Who does the ministry?

Two contacts in less than twenty-four hours pressed me to write this post. One the post yesterday by RJS and the other a tweet by Frank Viola. Both of these contacts led my mind back to 1973, near Brussels. I was at a monastery for a week or so with Greater Europe Mission missionaries and other “Eurocorps” college students. It was my first trip to Europe and it was also notable for me because for one week I listened to Ray Stedman, and if I remember aright he did lectures on his famous book, Body Life, as well as on his book Authentic Christianity. That week was a life-changer for me.

The foundational insight of Ray Stedman’s Body Life dealt with the questions “Who does the ministry?” Is “ministry” done by the pastor or is it done by the “laity”? (For the moment we can dispense with the whole clergy/laity discussion because in one way or another Stedman deconstructed the distinction.) I want now to offer how I have absorbed his teaching and to suggest that his vision can again become ours, but it shifts what pastors see themselves doing.

What is the primary model of what a pastor does in your church?

The major problem is this: though Stedman set up a pattern for churches, the powerful example of megachurch pastors re-established the attractiveness of the attractional model. Essentially it was to “come to our church, hear me preach, and learn how to live.” That’s simplistic, but only because it sums up a major approach to “doing church.” Stedman argued that the primary role of the pastor (and the church) was not to preach but to equip, and that ministry is done by the saints — laity — and not just by the pastor. Now to the text he expounded so famously:

Here are the critical words from Ephesians 4:11-13:

11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Four major points:

1. Christ gives gifts; we don’t have them; we don’t conjure them up; Christ, through the Spirit, assigns and distributes and empowers people. Those equippers are apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers (not two but one gift here).

2. The pastor-teacher (and others in that list) are to “equip God’s people for the work of the ministry.” Now let’s get 2011 on this one: the pastor-teacher equips people to become missional. The word “ministry” or “works of service” is diakonia or “ministry.” The pastor-teacher equips ordinary folks to become ministers via service of others. (This is not to say the pastor-teacher doesn’t also do this kind of “ministry.”)

The big point here: pastor-teachers are to see themselves as equippers, as educators who are designed to empower ordinary folks to do ministry in the local community. This equipping orientation differs from a “come hear me preach” orientation. The size of the church doesn’t really matter; what matters is that churches take equipping seriously.

3. The Body of Christ is established and it grows when equipping for missional ministries happens.

4. When the equippers equip, when the saints minister, when the Body of Christ grows, the whole process results in Christ-likeness.

How about you? I think it’s time to hear this all over again.

"Does Hindmarsh agree with him?In any case: I'm surprised that anyone would call evangelicalism "the ..."

Is Evangelicalism A Part Of Modernity?
"I heartily agree that there is more to being a pastor than preaching, and that ..."

“Learned Ministers”
"I am surprised that Hindmarsh calls evangelicalism "the most modern religion in the world". I ..."

Is Evangelicalism A Part Of Modernity?

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • There’s no question that many within evangelical Christianity see pastors as the ones who do “ministry” and then everyone else just lives life. Interesting that you write this post around the same time you are diving into Gabe Lyons’ book “The Next Christians.” This idea of a pastor equipping the saints is something he delves into some as a shift in the upcoming generation. “Ministry” to them isn’t something that a pastor does but that all people do in their various areas of life. It’s time we see a pastor as one way to minister by equipping the other ministers of the Gospel, rather than seeing a pastor as the only minister.

  • I agree that there are two priesthoods in the Bible. Early Lutheran and Reformed traditions saw and practiced this symbiotic relationship. The ministerial priesthood is called to serve, nourish, sustain, and guide the priesthood of all believers. The believer’s priesthood is a call to be Christ in the secular workplaces of the world. Men are not ordained into the priesthood in order to remove the priesthood away from the people, but to encourage, empower, and equip the priestly people of God for their work in the world.

