Elias Rodriguez | Cleveland, Tennessee
But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it is said, “When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people.” (When it says, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.) The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ (Ephesians 4:7–13 NRSV).
When Jesus saved us, He saved us for a life of service to Him and to others. The work is so vast, that we need plenty of laborers. On one occasion, after seeing the multitudes, Jesus had compassion for them “because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd,” and He said to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matthew 9:37–39 NRSV). We certainly join Jesus in this prayer for laborers. But at the same time, we must recognize that different kinds of workers are needed for the ministry of the Church.
From the beginning, God prepared some people to minister in specific tasks. For example, in Genesis 6, we find that God called and gave Noah the skills to build the ark in which he, his family, and the selected animals were saved from the flood. Likewise, Moses, in Exodus 3, was called to deliver Israel from the Egyptian bondage. His brother, Aaron, “who could speak fluently,” was going to serve as his “mouth” to address the people and Pharaoh (Exodus 4:14, 16). In Exodus 18, judges were selected to help Moses judge the people. Later, we find, in Exodus 28, that Aaron and his sons, Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar, were chosen to serve God as priests. God also told Moses to “speak to all who have ability, whom I have endowed with skill, that they make Aaron’s vestments to consecrate him for my priesthood” (verse 3). This means that Aaron and his sons didn’t have skills to make their sacerdotal vestments. God had already endowed others to do that. When the time to build the tabernacle came, God told Moses that He called Bezalel and “filled him with divine spirit, with ability, intelligence, and knowledge in every kind of craft, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, in every kind of craft” (Exodus 31:2–5). God also appointed Oholiab to work with him, and gave “skills to all the skillful, so that they may make all that I have commanded you” (verse 6). There are plenty of examples of people whom God called specifically to be kings, prophets, musicians, singers, and so on. And there are also examples of people whom God did not call, but who usurped the position, such as Absalom (2 Samuel 15), Adonijah (1 Kings 1), and Athaliah (2 Kings 11). All those who usurped any position ended up badly. My point here is that we must be called and endowed by God to do His ministry, and we must not go or do where He has not called us.
Jesus gave gifts to the Church
As Paul states in Ephesians 4:7 (NRSV), to “each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” The word used here for gift is doreá, that seems to be a legal term that denotes formal endowment, state awards or bequests, fiefs or dowries. “In the New Testament, it is always used of the gift of God or Christ to men .” Jesus, as the Son of God, is the one with legal rights to give the gifts to the church. In verses 8 and 11, Paul uses the verb didomi, that refers in the New Testament to the supreme gifts of God. Paul explains the source of the gifts, making it clear that they are a result of the crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Jesus. These gifts are possible because Jesus “made captivity itself a captive.” As the triumphant Christ, He can now bestow His children with gifts. These gifts, recognized as ministerial gifts, are named as: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers, with the purpose of “equipping the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” Therefore, we, whose ministry is within this list, are gifts from the ascended Lord to the Church, gifts that came with a high price, the death of Jesus Christ.
One important step in ministry is recognizing what kind of gift you are. From the list above (even though we acknowledge that apostles and prophets ceased in the sense of the foundation of the Church, we admit the apostolic and prophetic function of overseers and preachers of the Word), with which ministry do you identify yourself? Which of these ministries do you think God called you to? These are important questions, whose answers will help you to have clarity in your calling, which will help you to make serious decisions regarding ministry; when to say yes or when to say no.
When and why to say no
Maybe this statement sounds awkward. Aren’t we supposed to say yes to whatever the Lord commands us? Aren’t we supposed to be obedient servants going and doing wherever and whatever the Lord says? While this is true, there is also another side of the coin. When doing my thesis for my Doctor of Ministry program, I interviewed 30 pastors. One of the questions was: Are you exercising your pastorate by appointment or by vocation? The rationale for this question was the fact that many times overseers appoint pastors to fill vacancies without considering if those being appointed have been called to pastoral ministry. Since we have been trained to obey “those over us in the Lord,” especially when this comes attached to “Thus says the Lord,” many times we are left with no choice but to say yes for fear of divine retribution, regardless of our lack of calling and passion for that job. Maybe that is the reason why we appoint people to some ministry, and we struggle with them to get the job done. They do it without love, will, or passion. They do it out of obedience, not out of a divine calling. I remember when I was a pastor, I had some difficulties finding someone for the upkeeping of the building. I appointed someone, but I had to always be getting him to get things done. Until one day, I made a public announcement asking the members if someone had felt the call from God to upkeep the building. One brother answered that the Lord had been dealing with him for some time to take charge of the maintenance of the building. He did a wonderful job, with passion, love, and dedication to the Lord and the church. I think that sometimes we fail to ask the people about their spiritual calling and giftings, and appoint them to do things that the Lord didn’t call them to do. Regarding the pastors I mentioned before, the 30 of them answered that they were in their position by vocation, but four of them added that in addition to vocation they were in that position by appointment. I am very convinced that there is a big difference between ministering by vocation and ministering by appointment. When we minister by vocation and calling, we will always give our best.
What is your ministerial gift? Where do you feel that you fit in ministry? It is very important for you to answer these questions honestly for this knowledge will keep you from failures and frustrations. Knowing your ministerial gift will keep you focused in your particular calling and this will help you to fulfill your full potential in ministry. This knowledge will help you also to say no to other callings. I have personally said no to a couple of ministerial offers to which I have not felt God has called me, and God didn’t reject me for declining those positions. Sometimes saying no reflects wisdom and maturity. Gideon was used by God to deliver the Israelites from the dominion of the Midianites. After the victory, they said to Gideon, “Rule over us—you, your son and your grandson—because you have saved us from the hand of Midian.” But Gideon told them, “I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you. The Lord will rule over you” (Judges 8:22–23 NIV). Gideon was called to be a judge, not to be a lord over them, and he said no. This is especially necessary today. When God is blessing us in what we are doing, people begin to whisper in our ears or publicly, “You are going big,” “You have to climb the ladder of success,” etc., and some, aspiring to higher positions have failed. Be faithful where the Lord is using you, and in due season, He will place you where He needs you, using your ministerial gift for His glory and honor, and for the edification of His people. Just as the men mentioned at the beginning, Noah, Moses, and Aaron, among others, were successful in their ministry because they were given gifts from God, likewise, we will be more effective if we concentrate on ministering in those areas where God has called us and endowed us to work.