. . . to equip the saints for the work of ministry,
for building up the body of Christ . . .”– Ephesians 4:12 –
In the 1980s edutainment games were coming of age and infiltrating American schools. Leading the way was a game called Oregon Trail. Perhaps you remember playing the game, shooting Buffalo, fording rivers, and fighting off dysentery. In truth, for most 20th and 21st century children such rugged adventures are things of the past, experienced only in pixels and museums.
In our modern world, it can seem that such explorations ended generations ago. Like our entertainment-oriented education strategies, our world tells children and adults that free time is best spent playing, gaming, or escaping the hard edges of life by conjuring up some fantasy world.
The Bible, however, confronts us with a different reality, one far more adventurous and exciting than anything created by Pixar, Pokemon, or a Carnival pleasure cruise. It calls us to scour the earth, making disciples from every nation teaching them to obey all that God has commanded us.
This is God’s great calling—to follow Christ as eager disciples and lead others to know him through our various stations of life. This is why God made us (to glorify him); this is humanity’s greatest task (to increase his glory by multiplying children who reflect his image). This was Jesus’ final word, to follow him in the world’s greatest commission (Matthew 28:18–20).
You Need to Be Equipped
If you are familiar with Oregon Trail you may remember it began at the General Store in Independence, Missouri. Just like the real explorers who ventured to Oregon, video travelers would load their wagons with equipment for the journey. As in real life, choices made in packing have consequences on the trail. The same is true in our walk with Christ.
We can only make disciples as we ourselves abide in Christ. Fruit is born as we abide in Christ and his Word abides in us (John 15:5, 7–8). Long term, we will only finish the journey if we seek and find the resources God has given us in Christ (cf. Ephesians 1:3; 2 Peter 1:3–4).
This brings us to Ephesians. In chapter 4, Paul recalls the community God gives to those unified by the grace of God (vv. 1–6). Then he turns to the diverse gifts God has given every church (vv. 7–11) and how the foundational gifts of apostles and prophets, along with the continuing gifts of evangelists and pastor-teachers, equip the church for its work of service (vv. 11–12).
The church grows, Paul says in verses 13–16, as each member of the body contributes its portion. The body grows as members cling to one another, avoid error, and love truth. This is how the body builds itself up—through the equipping ministry of pastor-teachers sent by Jesus Christ, the head of the body, to strengthen each member of the body.
Personally, I am amazed at how Ephesians 4:16 fulfills Matthew 16:18. In the latter, Jesus said “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Ultimately, nothing can withstand Jesus gathering his people from every nation (cf. John 10:16). He will build his “assembly” (his church). But how?
That’s where Ephesians 4 comes in. Between Christ’s resurrection and his return, he is sending his Spirit to save his elect. In this salvation, he binds them together in local churches, whereby Spirit-filled members become building-blocks, or better the builders of the church. This is what Ephesians 4:11–16 says. Local assemblies foreshadow the coming kingdom, “when each part is working properly.” Together they grow up “joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped” making “the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”
This is the beauty: Christ builds his church by his Spirit, which means he constructs his church through labors of his Spirit-filled saints. Under the sovereign rule of Christ, the “success” or “failure” of every local church depends on the health of every member, which comes about through the equipping ministry of a church’s pastors. Going back to our Oregon Trail analogy, a church’s success on the trail depends on the spiritual equipment they have received.
Applied to our local church, this leads us to an announcement.
The EQUIP Conference
On September 23–25 our church, Occoquan Bible Church, will host a weekend conference aimed to equip the saints for their works of service. We are calling it the EQUIP Conference. My prayer is that by devoting a weekend to considering a particular topic related to discipleship, it will help develop disciples who make disciples. That’s the broad goal.
The more particular focus of our conference aims at marriage and evangelism. Typically seen as two silos of Christian discipleship, we are bringing marriage and evangelism together to see how they inform and strengthen one another. The name of this year’s conference is The Mission of Marriage: Helping Marrieds (and Singles) Display and Declare the Gospel.
Beginning Friday night we will see how marriage and singleness fits into the larger purposes of God’s glory. Then on Saturday, we will look at ways to grow in marriage and improve in evangelism. The linking idea—which applies to singles as well as married couples—is that our homes should be outposts for outreach. In our church, we should not have one pulpit that preaches the gospel once a week. Instead, we should have as many pulpits as we do homes. And because marriage uniquely pictures the gospel, we should have as many parables of Christ and his church as we do marriages. Singles too, in their undistracted devotion to Christ, display the all-satisfying goodness of God.
We are excited to have Joe Flatt and Tim Brister join us for the weekend. If you live in the Northern Virginia area (or want to make the trip to Woodbridge, Virginia), we’d love to have you join us. You can find more information here and signup here, or just contact me.
Soli Deo Gloria, ds