Equipping the Saints

“The gifts Christ gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry…”  – Ephesians 4:11-12a 

Many years ago, as the Church and I were discerning together whether I was being called to ordained ministry, someone asked me what verse of Scripture would sum up my sense of my vocation. This was it: to equip the saints for the work of ministry. It still is. 

In contrast to the formal canonization process of the Roman Church, and even differing from a more organic process by which a local community comes to understand that a particular disciple lived a life of exemplary holiness, in Paul’s writings, “saints” are simply the members of the church.  

And the members of the church are very much in need of equipping. 

In the mainline churches in North America, we have inherited a model of church that looks very much like a community of people gathered around a minister. The minister has usually been a seminary-trained, paid, ordained person, and frequently the community has been content to let the minister do the things.  

If there is a community dinner, the minister says grace. If someone is in hospital, the minister visits and prays. If there is to be a Bible study group, the minister will organize and lead it. Certainly, the minister is the person who leads worship and preaches the Word. 

Those are important ministries, and it is critical that those leading local church communities can do these things well and faithfully. And while surely leadership and ministry roles have in the past been shared with members of churches, there has long been a sense that in doing these things the minister is doing what they are trained and paid to do. 

Yet in many parts of the Church in Canada, the size of church communities and the economics of the systems we have inherited make that model of ministry increasingly unsustainable. 

And still, the mission of God beckons. Still, there is ministry to be done. 

Thus, for those of us who are in leadership in the Church, those who are theologically educated, there comes a call that goes far beyond simply doing ministry in a community. 

It is not enough to lead a study group; we need to train disciples to lead groups in their exploration of the Scriptures. It is not enough to lead worship; we need to train the saints to worship together, in their homes and in their church buildings. It is not enough to pray on behalf of the community; every member of the Christian community needs to know how to pray. 

The church can no longer be a community gathered around a minister. The church must be a ministering community. 

And to do that well, the community needs equipping. We who are ourselves equipped, are called to equip the saints for the work of ministry.  

Happy All Saints’ Day! 

Director of Pastoral Studies

This message was written by Dio’s Director of Pastoral Studies Heather McCance for this week’s Wingèd Ox, a weekly news digest distributed to the college community.