This is something I wrote recently for a couple of PCI publications. You can follow the original trail here, but this is the key part of the content.

Many churches have signs outside the premises of where they gather displaying key information about who they are. Often it might declare the name of the church, display a logo, share contact information and, in most cases, communicate the name of the Senior Leader or Minister of the church. However, I once heard of a sign outside a church that read:

“Minister – All Members.”

I love that! The sign declares that the job of ministry isn’t just for those who stand at the front, get paid or take the lead, but that the responsibility of ministry goes much deeper and far wider than any one leader. Of course some people in the church are called to lead, but all people  in the Church are called to minister.

This was what Paul was communicating to the early church when he said that the job of the Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors and Teachers was to “equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.” [Eph 4:12]

Paul is saying that whatever part they play, whatever function they have, whatever role they do, the purpose of Christian leadership is to equip God’s people for work of service. That was why Christ gave them to the church!

There is so much good news here. Firstly, if you are one of God’s people then you have works of service to do. No individual is exempt. No one’s ministry is extinct. We all have works of service.

Secondly, the job of the leaders in the church isn’t to do all the ministry, and I’m fairly sure that most church leaders will nod their head at that! Leadership used to be about one person doing the ministry and everyone else supporting, but in the church it should be about everyone ministering and the leaders supporting. Jesus himself gave these functions to the church to equip the people that He loves so much. The job of the leaders in the church is to equip everyone for ministry. This is a powerful and profound shift!

Thirdly, we each need equipped for the works of service that we have. And that equipping comes best from the body of Christ. We don’t operate as lone rangers in our ministry, but we are equipped for it by the leaders in the church. We need the encouragement, challenge, support, correction, provision and prayer of those in authority over us.

Lastly, the purpose of our “works of service” is always to build up the body of Christ. It’s not about bettering our name but benefitting the body. We need the ministry of the body of Christ and the body of Christ needs our ministry!

One doctrine that was at the heart of the Reformation was the ‘priesthood of all believers.’ Simply put, this is a belief that every individual has direct access to God and every follower of Jesus shares the responsibility of ministering to the other members of the community of believers. However, while the priesthood of all believers is widely accepted and part of the heritage of many churches, it isn’t always modelled well or practiced fully.

If applied properly the priesthood of all believers would see the mobilisation of the entire body of Christ for the full mission of God. Of course, this won’t mean everyone in the church standing at the front to preach – for many that would be their worst nightmare! But rather than everyone ministering through preaching, each of us can minister through the pew. So what might effective ministry of the pew look like?

I think at times it means walking across the church to say hello to someone we don’t know very well or stopping with someone after the service to ask how you could pray for them this week. At other times it will be singing out loudly to encourage the doubting believer beside you or using your gifts to serve in an area of need. Ministry in the pew could mean bringing your neighbour to church, encouraging your leaders, upping your giving or simply smiling more!

A church might be blessed by brilliant preaching or inspiring worship, but the real work of the church isn’t what happens on the platform. Instead, the real work of the church is done by those who silently and selflessly serve one another, pointing the others to Christ by how they speak, how they give and how they live.

The real work of the church is the honest conversation, the serving of a missional community, the welcoming of a child to the kids ministry, the laser sharp prayer through a prayer ministry time, the bible being opened with teenagers, the word of prophecy shared with a doubting believer, the meal being offered to a family in need, or the question of ‘how can I pray for right now’ to someone sitting nearby.

Welcoming a newcomer isn’t just the job of the welcome team. Praying for others isn’t just for the prayer ministry teams. Caring for one another isn’t just down to the elders. Evangelism isn’t just for the confident ones. Inviting others shouldn’t rely on the weekly bulletin.

And our works of service should also transcend the church gathering to radically impact our individual scattering where we show love to a colleague, work well for an employer, live well in the neighbourhood and share faith with a friend.

For me this is a full picture of discipleship and mission. Leaders equipping, everyone ministering and the church benefitting. What would it look like if our churches could have this emphasis at the very centre of all we did? Fully equipping disciples. Better resourcing everyday believers to share Jesus in any way they can. Encouraging, inspiring and challenging all of God’s people for their works of service.

This is about releasing the grip of ministry as leaders and allowing others to be participants rather than passengers. This is about helping everyone contribute, rather than allowing them to be consumers. This goes beyond just who is standing at the front to imagine what we all can do, so let’s be together in purpose and scattered in witness – ministers of the pew who both benefit the church and impact society.