Many churches have a sign on the roadside of where they gather displaying key information about who they are. Often it might contain the congregation name, logo, contact information and, in most cases the name of the minister. However, I once heard of a sign outside a church that read: “Minister - All Members.”
I love that! The sign declared that the job of ministry isn’t just for those who stand at the front, get paid or take the lead, but that the responsibility of ministry goes much deeper and far wider than any one leader.
Of course some people in the church are called to lead, but all people are actually called to minister. This was something Paul communicated to the early church. In Ephesians 4:11-12 he writes, “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.”
The purpose of the leaders
At times we can get so bogged down in the theological debate of the first part of these verses, that we miss the purpose and the power in the rest. Paul is saying that whatever part they play or role they do, the purpose of the leaders in the church is to equip God’s people for work of service. That was why Christ gave them to the church!
There is so much good news in just two short verses. Firstly, if you are one of God’s people then you have works of service to do. No individual is exempt. No one’s ministry is extinct.
Secondly, the job of church leaders isn’t to do the entire ministry, and I’m fairly sure my friends who are ordained ministers in PCI will thank me for saying that! Leadership used to be about one person doing the ministry and everyone else supporting, but in the church it should be about everyone ministering and the leaders supporting. Jesus himself gave these leaders to the church to equip the people that He loves so much. This is powerful. The job of the leaders in the church is to equip everyone for ministry.
Thirdly, we need equipped for these works of service, and that equipping comes from the body of Christ. We don’t operate as lone rangers in our ministry, but we are equipped for it by the leaders in the church. We need the encouragement, challenge, support, correction, provision and prayer of those in authority over us.
Lastly, the purpose of our works of service is always to build up the body of Christ. It’s not about bettering our name but benefitting the body. We need the ministry of the body of Christ, and the body of Christ needs our ministry!
Priesthood of all believers
One doctrine at the heart of the Reformed tradition is “the priesthood of all believers.” Simply put, this is a belief that every individual has direct access to God and each Christian shares the responsibility of ministering to the other members of the community of believers. This is an incredible concept that is widely accepted and celebrated within our tradition. However, despite it being part of our common heritage, it’s not always part of our current practice.
If applied properly the priesthood of all believers would see the mobilisation of the entire body of Christ for the full mission of God. Of course, this won’t mean everyone in the church standing at the front to preach - for many that would be their worst nightmare! But rather than everyone ministering through preaching, each of us can minister through the pew. So what might effective ministry of the pew look like?
Ministry of the pew
This might simply mean walking across the aisle to say hello to someone we don’t know very well, or stopping with someone after the service to ask how you could pray for them this week. At other times it will be singing out loudly to encourage a doubting saint beside us, or using our gifts to serve in an area of need. Ministry of the pew could mean encouraging our leaders, upping our giving, or simply smiling more!
Your church might be blessed by brilliant preaching, or inspiring worship, but the real work of the church isn’t what happens on the platform. Instead the real work of the church is the honest conversation in a small group, the laser sharp prayer spoken in a home, the Bible being opened with teenagers, the meal being offered to a family in need, the word of thanks to someone who has served or a ‘how was your week’ to someone sitting nearby.
Welcoming a newcomer isn’t just the job of the welcome team. Praying for others isn’t just for the prayer ministry teams. Caring for one another isn’t just down to the elders. Evangelism isn’t just for the confident ones. The real work of the church is done by those who silently and selflessly serve one another, pointing the others to Christ by how they speak, how they give and how they live.
Our works of service should also transcend the church gathering to radically impact the world around us, where we show love to a colleague, work well for an employer, live well in the neighbourhood and share faith with a friend.
For me this is a full picture of discipleship. Leaders equipping, everyone ministering and the church benefitting. And in what we do to resource discipleship, we want to have this emphasis at the very centre of it all.
We want to help congregations to fully equip their disciples, resourcing everyday believers to share Jesus in any way they can - encouraging, inspiring and challenging all God’s people in their works of service.
This is why we are in the process of developing a brand new discipleship video resource called ESSENTIALS that will be launched later this year - 15 minute films containing:
- 8 sessions of teaching
- Bible study
- discussion questions
This will be ideal for use in small groups, midweek gatherings or short term courses, all aimed at helping every follower of Jesus consider the ‘essential’ aspects of what it means to follow Jesus in every aspect of their lives.
ESSENTIALS is about equipping and resourcing every member of a congregation for their ministry. It’s about helping people to be participants rather than passengers in the kingdom of God. It’s about encouraging everyone to contribute to the body of Christ, and not just consume. It’s about equipping disciples, not just in their gatherings, but also in their scattering.
So let’s go beyond just seeing who is standing at the front to instead imagining what we can all do together. Let’s be ministers of the pew who both benefit the church and impact society.
Rick Hill is the Presbyterian Church in Ireland’s Discipleship Officer.