There’s a passage in Ephesians that is basically a job description for pastors and ministry leaders. It applies to a long list of leaders in the church, and the end goal is undeniably clear:
“Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.” Ephesians 4:11-13
Like verse 13 says, the goal is to be spiritually mature in the Lord. When I think about what that verse says, an image comes to mind of an empty outline of a person that is increasingly filled with vibrant color as they grow, develop their faith, are poured into by other believers, and are filled by God’s Word. I imagine that measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ would mean that person is completely filled to the brim with knowledge, light, beauty and wisdom that radiates outward for the glory of God. I think it’s a beautiful picture, and one we should take to heart as we seek to disciple other believers and become increasingly more like Christ.
Kent Hughes recently wrote an article for Ligonier Ministries on “4 Essentials for Spiritual Maturity” where he speaks directly to pastors and elders about the crucial elements of shepherding believers into that fullness in Christ. I think his advice can apply to all of us, though, regardless of whether we are leading a congregation of believers or raising a family or teaching a small group Bible study. I believe all of us as followers of Christ have a role to play in helping bring others closer to the cross, and all of us are on journeys toward more complete maturity in our faith together, too.
Hughes shares these four essentials:
- “Preaching the mystery of Christ.” Colossians 1:25-28 is a key verse here-- the goal, Paul writes, is “to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to the saints… the mystery, which is Christ in you the hope of glory.” We must use our words, our platforms, and our times together with others to share the full gospel of Jesus Christ and point others directly back to him.
- “Preachers must also struggle in preaching the mystery.” We often don’t like to admit our own struggles or shortcomings to others, but being honest and vulnerable about even the hard things in life and faith is essential to showing others the fullness of the Gospel message. Paul wrote this in Colossians 1:29: “We tell others about Christ, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all the wisdom God has given us. We want to present them to God, perfect in their relationship to Christ. That’s why I work and struggle so hard, depending on Christ’s mighty power that works within me.” He is real about the fact that there will be struggles along the way in our ministry, but he reminds us that Christ is our strength in times of weakness.
- “The believing community [must] be ‘knit together in love.’” In Colossians 2:1-3, Paul prays that the hearts of those he is writing to may “be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” We cannot come to fully know or understand God solely on our own. When we remember the imagery of the body of Christ from 1 Corinthians 12, we are reminded that each of us are different and essential parts of the full body of Christ in the church-- we need all parts to function at our fullest and best. We can learn so much from each other, be encouraged by one another, be challenged by one another, and sharpen each other in our faith.
- “Those who shepherd the church must be mature in Christ and demonstrate it in community.” Communities of believers shepherded by strong, mature, God-glorifying leaders will themselves grow into strong, mature, God-glorifying communities… and that’s the beauty of it all. “Over a period of time,” Hughes writes, “a congregation will often come to resemble and imitate its leaders. This is especially true where hardships are met with mature leaders whose hearts are informed and enriched with the full canonical mystery of Christ, who toil and struggle with the energy that God supplies, who minister with a steadfast love and commitment to the body of Christ, and who model maturity in Christ.”
Wherever you are in your personal spiritual journey, whoever you find yourself leading and shepherding, I hope and pray these essentials become increasingly more present and perfect in your lives and your faith. May we all remember in every step of the way that, like 2 Corinthians 12:9 says, that God’s grace is sufficient for us, that his power is made perfect in our weakness. May we boast all the more gladly about our weaknesses, knowing without a doubt that Christ’s power rests on us.
Photo credit: ©thinkstock-Avosb
Publication date: July 21, 2017
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