The grace to serve
Last week, two of the men from our church attended four days of theological training that was led by seasoned pastors for the benefit of those who are exploring future ministry opportunities. One of those men who attended was my son Daniel, and I was eager to hear what he gleaned from the training and the times of fellowship he shared with the other pastors and church leaders.
He had a lot of valuable takeaways, but one of the primary things I heard him express was an appreciation for those who have committed themselves to serve the local church. As he expressed that appreciation, he also expressed the desire for wisdom from the Lord to discern what his role of service will look like in the next season of his life.
In Ephesians 4, Paul explains the ways in which believers are equipped to serve and lead in the church. The Lord raises up leaders and gives them the grace to serve others well for His glory. Some people choose to run from this calling while others joyfully embrace it. Have you ever wrestled with whether or not you have a calling to some form of servant leadership in the church? And if you answer that calling, will you rely on the Holy Spirit to empower you?
I. Reflect the heart of God and the plan of God in how you function as a family
"There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all." (Ephesians 4:4-6)
There are two perspectives toward unity that I frequently hear discussed. One perspective teaches a form of unity at the cost of truth, while the other teaches that true unity can only be obtained when it's anchored in the truth.
- In these verses, Paul speaks of the great theological truths that our unity is anchored in, and he repeatedly uses the word "one" to drive that point home.
- There is one body, not many bodies. This is his way of saying that in the eyes of God, there is one church, not many splintered churches.
- There is one Holy Spirit who lives within all believers and binds us to one another.
- There is one hope, the hope of the gospel. Our singular hope is in Jesus Christ through whom true life is found.
- There is one Lord, Jesus Christ, and one faith of which He is the cornerstone.
- There is one baptism. At the moment of our salvation, we are spiritually baptized by the Spirit. (1 Cor. 12:13) Water baptism is the outward picture of the baptism referenced here.
- There is one God and Father over, through, and in all believers.
Our God is a God of order, and He desires that we, His children, reflect both His heart and His plan as we function together as family. The unity that we're blessed with isn't a shallow unity that overlooks glaring issues. It's a unity that acknowledges the nature of God, the purpose of the church, and the manner in which the Lord has designed His body to operate. When a family is united, it's powerful, and it gets things done.
II. We're called to use our gifts to build one another up
But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ's gift.
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, (Ephesians 4:7, 11-12)
The Lord desires that His church be led well. For that reason, He calls certain people into various forms of church leadership, and He empowers them to serve by the power of the Holy Spirit. But church leadership isn’t an easy thing to be involved in. It looks much more glamorous from the outside than it does from the inside.
Because the Lord loves the church and wants it to be healthy, He calls us and equips us in multiple ways. Our areas of service vary, and our roles of leadership differ. Look at the various leadership roles Paul mentions in Ephesians 4. He tells us that Christ called some of the early church leaders to serve as apostles of the faith. He called others to operate in a prophetic role and gave them the ability to foretell future events or speak in a way that would directly impact the consciences of the hearers. Christ has also called people to serve in evangelistic roles, pastoral roles, and teaching roles.
When people answer a calling to serve in ministry, they’re volunteering to be refined in ways that are hard to explain before being experienced. You will be expected to keep your life in good order while also being called upon to mediate conflicts, comfort the grieving, counsel the confused, and lead those who support you AND those who make a perpetual habit of questioning your decisions. You will never have a traditional schedule again and will be called upon for help at all hours of the day or night. Sometimes, you’ll absolutely love what you do. Other times, you will feel betrayed, abandoned, and unfairly criticized. For these reasons, it’s not advisable to offer yourself for service in this kind of role outside of a clear calling from God.
9Marks.org released an interesting article called, “Don’t make your pastor a statistic.” The article shared these statistics from the Schaeffer Institute about pastoral ministry.
90% of the pastors report working between 55 to 75 hours per week.
50% feel unable to meet the demands of the job.
70% of pastors feel grossly underpaid.
90% feel they are inadequately trained to cope with what the ministry demands.
90% of pastors said the ministry was completely different than what they thought it would be like before they entered the ministry.
70% of pastors constantly fight depression.
50% of pastors feel so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living so they stay.
80% believe pastoral ministry has negatively affected their families.
80% of spouses feel the pastor is overworked.
80% spouses feel left out and under-appreciated by church members.
70% do not have someone they consider a close friend.
40% report serious conflict with a church member at least once a month.
#1 reason pastors leave the ministry — Church people are not willing to go the same direction or goals of the pastor. Pastors believe God wants them to go in one direction but the people are not willing to follow or change.
50% of the ministers starting out will not last 5 years.
1 out of every 10 ministers will actually retire as a minister in some form.
4,000 new churches begin each year and 7,000 churches close.
Over 1,700 pastors left the ministry every month last year.
Over 1,300 pastors were terminated by the local church each month, many without cause.
When I read statistics like that, I realize just how miraculous it is that the church continues to grow and expand throughout the generations. I’m also reminded that no one should go into ministry motivated by what they’re going to get out of it. The right mindset is to approach ministry with a giving spirit, otherwise, you’re likely to feel disillusioned and discouraged.
The goal of ministry is to build others up in their walk with Jesus. It’s to equip others so that many people are prepared to serve. If I had to guess why the statistics regarding pastors seem so grim, I would suspect it’s because most pastors serve in a context where they’re expected to do just about everything and very few people help them shoulder the load. That’s the opposite of the model Paul was trying to convey in Ephesians 4.
III. Using our gifts contributes to maturity in the church
13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. (Ephesians 4:13-14)
1. In your opinion, what does maturity look like? I think maturity involves knowing Jesus deeply, committing the Word of God to our minds and hearts, and applying the teaching of Scripture to each moment of our everyday life.
2. Many believers don't know the Scriptures. Why is that? Probably because they don't care enough to learn them. If we’re brutally honest, it really is that simple. And in the absence of biblical knowledge, we are easily led astray by worldly beliefs, false doctrines, and the schemes of the evil one. Don't let that be you.
3. Use your spiritual gifts and let others use theirs in your life. Work by the power of the Holy Spirit. Walk by faith in Jesus. Commit His word to memory, and grow mature in your relationship with Him. There are few things as sad as someone who has claimed to know Jesus for decades, but still has an untrained, unstructured, undisciplined faith.
IV. We are being built up in the love of Christ
"Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love." (Ephesians 4:15-16)
As Paul concludes these verses, he does so with a challenge to speak to one another in love. But please notice what we're called to speak to one another. We're called to speak the truth. If we aren't speaking the truth, or if we're avoiding uncomfortable truths, we're not really benefitting one another like we've been called to.
In love, we can point out error. In love, we can challenge the wandering. In love, we can comfort the grieving. Because of our common faith in Christ, we are united to one another like one body, so let's do our part to contribute to each other's spiritual health. The Holy Spirit is empowering us to serve one another in these ways.
Have you ever considered the fact that choosing not to use the gift of grace Christ has given you to serve your brothers and sisters in the church is the same as withholding your love? It's like having the ability to meet a need out of your abundance but choosing to keep the gift for yourself.
For Christ's glory, and in view of His great love, let's use our gifts to build up one another's faith. Let's grow mature together.
You will need grace to serve others. It can’t be done in your own strength, and it can’t be accomplished over the long term by yourself.
© John Stange, 2023