Thursday, November 29, 2012

Four ministries vital for spiritual formation

Ephesians 4:11-12, 15, 25 11And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ....15 but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ....25 Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth, each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another.

Quick summary of the book of Ephesians - unveiling the Christian's true identity in Christlikeness: the aim of spiritual formation
In today's blog I want to do a thumbnail sketch of what I see the Apostle Paul outlining in terms of spiritual formation in the local church.  The whole book of Ephesians is all about revealing the identity of Christian as an heir of Christ, chosen by God in love (chapter 1), called by grace through faith, with such faith then expressed by the human will (chapter 2) to know the love of Christ (chapter 3).  With the Christian identity spelled out in Ephesians 1-3, the walking out of such identity is explained in Ephesians 4-6.  Thus believers are to walk worthily (chapter 4), walk in love (chapter 5) and walk in victory (chapter 6).  If any verse could sum up Ephesians, it would be Ephesians 2:10 - "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them."

The four ministries vital for spiritual formation
Once I understand who I am and Whose I am in Christ in Ephesians 1-3, only then can I live out the expectations and commands of Ephesians 4-6.  The spiritual formation outlined in Ephesians 4-6 follows the major commands comprising those chapters:

1. "Walk in a manner worthy of the calling" Ephesians 4:1
2. "Walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind" Ephesians 4:17
3. "Walk in love" as beloved children of God Ephesians 5:1-2
4. "Be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise" Ephesians 5:15
5. "Finally, be strong in the Lord"  Ephesians 6:10

These five major commands comprise in my mind the essence of spiritual formation in Jesus Christ in the local church.  Thankfully God has not left Christians by themselves to achieve this otherwise impossible mission. God has so ordained 4 major ministries to enable the local church to accomplish its goal as the number one community ordained by God to win souls to Jesus and to affect spiritual formation for its members.  Please take note:

1. Pastors - Ephesians 4:11.
Note the underlined word "pastors" in the beginning passage of today's blog entry.  The pastoral office is a distinct office from that of the "teacher".  The pastor's main role is to equip the saints, shepherd the saints, feed the saints, love the saints and lead the saints by God's Word.  A Pastor is vital to spiritual formation, since his ministry aims to exhort the heart, compell the will and nurture the soul of the saint of God. 

2. Teachers - Ephesians 4:12
In the passage above I also underlined "teachers".  Teachers are necessary to help train God's people in the realm of doctrine, application and God-focused thinking.  Often we see the offices of Pastor and Teacher overlap, sometimes being done by the Pastor who has teachings gifts, and by the teacher who can effectively shepherd those taught.  Men and women who teach God's word in the local church are invaluable in the Sunday School ministry, which is the chief strategic way to mobilize, train and disciple Christians to do Great Commission work.  More could be said but we will move onto the next major ministry in Ephesians 4: The Church Body.

3. The Church Body - Ephesians 4:12
In other passages such as 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12 and 1 Peter 4 we see God the Holy Spirit and God the Son gifting every Christian to minister and serve one another and reach out to the world.  Church body ministry is the direct result of consistent preaching and teaching of God's Word.  I don't doubt for a moment that Paul had this in mind, which is why He places body ministry right after the offices of Pastor and Teacher.  Christians cannot grow and spiritually transform without being regularly connected to the body of Christ - the local church. (Hebrews 3:12-13; 10:24-25)

4. The Counseling Ministry - Ephesians 4:15,25
What a fine definition of counseling in Ephesians 4:15 and 4:25 - "speaking the truth in love".  In Ephesians 4:15 and 25 we find such a ministry being described.  Counseling is like preaching except rather than speaking to many it is one on one.  Counseling is also like teaching except rather than just aiming primarily at the mind and then the heart, it tries to connect on equal footings the mind and the heart.  Counseling is a major ministry of body ministry, since the work of ministry entails fatigue, need of wisdom, need of encouragement and conflict resolution.  Counseling ministry ideally would include the main efforts of the Pastor, as well as mature believers whom are walking with the Lord, regularly in the word and prayer.  Any Christian who desires to counsel must be submitted to the first three vital ministries if their counseling ministry is to flourish. 

As you can see, every Christian has a place of ministry: whether we are talking about Pastors, Teachers, Church members excercising their spiritual gifts or those who perform counseling.  The aim is spiritual formation in Christlikeness. 

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