    “Christian ministers are pastors, shepherds of Christ’s flock. This is their only essential distinctiveness. Of course they are themselves also Christ’s sheep. But they are called to be shepherds. The church is a universal priesthood; and also a universal diaconate, for all God’s people are called to diakonia. But the church is not a universal pastorate. All God’s people are priests; all are ministers or servants; but ‘he gave *some* … pastors and teachers’ (Eph. 4:11).” – John Stott

  • Kevin Crooks

    I worked very hard for several years at one church to instill this model, with very little success. The attractional model is deeply ingrained in our culture, despite its non-Biblical and limited results. One may have a large church full of spiritual infants in the attractional model. Moving to an equipping model is exhausting but necessary. However, for the church to grow in the Spirit requires the faith community to learn to minister to each other, care for themselves and be actively engaged in mission at all levels. Allen Roxburgh provides good material on just this.

  • Every-member ministry is something that should be taught clearly. One barrier to fully understanding this principle we need to have a better understanding of what ministry means. How many churchgoers assume ministry is the programs offered through the local church to the church body? On the other hand, maybe those programs are the responsibility of the pastor-teacher so long as they result in the churchgoers getting out into their community in missional ways.

  • John Mc

    I belong to the Disciples of Christ tradition. In our tradition, the ‘priesthood of all believers’ was taught and lived out in part by the adoption of the understanding that the pastor was historically viewed as a “teaching elder”. This understanding was further emphasized by the fact that communion was typically officiated by elders in the congregation other than the pastor.

    Today this pattern may not prevail in many DOC churches, but the historical model is nevertheless a core self-understanding of the DOC.

  • Susan N.

    Well, again, from a layperson’s perspective, I value a pastor who has the ability to preach with conviction, teach with authority (knowledge and wisdom), in such a way that I am inspired and encouraged in my faith (belief and practices). The ability to clearly *communicate* (distinctly different from *dictate*) is so important (to me) in a pastor. I want to trust that he’s a leader whose preaching and teaching and example I can join in following Christ more closely. A charismatic persona doesn’t impress me much, or at least for long. But I’m (relatively) old. A pastor’s preaching/teaching might capture my initial interest, but then relationships with the rest of the church becomes important to grow in faith *with* a particular community. Being a “minister” who is relatable, approachable, and who conveys a deep love for God and people is a model that I need to see. This is my image of Christ, and it is what I hope I am becoming.

    I see my pastor doing everything from preaching/teaching (Sunday sermon, jr. high confirmation class), to greeting congregants, to helping set up and clean up the Wed. night fellowship meal. Commitment to servant-leadership and relationship-building are evident to me in these actions. It’s good. It’s a great example of “withness”.

  • Paul D

    The “equipping” ministry model was dominant when I was in Seminary (1975-78) and has informed my ministry through the years – especially when denominational structures have tended to emphasize the pastor as CEO and other business-driven models.

  • Thanks for the reminder, Scot. We should think “community of disciples” and not “stage show.”

  • J

    Disciples of Jesus are Gods hands and feet to minister to the needs of people. I assume a pastor is a disciple, as is anyone in the church who is a believer and is becoming like Jesus.
    I believe it is the pastors responsibility as she/he has accepted it, to instruct believers to study, understand, and know the heart of God , and to reveal to them the opportunities that are expressions of the Heart of God.
    God has promised to empower believers to minister to anyone that God points them to.
    Therefore I guess I would say ALL believers are called to minister.

  • There is a need for recovering what I see you outlining as the Ephesians 4 understanding of ministry. ‘Missional’ writers like Alan Hirsch and Neil Cole will talk about the 5-fold ministry of the church. Particularly, they see the traditional pastor/shepherd as only one of the five that has been over-emphasized in the evangelical tradition.

    Erwin McManus and Mosaic Church have tried to develop a different approach to leadership and pastoral ministry in the church that gives place for a multiplicity of leaders that share the load and bring different emphases to the table.

    I think that we can recover an appropriate place for pastoral ministry, even in the mega-church, if we recover a right understanding of what one pastor should do versus shared ministry. Actually, I think that mega-churches (which are too often slammed as simply attractional), can provide one of the best environments to work out this multiplicity in ministry as opposed to the “one pastor does it all” mentality of many smaller churches.

