T. J. de Ruiter in the Netherlands
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Many regard the list of the ‘Five Ministries” mentioned in Ephesians 4:11 as complete in itself. I have always had two objections to this view:
1. There are other scriptures giving additional ministries and responsibilities operating in the church.
2. Even a quick
view of all that is to be done in the church and the work of the Gospel
that there are more ministries.
Scholars of the
Scriptures and their interpretation agree in general that a doctrine or
teaching may only receive the mark of being Scriptural when all
references giving light on it are being dealt with and incorporated in
some way or other in the teaching. It is therefore my conviction that
the fivefold ministry teaching cannot bear this stamp as it is only
on the text in Ephesians 4. In this study I attempt to develop a truly
scriptural teaching about the churchministries, as I try to harmonise
integrate the various references on this subject, found in the New
The Nine Ministries
First of all I like to look at the Greek concept of ‘diakonia,’ usually translated as ministry. The word has a much broader application than only to the ministries of the preaching of the word. Arndt and Gingrich name five possibilities in application: Spirits, angels sent out to serve, (Hebrews 1:14). Serving, as in the preparation for a meal. The service of prophets and apostles. Serving in helping others, for instance in distributing alms. Service in church as a deacon, (Romans 12:7). I am convinced that the present church’s use of the concept ‘diakonia’ does need to be extended to all manner of service in the churches and the work of the Gospel in general. Even the apostle Paul refers to himself in several texts as a ‘diakonos’ of Christ and the Gospel and to his ministry as ‘diakonia.’
When we harmonize Ephesians 4:11 with Romans 12:7 we notice that the emerging picture agrees with 1 Corinthians 12:28-30 and also with the reality of responsibilities and work in the church. We honour in this study the hermeneutic principle of comparing text with text and this a necessity - as said above - to give any teaching the mark of being Scriptural.
Ephesians 4:11 - Romans 12:6-8
2. Prophets ----- - Prophesying
4. Pastors ------ - Admonishing, exhorting
5. Teachers ---- - Teaching
6. --------------- - Practical ministries, helping and serving
7. --------------- - Giving, contributing
8. --------------- - Ruling, Leading
9. --------------- - Doers of ‘acts of mercy’
You undoubtedly notice how both lists contribute in a beautiful way to a complete picture and how they give a very realistic view on the necessary ministries in the body of Christ. It is evident that the ministries 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 on this list have to do with verbal ministering of God’s word and revelation. You may also like to look at 1 Corinthians 12:28-30 and you will notice that Paul was neither attempting there to give a complete list of all the functions in the body. Now we do notice that it fits perfectly in the above combined listing.
Perhaps unnecessary to point out that there may occur a combination of some or all of these ministries in one person. The Spirit may also give one believer more than one of his gifts as listed by Paul in 1 Corinthians 12.
On the subject of apostles I have written before. Apostles travel with the Gospel to the unreached. They know themselves to be sent continually. In this way they obey their calling as ‘Sent ones.’ Just think how fast all peoples could have been reached with the Gospel, if there had continually been true apostles throughout all Church History.
Apostles need to be supported by existing churches in their pioneer efforts, because they fulfil the great commission of the Lord and make big sacrifices. The apostle Paul was always thankful for the support of churches, (Philippians 4:16-20). All true missionaries, having the vision to win souls for Christ in regions where men still have to hear about Christ are per definition of their calling apostles.
There have always been apostles, ministers ‘being sent forth with the Good News. It is therefore not fair and truthful to say that only in our time of charismatic revivals the apostolic ministry has been restored.
The original apostles saw themselves as ‘diakonoi’ of Christ and his church, as servants of Christ going out with the Gospel as directed by the Holy Spirit. Apostles must therefore not be leaders of churches that stay at home, but always go to new areas, as long as they are able to do so. Of the first apostles it is known that some of them became pastors of churches in their old age.
The prophet speaks in an inspirational way on behalf of God. In old Israel the prophet had a special ministry. He knew a dynamic fellowship with Yahweh and meditated often till in a state of ecstasy or inner calmness. He spoke under a powerful working, an anointing, of the Spirit of the Lord. Many prophets of the Lord knew themselves with special messages sent to the people of God. Their messages were founded on and in harmony with the revelation of God and His will as revealed in the Torah. The New Testament prophet shall in like manner know his messages to be based on the revelation of God as given in Jesus Christ and the teaching of the first apostles.
