Partnering Together to Carry Out God’s Gift of Ministry
by Sally Valleskey
So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work (Ephesians 4:11-16).
Today, let’s look further into the gift of ministry as talked about in the previous devotion. Christ himself gave an amazing gift of public-ministry servants to the church. When we know the Giver, his power and identity as Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier who fills the whole universe, we’re led to give in return. We give our praise and honor and respect for the Giver and the gifts.
We noted that God’s gift comes with a plan. The plan continues to unfold in this same section of Scripture: Ephesians 4:11-16. It’s packed with action words to guide us as we apply the truths of the previous devotion.
Equipped to Work Together
“Equip” is an action word first given to those in leadership: today’s pastors, teachers, and staff ministers. They are called to equip others. What equipping goes on in your congregation? It’s important to note that God equips those he calls. The equipping tool provided by Christ himself is his Word and sacraments. We’re tempted to take this for granted. Without the foundation of regular spiritual growth, all other equipping is limited.
Here’s an example. We know that the mission of the church is gospel nurture and outreach. One aspect of nurture is member visitation. A busy pastor needs help making visits to the elderly. Any person could go stop by to say hello and even visit for an hour—talk about family or current events or learn about what life was like 80 years ago. That’s all valuable, but because you’ve been equipped by your pastor to go beyond small talk, you are able to give spiritual encouragement. You can talk about the lesson from last Sunday, how it helped you see your sin and Savior more clearly, and how it might apply to the one you’re talking to. Learn to look at your Bible study and worship opportunities as treasured moments that equip you for God’s service.
When we talk about being equipped by the Word, we jump ahead to verse 15 and see the word “truth.” Holding to the truth is a critical part of reaching Christ’s goal of unity and maturity for the church. We don’t have to think very long to acknowledge that it takes time to learn the truth. God has called faithful pastors and teachers and staff ministers to spend hours and days and years getting to know the truth revealed in God’s Word. It’s a key reason to pause to give thanks to God for equipping those who equip us.
Note that Paul’s letter comes with a warning in regard to the truth (verse 14). It’s the devil producing the wind and waves of deceit. The result is being “tossed back and forth”—a much different result than the unity and harmony of mature believers working together and building each other up. God’s intent is that we not remain infants in the faith but that we take hold of opportunities to grow.
Grow in discernment. Check your itching ears. Does it seem like there should be something better elsewhere—something more appealing, something requiring less time, something of your own design? Go back to the truth of God’s Word! Go back to those who are equipping you to know the truth. Then you’ll not only know the truth, but you’ll also be equipped to encourage others in the truth as well.
Being equipped in the truth of God’s Word moves us in the direction of unity and maturity in faith. We’re better equipped to handle delicate situations that arise. Think about a time of service that involved challenging decisions. Maybe it was a building project or adjustments in regard to the pandemic. Maybe the situation became overwhelming with plans disrupted and strong opinions expressed. What a difference it makes to have as our first thought the oneness we all have—“one hope…one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all…” (Ephesians 4:4).
Being equipped in the truth of God’s Word moves us in the direction of unity and maturity in faith. We’re better equipped to handle delicate situations that arise.
Be the one to dispel discord. Think through how you might respond. “You know, we really don’t agree on this, but because of our oneness in Christ, I know we’ll get through it. Let’s take a moment to pray about it.” Your called workers equip you to do this. Honor and respect them for it. You are one with them and with each other.
Supporting and Encouraging One Another
We continue to unpack action words in this rich section of Scripture. The concept of building up includes giving support and being an encourager. A congregation of members who support each other with encouragement is a congregation that thrives. We may not always realize the impact we have on others through our support and encouragement.
Just one example among many in Scripture is the account of Barnabas and Saul/Paul (Acts 4:36-37, 9:26-28). Because of Saul’s background as one who was “breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples,” the disciples in Jerusalem were afraid of him. It was Barnabas (meaning son of encouragement) who stepped forward to encourage others to accept Saul. Look at the significant results in the life and ministry of the one we know as the apostle Paul. What a huge gift was given to every generation of the church through both Barnabas and Paul. We’re recipients to this very day!
What kind of support and encouragement might you give to those called to be the equippers in your congregation? How can you build them up? Make a list of individuals, and make it part of your family devotions to pray for them. Your children will come to know how much you honor and respect the gift of ministry you’re given. Be intentional in building up your called workers in your conversations with others—with members and with any in your community. What a great way to draw others to know Jesus. When we show love for members of the body of Christ, we show love for Christ himself. Others see and want to know more.
What kind of support and encouragement might you give to those called to be the equippers in your congregation? How can you build them up?
There are so many who need building up in our midst! Those called to public ministry can’t reach them all. As women especially, look around. Look to offer a simple greeting and word of encouragement from Scripture to our confirmands, to those who aren’t of our cultural background, to newer members, to those on the front lines of being a Christian in a non-Christian workplace, to new moms, to the elderly, to those who’ve drifted, to those who are hurting. Ask God to make you sensitive to those in need of encouragement.
In ministry, we have to admit that sin is a reality. We go back to the gift analogy. Oftentimes a gift comes with an insert explaining that if the gift is used incorrectly, parts will be damaged and eventually the whole thing might be useless and discarded. We keep in mind that because of our own sinful nature, because we live in a world of sin, and because we’re all vulnerable to the devil’s schemes, ministry in the church will not always reflect the order established by Christ our head. Things break. Chaos, dissension, confusion, mistrust, jealousy, and discontent are all signs of what can happen when we disregard the true head and follow another. We do well to acknowledge our contribution to this sinful alternative. Through repentance and forgiveness, we’re renewed by the Spirit to be restored to meaningful service.
Tying It All Together With Love
That leads us to one more action word: “love.” As we’re equipped in the truth, we note that love must be a part of it (verse 14). There’s a familiar quote by the Christian writer Warren Wiersbe: “Truth without love is brutality; love without truth is hypocrisy.” Have you experienced one without the other? I think we all have.
How many have been turned away from knowing Jesus (or knowing him better) because of well-meaning but brutal zeal for the truth with no regard for loving the soul? The Pharisees of Jesus’ day come to mind (Matthew 23). Do you want to be right, or do you want to build a relationship of trust to show someone how to love Jesus the way you do? On the other hand, do you want so much to please someone that all you can do is “love” them with no regard for leading them to the truth? The truth is often painful, but couched in God’s love it leads to maturity and the fullness of Christ, and finally to eternal life.
The truth is often painful, but couched in God’s love it leads to maturity and the fullness of Christ, and finally to eternal life.
Christ’s gift of ministry comes with the plan for equipping all God’s people for the work of ministry. It calls for honor and respect, and it calls for action. When God’s plan is carried out as he intends, the outcome is maturity in faith and unity of mission and purpose.
For Further Reflection
- What kind of equipping is going on in your congregation? In what areas do you personally see a need for specific training? Check with your congregational leadership to explore resources (programs, training tutorials, podcasts, etc.).
- Think of a time when you were on the receiving end of someone’s encouragement. What did you learn? What are practical ways you’re able to build up those called to public ministry in your congregation, synodical school, or world mission setting? Be specific; set a time to pray and act.
- Truth and love go hand in hand. From the section of Ephesians we have before us in this devotion, tell how it’s loving to reveal the truth of Scripture. Give specific examples. What cautions does love bring when we are proclaiming the truth?
May God’s Holy Spirit continue to work in each of us as “the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (Ephesians 4:16).