"And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head--Christ--from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love." (Ephesians 4:11-16)
Here we have the introduction of the foundation ministries of the church and the purpose for which they are given. They are all grace and gift ministries, men who have been called and chosen by God to lay down their lives and serve the church. No man can appoint himself to these ministries, and woe to the man who is called who does not fulfill the ministry God has called him to. Without these ministries operating in some manner, we do not have a basis for building as Paul describes. If we bypass these ministries and substitute an "every man" ministry or some other idea that seems good to us, I believe we will find ourselves coming short of God's purpose in the church, and the growth that He and we desire will not take place.
The purpose for these ministries is clearly stated. They are for our edification (upbuilding), to bring us to a unity of faith and experiential knowledge of God, and to mature us so that we will not be unstable, but rooted and grounded in our relationship with God. These ministries are not God's end purpose, but an essential part of His plan to bring us to His end purpose. They are given by God to equip each member for his or her place of responsibility in the body. These foundational ministries cannot do what every member must do, but are responsible to prepare members to fulfill their own ministry. According to this scripture, it is only when each member of the body of Christ is functioning according to the measure of God's grace that growth (maturity) of the whole body in love will take place.
Generally, two main errors seem to influence our thinking. The first is to think that the only functioning we need is the foundation ministries mentioned above. If these are functioning in some measure, we tend to think we have arrived. But what are the ministries for? They are not ends in themselves, but given for the purpose of equipping the whole body to function. We could even say that the purpose of these ministries is to lose their ministry. They serve the body until the whole body is functioning as one with a full expression of God's love.
We should be very honest in our evaluation of where we are in this matter. Is the ministry coming to us equipping us to fulfill our function in the body of Christ? If not, why not? Is the ministry feeding us with Christ? Are we eating the bread that is coming to us? If we are not being fed, are we willing to say so? Are we praying for the ministry? Have we made ourselves open to the grace of God coming to us through men? Are we serious about fitting into what God is doing? These and many other questions need to be honestly answered before God.
A second mistake is to think that we can achieve God's purpose by every member contributing, without recognizing the special place God has given to the foundation ministries. We may not want to recognize any gifts as "special" or more important than others. This is sometimes known as an "every man ministry." This teaching is not found in scripture, and I believe if we accept this view, we will miss what God wants. No person is more "special" than another person, but God has an order in His church and we are responsible to understand and move in that order. God's plan is perfect and we cannot improve upon it. We need God's grace ministries. God has given them to serve us, and we need to know those who labor amongst us so we can benefit. They are God's vessels through which He has chosen to work. Let us not set them aside but instead pray that God will give the ministry we need through them.
It cannot be overemphasized that these ministries are given to serve. Jesus spoke very clearly about this in John 13 as He washed the disciples' feet. Ministry does not take a place of lordship in the assembly, but a place of servitude. This is one of the basic traits we should look for in a minister. If Christ is truly calling a man to labor and he is being led by the Spirit, a servant's heart will be very apparent. This attitude of humility and example of servanthood should prepare the way and open our hearts to receive from Christ through His chosen vessel.
It is not our purpose here to expand on the functioning of ministry, but to highlight the importance of ministries in the growth of the church. Based on Paul's teaching in Ephesians, I believe we cannot set this subject aside and expect to achieve God's end goal in the church. There are many associated matters that must be dealt with in faith before God. How do we recognize God's ministers? What qualifications must they meet? What should we expect? What if we are not being fed through the ministry? Do we look for these ministers within the assembly, or do they come from without? What if none of the above-mentioned ministries are functioning in our gathering? These and many other questions may fill our minds, but I believe if we see in some measure the importance of a God-chosen ministry functioning in the assembly, and if we are serious about the purpose of God, we will take these questions before the Lord until He sheds light for us to walk in. As we walk in that light, we will see God provide what we need.