The Greatest Need in the Local Church
Text: Ephesians 4:11-16
Main Idea: Healthy, unified churches are the product of everyday Christians undertaking the work of ministry in their local church.
I. The Fundamental Purpose of Elders and Teachers (Ephesians 4:11–12a)
II. The Irreplaceable Role of the Congregation (Ephesians 4:12b)
III. The Ultimate Aim of Ministry in the Local Church (Ephesians 4:13–16)
Good morning, it’s so good to be back with you after a week in Hawaii… Colleen and I really appreciated the opportunity to relax and recharge. It was a much-needed break. Thank you.
So as we turn to the final sermon on the local church this morning, I’d like to begin with a question: “What is the fundamental characteristic of a healthy church?” What single attribute transforms a stunted and ingrown but biblically faithful church into a truly healthy church? And by healthy church I mean:
- A church that passionately proclaims the gospel of Jesus Christ.
- A church that prioritizes discipleship for every age group.
- A church that nurtures deep, meaningful relationships between believers.
- A church that strives to engage its local community for Christ in tangible ways.
Who wouldn’t want to be a part of a church like that? Right? Well as we turn to our text today, we are going to see that this kind of church doesn’t happen by accident or by force. Rather, the apostle Paul points us to the truth that (Main Idea): Healthy, unified churches are the product of everyday Christians undertaking the work of ministry in their local church.
Notice, what’s the greatest need in the local church? It’s not more staff, more seating, more services, or more internet bandwidth so that we can broadcast our services into the cold, dark reaches of cyberspace. No, the greatest need in the local church is everyday Christians (Navy Yard dads, homeschool and public school moms, empty-nesters, retirees, and senior citizens) embracing their God-given call to actively serve in their local church. And when they do this something beautiful happens.
Ephesians 4:15–16 … we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
But this will only happen to the degree that God’s people gasp three things:
- The Fundamental Purpose of Elders and Teachers (vs. 11–12)
- The Irreplaceable Role of the Congregation (vs. 12–13)
- The Ultimate Aim of Ministry in the Local Church (vs. 14–16)
The Fundamental Purpose of the Elders and Teachers (Ephesians 4:11–12a)
Two Groups with Overlapping Duties
As we begin, I want to let you know that I’m going to be skipping apostles, prophets, and evangelists this morning. On the one hand, the terms apostle and prophet require some detailed exegesis and theological parsing that would really drag out this morning’s sermon without adding much to the sermon itself. And I am skipping the term evangelist because they were, more often than not, traveling gospel preachers who did not hold an official office in the local church.
But, on the other hand, I’m focusing on the terms shepherd (pastors) and teachers this morning. Because while some NT churches contained a mix of apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers; every single church in the NT contained shepherds (pastors) and teachers.
And we know this because, shepherd or pastor is one of the three terms that the NT writers use to describe the duties AND office of an elder. Every elder is a pastor, even though we typically use the word pastor as a title for our paid staff positions (we saw this three weeks ago). But, the importance of this term “shepherd” as opposed to “overseer” or “elder” is that it emphasizes the manner in which elders are to oversee and lead and teach in the church. They are to be men who lovingly protect, care for, and nurture the church as a shepherd tends his flock. And one of the primary ways they do this is by faithfully teaching their people the entire counsel of God’s Word.
2 Timothy 4:1–2 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.
This is the fundamental task of eldership as we saw two weeks ago in Acts 6.
Yet, the final term in Ephesians 4:11 points us to a second but interrelated truth: While it is true that every elder is by definition, calling, and giftedness is a teacher; the church contains any number of teachers who are not gifted, called to be, or currently serving as an elder. Simply put, elders are not the only teachers in the church and that is by God’s express purpose and design.
The Irreplaceable Role of the Congregation (Ephesians 4:12b)
One Overarching Goal
But, why? Why does God give, as in graciously call and gift and empower elders and teachers to the local church? Does he do it so that the elders and teachers can be the center of attention or known as the most important people in the church? No. God calls and gifts and empowers elders and teachers “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (v. 12)
Don’t miss this, what is the singular, overarching purpose of teaching in the local church? It’s to equip “everyday church members” (new believers and old believers alike) for the work of ministry. And this ministry is directed toward one goal, the building up of the body of Christ— notice the goal is a healthy, vibrant, loving church.
