The equipping system of the body of Christ

11 05 2020

The restrictions of Covid-19 are opening our eyes to see in a fresh way how the church actually grows. Services are cancelled, gatherings are held by Zoom, yet the Church is adapting and functioning. How?

If there is one key to understanding the Church, it is that it is a living organism, connected to Christ for its existence. The body of Christ has systems which help all the parts thrive. Here’s how it work.

“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” (Eph.4:11-12).

Recent teachings on this passage have entitled these roles ‘the five-fold ministry.” The concept is that ideally every local church should have people filling these roles or functions (with my definitions):

Apostle — one sent to launch and extend into new works
Prophet — one who boldly speaks truth from God
Evangelist — one who announces the gospel
Pastor — one who shepherds God’s people
Teacher — one who explains the Scriptures and corrects falsehood

Clearly, each of these functions is important in establishing and maturing churches. It’s good to remember that the giver of these ministries is Christ (“And He Himself gave…. v.11).

A key question for any local body, or any fellowship of churches should be, Who are the people whom Jesus seems to have given us to grow us up in maturity?

Let’s not forget Christ’s intent. These are not five superstar experts who perform better than all others. In fact, super performers are usually the worst equippers. True equippers are often in the background, where they resource, empower, and release others for a life-time of fruitful ministry.

Performers gather large crowds. Equippers build up the body by helping many others excel.

Instead of handing out titles and budgets, remember that these functions constitute a living system in the organism, the one new man with Christ as head and the church His body. The church thrives when all the saints are being equipped to minister in one or more of these five areas.

If you are an experienced believer, you should be equipping others. What does equipping look like? The Greek word (katartismon) has this range of meaning:
1. Mend, or repair.  (In Mark 1:19 it refers to mending fish nets; In Gal.6:1 it speaks of restoring the one caught in sin)
2. Render fit or complete (cp. 1 Peter 5:10 “perfect,” and 1 Cor.1:10 “joined together in the same mind”)

All equipping is to result in “edifying of the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:12). It is interesting that just as Jesus was a builder, now His church is to be built up (the Gk word, oikodomen, translated “edification,” comes from the realm of home construction).

Have you noticed how much of this system depends on facilities and formal worship services? Did you see anything in the text about the necessity of outstanding national leaders, fair taxation, and efficient health care?

The beauty of the organic nature of the church is that it is thriving today in high-rises, slums, and “underground.” Its even working in many suburbs!

My point is not that budgets and bylaws are wrong. But let’s not forget what actually helps the body of Christ grow according to God’s design.

I had a seminary professor who always encouraged mentoring. He often asked us, “Men, where are the men you are mentoring?”

If you are reading this, you are not a baby Christian. So I would pose these questions for our reflection: 

  • Who are you equipping?
  • What kind of conversations and vocabulary feed the equipping system of the body?
  • What styles of teaching the Word enhance equipping? Which detract?
  • How are our children being equipped? Our teens?  In our homes?