EQUIPPING THE SAINTS FOR MINISTRY

What are churches like in the 1990s, moving into the next millenium? How have we positioned ourselves with respect to equipping the saints for ministry? How close have we followed, or how far have we strayed, from the New Testament model? Are the five-fold ministries evident in the church? The following are some general observations (and I would stress, a generalization), and some suggestions.


Current Practices

In the 1990s, churches generally have three types of programs within the church organization for training members, dealing with three stages of the Christian life. The first is the baptism and membership class, in which all baptism and confirmation candidates and those wishing to transfer membership to the church are required to attend. The topics covered deal with basic foundations for faith, living the Christian life, and the direction and vision of the church. The second program is to train members for an evangelistic lifestyle and to equip them for witnessing and sharing the Gospels. These may be in the form of local texts, or material from organizations such as Campus Crusade for Christ or Evangelism Explosion. Finally, Christian ministry topics and Biblical knowledge are covered through leadership training programs such as the Diocesan Lay Training program, or bible college modules.

General pastoral ministry and policy is implemented through the home cell ministry. The cell leader is expected to care for and feed the members under his charge. All cell groups are usually expected to use the same study material arranged by the pastor and is strictly adhered to to ensure uniformity. Once or twice a month the cell leaders meet with the full-time pastor for updating and information on the latest church policy and movement.

Congregational-level ministry during Sunday services are covered by the cell leaders who are expected to handle all situations, including baptism of the Holy Spirit, deliverance, healing, etc. Church-level pastoral and teaching ministries are usually the purview of full-time staff.


Observations

Given the current structures, the five-fold ministry as described in Eph 4:11-12 is not apparent and would be difficult to fit in, and there is no provision for non-full-time lay people to move into specialized ministries, i.e. there are no "situations vacant". While some people justify that the five-fold ministries are currently being exercised, this however is in the very general sense of the terms. It has been claimed that the apostolic ministry may be seen as teams going out for missions; prophetic ministry as prophetic utterances during services; one-to-one, street, etc witnessing as evangelistic ministry; the pastor as pastoral ministry; and cell group teaching as teaching ministry. However, these examples cited are at best the ministries applied in a very broad sense and is not really reflective of Eph 4:11-12, which says that the five-fold ministries (also known as the ascension gift ministries) are people whom God has given to the church.

The five-fold ministry gifts are given to equip Christians for their ministry to God, and not necessarily the ministries which the local church may want them to do. In a sense, the five-fold ministries are people-oriented rather than objective-oriented. Their task is to nurture Christians, rather than meet the requirements of the church. This is a fine line between what the church may want, and what God wants the church to have. Hence the five-fold ministries are to equip and prepare the saints for works of service which are to be determined by God, rather than works of service as determined by the local church. We should train people for what God wants them to be, not what we want them to be.

Furthermore, as has been observed, not all who are in or going to be in full-time service are five-fold ministry gifts, and one should not place people into these roles if the calling is not there. Human nature is such that we all want to be in control and authority, and what better place than the five-fold ministries. I think that what is required is simply to accept that God has called us each into his own area of service for Him, be it in the forefront or in the background.


Structure

With regard to the relationship between the five-fold ministries and current church organizational structures, it should be noted that the first-century church had no "full-time" staff. Even Paul was a tentmaker. While some may have given their life fully to the Lord, this "full-time" should not be interpreted in the modern context. The church leadership consisted of bishops (episkopoi) or elders (presbuteroi), who may or may not be "full-time". I use the term bishop and elder interchangeably, as the "bishop" is the office of the "presbyter". The five-fold ministries were almost certainly elders, but not all elders were five-fold ministries. In our present context, the Bishop and priests are the equivalent of elders. However, this structure misses out the potential of the non "full-time". Hence I would like to suggest the following relationship between the early church government and our present structures:

Paradigm:
Five-fold ministries + elders  =  Bishop + priests + lay "pastors"




The five-fold ministries in the current context could thus be found from among the bishop, priests, and lay pastors ("lay" in the sense of non-full-time), keeping in mind that not all are called to be five-fold ministries.

This plurality of leadership, especially at the local church level, fosters and encourages team ministry and counterbalances each other, preventing the emergence of one-man autocratic church governments.


Suggestions

It is in this context that I would suggest improvements to the overall ministry of the modern Church.

Firstly, it is important to recognize those who are called to the five-fold ministry, especially from among the lay, and not limit it to or force upon the full-time staff.