But, at this stage some of you might be thinking, “Wait a minute pastor, what in the world do I have to offer to my church? I cannot teach. I’m not a good administrator. And to be honest, I don’t feel like I have anything to contribute to my church. Well, if that describes you this morning, let me highlight three important truths that flow from this verse.
Three Important Truths
Number one, if we turn back to verse 7, we are reminded that every single believer has been supernaturally gifted for service in the local church.
Ephesians 4:7–8 But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.”
And yes, these gifts are the kind of gifts that Paul describes in passages like Romans 12:3–8.
Romans 12:3–8 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4 For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.
Please, do not miss OR dismiss the glorious reality in these verses: if you are a Christian, you have been supernaturally gifted for service in the local church AND you are a necessary part of the local church.
But, this very affirmation presents us with a very important question: “If every believer has been supernaturally gifted for ministry to the body of Christ, why do so many Christians struggle to embrace their calling?” Well, in my experience, one of the greatest reasons that many Christians shy away from serving because they are continually comparing themselves to other Christians instead of embracing the truth that the church is a body that’s comprised of incredibly diverse but absolutely necessary parts.
1 Corinthians 12:14–20 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
1 Corinthians 12:24–26 …. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
Christian don’t miss this, no matter how insignificant or “un-gifted” you feel, God has given you a purposeful role in the body of Christ. And if your giftedness looks different from everyone else around you, it’s not because you missed out. It’s because God has equipped you to meet needs in your local church that the other gifts do not and cannot meet.
Let me take a minute to illustrate the significance of this passage. What single term do we use to describe someone who has cerebral palsy or someone who is blind or has a sever back injury? We use the term disabled because a part of their body (sometimes a very small, seemingly insignificant part of their body) is not working properly. And if you have ever known someone with a disability you know that they spend an incredible amount of physical, mental, and emotional energy trying to compensate for their disability so they can live a normal life.
Now, let’s apply this to the local church. If every believer is a necessary part of the local church just like every muscle, bone, nerve ending, and organ is necessary to the human body. What might you call a local church in which every believer is not serving in their area of giftedness? Two terms come to mind, disabled or unhealthy at best.
Friends, why do local churches struggle to fulfill their disciple-making mission, to be a people ruled by the love of Christ, and to be salt and light to the world? It usually comes down to two reasons: (1) The leadership of the church does not value the service of everyday Christians, (2) the congregation is relying on a select few to “do the work of ministry for building up the body of Christ.”
Number Two, as we turn our attention back to verses 11–12, it is important to emphasize the fact that our gifts of grace are never complete upon initial reception. We see this most clearly, in that, the Greek word “equip” in verse 12 means to fix something that’s broken (like torn nets in Matthew 4:21) OR to supply something that is lacking (1 Thessalonians 3:10).
Notice here, when Jesus bestows his gifts of grace on his blood-bought people, he does it such a way that they his gifts are intentionally underdeveloped and incomplete. In fact, this is one of the primary reasons that Christians struggle with the Spiritual gifts AND tend to shy away from service… We are looking for preexisting abilities and pronounced strengths in our life when Jesus gives his gifts in “seed from.”
And why does Jesus do this? He does it, so that each-and-every one of us will realize that we desperately need the “equipping” ministry of others (especially elders and teachers) to understand, embrace, and effectively minister in our area of giftedness… which brings us to the third point.
Number Three, as we turn our attention to the final phrase in verse 12, Paul wants us to see that the teaching ministry of the elders and the teachers AND the aim of the congregation’s gifted ministry is the building up the entire body (i.e., local church) not just the individual members of the body.
To put it another way: Christian your giftedness is not really about you. It’s not the means by which you measure yourself against other Christians NOR is it for your sense of personal fulfillment. No. Your giftedness the manner in which God has personally and intentionally equipped you to serve and build up your local church.
Let’s pause on this word “you” for a moment because it can protect us from falling into one of two ditches.
On the one hand, the pronoun “you” is a exhortation to every family that has chosen to homeschool your children. I know you care deeply about family discipleship and are constantly juggling curriculum requirements, the academic needs of your children, and state recording requirements. I know you are often spent at the end of each day. And on top of this, there are meals to cook, laundry to wash, and extra-curricular activities to be enjoyed.
