Christ gives gifts to his church



In many churches the third Sunday of Advent is celebrated as Ministry Sunday. I have a book entitled Prayers for Today’s Church, which under the heading of ‘Third Sunday in Advent’ has prayers ‘for the Ministry’; ‘Theological Colleges’; and ‘Retired Clergy’.

The lectionary readings traditionally include a Gospel reading relating to John the Baptist, although whether the solo ministry of John is a good model for ministry today is debateable! In The Book of Common Prayer one of the readings is from 1 Cor 4.1-5, where in the AV Paul writes of “the ministers of Christ” as “stewards of the mysteries of Christ”, and goes on to say “it is required in stewards that a man be found faithful”.

So on this Ministry Sunday I thought it would be appropriate to look at Christ’s gifts to his church on the basis of Eph 4.7, 11-12 (NRSV):

But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift… The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.

Or in the GNB:

Each one of us has received a special gift in proportion to what Christ has given… It was he who ‘gave gifts’; he appointed some to be apostles, others to be prophets, others to be evangelists, others to be pastors and teachers. He did this to prepare all God’s people for the work of Christian service, in order to build up the body of Christ.

  1. All God’s people are gifted

In Eph 4.1-6 Paul writes about the unity we enjoy in Christ: there is one body and one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism. He then turns to our diversity in Christ. We are not a bunch of clones – rather each of us is different in terms of the gifts that Christ has given us

Unfortunately this is not clear in NRSV: “Each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift”; Similarly NIV: To each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it”. However, the grace Paul has in mind is not the gift of salvation which is common to us all, but the different ‘grace-gifts’ God has given to us all for Christian service. So the GNB translates: “Each one of us has received a special gift in proportion to what Christ has given”. Similarly the REB: “Each of us has been given a special gift, a particular share of the bounty of Christ”.

The word translated grace is charis first and foremost means a gift. Although it can be used of God’s gift of salvation, it does not have that meaning here – for saving grace can’t be doled out in different measures. No, it refers to the differing gifts for service – the charismata of which Paul writes in 1 Cor 12-14. In effect Eph 4.7 is short-hand for wat Paul says at greater length in Rom 12.6: “We have gifts (charismata) that differ according to the grace (charis) given to us

Each of us is a gifted individual. Each of us is a talented individual. Or to use a NT expression, each one of us is charismatic!

  1. Some are gifted for leadership

Eph 4.11: “The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers”. Unlike lists of spiritual gifts in Rom 12.6-8 and 1 Cor 12.7-10 , here we have a list of gifted leaders. Or rather the various forms of leadership are described as Christ’s gifts to his church. Christ has given to his church leaders.

  • In the first place there are “apostles and prophets”. They were the first leaders of the church. As Paul wrote in Eph 2.20 the church is “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone”. The “apostles” are the witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus, while the “prophets” are not the OT prophets, but those who God inspired to expound the significance of Jesus to the first Christians. Together they were the foundational leaders of the church and were therefore unique. In this sense there are no more apostles and prophets.
  • God also has given – and still gives – “evangelists, pastors and teachers”. The underlying Greek suggests that Paul is speaking of two types of leaders: literally Christ gave “the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers”. There is no separate definite article before the word “teachers”. Pastors are not different from teachers: rather pastors teach (by contrast, not all ‘teachers’ are ‘pastors’). “Pastor” literally means ‘a shepherd’: just as a key role of shepherds was to ensure that the sheep in their care were fed, so a key role of pastors is to ensure that those who are in their care are fed from the Word of God. This is not the only role of a pastor, for pastors are also leaders. As shepherds go ahead and leads their flock, so too pastors should go ahead and lead God’s people. In the ancient world generally the term ‘shepherd’ was used as a title for kings – and as a result is also found used in the Old Testament for Israel’s leaders.[1]

The evangelists of whom Paul speaks were probably itinerant, engaged in ‘translocal’ ministry. They never stayed in one place, but moved from town to town. By contrast the pastor-teachers looked after a group of house churches in a particular locality

In some quarters great play has been made of these four or five different ‘orders of ministry’. Much has been written about the roles of these leaders. However, there is a more important principle, viz. Christ has given to his church leaders and that we therefore should honour them by following their lead. Precisely what those leaders are called varies from place to place and from age to age.

  1. God gives leaders to multiply ministry

Instead of monopolizing ministry, God gives leaders “to equip the saints for the work of ministry” (NRSV) or “to prepare all God’s people for the work of Christian service” (GNB). Here we have the twin principle of the ministry of all and the leadership of some.

Unfortunately, the word ‘ministry’ has become a technical term for the work carried out by those who have been ordained. So when I was asked to sign somebody’s passport application, and as a result had to answer the question of my occupation, I used to write ‘minister of religion’. However, Eph 4 teaches that all God’s people are ‘ministers’, for all God’s people are involved in Christian service. The word ‘ministry’ is derived from a Latin word for service (diakonia). Strictly speaking the word ‘minister’ should not be reserved for the ordained, but should include us all. For when in baptism or confirmation hands are laid upon us, it is to empower us for service/ministry! As a result some churches have noticeboards which state: ‘Pastor: Rev Jo Bloggs. Ministers: All of us’

Every member ministry is a vital for God’s church to be effective. This is seen in the word (katartizo) Paul used for leaders “equipping” or “preparing” all God’s people for service.

  • In the context of surgery it was used of the setting of broken bones – from this use we can perhaps infer Christ gave leaders to his church to ensure that the structures of the body of Christ are set aright – but where Christians are not using their gifts, then the church of Christ can be likened to a cripple unable to do any useful work.
  • In the context of fishing could be used of mending nets. From this we can infer that Christ gave leaders to his church to help God’s people to live up to their calling to ‘fish for people’ – but where Christians are not using their gifts, then the church will have as much success in winning people for Christ as fishermen seeking to catch fish with gaping holes in their nets!

For discussion and reflection:

  1. How do you respond to this description of one American mega church pastor?

Meet Pastor Jones, Superstar.  

He can preach, counsel, evangelize, administrate, communicate and sometimes even conciliate. He can also raise the budget.
He handles Sunday morning better than any quizmaster on weekday TV.
He is better with words than most political candidates.
As a scholar he surpasses many seminary professors.
No church function will be complete without him.
His church, of course, ‘Counts Itself Fortunate’.
Alas, not many churches can boast such talents.

What do we expect from our leaders (viz. ‘the clergy’) in Chelmsford Cathedral? Do we want them to entertain us on a Sunday or to lead us into adventurous mission and ministry?

  1. How has God gifted you? Are you currently using your gifts for Christ? Or do you feel you have done ‘your bit’ for Christ?
  2. Most of the key jobs undertaken in the Cathedral are done by older people. How can we encourage those who are younger to ‘step up’ and use their gifts for Christ?

[1] See Psalm 78.70-71 where David is described as chosen by God to be the shepherd of his people; and Isaiah 63.10 where Moses is similarly described. In Micah 5.4 there is a promise of a new leader who will “shepherd” the flock of Israel.

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