  • AJ

    We recently moved and chose to visit a church who communicates it’s objectives as – #1 making disciples and #2 connecting people with God and others. We’ve been there a handful of times. Usually someone sticks their hand out to greet us and smile as we walk in, then to the side there are sticky label nametags for all the regulars. We aren’t regulars so we usually walk on in, trying to see if we can make eye contact with anyone. The first day we checked our kids into the children’s program area we were greeted with, “Oh, you’re new? Fill this out” and a point in the direction of their classrooms. Ushers smile and give us a program if we look their way as we enter the service. We have yet to have anyone introduce themselves or attempt to connect with us. So we settle into our seats and enjoy the worship and great sermons.

    I share this because I think our experience is a common newcomer experience in many well-meaning churches. It’s one thing to have purpose statements, it’s quite another to equip and challenge laity consistently to minister at church. And if they do not see themselves as ministers in their own churches, they will not see themselves or feel comfortable being ministers out in the world. I see potential for this church, but there’s a lot of equipping to do.

  • MD

    i would like to see the conversation relate the shepherd image to the local church organization (building, budget, policy, programs, staff, etc.).

    imo, the “shepherd” role is people-focused – both on individuals and on the community-as-a-whole. if that focus is a reflection of jesus-as-shepherd, individuals and the community will experience “one.life” growth.
    by contrast, when i observe time and again the “shepherd” getting involved in organizational matters, those in the community – under the influence of our culture – cannot get beyond the ceo or club president role, and the shepherd image becomes polluted both for the people of the community and for the “shepherd.”

  • During my six years of ministry at Stanford University, I had the privilege to attend Peninsula Bible Church in Palo Alto. In the providence of God, we heard Ray’s last series…through the book of Revelation. I did not agree with his take on several things, but he was the real deal.

  • John W Frye

    Many of us recall that the turbulent nineteen sixties with the prevailing atmosphere of suspicion of authority influenced the church. Ray Stedman was addressing not only ecclesiology, but a young generation who wanted to participate in making things happen. Some good ecclesiology was generated in those days–Larry Richard’s stuff and Gene Getz’s ideas to name two who emphasized equipping the saints for the work of ministry. But the lamentable glitch was the goal became *the church.* We did not have an emphatic *missional theology.* All the good thought was directed as if the “mission of God” was a functioning church. So I think Scot is onto something here. If we recapture the equipping priority of pastors/teachers/etc and weld it to “the mission of God” to redeem the nations (Rev 7 and 19) we might see a renewal in local church vitality. From Scot’s *One.Life* we see that God’s vision/dream/mission is owned by all of the church, not just the equipping professionals.

  • ceemac

    Of course this approach assumes that the people of a congregation are interested in being equipped to do ministry.

    I think about the experience of my friend in his 1st call out of seminary over 25 yrs ago. He spent 3 years attempting to equip the people for ministry in his preaching, teaching and other actions. He was often in conflict with the congregation.

    Finally it all came to a head in a session (board) meeting. One of the the patriarchs of the church tore into him. Told him he was missing the boat with all his talk about that stuff about discipleship. That was not his job. His job was to preach to the lost and to leave the church members alone except when they were in the hospital or needed marrying or burying. He was to preach to the sinners not to them.

    For those folks Christianity was all about “fire insurance.” They had “bought” their policy and they came to church to see others get a chance to buy their policy.

    Obviously he did not stay there much longer. I haven’t checked but I will imagine that congregation has long since shut it’s doors

  • Fred

    Very few pastors (in my experience) are willing to address the issue of biblical illiteracy. The first study I remember on this was done in 1968, and yet we still use the same old method. We funnel people in, we set them down and we talk at them. Preaching today is simply a form of entertainment. II Timothy 3:16, 17 tells me that bible knowledge is a prerequisite for equipping but apparently it isn’t working well.

    If you raise the issue, you’re told that the church sponsors small groups. The problem there is that the majority of small group leaders have no formal bible training themselves.

    So, I would ask those of you who are pastors this question: how do you really know your people are learning?

    I understand that there are a host of cultural issues involved but still….

  • ceemac


    Most of the Pastors and Church educators I know care deeply about the issue of Biblical (and theological) illiteracy. They are willing to try most anything that is theologically and educationally sound.

    But if folks are happy being illiterate….. See my 1st post #15

  • Susan N.

    I am pondering a line of thought related to the question “who does the ministry” that is focused on spiritual gifts. Biblical literacy is important, but I wonder if in the effort to be “missional” many in the church are illiterate about their own individual “gifts” and a broader understanding of how different ways of ministering are valuable and important to the whole body?

