An Effective Church
What does an effective church look like? Is an effective church a church with numerous programs? Is an effective church a church with more constituents than the church down the street? Is an effective church a church with a dynamic minister?
The truth is, judging a church's effectiveness must go beyond counting programs, people in the pews, and good sermons. As I read Paul's instructions to the Ephesians, I conclude that effectiveness in the church is born out of unity working through diversity.
Unity working through diversity--what do I mean by that? The apostle Paul begins chapter 4 of Ephesians by exhorting the Christians to "preserve the unity of the Spirit"(4:3). And, no sooner has Paul spoken of unity than he goes on to speak of diversity in the area of spiritual gifts.
We learn from Paul in this chapter that preserving unity does not exclude the need to exercise diversity. In fact, the unity of the church depends on the exercising of diversity. As John Calvin has said, "out of this variety arises unity in the church, (just) as the various tones in music produce sweet melody".
Another analogy that I am fond of, which illustrates unity working through diversity is examining how a football team is run.
In football, the offence is united by a common goal to score a touchdown, yet their individual responsibilities are quite different. Some players are exceptionally large, but not very quick, and so they are charged with the responsibility of blocking. Some players are not very big, but are extremely quick runners and are skilled in catching the ball, and so they are made receivers or running backs. The quarterback might be fast or slow, tall or short, but will most certainly be able to throw the football a great distance, and with tremendous accuracy. The offense of the football team is united in their goal to score a touchdown, but each player has a different and unique role to play in accomplishing this goal.
This is precisely what Paul has in mind for the church. We are to be united in our goal to see growth in the kingdom of God, but we are to accomplish this growth by exercising our diversity.
Beginning at verse 7, we read, "But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift". Looking also, to Romans 12, "God has allotted to each a measure of faith . . . And since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let each exercise them accordingly"(Rom. 12:3, 6).
Notice that there are no exceptions here. "To each (Christian)" a spiritual gift is given by Christ. By gifting us all, we all become useful for the kingdom of God. And by giving us different gifts, we are constrained to depend on others who have gifts that we lack.
It has been said that the church is a bit like a jigsaw puzzle. We are made up of numerous pieces of different shapes and sizes, but we all fit together as one beautiful picture. Take away a few pieces, however, and the picture does not look nearly as beautiful.
This concept of working together is humourously expressed in a Peanuts cartoon where Lucy demands that Linus change TV channels.
"What makes you think you can walk in here and take over?" asks Linus.
"These five fingers," says Lucy. "Individually they are nothing, but when I curl them together like this into a single unit, they form a weapon that is terrible to behold."
"What channel do you want?" asks Linus.
Turning away, he looks at his fingers and says, "Why can't you guys get organized like that?"
Thinking again of our football analogy, if we all have a position to play, there can be no such thing as a Christian spectator. Every Christian is to be a player on the field, and has a unique role to fulfill. We are mistaken if we think that attendance at Sunday worship is the sum of what God expects from us.
The church is a place where we should be using the gifts God has given to us. And God is the One we should aim to please. As the great Puritan, Thomas Watson, has said, "It is better to have God approve than to have the whole world applaud."
If it is God's approval we want, judging our effectiveness must be measured by how well we follow His game plan. We see, in verse 11, that not only has God given gifts to every Christian, but He has also appointed officers for every church. Paul writes, "He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers".
Beginning with the first office, the Greek word for apostles, apostolos, is used in three different ways in the New Testament. It could mean simply a messenger. It is sometimes used for the 12 Disciples of Christ. But we also read about others as apostles: Paul, Barnabas, James, and Silas, for example. So we conclude then, that in speaking about apostles, Paul is referring to those who bear definitive witness to the facts of the ministry of Jesus and to His resurrection (Foulkes, Ephesians, 126).
Understanding the ministry of the apostles in this way, we recognize that this office ceased with the death of those first century witnesses. In the same way, the ministry of the prophets ceased also. The work of the prophet was to receive and declare the Word of God under the direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit. And this ministry was vital only until there was a canon of New Testament Scripture (Foulkes, Ephesians, 127).
Next on the list is the office of the evangelist. The references to evangelists are few, but it is safe to conclude that the office denotes a minister of the gospel who was not located in any particular place, but was one who traveled as a missionary to preach the gospel, and to found churches.
The last two church offices, linked together, are the pastors and teachers. Some commentators take this to be a single church office, but I agree with John Calvin who argues that these are two distinct offices. For while it is true that all pastors are called to be teachers (1Tim. 3:2), not all teachers of Scripture are called to be pastors.
As your pastor and teacher then, I look to Ephesians 4:12 for my job description. I have been called as a pastor and teacher to "equip the saints (that's you) for the work of ministry, for the building up of the body of Christ".
This brings me back to my football analogy. Christ is the Head of this team--He is the owner, and He sets the direction for the team. And if the pastors' role is to equip the saints for the work of ministry, then it follows that the pastor can be likened to the coach of the team.
If you were to ask me why I think so many churches are struggling, I would say that it is because many churches expect their pastor to not only be the coach, but to also occupy every position on the field as well. The truth is, unfortunately, that many churches function in this manner. The members sit in the stands as spectators while the pastor runs around occupying every position on the field.
This, however, is not God's design for the church. God's design for the church is that every member would take a position. The minister's job is to equip every member to take a position on the field for the purpose of "the building up of the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ".
In this verse, the apostle Paul sets forth two very explicit goals for the church. The first goal is unity, and the second goal is maturity. And, to obtain these goals, the minister is charged with organizing and equipping the members, while "the work of ministry" is entrusted to the laity.
Effective church ministry is compromised where one of these two components fails to exist. If the minister is occupying every position on the field, guess what happens to the ministry when the minister leaves? The ministry fails.
On the other hand, some make the mistake of stressing the work of the laity to the exclusion of a qualified pastor. But the apostle Paul doesn't simply charge the laity with doing all the ministry; he charges them to do the ministry under the guidance and teaching of a pastor.
Church ministry sometimes fails because members fail to appreciate their need to be "equipped" for ministry. As a result, some go charging out onto the field with their talent and their enthusiasm, but they have no idea what the game plan is, and they have no idea how their role corresponds with, or depends on, others.
To be an effective church, there must be a qualified minister who is committed to equipping others for ministry. To be an effective church, every member must identify their role within the Body of Christ and be committed to serving the church with their gifts.
I hear Paul urging us onto the field. I hear him reminding us to play our position and to fulfill our unique role. I hear him reminding us to work towards the same goal. And I hear him reminding us why all of this is important.
God has chosen to be glorified through the Church. We strive, therefore, to be an effective church because we understand what Paul means when he says, "to God be the glory in the Church." Amen.