Please notice that the churchprophet is not placed in the same position as the prophet under the Old Covenant. The old prophets in Israel were mostly lonely figures but the churchprophet functions in the body of Christ and his utterances must be judged by the fellow-believers, (1 Corinthians 14:29).
The wider meaning of the prophetic ministry is that all who speak the word of God in proclamation or exhortation as inspired by the Spirit are used a prophetic sense.
The evangelist will preach in areas where churches already exist and he will do so in co-operation with them. Men as Billy Graham and Reinhard Bonnke are international examples of the ministry of evangelists.
The pastor or shepherd is the spiritual leader of the church. He is responsible for the ministry of preaching the word of God, exhortation and for the pastoral care of the members. The pastor has often gifts for preaching, teaching en organising spiritual events, though he must avoid to become a kind of business-manager.
About exhortation. In Romans 12:7 we have the Greek verb ‘parakaleô, and this word has a broader meaning than only that of exhortation or comfort. The meaning can vary from to assist, encourage to standby to help or strengthen. The Holy Spirit is called the Comforter, and the Greek ‘Parakletos’ is from the same wordgroup as the verb used in Romans 12. The activities described by the verb ‘parakaleô,’ belong surely to the pastoral ministry.
In the Revelation of John we find the letters to the angels of the seven churches. Here is used the Greek ‘angelos,’ which means messenger. It is used for human and spirit messengers. Some expositors suggest that John addressed these letters to the spiritual powers above those churches, but this view cannot be right for the simple and authoritative reason that we do not write letters to spirits. Others think the ‘the angel of’ refers to each churchprophet in one of the seven churches, but this explanation can neither be correct as churches did not have in those early days of Christianity a single, authoritative churchprophet as some have today. Understanding these letters in a symbolic way is also rather difficult as we find in each churchletter many details that pertained to the particular city, its culture and the situation in the church itself.
We therefore cannot escape the understanding that the main messenger of each church is addressed here, the pastor. In support of the view that ‘angelos’ refers to the main messenger of the church I point to 1 Timothy 3:16. Paul wrote here that the resurrected Christ appeared to angels. He clearly meant here the first messengers or ambassadors of the Gospel, the apostles of Jesus Christ.
The pastor is, in his function as churchmessenger and shepherd, a leader, a ‘presbuteros’ in the church. Most churches recognise this and have the pastor as the president of the churchboard or as the head of the elders. Some define the office of the pastor as the ‘primus inter pares,’ - Latin, meaning ’the first one amongst his peers,’ the other leaders or elders.
The teacher explains the revelation of God and his will, as found in the Holy Scriptures. He will try to teach those in contents as well in their implications. He will help the Christians also to connect the teachings to practical living. The teachers of times gone by not only did this, but they also helped people to learn the Scriptures by heart. In these, our days, it is again necessary to help people to memorise the Scriptures inspite of all modern communications.
It is very essential for modern day Bibleteachers also to have some knowledge of the Bible languages.There are excellent books to help when there is no knowledge of Greek or Hebrew. The teacher should have sufficient resources to have a sound foundation for his teaching. He should also be informed of the latest insights in the meaning of biblewords, grammatical constructions and the cultural contexts of words and concepts. Teachers must not escap their responsibilities in all the above mentioned aspects.
Note: Though many a pastor has the abilities of teaching and of pastoring, he should also recognise that there are teachers specialised in certain aspects of doctrine, knowledge and ministerial or pastoral abilities.
We have looked above at the original meaning of the Greek term ‘diakonia.’ The word is used for all manner of serving, even the apostles called themselves ‘diakonos’ of Christ and his church. The apostles appointed practical helpers in the early church to take care of some duties, (Acts 6:3-6). Much later in Church History the ‘diakonos’ or deacon became an official function. In many churches deacons take care of the finances, caring for the poor, standing at the entrance, welcoming people.
But the many, that are busy in all kinds of supporting ministries in the church are per definition of the concept ‘diakonia’ all deacons. Let me just quickly mention: The printers, the bookkeepers, the secretaries, the musicians, soundtechnicians and also the computer, radio- tv.- and internet technicians and specialists.
I conclude that under the heading ‘diakonia’ all ministries must be grouped that make it possible for the church to function well in all her many departments and activities, so that she can fulfil her mission in the world.
Givers have the power, the will and the possibilities to give liberally of their means to the churches and their various ministries. In this way the church can fulfil her calling without lack of the necessary means and workers can receive a proper income.
