Last year, at this time, God opened up the door for me to serve as pastor at Grace Baptist Church. One of the questions that was asked at the Q&A time during my candidating visit was “What is your vision for the church?” I answered that my vision is that we would be a mature, unified body of believers, joined and knitted together by God through His Word, and pursuing continued growth in love for the Lord, the Word of God and the people God has given us to serve. This answer comes mainly from Ephesians 4:11-16, which I believe was Paul’s vision for the church,that they will, through the loving use of their gifts, will grow and mature to being complete and whole in Christ.
The big idea of Ephesians 4:7-16 can be seen clearly: the unity of the body. Yet, this unity is not forged by simply trying to get along with each other. Rather, this unity is forged when our faith and theology is strengthened, when our knowledge of God and his love is increased, and when all our members are actively carrying out their God-given roles.
For this mission possible, the text makes clear that God gave to us. We see first that grace was given to each one of us. As we think about the mission of the church, it must always begin with the true understanding of the gospel. This passage is not a call to do something more on our own, but simply to respond to the gift that is given us through Jesus. We have been given grace in that God has taken us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of His Son. We have been given a tremendous gift that drives us forward in the relationships within the church.
The second gift that God gives is a series of Word communicators who are tasked with the responsibility of communicating the message God has for His church. Notice the list that is given in Eph. 4:11:
- Apostles: sent out by Jesus to spread the good news.
- Prophets: spent time with God, discerning the message God wanted them to share (often through a voice or a vision) and then speaking God’s message to the people.
- Evangelists: those who go and share the good news of the gospel.
- Pastors/teachers (this is seen by some as separate and there is an argument that can be made for this in that, not all teachers are pastors, but for our sake we will combine them together): those who have been given the role of being the shepherd of God’s people in a certain location for a certain time all while serving under the Great Shepherd of the sheep.
Note that in all of these “gifts” or roles, the emphasis is on communicating the truth of God’s word and the message of the gospel. Together, the apostles and prophets, in Paul’s view, form the foundation of the church. In our day, the ministry of the Word is continued by the evangelists, pastors, and teachers, with the goal towards reaching and teaching a growing number of disciples.
So, with these two gifts: grace and messengers of God, what is the mission, what is the focus? Paul brings this out clearly in saying that the purpose of these gifts is for the equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry. This is the immediate goal of the pastor: to prepare and equip his people for works of ministry so that all members are participants in the work of the ministry, carrying out their God-given roles. So what does it mean to equip the saints? The word “equip” means “to render fit, complete.” It is used in Matthew 4:21 to refer to the mending of nets. In Galatians 6:1, it is translated as “restore”, referring to the one who is caught in sin. In Hebrews, 11:3, it is used to refer to the “framing” or “creation” of the world. Luke 6:40 uses this word to point out the path of progress to become fully trained. Hebrews 13:20-21, it is the prayer of the pastor that his people would be fully equipped by the great shepherd of the sheep. A composite sketch of these would suggest that equipping the saints involves several things:
- Praying and exhorting towards completion, maturity.
- Helping to mend what is broken.
- Preparing the people to engage their world with the gospel.
- Preparing the people to engage their suffering in light of God’s Word.
- Preparing the people by imitating Christ and asking the people to follow.
- Preparing the people to address conflict in godly, edifying ways, not in gossiping and destructive ways.
- Preparing the people to joyfully interact with visitors and, further, to invite people in their spheres of influence.
- Preparing the people to grow in their walk with God.
Pastors then equip, prepare the saints for the work of the ministry, works like: prayer, evangelism, discipleship, fellowship, visitation, counseling, welcome ministries, children’s ministry, and many other opportunities that come up organically in the life of the church. As each member does its part and does it well, the body is built up and become more prepared to carry out the mission God has for the church, ready to withstand the wind and waves of false doctrine and fiery attacks of the adversary.