    I also got to thinking that, first of all, one would assume that leadership is a primary gift of most pastors. But what if it isn’t? What if leadership is a more secondary gifting of a pastor? And, from the perspective of a layperson or member of a church, do we evaluate our pastors through the lens of our own spiritual gift (whether we realize it or not), and tend to value in them what we most identify with ourselves?

    So much in becoming a missional Church is about mutual understanding and respect. Diversity (of spiritual gifts) is a good thing, if one can appreciate how the parts fit together to form a “whole” healthy church. ??

  • Richard

    Scot, is there any benefit to noting that in the passage, at least in the English, it’s not just that these people receive gifts but that these people are given as gifts to the body for equipping?

  • Ministry (diakonia) is service. Who determines what is service? The one being served. God calls, we serve. ANYTHING done in service to God is ministry. Here is how I see it.

    Human Vocation – In Genesis 1 and 2, we find a call to exercise dominion, a call that is reiterated in various ways throughout Scripture, to function as God’s stewards, to bring the earth to its fullness, That includes our individual initiatives as well the social structures we create to accomplish this mission.

    Christian Vocation – We are baptized into the Kingdom of God. We are called at baptism to carry on the redemptive work Christ initiated with his earthly ministry: telling the good news, caring for poor, healing the sick, seeking justice, generally pursuing shalom, inviting others into the Kingdom.

    Personal Vocation – Human vocation and Christian vocation shaped by my particular set of abilities, experiences, and passion. (Distinct from an occupation, which I’d say is a particular application of personal vocation to our particular context for economic survival. Personal vocation is more encompassing than an occupation.)

    The church tends to collapse “ministry” into activities that correspond directly with Christian vocation. Some will say they left the corporate world to enter “full-time ministry.” Acts of preaching and evangelism (Evangelical world) and acts of social justice (Mainline world) are seen as “ministry.” Daily life is merely a platform for executing acts of “ministry” as directed by ecclesial professionals. Daily work unrelated to these ends has no intrinsic value (though they may have a derivative value in providing incomes that generate offerings that allow for the continuation of “ministry.”)

    To be clear here, we ARE all called to redemptive works of evangelism and justice. But the work in our daily lives is ministry every bit as much as redemptive work. I’m rejecting a dichotomy in favor of an inextricable intertwining. Ministry is ANY work that is done in response to God’s call.

  • Fred


    I did read your post and found it interesting. I have had similar experiences. And, you are right. Ultimately it comes down to a willingness to do the hard work necessary for understanding and applying the Word.

    I do believe that part of the problem lies with our seminaries. Theological schools and religious education schools are kept very separate. And so MDiv’s are sent throuh a class or two on homiletics with litle thought given to who it is they are “teaching.” Theology (content) is king and Christian education = “Theodosia Sweet teaching the Gospel story to third graders using flannel graph.”

    Another issue is accountability (as you imply). No one is actually asked to do anything in terms of their own learning. To do so might affect attendance or a pastor’s standing (livelihood).

    I have a son-in-law who is just starting a church plant. He doesn’t have a Master’s degree and he has five (at last count) children. My heart aches for him because I have seen how brutal churches can be.

  • Richard

    On a personal vein, I had the privelege to sit under Ray at Peninsula Bible Church. The “Body Life” movement he began was in full swing. My wife and I courted under his ministry and his staff, one of whom is Ron Ritchie. Ron ran the singles ministry at PBC. Today, I have tons of Rays messages in 3 ring binders and refer to them regularly. Ron Ritchie is a good friend and this Sunday he will be substituting at our class at Menlo Park Presbyterian Church. Ray had a tremendous impact on many pastors and Ron is carrying that on with his ministry of mentoring.
    So the legacy of Ray is living on in many men like Ron.
    We could all go back and benefit from Ray’s great emphasis on the priesthood of the believer.

  • Carl

    My impression is that many churches embrace this concept in theory and speak of it in core value statements and similar places. Likewise, many of the pastors I know would agree. The bigger challenges are determining what this looks like and how it happens. Perhaps the challenge comes from the “tradition” of attractional churches. I would be curious though, from a church history perspective, when and where could we point to an example of the church following this model.

