“It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists and some to be pastors & teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith & in the knowledge of the son of God & become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-13).
Over the last 50 years, people have written thousands of books about the church. Most of these books have been written to cure a deficiency that the writer has seen in the church such as denominationalism, dropping church attendance and rigid institutionalism. Interestingly, however, few of the books have really considered what Paul says is essential for the health and growth of the church. This is why the plan for church reinvigoration that we find in his letter to the Ephesians is so important.
Let’s begin by considering Paul’s aim for the church. Granted that he has a number of aims in mind, what is the ultimate one to which all the other ones lead? Is it just a growth in numbers? Is he saying, for example, that the church in Ephesus must grow by 10% per annum? Or does he have some other goal in mind?
It becomes clear in Paul’s statement of his ministry strategy that he does have an ultimate goal in mind: he wants the church to become ‘mature’, that is, complete or perfect – that’s the force of the word teleios in verse 13 – and this maturity or perfection is expressed in their knowledge and faith in Christ which leads to a life of humble service. So Christ-like character, as it is expressed in works of service, is what Paul is aiming at in his ministry in the church.
Paul’s aims at this point are quite different to those of some modern church leaders. For instance, he is not interested in trying to organise house churches into a single denominational structure; that was not his primary aim. Nor was he interested in simply filling buildings with people. He certainly wanted the church to grow, but the real growth that he wanted to see was growth in character and Christ-likeness. This explains why Paul was so focused on teaching the Scriptures. He wanted people to be transformed by hearing and receiving the word of God. This explains his instruction to Timothy, who was working in Ephesus, “until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching” (1 Timothy 4:13).
Now it’s important that we understand that Paul was completely focused on aiming at ‘maturity’ through his ministry of the word. Today, the task of church leaders is constantly changing to reflect the latest fads in the church. Bruce Shelley, an American church historian, has pointed out that over the last 100 years, the concept of a church leader has undergone an interesting transformation, from pastor-theologian, to social activist, to counsellor, to community leader, to CEO, and finally to celebrity.
Many people today think that a minister has to be a man for all seasons – leader, promoter, program director, preacher-teacher, worship leader – the list goes on. However, Paul reminds us that the fundamental responsibility of a pastor-teacher is to teach the Scriptures to the congregation so that each member of the church is equipped and prepared to engage in works of service that manifest God’s love and advance the Gospel. A minister’s role is to help us grow in Christ like character so that the way we fulfil our ministry builds up the church and encourages other people.