Mission-Centered Churches

Could Ephesians 4 contain the blueprint for disciple making?

What I have been mentally exploring for a year or more is could Ephesian 4:11-16 provide a ministry framework for how the church should be structured, as it relates to discipleship. If the mission of the church is to make disciples, then how do we accomplish that mission?

Five Ministry Functions

The Apostle Paul informs us that our triumphant Savior gave certain gifts to the church: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. While many limit their view of this text to specific offices or gifts, I prefer to see them as ministry functions. Consequently, we can establish an operational infrastructure by examining each of the five functions:

  • Apostles: They were “used for leading emissaries of a distinguished congregation, regardless of whether they belong to the Twelve.”[1]

  • Prophets: They were “gifts to the church to provide edification, exhortation, and comfort.”[2]

  • Evangelists: They were “not primarily Gospel compilers but missionaries who pioneer outreach in areas where the faith has not as yet been proclaimed.”[3]

  • Pastors: They were “entrusted with the nurture, protection, and supervision of the flock.”[4]

  • Teachers: They were “expounders of the Scriptures and of the Jesus tradition.”[5]

Examining the definitions above for each of the gifts given by Christ, we arrive at the following ministry functions:

  • Leadership Development (Apostles): whether they were sent to start churches or support churches, the apostles provided leadership to the churches and helped groom leaders in the local churches.

  • Spiritual Growth (Prophets): the prophets’ role in edifying, exhorting, and comforting the saints was for the purpose of spiritual growth. The word edify means to build up, and this was done through providing encouragement and hope.

  • Outreach (Evangelists): the evangelists served as the missional wing of the church (in addition to the apostles). They reached out to unreached people groups who had yet to hear and be touched by the gospel.

  • Pastoral Care (Pastors): pastors shepherded the flock of God, which included feeding them the Word of God, watching for their souls, and caring for their needs.

  • Christian Education (Teachers): teachers instructed the saints in and expounded upon the Scriptures.

New Ministry Infrastructure

If we accept these ministry functions as the prescribed infrastructure for every church, then we can organize our ministry offerings around this framework. As an illustration of what I mean, the table below integrates typical ministry offerings into my proposed ministry infrastructure.

There are two purposes for which Christ gave these gifts to the church: to equip the saints for the work of the ministry (v. 12), and to grow the saints up in Christ (v. 15). The goal for which Christ gave these gifts to the church is unity of the faith and knowledge of Christ (v. 13).

Moving from Maintenance-Centered to Mission-Centered Church

Based upon this model, church now becomes a mission center rather than a maintenance center. By “mission” I am referring to sharing one’s faith in Word and deed in his/her social spheres of influence.

A mission-centered church equips the saints to be salt and light in the spaces and places they frequent most – their homes, workplaces, and communities – and grows the saints to be strong in the Scriptures, prayer, stewardship, and their walk with the Lord. The outcome of which is a community of believers unified in what they believe, in whom they believe, and how they live out their faith.

A maintenance-centered church provides religious programming that keeps the saints spiritually breastfed, spiritually immature, and me-focused rather than Great Commission-focused. The outcome of which is a community of believers comfortable having church inside the building but ill-equipped for and uncomfortable expanding the church outside the building.

So what’s the answer? The four ministry functions of leadership development, spiritual growth, pastoral care, and Christian education must serve as the feeder system for outreach. These four areas are where spiritual maturity take place. The final, outreach, is where missions takes place.

Re-Establishing the Missional Church

In our post-Christendom, secular-atheistic American context, the Great Commission (“go and make disciples” [Matt. 28:19] and the Greatest Commission (“as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you” [John 20:21]) are, and have always been, the defined mission of the church: disciple making.[6]

COVID-19 has exposed the growing rift between church and state, and is further evidence that Christendom – the political-religious alliance between the church and governments of Western nations – has come to an end.[7] And this is not a bad development because it now frees the church in the West from its entanglements with the principalities and powers of our world that caused us to become comfortable in our privileged position, but led us to be negligent in our missional responsibility.

Therefore, missional – sharing our faith in our circles of influence and shaping our communities for the common good – must be the identity of today’s church. By (re-)establishing a function-based ecclesiology, I believe we will recapture a biblical and theological approach to “church” that is holistic and adaptable to any and all social landscapes, today’s included.

By synchronizing and integrating the four feeder functions of the church, we will create spiritually mature believers who are enthusiastic about and equipped to engage in the missional call and identity of the church.

Rev. Isaac Hayes is the president of Healing of the Soul Ministries. He is also an Assistant Pastor at the Apostolic Church of God in Chicago, IL, and a doctoral student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, IL. Follow Rev. Hayes on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram at @RevIsaacHayes.

[1] Dan Nässelqvist, “Apostle,” ed. John D. Barry et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016). [2] Harold W. Hoehner, “Ephesians,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 635. [3] A. Skevington Wood, “Ephesians,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians through Philemon, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 11 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 58. [4] Ibid., 58. [5] Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), Eph 4:11. [6] Ross Hastings, Missional God, Missional Church: Hope for Re-Evangelizing the West (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2012), 23. [7] David M. Gustafson, Gospel Witness: Evangelism in Word and Deed (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2019), 218-21.

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