Shared Gift Ministry – The Biblical Model
As I explained last week, Ephesians 4 is very clear that the role of the pastor is not to do all the ministry himself, but to “equip God’s people for works of service” (Eph 4:12). In other words, the pastor’s primary role is to identify and encourage the giftings of church members. Hence, Paul instructs the leaders of the church in Rome, “if it is teaching, let him teach” (Rom 12:7). Encouraging and developing the gift ministry of the laity should not be limited to welcoming, ushering, prayer chains and pastoral visitation. A pastor who is faithfully fulfilling his calling to foster the gift ministry of the whole body of Christ should also be developing a growing team of preachers within his congregation.
THE BIBLICAL MODEL OF SHARED GIFT MINISTRY
We see this model clearly portrayed in the growing team of preachers in the church at Antioch, recorded for us in the book of Acts:
- Acts 11:20-21. Some un-named Christians from Cyprus and Cyrene settled in Antioch and began to preach the gospel, resulting in a steady harvest.
- Acts 11:22-24. The church in Jerusalem heard about what was happening in Antioch and sent Barnabas to help with the preaching. Under the combined preaching of this enlarged team “a great number of people were brought to the Lord” (v.24)
- Acts 11:25-26. The church grew so rapidly that Barnabas felt the need for further gifted preachers, so he travelled to Tarsus and brought the newly converted Saul back to Antioch. With Saul’s addition to the preaching team, they “taught great numbers of people” (v.26).
- Acts 11:27-30. Some “prophets” moved from Jerusalem to Antioch and added their public proclamations to the teaching ministry. One of them, named Agabus, was used by God to predict a famine in Judea (v.28), to which the church in Antioch responded by sending a love offering to the elders of the churches in Judea (vv.29-30).
- Acts 12:25-13:3. John Mark came from Jerusalem to Antioch, at the instigation of Barnabas and Saul, to join the preaching team. At this point, Luke lists the key members of the preaching team in Antioch: “Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul” as well as “John Mark” (13:25-12:1).
The growth in the preaching team in Antioch over this period of time was considerable:
Some un-named Christians + Barnabas + Saul + some prophets (including Agabus) + John Mark + Simeon + Manaen + Lucius. While some of these were “imported” from Jerusalem, others were clearly raised up from within the church. It is also important to note that these people weren’t professional clergy. Each of them would have had to work to support themselves (as Paul later testified – 1 Cor 4:12; 1 Thess 2:9; Acts 20:34).
The church in Antioch is a wonderful model of shared gift ministry, as a growing number of gifted teachers and prophets were added to the preaching team. Barnabas and Saul did not seek to monopolise or dominate this ministry, but welcomed each one as God raised them up.
THE CHALLENGE TO THE MODERN CHURCH
The early church in Antioch should be a model for us to follow. If God places people with certain gifts within a congregation, He intends for those gifts to be utilised. The responsibility of paid pastors is to identify, encourage and facilitate gift ministry within their congregation, rather than to stifle it. My friend’s assertion (quoted last week) that “Pastors say they believe in the gift ministry of the body, but in practice they deny this by monopolising certain key gift areas” is all too often true. The modern, professional clergy have developed an elitist mindset in regard to preaching. This may not be entirely their fault, as congregations can have the attitude, “That’s what we pay the professionals to do”.
But the gift of teaching and preaching is not distributed by God on the basis of church salary! The Holy Spirit distributes these gifts “according to his will” (1 Cor 12:11). Pastors who defensively monopolise the preaching ministry in their church, either as a result of their own egos or because of the elitist philosophy drilled into them through their theological training, are robbing their church of the rich diversity of gifts and teaching that the Holy Spirit wishes to bring. They are also robbing themselves of the blessing of working with, and learning from, other gifted preachers.
As my friend asked in his email (quoted last week), “If God brings gifted Bible teachers to a church, why don’t full-time pastors want to work with them???” That is an excellent question. Why indeed?
Finishing on a positive note, when my pastor-friend from inter-state wrote to me about the preaching team he had developed in his church (mentioned in last week’s post), I replied, “That is SO encouraging to hear that you have developed a preaching team and that you regularly meet for planning, accountability and feedback! Wow! Well done you! I believe that is a thoroughly biblical model.” May many more churches follow in his footsteps.