“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of the ministry, for building up the body of Christ,” (Eph. 4:11-12)
Ephesians 4 has become something special to me. In fact, this entire chapter has become a rally cry for me personally. It’s a challenge for those older than me and a call to action for those in my generation. So let me exegete why out of this passage.
The first part of this passage is all about unity. We have one faith, one Savior, one baptism, and one God. We, the body of Christ, the church, are unified around our Savior.
Here’s a problem that I see. We’ve divided our churches into groups intentionally or not. We’ve split our church by age and life-stage and then used those benchmarks to determine who can serve in certain capacities within the church. You’re either too young, too immature, too old, too old-fashion, single, or not willing to serve in certain capacities.
All these unspoken benchmarks have left me wondering why is it that we don’t see many, if any, twenty-something-year-old deacons or elders, or why don’t we see a twenty-six-year-old woman leading a bible study for the church. Not necessarily because there isn’t anyone in the church that’s willing or able, just we make the mistake of not thinking cross-generationally.
It may be because I’m in this age group, but I see this mindset especially targeting millennials. We’ve been put in the category of too young for the position, too immature to handle the responsibility, or too inexperienced (our favorites excuse) to make good decisions.
My response to all those excuses and misconceptions is Ephesians 4. The first few verses state that we should be unified. Yes, dividing into groups is great for administration or for focus groups. But there are areas of church life that shouldn’t require an age or marital status to serve in. Putting unnecessary barriers up for service only adds to the disunity that so many churches are experiencing.
As we continue reading we learn that God has equipped each person with a unique gift (verse 7). The purpose of these gifts were meant to be used in the context of the church. We get this in verse 16. Each part using its unique gift to help the body grow into the mature image of Christ.
So we all have a gift and it’s meant to be used within the church, but here in Ephesians 4 we get a different type of list than what we received in Romans and 1 Corinthians. This list of gifts are gifts to the church. Christ gave the church the gifts of apostles, prophets, evangelists, and shepherd-teachers. We also find out the purpose of these gifts: to equip the saints for the work of the ministry and for the building up of the body of Christ.
So here’s my hang up. If we all have gifts, we are supposed to be unified under Christ, and the gifts of pastors, evangelists, and shepherd-teachers are for the equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry, why do we fail so often at equipping and building up? It’s like we’ve missed the point of our gifts and decided that equipping consists of preaching a sermon on Sunday or listening to a Sunday School lesson. If we model our relationships after the Great Shepherd, equipping is both preaching and one-on-one discipleship. Then sending that disciple out to do ministry, either within your church or in another church because of the equipping they received from others.
Yes, this idea of equipping and mentoring is risky. But it’s well worth the risk. Look at result of Paul equipping Timothy. We need more Pauls and Timothys in our churches.
So pastors, evangelists, shepherd-teachers don’t you forget about me. Don’t wait for us to hit the life-stage benchmarks. Forget the fact I’m twenty-something and equip me; fulfill Ephesians 4 in your church; let me be your Timothy. You’ll find all the results of your actions listed in the rest of the chapter, and they’re pretty awesome. We’re talking things like unity of faith, knowledge of the Son of God, spiritual maturity, and sound doctrine. Disciple the millennials in your church. Imagine being able to focus on feeding your flock because you’ve equipped someone in the work of the ministry. Now both of us can fulfill what God planned with our gifts: unity and growth within the body of Christ.
Now everyone else, read verse 16:
“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.”
We need to do our part. We need to ask. We need to serve. We can’t just pass the puck up, point fingers, and say, “It’s all their fault that we aren’t serving in certain capacities.” And we can’t not be involved because we think everyone is too old fashion or stuck in their ways. We need to do our part by using our gifts in the church and help our local body grow in Christ. We need to strive for unity, be involved, and be imitators of Christ ourselves and the result will be that other generations will follow.
Ultimately, I’m asking that those with these gifts don’t you forget about us, the millennials; instead equip us and let’s grow in unity of the faith and to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.