Training People for Ministry: The work of ministry isn’t just for pastors or church staff only — every Christian is a minister. Many people wonder what their purpose is in life. Using your unique set of spiritual gifts, experiences, knowledge, and passion to minister to others is a huge part of finding your God-given purpose. This is why training people for ministry is one of our core values as a church. Recorded on Jan 15, 2023, on 1 Corinthians 12:4-27 by Pastor David Parks. (apologies for the rough voice)
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This message is part of our DNA, a sermon series on our core values that define who we are and what we’re trying to do. Our core values include inviting people to worship, connecting people in community, training people for ministry, and sending people on mission. These values provide a wonderful source of power, meaning, and joy for the Christian life.
All year, we’re focusing on Learning the way of Jesus. And today, we’re continuing a 4-part sermon series called DNA, focusing on our identity and the core values which define who we are and what we’re trying to do here. Our core values [Values slide] include inviting people to worship, connecting people in community, training people for ministry, which is our topic for today, and sending people on mission. At the most foundational level, worship, community, ministry, and mission are the basic building blocks of the Christian life. When these values are guided and empowered by our mission and vision, which are rooted in the truth of God’s word, they become our DNA, encoding everything we need for life and flourishing as a church. Today, we’re considering the amazing truth that God has given each one of his people (us!) a unique set of spiritual gifts, gifts of his grace, so that we might minister to/serve one another, building up the body of Christ. What we’ll see today is that every Christian is a minister. The work of ministry isn’t just for pastors or church staff or the elders only — every Christian is a minister. So many people wonder why they are here and what the purpose might be for their lives. My friends, our calling to ministry in learning the way of Jesus is a huge part of finding our God-given purpose in life. And this is why we value training people for ministry. Because we want to help you discover and accomplish the beautiful purpose of God for your life. If you have a Bible/app, please open to 1 Corinthians 12:4. And we’re going through almost the whole chapter this morning, so we’ll break it into two somewhat bite-sized pieces. So part one…
1 Corinthians 12:4-11 (NIV), “4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. 7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. 8 To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.” Ok, let’s pause here. So 1 Corinthians is an epistle or letter from the Apostle Paul to the Christians in and around the Greek city of Corinth in the first century AD. We know from Acts 18 that Paul stayed in Corinth for several years preaching the gospel, making disciples, and helping plant the church there. Eventually, the Lord called Paul on, and he left the church in the hands of other leaders. However, there were problems and confusion, so Paul wrote back to the Corinthians to help clear some things up. Here in chapter 12, and really through the end of chapter 14, Paul addresses some issues they had in their understanding of spiritual gifts and what ministry was supposed to look like for the followers of Jesus. So first, what are spiritual gifts? Spiritual gifts are gifts that God gives/distributes, by his grace, to his people by the Holy Spirit. Second, the purpose of these gifts is for ministry; we see this in v. 5, when Paul writes, “There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.” The word translated service here is most often translated as “ministry” in the Bible. To minister means to serve: to serve for the common good, as it says in v. 7, but also to serve to build one another up in faith/knowledge/unity/love. In other words, spiritual gifts are given to produce spiritual growth/fruit. Well, what are these spiritual gifts? In vv. 8-11, Paul mentions a number of gifts — gifts of wisdom, knowledge, spiritual discernment, and boldness of faith. And who among us wouldn’t want those gifts? But he also lists a number of more fantastic-sounding gifts like healing, miracles, prophecy, speaking in tongues, and interpretation of tongues. Unfortunately, we don’t have time today to unpack in detail each gift he lists here. Of course, with our value of training people for ministry, you will have many opportunities to learn more about the gifts that God gives us over time and with various experiences of doing ministry here. But even with the more fantastic-sounding gifts, we must remember these are gifts that God gives his people for ministry. If there is some need within the church, whether it is normal, humdrum, and run-of-the-mill, or whether it requires a miracle, we can count on God to give us what we need to do the work of the ministry. Now, there are several lists of spiritual gifts in the NT in the Bible, but there are differences in each list. This suggests that none of these lists are meant to be exhaustive of all the spiritual gifts but simply examples. In Romans 12, in addition to the gifts he mentions here, Paul mentions other gifts such as serving, teaching, encouraging, giving, leading, and showing mercy. Spiritual gifts are also seen throughout the OT. For example, we read in Exodus 36:1 (NIV), “So Bezalel, Oholiab and every skilled person to whom the Lord has given skill and ability to know how to carry out all the work of constructing the sanctuary are to do the work just as the Lord has commanded.” We see gifts of leadership and administration, knowledge and wisdom, musical ability, prophecy, healing, and more in the OT. So as far back as we have a record, we see God graciously giving his people spiritual gifts in order to do the work of ministry. And it wouldn’t surprise me if God continued to add spiritual gifts over time and in different cultures/times/places as there was a need within his body. But a key insight is that spiritual gifts aren’t ends in themselves, they’re always means to another end. So the point isn’t really to focus on the gifts or to think that your spiritual gifts make you better than other people because the gifts were always meant to serve the needs of others. We receive these gifts of grace not for our attention or status or material gain, but in order to use them to build others up in Christ. Spiritual gifts are given to produce spiritual fruit. As we continue in chapter 12, Paul gives us a metaphor to understand how we are to work together, using all the various gifts of God’s grace as a church. Let’s continue with v. 12.
