THE MINISTRY, THE WORK, AND THE CHURCHES
In the earlier chapters of this book we have already seen what the ministry, the work, and the local churches are. In this chapter we have seen the connection between the ministry and the local church, and also the difference between the church and the work. Now we can consider more minutely the relationship between the ministry, the work, and the churches, in order to see clearly how they stand, how they function, what their respective spheres are, and how they are interrelated.
In Acts 13 we saw that God had established one of His churches in a certain locality; then He gave gifts to a few individuals in that church to equip them to minister there as prophets and teachers, so that the church might be built up. These prophets and teachers constituted the ministry in that church. When in life and in gift these ministers had reached a certain stage of spiritual maturity, God sent two of their number to work in other places; and history repeated itself in the churches established by these two apostles.
Do you not see here the relationship between the churches, the ministry, and the work? (1) God establishes a church in a locality. (2) He raises up gifted men in the church for the ministry. (3) He sends some of these specially equipped men out into the work. (4) These men establish churches in different places. (5) God raises up other gifted men among these churches for the ministry of building them up. (6) Some of these in turn are thrust forth to work in other fields. Thus, the work directly produces the churches, and the churches indirectly produce the work. So the churches and the work progress, moving in an ever-recurring cycle— the work always resulting directly in the founding of churches, and the churches always resulting indirectly in further work.
As to the gifted men raised up of God for the ministry, they labor both in the churches and in the work. When they are in their own locality, they seek to edify the church. When they are in other places, they bear the burden of the work. When they are in the local church, they are prophets and teachers. When they are sent to other places, they are apostles. The men are the same, at home or abroad, but their ministries differ according to the sphere of their service. The prophets and teachers (and shepherds and evangelists), whose sphere is local, plus the apostles, whose sphere is extra-local, constitute the ministry. As the former serve the churches, and the latter the work, the ministry is designed of God to meet the spiritual need in both spheres. Here again we see the relationship between the churches, the ministry, and the work. The work is produced by the churches, the churches are founded as a result of the work, and the ministry serves both the churches and the work.
In Ephesians 4 we see that the sphere of the ministry is the Body of Christ, which may be expressed locally as a church, or extra-locally as the work. It is for this reason also that apostles, prophets, evangelists, and teachers are linked together, though actually the sphere of an apostle’s work is quite different from that of the other three. But all belong to the one ministry, whose sphere of service is the Body of Christ. These two groups of men are responsible for the work of the ministry, the one being gifted by the Spirit that they may be enabled to serve the local church, the other called from among these gifted ones to serve Him in different places and given an office in addition to their gifts. Those who have been gifted use their gifts to serve the Church by serving the church in their locality. Those who have both gifts and apostolic commission serve the Church by serving the churches in different localities.
God uses these men to impart His grace to the Church. Their various gifts enable them to transmit grace from the Head to the Body. Spiritual ministry is nothing less than ministering Christ to His people. God’s thought in giving these men as a gift to His Church was that a Christ, personally known and experienced by them, might through the gifts of the Spirit, be ministered to His people. They were given to the Church “for the perfecting of the saints unto the work of the ministry, unto the building up of the Body of Christ.”
(The Normal Christian Church Life, Chapter 9, by Watchman Nee)