Note: If they, who have the power to give often large sums of money, would fulfil their calling faithfully and unselfishly, the church could, perhaps, function without having to beg for the things, that are needed.
8. Rulers or Leaders
Leaders - Greek ‘presbuteroi’ in the New Testament and usually translated as elders - govern the church as a spiritual and social body. In the Greek culture of those days the presbuteroi were comparable to the Roman senators and in the Jewish community with the local leaders of synagogues or members of the Sanhedrin. There are a number of references in the New Testament to the elders of local churches, (e.g. Acts 20:17; Titus 1:5). Elders are men with the ability for wise and mature leadership. The gift of leadership is also specifically mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:28. Elders work together; they make policies and watch the execution of them in the practical ways. They preserve order and watch that the Church can fulfil her ministries adequately. They take care for the full-time workers that they can minister without having to worry for their daily living.
In Acts 20:27,28 and Titus 1:5-7 the elders are called in the Greek ‘presbuteroi’, and ‘episkopoi,’ which is translated as overseers. From these passages we learn that the elders are together responsible under the leadership of the Holy Spirit to rule and lead the church. Their responsibility is not only a business one, but also pastoral. Amongst the ‘presbuteroi’, the leaders or elders can also be those, who are gifted to preach and teach; please look at 1 Timothy 5:17. It is not difficult to understand that such elders will get involved in pastoral activities.
Note: The title bishop is derived from the Greek ‘episkopos.’ There is however no scriptural ground for a separate higher function or position of bishop. But it does not follow that there cannot be a president or a superintendent , leading a board of elders or a group of pastors. A group of co-operating churches can surely have a regional or national board with a president or a superintendent.
9. Showers of Mercy
Paul is undoubtedly thinking of those believers, who have a special compassion for people in need or with great and serious problems and who have the means, or can do something about it.
We must not
that in those days there were no hospitals and care-centres for old
and disabled people as we have today. The healing centres in those days
were often connected to some cult of idol worship and full of occult
Many were completely dependant on the compassion and mercy of those who
felt called to help in practical, unselfish ministries.
The interdependence of the members
As in a physical body so it is in the body of Christ, the well-functioning of the body is dependant upon the effective working of all members. Truly great spiritual leaders recognise this principle and honour their workers, however small their task may be in the whole of the organisation or church.
Billy Graham has publicly often said that he could not fulfil his ministry without the support and prayers of the many older brothers and sisters, who took much time to pray for him. Evangelist Reinhard Bonnke cannot fulfil his ministry to the millions in Africa without the faithful, loyal and unselfish support of all his teammembers and prayerpartners. Dr. R. H. Schuller of the Crystal Cathedral has said on many occasions that he could never have developed his world-wide ministry from his church without the faithful, untiring and liberal help of the members of his church.
Who of us decides what kind of work or ministry is more important than other activities? Paul teaches us to honour the hidden members. Is it not a fleshly tendency of the human ego to think that ‘I, only am important.’ Is this kind of sin not a very subtle temptation for those, who preach or stand on the platform?
beware of the dangers of the flesh; many a leader has fallen because of
this subtle sin of self-elevation.
When I served as a minister of a church I have, as many others, learned that those, who function in one of the five wordministries as mentioned in Ephesians 4, cannot do this properly without the supportive ministries of others and those are just as important and necessary as the other ones in the work of the Church.
It is high time that the body of Christ is going to function as the Lord, the Head, had in mind for her. It is necessary that all members will come to a scriptural view on the strategic importance of their personal calling and work, however low or hidden it may be in the eyes of themselves and others. The apostle Paul taught in 1 Corinthians 12 that all members are equally important, though they may not receive sufficient honour and recognition, God will honour them.
It is my conviction that the teaching of the Nine Ministries will give all believers a better view on the importance of their responsibilities and tasks. If all recognise the ministries, whether the public ones or the hidden and assisting ones,the church will undoubtedly function better as a spiritual organism, a living body, and the Lord will receive more glory, than perhaps now is the case.
Leusden, The Netherlands, October 1999, revised July 2011
This is a slightly shortened edition of the Dutch version of this study, ‘De Negen Bedieningen in het Lichaam van Christus.’
This is a publication of the Dutch Foundation (Stichting) 'Support Christian Ministries' in Leusden, The Netherlands, For your donation to support this ministry: Bank Abn-Amro at Leusden, The Netherlands, account 126.96.36.1993
Information? Questions? E-mail Pastor T. J. de Ruiter