  • #15 ceemac

    Precisely! I liken this to the joke Woody Allen tells at the end of Annie Hall:

    “This guy goes to a psychiatrist and says, “Doc, uh, my brother’s crazy; he thinks he’s a chicken.” And, uh, the doctor says, “Well, why don’t you turn him in?” The guy says, “I would, but I need the eggs.”

    Many people in pews have come expecting to get their “eggs” in the form of chaplain that comforts and cares for them, not equips them for service. And too many pastors get considerable affirmation from clucking away and laying these eggs. There is some serious co-dependency going on.

    But as a pastor, take away the eggs and you may be looking for a new roost. 😉

  • I completely resonate with the fact that the sheep are often complacent … they want what they want and if they don’t get it, they become belligerent. It is not even all the sheep. Frequently, it is the lay leadership. Sigh….

    As I was trying to lead the small group ministry, my biggest problems were with the entrenched facilitators. They were happy with what they had and weren’t remotely interested in whether it was effective. And none of them would come to me and talk about it. They just went around undermining the ministry. So very sad….

    The amount of flack our senior pastor took for trying to step out of CEO-style leadership was shameful. And I took the brunt of much of the early flack … because I was the one calling the church to authentic relationships and covenant community.

    Until the whole body gets up and joins the dance, many churches will remain what I called them back then: quadriplegic.

  • smcknight

    Michael, now you’re starting to entertain us! What a good analogy.

  • AHH

    It may be obvious, but a major factor that keeps us from being equipping churches with each member living out his/her giftedness in ministry is consumer culture.
    When church is another consumer choice, a place to come and receive what you are shopping for, when members see themselves as customers rather than as ministers, that’s the problem in a nutshell. Also, at least for those of us who are upper middle class, the pattern we are used to is that if we need something done, we pay somebody to do it for us. So we create a culture where ministry is left to the “professional” staff – and sometimes staff have this mentality just as much as the laity.

    I think much of the role of the Pastor in the needed transformation is simply setting the tone. Not just by being an equipper and by lifting up in preaching that vision of the church, but also by minimizing the clergy/laity divide. A Pastor who seems up on a pedestal, who lacks authenticity, will have the effect of undermining any desired transformation to a more interdependent church culture where all see themselves as gifted and called to ministry.

    And I’m wondering if Carl @23 is my church’s Associate Pastor with that name, as ours is one of those where this vision is officially endorsed but where we have trouble living it out.

    [And Patheos needs to fix their “you are posting too quickly” bug; I’m glad I drafted my comment elsewhere or it would have been lost.]

  • The Holy Spirit does the ministry. By distributing gifts as He determines, to people who are willing to serve in the name of Christ. Each of us has been given people that only we can reach. But service becomes ministry only when motivated, strategised and energised by the Spirit.

  • DRT

    Thanks for this. I lose faith in my concept that we need to equip people (well, I am not a pastor so not me) and not attract people. I feel like I am a minority in that.

  • Carl

    AHH – I am not your associate 🙂

    Does anyone have suggestions/thoughts of resources on what this looks like more practically? ISTM that a large part of it is the pastor spending more time 1-1 or maybe 1-3 with folks to help them figure out what ministry looks like in the everyday. What else?

  • John W Frye

    Many USAmerican believers in that moment of raw honesty will say they are bored silly by the Bible. They know they “shouldn’t” be, but they are. Along comes a pastor (communicator) who can Sunday after Sunday lay the golden eggs (#24) and, viola!, the Bible becomes entertaining, if not down right funny (depending on the comedic abilities of the talker). Seminaries have homiletic departments that serve to turn unsuspecting Jesus-followers into chickens for egg-expecting congregations.

    Solution? Unleash One.Life on them. Crack a few heads..ah…um…I mean eggs.

  • Great post and great follow up comment by John Frye (#14). I share much of this same history, reading G. Getz and L. Richards. Both of these writers, along with R. Stedman, were influential in my thinking.

    Scot, I like what you suggest in your comment regarding updating this so that the point is to become missional instead of simply becoming a better functioning church (good observation, John).

    And yes, I think it is time to hear this again. Thanks!