Secondly, there has to be the element of trust between the pastor and these people, for if they are really willed by God, there should be nothing prejudicial that could be done by them to the church, in as far as the will of God is concerned; unless of course the church is not moving in line with God's will, in which case the five-fold ministries are the ones which God would raise to correct and guide the church back.

There is a need to realise that some "disagreement" may be inevitable and fully justified in the best interest of the Church as a whole (the "big" picture) instead of rejecting anything outside the personal "vision". of the local church (the "small" picture) as dissent.

Thirdly, to release trained lay people into the teaching and training ministry, instead of restricting it to full-time staff. One of the reasons why some churches have such a high number of members trained is that lay people who were trained through their programs were fed back into the system to train yet more members for the ministry. As such, many more modules and units were possible to be taught per quarter. Restricting the teaching and training ministry to a select few will limit the number of people that can be trained at any one time. Many lay people, when rightly motivated, are actually of higher calibre than some full-time staff and can reach out to others much better.

Fourth, to begin to train people for specialised ministries and create opportunities to allow them to do just that, rather than expecting them to be a general practitioner and handle everything, resulting in the lay leaders being overwhelmed. Specialization allows a "divide-and-conquer" strategy. This also means allowing people to leave ministries they currently are serving in in order to develop their true calling fully, no matter how needed their services may seem (on the human level) at that moment. It is better for one to serve in the ministry to which God has called him, rather than in one in which there is no calling and hence no anointing. Needs do not justify the means. Neither should the church pigeon-hole people into areas and ministries which the senior pastor thinks or feels they should be in, or keep them in that area forever. God may be unchanging, but a Christian's life and ministry is not.

Fifth, for the entire ministry of the church to be people- oriented rather than task-oriented. God did not call us to produce results. He simply called us to do His will, and He will provide the results. If we run the Church basing on the results we are expected to achieve or produce, then something is wrong. It is akin to witnessing. We do the witnessing, God does the saving. We cannot set a quota for people to be saved, because we ourselves cannot save. Salvation ("results") comes only through the grace of God via the Holy Spirit. Management by objectives does not take into consideration the human element. The church is a living organism, not a machine, and it is a fellowship of believers, not IBM. The five-fold ministries are people. They are not tools, or tasks, or some policy. The Great Commission is to be achieved by "people ministering to people to win people", not by "people driven by task to achieve the goal of winning people". If the ministry is people-oriented, there should be no tension between maintenance and mission, but if it is task- oriented, then maintenance itself would be in trouble, and any expansion into mission would be an empty show, because if the head moves without the body, both will eventually die, one for lack of maintenance and one for lack of sustenance.

Sixth, allow people to "go out", let them go and try out their ministries, give them the opportunity, even if it means "making mistakes". If we don't even give people the opportunity to try, we don't have to talk about ministering to the church, much less ministering to the world. We cannot be so "kiasu" and reject any hint of failure to the point of not letting anyone "loose". Peter made mistakes, even to the point of denying Christ, and each time Jesus restored him.

Seventh, we should not equate activity with commitment. While we are accountable to the Body of Christ, as demonstrated by our commitment, there is no such thing in Christianity as "above and beyond the call of duty". Anything done above and beyond the call and will of God is works in the flesh, and sin. Sacrifice is sacrifice only if it is within the will of God. A person committing suicide is sacrificing his life, but it certainly is not God's will, and hence it is sin. Commitment should be to do all that God has called each of us individually and corporately to do, and the perseverance to carry on with it in the face of adversity, nothing more, nothing less. God desires obedience more than sacrifice. As such, church leaders should not impose activity quotas as a measure of commitment, but to look beyond numbers to the individual's life, and the fruit which he has borne. As with the fifth point above, we have become obsessed with results and "body counts". Perhaps this may be a result of the influence of the society in which we live, but then again, we should not allow society to dictate its norms on Christian life. Christianity should change society, not the other way around.


Conclusion

Overall, the modern Church should have a balanced ministry, and not concentrate only in areas which seem "productive". The church should assist the members to discover and come into the ministry to which God has called them, rather than plan the ministry for them; and after that, to equip them for works of service in the areas pertinent to their calling. If every member were equipped and doing precisely what God has called each individually to do, then we won't have to worry about church growth. It will come naturally as a consequence of obedience to God's will. That, then, is the purpose of the five-fold ministries - to equip the saints to do the will of God, each to the abilities of his own calling.





© Nicholas Tay 1992, 1999




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