Ministry for Mission: Sent like Jesus (4)
And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ… Ephesians 4.11, 12
“Our true completeness and perfection consist in our being united in the one body of Christ. No language more highly commendatory of the ministry of the word could have been employed, than to ascribe to it this effect. What is more excellent than to produce the true and complete perfection of the church? And yet this work, so admirable and divine, is here declared by the apostle to be accomplished by the external ministry of the word.”
- John Calvin, Commentary on Ephesians 4.12
Take care to aim
I had recently been given the gift of a replica Kentucky long rifle, and, while I’d never fired a rifle before, I was very excited about the prospect.
Firing a black powder rifle for the first time is not something one undertakes on his own. So I asked my friend, Charlie Hammett, to show me the ropes, and he was happy to oblige. We drove out to the shooting range in Oak Ridge, and Charlie introduced me to the disciplines and protocols of black powder shooting.
He explained all the parts of the rifle and what each contributed to the whole. Then he showed me how to load a ball – first the powder, then the cotton patch, then the ball, gently tamped with the ram rod; finally, the cocking of the hammer to put in place the cap which would ignite the powder in the barrel.
I was enthralled. The feel, the sounds, the smell of powder, the heft of the gun – all that got my adrenalin pumping. Loading that rifle was a new experience for me, and as I walked through each stage of it, Charlie commended my work and corrected me where needed.
But the wonder of loading that gun was nothing compared to the thrill of firing it. All that smoke! All that noise! All that kick! And above all, the deep satisfaction of seeing a milk carton, 30 yards down the range, leap at the impact of a 50 caliber ball.
I literally couldn’t believe it. The key wasn’t in my marksmanship, but in Charlie’s patient tutoring, especially when it came to actually firing the gun. He showed me how, first, to fix on the target. Make sure I saw what I was aiming for, and saw it clearly and distinctly. Then line up the two sights – one at the end of the barrel and one up close to my eye – so that they resolved together in the target. Then squeeze, not jerk, the trigger, maintaining your focus all the while.
I suppose, left to myself, I might have found satisfaction in merely handling the gun and loading it. I reveled in the feel of the rifle and the mechanics of loading a ball, and the sound and feel of cocking of the hammer.
But the point was to hit the target, and the way to do that was to aim carefully and engage all the resources of the rifle patiently, without ever losing sight of the objective.
Process and results
Many ministers I’ve known over the years have been faithful and diligent in the disciplines and protocols of their calling. They devote themselves to preparing and delivering a well-crafted sermon. They are faithful in counseling members, visiting the sick, and conducting various meetings. Their days are filled with the busyness of ministry. Like me, loading that rifle, turning it this way and that in my hand to admire its beauty and functionality, many pastors find the work of pastoral ministry enormously satisfying.
But the point of pastoral ministry is to obtain the objective of bringing glory to God – of making Him known in the community, celebrating His many excellencies, seeing others respond to His offer of salvation, and spreading the goodness, beauty, truth, and joy of the Lord all about. The goal of pastoral ministry is to see our communities skip with the impact of God’s glory, like Lebanon and Sirion (Ps. 29.6), and like that milk carton at the Oak Ridge shooting range.
And to achieve that, we have to accomplish three important intermediate objects: We have to draw a bead on some particular work of ministry for which the saints must be equipped; we must align that with some specific area of needed growth in the local church, whether for unity or maturity in the Lord; and we must be patient and gentle in “pulling the trigger” on those shepherding efforts which engage the resources and aim of ministry toward the objective of glorifying God in all things.
We must be dutiful in attending to all that goes into the process of pastoral ministry. But we must be even more careful to aim for the results that will see the saints equipped and doing the work for which they have been sent, and that builds the Body of Christ and glorifies God in their daily lives. The more specific we are in the aims we seek, the more effective and efficient we will be in engaging the resources of ministry toward the object of glorifying God.
In Ephesians 4.11-16, Paul explains those three keys to effectiveness in ministry. The work of ministry for which Christ sends believers into their Personal Mission Fields is the sight closest to our eye. We need to understand where the people we serve live and move and have their being, and what knowledge and skills they require to do the work of ministry according to the opportunities that are presented to them each day. In our preaching, teaching, counseling, and administering, we must always have this immediate aim in view, and direct all our preparations toward realizing particular outcomes related to the work God’s people do each day by which they bring glory to Him.
But we must also understand and direct our efforts toward building the congregation in the unity and maturity Paul outlines in vv. 13-16. A growing, healthy church is one in which the works church members do in their Personal Mission Fields contribute to the congregation growing into the Body of Christ, making increase of itself in love. At the same time we aim our preaching and other ministries at the work of the saints in their daily callings, we must also aim to increase the health of the congregation as a whole.
The overall objective, as we have been saying from the beginning of this series, is that the knowledge of the glory of the Lord should be everywhere in evidence in the spheres of influence occupied by church members and the congregation as a whole. Merely doing ministry is not the goal of ministry. Glorifying God is the goal of our work, just as it was with our Lord Jesus; and the way to do this is by equipping the saints for their daily work, and building the local church into a community of truth and love.
Aim well, work well, and be gentle and patient in all things. If we will, God will bring the smoke and fire, and cause our communities to leap with joy at the demonstrations of Jesus, lived and proclaimed, by our members and our churches.
This is a house set up and ordered by Jesus.… He does not do this in a casual manner. It is with the utmost discrimination and discretion: One is assigned to the rank of an apostle, one to the place of a prophet, others to look after the flock of Christ and to work at the divine instruction of others for those saints who are prepared to learn.
- Didymus the Blind, On Zechariah 1.228
T. M. Moore
Personal Mission Field
This is the fifth of several installments of this series on “Ministry for Mission”, in which we will be investigating the believer’s calling to a Personal Mission Field. If you’d like a preview of the topics we’ll be considering, watch this brief video.
Resources for Shepherds
Visit our new website and the Resources for Shepherds page especially prepared to provide shepherds with a variety of resources and opportunities for improving their skills. You can even add your own items by clicking the submission form and posting a resource of your own.
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Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, quotes from Church fathers are from The Ancient Christian Commentary Series (InterVarsity Press).