By Leke Alder
In Ephesians 4:11-12 (NLT) Paul wrote as follows: “Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ.” In other words the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers are supposed to function as trainers and capacity builders. They are to train the “ordinary members” of the church, who will then be deployed to do the work of the ministry. In God’s scheme the congregation are personnel in training. They are the “ministers”, not the people we ordinarily call “ministers.” Those are trainers and program managers. Their primary function is human resource development. We could in fact define the work of the evangelist as mass recruitment, in which case the apostles are God’s business development executives, the prophets are program directors, and the pastors and teachers are mentors and capacity development executives.
Deployment of the people into ministry doesn’t necessarily mean deployment into classical “pulpit” ministry. What William Wilberforce and the Clapham group have taught us is that there are big roles in society for the Christian. There are responsibilities out there, huge responsibilities. The Clapham group was responsible for the abolition of slave trade and the founding of Freetown in Sierra Leone, for the purpose of “the abolition of the slave trade, the civilization of Africa, and the introduction of the gospel.” Huge vision. These were politicians, businessmen, writers, bankers and clergymen. They were regarded as radical. In 1807, they got the Slave Trade Act passed in Parliament.
What God propounded in Ephesians 4:11-12 is such a brilliantly efficient model: the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers are “to equip God’s people to do his work…” . The few will train the many, who are then deployed into the world. It is most unfortunate but we have inverted God’s order and swapped the ratio. In fact we think the pastors and the clergy are supposed to do the work of the ministry, whereas God’s plan is to give each and every individual a purpose and a calling in life. Our callings bear correlation to our context and circumstances. Purpose is never an orphan. Our backgrounds, experiences, mistakes and trials…these are crucibles of purpose. Trials refine and prepare us for purpose. We are refined in the furnace of affliction. (Isaiah. 48:10) Purpose can also come from the pricking of our conscience, even our conscientiousness. We all have a calling from God. We all have a purpose for our lives. It’s not just the clergy.
The church is an institutional platform for the actualization of mandates. It is not an end in itself, cannot be. Only God is an end in himself. He is the omega. When a local assembly becomes an end in itself it loses focus, goes off on a tangent – ritualism subverts its mission. Such a church risks generational obsolescence. We must necessarily view church as an assemblage of resources, human and material for actualization of mandates from God. What God has in mind is an exponential profusion and diversity of lay ministry. Religious rites are not an end in themselves. We must know why we do what we do – know the essence. We eulogize God for example because he deserves praise like any potentate and king, not because we want to “do praise worship.” To that extent praise worship is political genuflection before the most powerful ruler in the world. It is not a talent show for members of the choir. A sermon is not what we do after worship. It is personnel instruction– a developmental diet. It’s easy to get caught up doing “church”, so easy to forget the purpose of doxologial exercises. Church attendance can easily become “something we do every Sunday.”