By Rev. Dr. J. Patrick Bowman
Exploring the posture, purpose, and results of church ministry must be centered around the One to whom the church belongs: Jesus Christ. It is only as we take a Christ-centered approach that we give heed to Jesus’ declaration in Mark 16:18 that He would build His church and the gates of hell would not prevail against it.
As Jesus came in humility to serve fallen humanity, the posture of church ministry must likewise be that of humble service. Service is rooted in humility and manifests itself in three primary ways. Foremost, there is service directly to God. Paul exhorts us in Romans 12:1 to present ourselves as a living sacrifice to God, which is our reasonable or spiritual service. This is a mandate to all believers, but especially to be exemplified in those in the fivefold ministry; those appointed by Jesus as gifts to the church to share in her temporal teaching, training, and leadership (Eph 4:6-11).
Secondly is service to our fellow believers. The gospel of Christ is a gospel of service. Paul shows us an example of his service to God through service to His church in praying for them.
For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers;
(Rom 1:9 KJV)
Paul directs his son in the faith, Timothy, in his duties as a minister of the church.
Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry (2 Tim. 4:2-5).
But we also note the instruction of Paul to Timothy on how to exercise his authority:
Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart. But foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes. And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will (2 Tim. 2:22-26).
Notice gentleness, patience, and meekness associated with the ministry of the servant of the Lord.
The willingness to serve in prayer, exhortation, teaching, and other forms of service is not only noted in the writings of Paul, but of the other New Testament writers, as well. A thorough reading of the New Testament shows countless examples of the underlying theme of humility and service as it applies to church ministry. This posture is the one that Jesus exemplified and taught to His disciples to model in their own ministries. Jesus made a point of this theme of humility and service and also the rewards of such a posture when speaking to His disciples in Luke 22:24-30:
“And there was also a strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest. And he said unto them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve. For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? is not he that sitteth at meat? but I am among you as he that serveth. Ye are they which have continued with me in my temptations. And I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me; That ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”
Thirdly, this posture of humility and service extends beyond service to God and His church as it reaches out to a hungry, hurting world. The great commission gives us direction from Jesus as to a wider focus of ministry outside the local assembly of believers.
And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen (Matt. 28:18-20).
In Ephesians 4:11-16, the apostle Paul tells us of five ministry gifts that Jesus gave to His church to help fulfill His intentions for her. Within this giving is the purpose of church ministry:
And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.
If humility in service is the posture of church ministry, then the perfecting, or maturing of the saints so they can minister in building each other up is the purpose of church ministry. This equipping, or perfecting speaks in the Greek of fitting a ship for the waters it will sail in, making the saints ready for whatever storms they may find themselves. Perfecting also speaks of the setting of a bone, being put in the proper place in the body, being placed for optimal service. The building up is the outcome of the proper equipping and placement. Peter tells us how this building up looks in 1 Peter, chapter 2:
Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.
Isaiah tells us Jesus is the chief corner stone of this spiritual house, rejected by man but accepted by God:
Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste.
Looking back to 2 Timothy 4 as an example, we see the fitting together sometimes calls for reproving, rebuking, and exhorting with all longsuffering and doctrine. But even the chiseling away of the rough edges to produce a proper fit in the building is to be done in the Spirit in love with the structural integrity of the building in mind. Building with living stones is a more delicate task than building with dead materials and therefore calls for the gentle, patient, and meek posture of humility to accomplish what the Great Architect desires in His purpose.
According to Ephesians 6 the result of church ministry, when a posture of humility and a purpose of edification are employed, is that we grow up into Him in all things, which is the head, even Christ. This is not only the result of church ministry but a signpost of the duration of the fivefold ministry: “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” The goal of the fivefold ministry in reaching the purpose of church ministry should be to work itself out of a job. That can only be done with humility and edification in mind, as Peter gives instruction to elders in his first epistle.
The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away. Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time (1 Peter 5:1-6).
So, we have seen that humble service, edification, and true spiritual growth in the body is the culmination of a proper manifestation of the posture, purpose, and result of church ministry. The effectual outworking of church ministry will bring much clearer focus to the other side of this ministry question, the effectual outworking of the ministry of the church.