph. 4:11-12, NEB).
The Greek word translated equip or perfect in verse 12, means to mend. It can mean to mend a net, to set a broken bone, to put a person in a right place or condition, or to restore a fallen church member. It also can mean to educate, to train, to guide, or to enable a person fully to do a task. The equipper’s task is to perfect the saints so that they can do the work of the ministry and build up the body of Christ.
Translators of the King James Version incorrectly inserted a comma after the first clause in verse 12, making all three clauses seem to be the work of the equippers. (The original manuscripts had no punctuation.) But in the Greek a different word for for meaning in order that clearly shows that it is the saints who are to do the work of the ministry.
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Read Ephesians 4:12. Note how it reads in the following translations. Then paraphrase the verse.1. "With a view to the fitting of the saints for the work of ministering . . ." (The Emphasized New Testament).32. "In order fully to equip His people for the work of serving . . (Weymouth).43. "For the immediate equipment of God’s people for the work of service..." (Williams).5
4. "In order to get His holy people ready to serve as workers . . ." (Beck).6
The primary purpose of the equippers is to enable the saints to minister. Each equipper functions in the area of ministry that God has appointed to him (apostle, prophet, evangelist, or pastor-teacher). However, his ultimate goal of building up the church depends on his equipping the saints to minister in that particular area.
What are they to equip the saints to do? First, to walk worthy of their calling (Eph. 4:1). The word vocation in this verse is a translation of the word calling. The equippers implement God’s call to the saints by helping them live worthy lives of humility, meekness, long-suffering, forbearance, and unity (Eph. 1:18; 4:1-6).
Second, they equip the saints for ministry. They help them understand their gifts (Eph. 4:7) and prepare them for service and witness.
Third, they equip the saints to build up the body of Christ. The word translated build up means to construct a building. A building should be built with quality materials and should be large enough to accommodate the purposes of the owner. The saints, as well as the equippers, build up both the size and the quality of the body of Christ.
Each equipper has a ministry to perform and to model while he is equipping the saints. Look at each ministry.
The word apostle means one who is sent and is used for others in addition to the original twelve. Today he is the missionary to new areas. Paul gave us the best example of the apostolic function. An apostle goes to virgin territory, reaches people for Christ, plants churches, helps them grow, and then moves on. The apostle equips the church for its missionary function by his example, his reporting, his exhortation, and his training of others for missionary service.
The prophet proclaims God’s word and concern about nations, churches, and individuals. He primarily speaks to God’s people to call them back to God’s mission. He exposes sin and in justice and pronounces God’s judgment on those who refuse to follow God’s ways. He builds up the church by edifying, by exhorting, and by comforting its members (1 Cor. 14:3). Even when Christians refuse to allow themselves to be equipped, the prophet does, in fact, equip the church with a holy value system, a sense of justice, and an urgency for the coming kingdom. He reveals God’s work in this present age. His primary function is "forthtelling," although prophets sometimes "foretell" future events. The prophet proclaims the truth and exhorts the people of God to repent and to return to biblical norms.
The evangelist proclaims the good news to the lost, both to masses and to individuals. He has a special ability to help people make decisions for Christ. His ministry keeps him on the cutting edge between the church and the world. He goes to the world to tell the good news; he relates to the church to bring the newly converted to the body of Christ and to equip all God’s children to witness.
The apostle, the prophet, and the evangelist often move throughout the churches. Like cells in the bloodstream, they bring life and cleansing to the body. They model and sharpen the ministries of local members of the body who have these same functions.
The Greek construction of Ephesians 4:11 links the pastor and teacher in a single ministry. The pastor-teacher ministers primarily in a local congregation and needs to stay long enough to teach and to train God’s children. He nurtures the young and the weak in the faith, builds up the church, and equips each member of the body to fulfill his particular ministry. Other passages list the teacher separately, but the emphasis here is that the pastor must be apt to teach. He trains Christians to minister instead of trying to do it all himself.
Apostles and evangelists primarily emphasize building up the church by adding new churches and new converts. Prophets and pastor-teachers usually emphasize building up the quality of the church. The saints build up the church in both ways because they are fitted properly for their dual role in the body and in the world.
RETURN TO THE BIBLICAL PRINCIPLE
Again, we must ask the question, Who are the soldiers? Can you imagine generals attacking the enemy by themselves while the troops only cheer them on and supply the ammunition ? Can you imagine a football coach playing the opposing team in the Super Bowl while the players lead the spectators in cheers? It is just as absurd for us to expect the equippers alone to defeat Satan and the world.
The analogy of the equipper as a coach is misunderstood often because most of us picture the coach on the sidelines urging his team on and sending in the plays. But the coach’s primary job is training his players during the week. He gets on the practice field with them and shows them how to block, tackle, and run. He praises them when they do well and corrects their mistakes. He loves them and the game. The players seek to follow his example and his instructions.
