Ministries, Callings, and the Local Church
In today’s culture, there are probably as many “ministries” as there are local churches. In Houston alone, we have ministries for helping the homeless, for general service in the communities, for helping victims of sex trafficking, healing ministries, prophetic ministries, deliverance ministries, just to name a few.
But these ministries do good works, and they do things we are commanded to do (James 2:16, Deut. 15:11, Matt. 10:8, 1 Cor. 14:1-3), right? Yes, they do. However, is it God’s design that there be individual ministries for these things, or is it God’s design that they be done by the church and within the context of a local church?
Many people say that God has called them to do this ministry, or to specialize in this thing, or to preach to this group of people. This concept is biblical (Acts 13:2-3, Rom. 11:13, Gal. 2:8) however the context and concept has been skewed in today’s culture. We see that so many people “have” their own ministries. They appear on TV or social media to promote or to talk about their unique ministry, they blog, they sell books that promote and discuss their ministries, they hold conferences and worship & prayer meetings — all for their ministries. For more about this, it is discussed in the Using Wisdom With Deliverance and Prophecy page.
Is this concept of “ministry” biblical though? Where in scripture do we see deliverance, prophecy, healing, helping, serving, etc., outside of the context of the local church? Once Jesus commissioned the apostles, what went forth from there was local church planting. Every book after the gospels was written about local church planting, to a local church, or to someone operating in a local church.
The reason so many ministries exist on their own today is simply because the local church has not been doing their job. There is nowhere in scripture where you see Paul commissioning unique ministries, but only local churches. Those local churches where expected to fulfill everything that today’s individual ministries are taking care of (Eph. 4:7-16, James 5:14-16).
Case Study: Ephesians 4:7-16
7 However, he has given each one of us a special gift through the generosity of Christ. 8 That is why the Scriptures say,
“When he ascended to the heights,
he led a crowd of captives
and gave gifts to his people.”
9 Notice that it says “he ascended.” This clearly means that Christ also descended to our lowly world. 10 And the same one who descended is the one who ascended higher than all the heavens, so that he might fill the entire universe with himself.
11 Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. 12 Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. 13 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.
14 Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. 15 Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. 16 He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.
Notice that the apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds/pastors and teachers are gifts Christ gave to the church. He doesn’t mean to the universal church either, remember the context, that Paul is addressing a local church, in Ephesus. These 5 giftings operating together are crucial and essential to the church body growing, according to verses 14 through 16. There is nowhere in this passage for prophets (for example) to go outside of their local church to start a prophetic ministry, nor to have prophets within the local church set up a prophecy night so that people from all around town or from different churches can come and receive a prophetic word from someone who they have no accountability to or from. Much more on this in the Understanding the 5-Fold Ministry page.
Case Study: James 5:14-16
14 Are any of you sick? You should call for the elders of the church to come and pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well. And if you have committed any sins, you will be forgiven.
16 Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.
Here, the context of healing comes within the local church. The command from James is that if you are sick, who do you call? Is it the healing ministry down the street, or do you take a trip to a church that is infamous for their “healing rooms” and receive healing from them? No, you call the elders of the local church to come and pray over you. Unfortunately in today’s culture, many churches today do not have multiple elders overseeing their church (instead, one pastor and an elder “board”), and also many churches don’t believe that miraculous healing occurs today simply by praying and laying hands. However, Sandbox Church believes fully in what the Bible teaches here, and we operate in it and expect our members to operate by the Word of God as well.
Another thing in this passage is the confessing to one another. Who else would you confess your deepest, darkest, secret sins to other than someone you trust as a brother or sister? That is why the local church is so important here. Unfortunately, this is lost in today’s culture too, with the rise of churches operating more like clubs than families. However, at Sandbox Church we believe fully in operating as a family as you see in Acts 2:42-47 and the rest of the New Testament.
Conclusion: Application to Local Church Members
We fully support and believe that different people can and will be called to different things, and that different people have different giftings, as we have already established above. So how do we harness the giftings, the callings, and the ministries within the context of the local church?
We believe that these ministries can absolutely exist in, function within, and submit to the local church. Biblically speaking, the elders of the church are tasked with overseeing, guarding the church body (Acts 20:28), and keeping watch over souls (Heb. 13:17). If ministries are operating outside of the elders guidance, then the ministries and the people who are leading these ministries are extremely open to attack from wolves (Acts 20:29-30) with no protection.
A church is not a place of meeting on Sundays and Wednesdays. So what is the point of church? Simply put, a church is a community of blood-bought people fellowshipping around a common goal of the Kingdom of God and growing together. When people in our church body have ministries, callings, occupations that call them elsewhere, etc., we as the church truly desire to fully support them and their ministry. However, if they are operating outside the realm of the authority of the local church and its leadership, we are extremely limited in how we can shepherd them and their ministry. Who is then holding the person or the ministry accountable if not the church and church leaders that God has set up (Acts 20:28)? How can we be praying and supporting this ministry if it is operating “rogue” outside of the local church? How can we be using the 5-fold gifting of the entire church to build up this ministry instead of it leaning on one person?
Based on all of this, this is a quick synopsis of how we see individual ministries, callings, etc., fitting in within the local church:
Ministries should be subject to church leadership the same way that the person must be subject to the church leadership (Heb. 13:17). There will be times when the person who leads the ministry will want to do something that the elders disagree with. In these instances, it is especially important to remember that we are all called to submit to our church leadership, because they have your best interests in mind, as well as the people who are affected by the ministry.
It is crucial that the person with the ministry remain humble to the Lord and to the leadership he has set in place. Always remembering that just as elders of the church are just stewards of God’s church, that you are just steward’s of God’s ministry, operating within your local church that God has put you as a part of.
If a ministry requires a person to travel and therefore miss regular church meetings, that is understandable, and usually unavoidable. Therefore, a support system should be set up for regular communication with those that hold you accountable within the church. At Sandbox Church, that may look like your “box buddies” (see Life Groups page), your life group leader, or an elder or all of the elders.
The support system will allow for prayer, input, testimonies, support, as well as many other ways that the church offers to build each other up. This is critical to having the ministry within the local church. We are not made to operate on an island, or to have a “me & Jesus” type of spiritual walk. We were made to be in community.
We believe that if these are put in place, then we can have the church operating in the fullness it was intended to. Unity, good fruit, and freedom in Jesus’ name will be attested to once we can lay all our pride aside and submit it to Jesus and the church he has set in place.