And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11, 12).
I have been doing ministry as a follower of Jesus ever since coming to faith as a fifteen-year-old. Team ministry, as Paul describes in Ephesians 4, was something I came to at a later age.
The genesis was my involvement in short-term mission teams organized by my church in response to an expressed need in a foreign country. While most of us were eager to get on an airplane and use our knowledge and skill to impact another land, our leaders knew that we first had to become a healthy, strong, united group. Then we could work together and bring real impact to people in another place.
The lessons I learned in this team-building helped me not only for our short-term mission trip but also for my faith community moving forward.
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love (vv. 1, 2).
We first had to learn to remove selfish thinking for our group to work in the manner that our Lord desired. The apostle Paul understood that our impact on the lives of others is a consequence of how we personally live, so we had to show humility toward one another. Our impact also requires that we work with each other in understanding as each of us grows into the people God created us to be. Central to Paul’s entreaty in verses 1, 2 is that we endure or suffer with others as they work through the process of putting off their old self and putting on their new being in Christ (vv. 22-24).
The body of Christ is unique by design. This is often a source of friction. Differences in point of view, personality, and a number of other factors challenge us to respond not in bitterness and anger, but in kindness and forgiveness (vv. 31, 32). As we commit ourselves to desire the best in each other, the group as a whole becomes stronger and more unified.
In coming together and spending time with one another, we learned the important characteristics Paul referenced. We learned humility, right thinking about ourselves in relation to others, gentleness, trusting the work of the Holy Spirit in each other, and patience — having a view of God’s work over time. As this process developed, we could work together to minister as God intended.
Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 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 (vv. 15, 16).
Paul’s greatest desire for the members of the church of God is that we grow up — to increase in every aspect of our being to become more and more like Christ. This process often happens most effectively and quickly as we commit ourselves to minister in the name of Jesus. As we step out in faith, our sinful tendencies are exposed. We are encouraged to take on more and more of Jesus’ qualities that enabled Him to serve and speak into the lives of others and bring real transformation.
As each of us becomes more like Christ, our group, whether a short-term mission team or a local church body, becomes stronger together. Its dignity as a unit is exalted because each part of the whole is contributing positively as God designed. When we operate properly, energized by the Holy Spirit, godly growth results, and the entire body can love others with the love of God.
Probably my greatest gift — and growth — from preparing for mission trips was understanding my identity in Christ and my larger place among those God calls His own. No longer estranged from God, I am part of a group of believers that goes back to the beginning of creation — those who have trusted the Lord for their salvation and, as a result, live lives worthy of their identity as God’s children. I learned that I am part of a structure with its foundation in Christ. Its growth is a product of unity that comes about as we put off our sinful pride and trust Christ in every area of our lives (2:19-22).
One body of believers that is unified in “the bond of peace,” defined by one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all (vv. 3-6), will be a powerful witness to the world and will demonstrate God’s love wherever it goes. Whether in a foreign land or right here at home, a unified, loving body of believers will transform the lives of others around them and reflect God’s enduring work in the world.