Now compare our modern practice with the biblical teaching. Modern church practice has reduced all the equipping ministers to one-the pastor. A few exceptional pastors may be able to fulfill these roles as a performer, but one pastor cannot adequately equip all members of the body in these four functions. The New Testament teaches a plurality of elders (pastors) in a local church (Acts 4:23; 15:2; 20:17; 1 Thess. 1:5; Jas. 5:14; 1 Pet. 5:1).
We demand that pastors do the jobs of several men. In addition, we require them to perform the ministry of the entire church. Furthermore, we add extra biblical duties that have grown out of our culture. Something must be done; we are killing our pastors.
"But only a few churches could support all the equippers," you say. True, unless you take the biblical model of many bivocational or unpaid equippers. The gospel will never be heard by every person if we must depend only on a specialized, paid ministry to evangelize them. Those we do support must equip the rest to minister. Those we cannot support must minister because they were appointed by Christ, even though they may have to make tents for a living.
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List two practical ways that you think would help us return to a biblical model for the equipping ministries.
We can return to the biblical pattern by upholding the biblical ideal rather than an ecclesiastical one inherited from other churches. We can affirm that not all equippers must be supported financially by a local church but may receive their support from a number of churches or from other jobs.
A pastor can recognize which of the equipping ministries he has been given by Christ and major on it. Then he can enlist those from the congregation (or from outside it) to perform the missionary, the evangelistic, the pastoral, or the prophetic equipping ministries he has not been appointed to do. We can insist that equippers make equipping the saints their first priority.
On a wider plane, we can recognize and can utilize the equipping ministry of associational missionaries who may perform one or more of the equipping functions. Our churches can use the equipping ministries of evangelists, teachers, prophets, and denominational workers whose ministries are to many churches instead of primarily to one local church. We can educate our people in churches, in colleges, and in seminaries about the equipping ministries.
On the international front, we can help missionaries identify their particular equipping functions and concentrate on them. Missionaries should teach nationals the biblical pattern and enable them to be equippers. If churches throughout the world are to reach millions around them, a large number of their pastors must be bivocational. Even in the economically affluent United States, more than nine thousand Baptist pastors also work in secular jobs.
Clearly, we are not downgrading the pastors but lifting them to the ministry to which God has appointed them. As they perform their basic function of equipping, the church will be able to minister and to grow.
Before the church can fulfill its ministry, both sides of the problem must be dealt with. Leaders must concentrate on performing their equipping ministries, and the people of God must accept their role as ministers who need to be equipped.
Five months before Vietnam fell to the Communists, I was asked to lead a missionary prayer retreat at Dalat, Vietnam. God sent a spiritual awakening. Missionaries confessed their sins, righted wrongs with one another, and had their needs met by the Lord. Prayer continued far into the night. One missionary was instantaneously healed as the group prayed for her.
I shared with them the biblical concepts of the equipping ministries, and they responded: "If this is true, then we have gone about our work the wrong way. We should determine whom God has appointed as apostles, as prophets, as evangelists, as pastors, and as teachers and then work together in a team approach."
No one had any indication that the South Vietnamese government would collapse so quickly. Nevertheless, they organized teams to minister according to the gifts and appointments of God. Teams went into new areas with each member concentrating on his specialty. Churches were crowded beyond capacity, and new ones were begun. Evangelists preached, and crowds of people accepted Christ. Teachers taught the basics of the Christian life to these new Christians. Then they equipped local church leaders to lead and to develop these churches. Hundreds came to Christ in those few months.
Little news about these Christians in churches in South Vietnam has been heard since the fall of its government. But word has come that under adverse conditions many still are functioning because they were equipped to do their jobs.
1. John MacArthur, Jr., The Church: the Body of Christ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1973), p. 124. Used by permission.
2. Howard A. Snyder, The Problem of Wine Skins (Downers Grove, III.: InterVarsity Press, 1976), p. 52. Used by permission.
3. From The Emphasized New Testament by Joseph Bryant Rotherham (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications).
4. From Weymouth’s New Testament in Modern Speech by Richard Francis Weymouth, published by special arrangement with James Clarke and Company, Ltd., and reprinted by permission of Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc.
5. From The New Testament, a Translation in the Language of the People by Charles B. Williams. Copyright 1937 and 1966. Moody Press, Moody Bible Institute of Chicago.
6. From The Holy Bible in the Language of Today by William F. Beck. Copyright Mrs. William F. Beck, 1976. Published by A. J. Holman Company. Used by permission of the publisher.
Come, Arnold B. Agents of Reconciliation. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1969.
Discovering Your Spiritual Gifts. Equipping Center module. Nashville: The Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1981.
Edge, Findley B. The Doctrine of the Laity. Nashville: Convention Press, 1985.
Harkness, Georgia. The Church and Its Laity. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1962.
Kraemer, Hendrik. A Theology of the Laity. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1958.
Moore, William J. New Testament Concept of the Ministry. St. Louis: Bethany Press, 1956.
The Priesthood of Believers. Equipping Center module. Nashville: The Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1981.
Weltage, Ralph. The Church Swept Out. Boston: United Church Press, 1967.