If it is the case, as Ephesians 4:11 teaches, that the leadership of the church is “to equip the saints for the work of ministry,” what should that look like? In order to answer this question (“how do we prepare Christians to do ministry”), we need to first answer a more basic question: what is Christian ministry?
Ministry that is genuinely Christian must have the gospel of Jesus Christ at its center. This means that basic humanitarian service, while always admirable and worth pursuing, does not by itself rise to the level of being Christian ministry. At the risk of being blunt, it should be obvious that the kinds of good works that an atheist, a Christian, and a Muslim could all work together to pursue cannot be thought of as in any way distinctively Christian. So, then, building hospitals and feeding the poor are good things, and we should do them. What we shouldn’t think, however, is that by doing these things that we have done Christian ministry in the fullest sense of the term.
Christian ministry must focus on the work of Christ on our behalf. Remember Paul’s description of the Christian message in 1 Corinthians 15: that Jesus died for our sins, and that he was raised. The work of the ministry must emphasize this point.
But this means that doing the work of ministry requires that we understand why Jesus died for our sins. And if we begin to answer that question, we are immediately doing theology.
If you’ve followed the argument so far, you will now understand that if the pastor and leaders of the church are doing what they are supposed to be doing (equipping Christians to do ministry), a good church will be one in which the people become more and more knowledgeable about the Bible, increasingly able to take what God has said and apply it to the needs and hurts of people around them.
So the leaders of the church need to be patient teachers. Peter gives this instruction to pastors: “not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3). A pastor who is territorial about ministry, who insists that only he or those who have similar stature can do ministry, has utterly missed the point of ministry in the church. The pastor is to be investing himself in doing ministry, yes, but even more so, he is to be investing himself in the people of his church, so that more and more they are ready to do genuinely Christian ministry. This is what a sound church looks like.