1 Corinthians 12:12-27 (NIV), “12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. 15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. 27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” So, the metaphor of the church being the body of Christ and that Christians are like the various parts or members of the body is very helpful for us; it teaches us many things but I’ll just mention three here today. First, we learn from this metaphor that even though we are different as individuals, we are still in only one body — we are united/one. As I said last week, unity does not mean uniformity. Not only are we united despite our differences in culture/language/ethnicity/class/gender, but we’re united despite our differences in our spiritual gifts/experiences/knowledge/passions for various kinds of ministry. So the church should always reflect unity among diversity. Physical diversity, cultural diversity, spiritual diversity, and so on. There is more that unites us in Christ than divides us. But it’s more than that. It seems that God loves diversity. Just look at the rest of creation. If you were making a world, would you make more than one kind of bird or more than one kind of flower or would you more likely pick a favorite or two and stop there? That’s what I would do. But look at the world God has made. It’s estimated that there are 10,000 different species of birds in the world, and over 400,000 different species of flowering plants. Clearly, the rich diversity of the world is something that God loves and it should be no surprise that he would want that diversity to be found within his church as well. Though we are many, and though we are different, we are one in Jesus.
Second, we learn from this metaphor that all the various spiritual gifts given to other Christians are not optional for us. They are vital for our life and growth and flourishing. A hand or ear or eye would be basically useless and eventually lifeless apart from a physical body. It’s only within the body that the unique gifts/abilities of each part are able to fully function in the way they were created. And this is partly because they were created not to be independent, but interdependent — relying on the other parts of the body. So it is with Christians. Why do Christians need the church? Because we were not created to be independent, but interdependent. We need the church because Christians are the church and we need one another. Not one of us can look at another and say, “I do not need you.” So, you might wonder, can someone be a Christian and not be a member of a local church? The answer is yes. Our status before God does not rely on our membership within a local church or church attendance or anything other than faith alone in the person and work of Christ alone. However, I’ve never met a healthy, mature disciple of Jesus who was not regularly part of a local church. Not one. I’ve met plenty of unhealthy and immature Christians struggling to do life out there on their own. But this is not good, they’re vulnerable, and very often fall away from the faith they profess. Now, does this mean that if a Christian is committed to a local church that nothing bad will ever happen to them? Unfortunately the answer is no. As we saw last week, while we are still living in this age and this broken world, very often we will have to deal with sin, and sometimes, tragically, sin in the church. But when sin is found in the church on a personal level, we must deal with it through the process of humble repentance and forgiveness, seeking reconciliation if it is possible. If there’s more of a systemic problem in a particular church or denomination, then what we need is to work for reform. The Protestant Reformation is an example of this work. But sadly, sometimes reform isn’t possible. At that point, then we must move on to a different local church or denomination, but we must never reject the local church altogether. The church is the only body of Christ, the only institution that God has promised to build which will last forever and against which even the gates of hell will not stand.
The third lesson of this metaphor is that some ministry roles/gifts are more visible than others. But this does not mean those gifts are more important than others. My role as a pastor and preacher or the ministry of our worship team are both much more visible on a weekly basis than some of the other ministry work done in our church. But I am not more important than you, and our worship team is not more important than other teams here either. So we must be very careful that we honor and appreciate and value the ministry work that is done behind the scenes and by everyone here. As Paul says, “God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.” There is so much the Lord is doing through his people outside of Sunday morning and not up on a stage for everyone to see. Our worship service is just a small portion of our total ministry bandwidth that we have as a church. Now, you might be wondering how you can discover or grow in your spiritual gifts. We have various ministry teams which serve various roles and needs within the body of our church. We have a worship team, hospitality team, kids team, student ministries team, men’s and women’s ministry team, facilities team, care team, and so on. Over the years, as our church grew and became more complex, our ministry teams grew and added different roles to meet the growing complexity of needs within the church. If you aren’t a part of a ministry team, we would love for you to find one that fits the spiritual gifts that you have been given. If you’re new to this, you might want to try serving in a few different places and see what seems to fit with how God has wired you. Or if you’re especially passionate or irritated by a need, that’s also a sign that that might be an area that God is prompting you to serve. Beyond our ministry teams, every Christian has the ability (and as your pastor, I am giving you permission) to serve in love the needs of anyone at any time.
So whether in a more formal capacity or informally but still led by the Holy Spirit, every Christian is a minister who has been given gifts of God’s grace, spiritual gifts which produce spiritual fruit. No one is left out. Everyone gets to play. And in carrying on this gospel ministry, we find our great and glorious purpose. As a church, we will continue to train people in ministry. This is the work of discipleship, and this is our DNA. But at the end of the day, it is joyful worship that is the only right response to the gracious gifts of God. We deserve nothing, but he gives us all. We have earned nothing, but he paid it all. We ought to have offered him our lives, but he gave us his in Jesus. And continues giving by pouring our his Spirit and his love and gift upon gift of his grace, filling and empowering us with the highest purpose: to join him in his work of redemption and new creation. So that we might love and serve our brother and our sister, and help break the bonds of sin and death, and free them to enjoy perfect love and spiritual growth and unity in the body of Christ. For all of this, the loudest and the sweetest song of thanksgiving could never do justice to the glory, honor, and praise that our gracious Lord deserves. Let us pray.