Focus of the Leadership
We have been talking about God’s purpose of reconciling the people of the world to himself and to each other in Christ and how we can cooperate with his purpose. So far we have discussed remembering where we came from, authentic Christian love, humble and patient attitudes, making a strong effort, and emphasizing major matters, all done based on what God has previously done for us. Another important way we cooperate with God’s purpose is for the leaders to establish a focus on God’s agenda and for the church to follow it.
There is much, rich instruction for churches in Ephesians 4:11-16. It could be considered a consult with God for churches. We will note some of this important content with a focus on the part that pertains to unity.
“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-13).
Here our divine consultant gives us three important instructions.
- Leaders need to implement a focus.
Any group of people, such as a church, will develop a focus, deliberately or not. If they choose to focus on all kinds of different things, that, too, is a focus. One ever present danger for churches is to allow other teachings, ungodly people, and/or the latest ideas to steal the spotlight. Such dangers are specifically mentioned in Scripture (Ephesians 4:14; Acts 17:21).
God’s word to leaders in Ephesians 4:11-12 is that you are to use the gifts he has given you to develop a focus in the church. This is in distinction to allowing the body to determine what it wants to do. We have taken the concepts of relevance and meeting needs to such an extreme that we have created a near insatiable consumer culture among Christians that too often steers us away from God’s actual will for his church. One reason leaders are recognized as leaders is their maturity. The body of Christ should be led by the spiritual wisdom of mature leaders, not the secular desires of immature members. It is true that many members will also be mature and have good spiritual wisdom to offer. This can be accessed and utilized without surrendering the leadership of the church to the desires of the consumeristic body at large.
A focus from leadership is also in distinction to the anti-authority, individualistic, don’t-tell-me-what-to-do value that has pervaded our society for decades now. I’m not advocating a heavy-handed, authoritarian leadership. That is not the way of Christ. But I am advocating that the leaders lead, based on the word of Christ, as depicted in Ephesians 4. If people don’t want to follow what Christ says his church is to be about, then at some point, with humble, broken hearts, the leaders need to go on and do it anyway without them.
2. The focus the leaders should develop is on equipping the members to serve and so build up the body.
Ephesians 4:11-12 states clearly that the purpose or goal of the leadership gifts is the equipping of the members to serve so that the body can be built up (see vv. 15-16 for more details on what that looks like). The leaders are responsible for creating this kind of focus and culture in the church.
The leaders are to use their own gifts to equip the members to find theirs and use them to serve others. If this takes place, then the church will have not only evangelists and pastor-teachers but also people who have a whole range of gifts, such as serving, teaching, encouraging, giving, and showing mercy, to name a few (Romans 12:6-8). Equipping members to actually serve (Ephesians 4:12) matches the teaching about the purpose of spiritual gifts, which is also to serve others (1 Corinthians 12:7; 1 Peter 4:10).
The word for equipping indicates mending, restoring, putting in order, completing, preparing and training. Teaching is a vital part of this, but actual equipping entails much more. (For more on how Jesus equipped people, see this post.)
It is important to notice that the concern in Ephesians 4 is for “his people” (v. 12), “the body of Christ” (v. 12), and “all” (v. 13). We take the teaching here out of context if we apply it only to individuals instead of to the church as a whole. True, individuals must grow for the church to grow, but we must not be content to promote growth among a few individuals. We must seek to equip the whole body for service and growth. If some people don’t really want to do that, we need to at least explore ways to “back up” the training and first help them develop such hearts and attitudes that they will (later) be open to it.
We should not let the emphasis on the building up and growth of the body to blind us to the fact that we must also equip people to reach out to others who are not yet a part of it. That was a substantial part of Jesus’ training of the twelve. Serving and telling the good news to outsiders and then explaining and equipping them for service in the kingdom of God is the special focus of the training offered by Empowering Subjects (click here for more info).
3. Leaders should ensure that they persevere in this focus for the long haul, until we reach unity, maturity, and Christlikeness.
Be sure to notice the word “until” in Ephesians 4:13. Verses 11-12 tell us some things we are to be doing and v. 13 indicates that we need to persevere in those things until certain goals are reached. That means perseverance will be required. If you have ever accomplished anything substantial, you have no doubt noticed the need to persevere.
Three results are specified as the goals of the equipping, each introduced with the same preposition (eis, “to, to the extent of”). They are unity, maturity, and attaining the whole measure of the fullness of Christ (v. 13). We will address unity in more depth below. Maturity is associated with stability (v. 14) and also doing (vv. 12, 16; cf. Hebrews 5:14). Attaining the whole measure of the fullness of Christ means something like Christlikeness. Jesus once said that everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher (Luke 6:40; “trained” is the same word as prepare or equip in Ephesians 4:12). Here again, Christ himself is the focus. Unity, maturity, and Christlikeness are beacons that guide and focus our equipping.
The above guidance from God’s word (Ephesians 4:11-13) is well worth our consideration, and all the more so since so many churches are struggling mightily today. I encourage leaders to take advantage of this “free consult” with God in Ephesians 4. I challenge members to deliberately set aside any consumer mentality and follow your leaders as they implement a focus on equipping for service.
Our special concern in this series, however, is the goal of unity. One insight about it already, since unity (v. 13) is one of the goals of the equipping (v. 12), is that unity comes after people are equipped and serving. Unity does not come when people merely talk. They must be equipped to work. Serving together for a common cause brings people together.
The details in v. 13 give us additional insight about how we can cooperate with God’s purpose of unity. The verse literally says the goal is for us all to reach unity “of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God.” The phrase points to two additional sources of unity.
First, unity comes from “the faith.” This could refer to our trusting in Christ (as in 4:4), but since it is here preceded by the article “the,” it seems to refer to something like Christianity, the Christian way, the body of Christian teaching (compare Acts 6:7; 14:22; 2 Corinthians 13:5; Galatians 1:23; 1 Timothy 4:1; Jude 3). I don’t think we can know for certain whether Paul meant faith (trust) or the Christian teaching, but I also don’t think it matters too much because one will naturally lead to the other. Our trust in Christ will lead us to listen to all his teachings and let them shape our thinking, beliefs, and lives. As each member in the whole body moves toward “the Christian way,” the body will converge in unity.
Second, unity comes from “the knowledge of the Son of God.” Both the term “knowledge,” which is an intensive form, and all we know about Christ, indicate that this knowledge is not merely academic information. We certainly need to know truths about the Son of God, but we also need to know him. To know God or Christ in the Bible means to have such a relationship with him that you are transformed to become like him, including doing the deeds he did (cf. Jeremiah 22:15-16; John 17:3; Galatians 4:8-9; Philippians 3:10; 1 Thessalonians 4:5; 2 Thessalonians 1:8; Titus 1:16; 1 John 4:8). If our knowledge of him does not do this, He will consequently judge us with the poignant words “I never knew you” (Matthew 7:21-23).
To summarize this great phrase from Ephesians 4:13a, then, as we trust Christ more, listen to and follow his teachings, and come to know him to the point that we become like him, unity will emerge. It is true that unity requires that every individual believer grow in this way, but unity can neither be tested nor achieved in isolation. Unity obviously requires more than one person. The context and teaching of Ephesians as a whole indicate that unity is a matter that plays out not only among multiple people but even multiple people who are drastically different from each other (Jew and Gentile in their case).
So, putting Ephesians 4:13 back into its immediate context, it is incumbent on the leadership to establish and persevere in a focus on equipping the entire body to serve and build itself up toward unity, maturity, and Christlikeness. It is incumbent on the church to follow their lead.