But this passage serves as a vivid reminder that we cannot separate our discipleship efforts in the home from our active ministry in the local church. Yes, we have God-given duties to our family. But, at the same time we have a God-given duty to the local church because Jesus Christ has intentionally gifted us for service.
In light of this, I would humbly suggest that we disciple our children best when we actively model what it means to be a committed member of the local church.
And on the other hand, the pronoun “you” is a warning to believers who have stopped serving because they have “put in their time.” Now, let me be clear we cannot expect a teacher to teach non-stop for 25-years or ministry leader to lead for decades without a break. Everyone needs time to rest and recharge.
Rather, I am talking about the manner in which many Christians excuse themselves from present ministry because they served at some point in the past. And on the surface it sounds reasonable. But if you think about it in the terms of our passages this morning it would be like a hand or foot or eye telling the body, “Hey, I’ve put in my time for 65 years, I’m done. You can carry on without me… Spiritual gifts simply doesn’t work that way.
Now, I realize that I may be stepping on some toes this morning. But my goal is not to shame, demean or discourage anyone. I love you and want God’s best for you! I want you to experience your highest possible joy and delight in Jesus Christ by embracing the purpose for which you were saved.
But, this leaves us with a final question, “What is the ultimate aim of this ministry through which each-and-every Christian is called to build up the body of Christ?” Is it so that we can attract more attenders, expand our programs, and add more worship services? Well even though these might be possible outcomes of our ministry, it is not the ultimate aim of our ministry in the local church.
The Ultimate Aim Our Ministry in the Local Church (Ephesians 4:11–16)
Two Primary Aims (4:11-13)
What is the ultimate aim of the congregation’s ministry in the local church? Well, according to verse 13, it is a two-fold goal. It’s a church that is increasingly anchored in sound doctrine AND maturing into the likeness of Jesus Christ.
But what does this really look like in everyday life? How can we know that it is happening in our church? What does it look like when elders and teachers equip the saints for ministry and the saints build up the body of Christ through their diverse but gifted service? Paul tells us in verses 14–16.
Four Implications in the Everyday Life of the Church (4:14–16)
So what does it look like when elders and teachers equip the saints for ministry and the saints build up the body of Christ through their diverse but gifted service?
- The church will not be easily swayed by false teaching because it is increasingly grounded and anchored in sound doctrine. Everyday Christians will be able to quickly discern the difference between truth and error.
- The church will not be marked by a spirit of snarky, cynical, harshness or sinful judgementalism; but will be known as a place where even the hardest truths are spoken in love because we want the best for our brothers and sisters in Christ.
- The church will become increasingly unified and connected as it grows up into Christ AND reflects the very character of Jesus Christ (none of this is possible without Christ). And when this happens, the local church will increasingly be a place where believers flourish in their faith because their fellow church members:
- Go out of their way to be merciful to those in need. Whether they are helping someone in crisis OR someone who is suffering the rightful consequences of their foolish and sinful actions.
- Pursues forgiveness and unity instead of fueling conflict and division. And patiently bear with difficult Christians in the local church.
- Set aside their personal plans so that they can serve their neighbors, a needy family in the church, or a homebound church member.
- Promote unity by setting aside their personal preferences and desires so that they can prioritize the interests of others.
- Joyfully share the gospel with unsaved friends and family despite the inevitable awkwardness and difficulty. Because they know that the difficulty of sharing is nothing compared to the true danger their friends are facing apart from Christ.
- Finally, as the local church is increasingly anchored in sound doctrine, speaking the truth in love, serving in their area of giftedness and reflecting the character of Jesus Christ; something beautiful and glorious begins to happen. We begin to tangibly experience the true joy of our unity with one another that is forever anchored in our union with Jesus Christ.
And when this happens, it creates the kind of environment in which evangelism can truly flourish, disciples can grow into the likeness of Jesus Christ, and unbelievers can see the dynamic work of Christ among us. Because as Christ Tod us himself, “they will know you are Christians by your love.” And that’s what gifted service nurtures and accomplishes in the local church.
 “Paul’s earliest extant correspondence shows, there was a group of people in the church who specialized in teaching (1 Thess. 5:12; cf. Gal. 6:6; 1 Cor. 12:28; Rom. 12:7; Acts 13:1; James 3:1; Best 1997a: 166; BDAG 241);” (Frank Thielman, Ephesians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on The New Testament [Grand Rapid: Baker Academic, 2010], 276).
 Harold W. Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 545.