These last several weeks, we’ve been highlighting the priorities God expects a church to have. While all of these are crucial, the one we’re about to see is quite dear to me personally.
How should we measure the success of a church? Our society tends to place highest value on things that can be counted. Applied to church life, then, the health of a church tends to be evaluated by the number of people attending, the amount of the offerings, the variety of programs and ministries, and other such things. Paul offers us a different standard of measurement. Two passages are key for us here.
The first is 2 Timothy 2:1–2: “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” In this passage, we see four generations of leaders trained to serve the church: Paul, Timothy, the “faithful men,” and the “others also.” Paul’s point here is that the leaders of the church are to keep training new leaders.
The second key passage is from Ephesians 4. Having laid a theological foundation for the church in the first three chapters of this important book, Paul turns to explaining the practical application of these truths. He begins by listing the things that all believers have in common: there is one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father. Having listed the things that unite Christians, Paul shifts his attention to the things that make us different from one another: various giftings for service in the church.
Believers have different gifts, and these gifts exist in order to serve the church. Paul highlights five kinds of gifted people in Ephesians 4:11: “the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers.” Now, for what purpose did Jesus give these gifted leaders to his church? Paul answers this directly: “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God.”
This is extremely important. The leaders of the church, given to her by her Lord, are not there to be the ones doing all the ministry. Rather, Paul tells us, the leaders of the church are to be equipping the people of the church to do the work of the ministry. That is to say, a church is not functioning properly if the clergy or the ordained leadership are looked upon as solely responsible for doing the work of the ministry, while the rest of the church is content to be ministered unto.
Thus, a chief measurement of the success of a church is this: are the people of the church becoming more and more prepared to do the work of the ministry? If so, that church is following Paul’s instruction.