A Verse I Like, an Application I Don’t

If you know me, then you know I generally have a suspicious take on hip and trendy pastor phrases. It’s just one of my quirky things. I remembering one of those motivational posters from school when I was a kid that said, “What is right is now always what is popular. What is popular is not always what is right.” I’m not saying that hip and trendy phrases are wrong, I’m just saying that *I* tend to meet them with suspicion. It’s about me, not the phrase.

One of those passages/statements is from what I think is a true idea, but perhaps a goofy application of said idea. What I’ll do is show the idea, show what I like, show where I’m a little critical, and then leave with a thought or two moving forward.

A popular passage in Ephesians that is read quite a bit in my church circles comes form the Book of Ephesians. In talking about gifted people in the church, Paul writes:

11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.

Ephesians 4:11-14

What is This Passage Saying?

Ephesians 4 is one of the passages concerning spiritual giftedness (the others are found in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and 1 Peter 4). What is spiritual giftedness? Well, essentially, the idea is that when someone places their faith in Jesus they receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, who marks them as belonging to God. Part of the Spirit’s presence in the life of the Christian is spiritual gifts. These are unique ways that God uses a Christian in order to help build up the body of Christ (the church).

Ephesians 4 is a little different than the other passages because it doesn’t talk about gifts as much as it talks about people who are gifted. This verses speaks of uniquely gifted people who equip saints (Christians) to do the work of ministry.

What I Like About How People Use This Passage

This passage is often shared by pastors, in particular, to say something like, “My job is not to do the work of ministry, it is to equip you to do it.” I appreciate the nuance of such a statement. True, no one pastor is equipped to do every aspect of ministry and needs to create an expectation that all members of the church are actively engaged in ministry. I love that reminder—I do think it becomes too easy to think that someone getting paid by the church (in my context—I know not everyone is paid) is the one who should do everything for the church.

Ephesians 4 corrects a faulty understanding of how God uses at least *some* people. We certainly don’t want to default back to an OT priesthood where ministers/clergy/pastors have some special access to God and, thus, need to do special work because other people aren’t good enough. We are now all priests together (1 Pet 2:9), and it is good to have Ephesians 4 correct us when we might want to wash our hands of church engagement so that the “professionals” can do it.

Where I Think We Go Overboard

At the same time, I think this verse gets some mild abuse because I find it over-applied. What do I mean? Well, for one, I think it is too easy to apply it to all church staff, for example. You might hear someone say to their church, “The staff isn’t here to do the work of the ministry, they are here to equip you.”

Check Ephesians 4—go ahead and check it in multiple translations—there is no reference to church staff in it. I’m not sure where that idea came from, but it isn’t right. Ephesians 4 lists four uniquely gifted people. I doubt every church staff member is gifted in that way. Not only that, but I bet there are certain members of the congregation who are gifted in that way. Uh oh. What do you do when that happens? (Ignore it.)

Another way we go overboard is that it makes pastors get super hyped on delegation. Sure, I get it, delegation is good. Work smarter, not harder. 99% of leadership is knowing not what you should do but what you shouldn’t. Saying “no” is more important than saying “yes.” But, I mean come on, it is like every task then needs to get delegated because somehow that is the apex of fulfilling Ephesians 4. There are just some times when you need to do your job and not farm it out to someone else. (Also, “delegation” is not synonymous with “equipping” even if we’d like to think it were.)

Applications Moving Forward

I want to give two simple spots of feedback, one to church leaders and one to church member.

  • To Church Leaders: Be sure that you are talking about gifted people—not just all people in leadership—when referencing Ephesians 4. This means that you actually might need to adjust how you talk about the passage. Does every church leader fit the category of those gifted people in Ephesians 4? Unlikely. Not only that, but should you view your “key” church leadership as exclusively having these gifts? You probably shouldn’t have that perspective, either. Rather, we need to do the hard work of prayer and discernment to know who is a part of our flock and who isn’t—and what work we should equip people to be a part of.
  • To Church Members: Don’t undersell yourself or your giftedness. One of the misapplications of this passage (or the idea behind it that can be misconstrued) is that we assume church staff and church leaders have entered into another level of church leadership. This thought simply isn’t true. Your giftedness might not be in Ephesians 4—that’s totally fine. At the same time, it might be. Either way, don’t think less of yourself—get in the game and run hard.

Last week I asked for some feedback. I wanted to know the types of blog topics that are most helpful. Very few responded (you are still welcome to respond), but this topic was the first one that came to mind after reading one of the comments. I’m still working the idea out, but would appreciate your thoughts. Comment below to add to the conversation.

4 Replies to “A Verse I Like, an Application I Don’t”

  1. I enjoyed this blog. Read it twice. I like reading the Word and reading about the Word…topics, commentary, exposition, application. Thanks for this one.

  2. I really like the caution here. As someone who is big on equipping and empowering, I can see how unpacking this more can bring clarity.

    This post is about what Ephesians 4:11-12 says about who empowers/equips and who it doesn’t (church staff). Diving deeper into the discussion, How would you describe the relationship between church staff and the responsibility of equipping? Is there biblical precedence to include equipping in non-Ephesians 4 staff member job descriptions or is that just an organization’s preference? Should it be expected in all, most, or some positions? Handled strictly by person’s gifts or is there certain roles that require it?

    I have my own thoughts, but I will save that for a rebuttal on my blog! haha

    Great stuff. Will be thinking on this some more!

    1. Oh, Vick. There you go making me have to reply to things.

      I have little doubt you disagree in some way. Summarily, I’d say giftedness defines the level of equipping one does, not whether or not someone is on staff. I say that because (1) church staff is a relatively new concept, (2) our models should be reproducible, and (3) the NT does not give us much prescription beyond knowing that God gifts people.

      Your question, I’d say, does not need to take Ephesians 4 into account in order to be answered. Staff expectations for the organization can be unrelated to Eph 4 and you can still ask people to train others. In fact, most organizations would have some type of expectation of training—even if it is just helping to train your replacement when you leave a position—so to include some type of development of people in your job expectations is fine by me, just don’t use Eph 4 as your reasoning.

      What I push against is the staff/laity dichotomy and the assumption that if someone is on staff their job is to equip the saints for the work of ministry. I don’t think that’s true. If they have those specific gifts, then yes (regardless of if they are on staff). If they don’t, then it is unfair to apply Eph 4 to them.

      What you *can* apply, in my opinion, is the fact that we are the church and we are to build one another up as members of the local church. Thus, if a staff member is a church member (something I would encourage in most cases), then their member covenant (if the church has one) should be a sufficient expectation of how they function for the sake of the body and in the life of the church.

      1. Love the staff/laity dichotomy and I agree that staff’s expectation of equipping, in many cases, is an organization expectation not an Ephesians 4 application.

        You would have been proud. In the staff training last week, I made this clear as we looked at empowering people and Ephesians 4.

        Maybe we agree more than you think! 🙂

I'd love to hear your thoughts . . .