When the Ministers Aren’t the Ministers
So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.
When I was growing up in the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood, I knew who the ministers were. They were the men who sat up in the front of the sanctuary on Sunday mornings, wearing black robes, praying long prayers, and preaching the sermons. The ministers were the people we called "Reverend" or "Doctor" before their last names. They were the ones who inspired us, taught us, prayed for us, and led the church. They were the ministers, and we were those who received their ministry.
But then, in 1972, a new sheriff rolled into town. Well, okay, he wasn't a sheriff. He was our new Senior Minister, Lloyd John Ogilvie. Except he wasn't our senior minister, either. Lloyd Ogilvie wanted to be called a pastor, rather than a minister. I didn't much like the sound of this, but as a junior high lad, I went along with the change.
Much more shocking, however, was Pastor Ogilvie's explanation of why he wanted to be referred to as a pastor. "I am the pastor," he said. "And you," gesturing to the congregation, "are the ministers." What? This seemed most peculiar to me. We were not the ministers. Pastor Ogilvie and his robed associates were the ministers. What in the world was he talking about? How could I be a minister of Jesus Christ? After all, I hadn't even been to seminary, and the only robe I owned was a bathrobe.
Pastor Ogilvie explained his understanding of ministry with reference to a multitude of biblical passages. But, most of all, he used Ephesians 4:11-12. This text, more than any other, shaped his understanding of the role of pastors and the identity of ministers. In a nutshell, Pastor Ogilvie explained on the basis of Ephesians 4:11-12 that pastors have the responsibility to equip all of God's people for their work of ministry. Pastors were teachers, coaches, and equippers who helped lay Christians—including me—to be ministers of Jesus Christ.
Now, as I read the text of Ephesians 4:11-12 in my trusty RSV translation, I could see what Pastor Ogilvie was talking about, but I wasn't sure the text meant what he thought it meant. I wanted to trust my pastor. Indeed, I was intrigued by the possibility that I was actually a minister of Christ. But I needed a better understanding of the text. In time, I received this understanding through Pastor Ogilvie's consistent teaching and through a course on Ephesians at Fuller Seminary taught by Don Williams.
In the next few days, I want to examine Ephesians 4:11-12 with you in detail. My hope is that you will see that Pastor Ogilvie was right. According to Scripture, if you belong to Jesus Christ through faith, then you are one of his ministers.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION:How do you feel about the idea that you are a minister of Jesus Christ? Do you believe this? If you truly are a minister of Christ, how might this affect the way you live each day?
PRAYER: Gracious God, thank you for the truth I first heard from Lloyd Ogilvie. Thank you for the privilege of calling us your ministers, of enlisting us in your work of ministry.
As we prayerfully study this passage from Ephesians together, help us to grow in our understanding of who we are as your people. May we hear, either for the first time or for the hundredth time, your call to ministry. May we offer ourselves fully to you, so that we might serve you wherever we are.
May I be your minister today, Lord, in my family and at work, among my friends and my colleagues, in the church and in the community. Amen.
Image courtesy of Laity Lodge Youth Camp, one of our sister programs in the Foundations for Laity Renewal.