EK Simpson once said that in a theocracy of grace there is no laity. ‘The church is already the fullness of Christ by the call of God (Eph. 1:23). Now she is to attain that fullness in the spiritual growth and life of her members.’1 The book of Ephesians points overwhelmingly to every member of the body of Christ being called to stand and be the church in the entirety of the creation. This understanding from Ephesians concerning the role played by the individual parts that make up that body is crucial to it achieving growth and maturity, and thereby the ‘fullness’ that Paul speaks of.
Each one of us has received a specific measure of grace from God, in the form of one or more of the five-fold ministry graces spoken of in Ephesians 4:11, these five being the apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher graces. God has uniquely gifted each one of us with these graces to enable us to fulfil our calling to be image-bearers of Christ. The term that I use to describe these grace–gifts is ‘vocational grace motivations’.
In Ephesians 4:7 Paul introduces his teaching on these ministry graces. Many readers will be accustomed to hearing about these five-fold ascension gifts. For the most part we have been taught that they refer to leadership positions in the church. I believe that the limiting of these graces in this manner has, in a great many ways, robbed the saints of their rightful place in the eternal plan of God. Let’s look at this critical passage of teaching from Ephesians 4 verses 7 and 11.
Paul starts in verse 7 by plainly stating the fact that ‘to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift’ (emphasis added). Clearly, ‘to each one’ means that these graces are for ‘all’ the saints. In verse 11 we read that Jesus ‘gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers’ (emphasis added). My basic premise is that verse 7 is directly connected to verse 11 and therefore needs to be understood in that light. I suggest that the ‘some’ who are to be apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers are amongst the ‘all’, not merely amongst the leadership or a select group of individuals. In effect Paul is saying: each one of us has been given grace… some are apostles, some are prophets and so on. The ascension gifts do not refer just to those who occupy various offices of the church gathered; they refer to us all, to every member of the body.
This important link between Ephesians 4:7 and 4:11 is even more clearly seen in the Revised Standard Version’s translation of these texts: ‘But grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift…And His gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers’ (emphasis added). What is clearly being said here is that everyone has graces to minister according to the measure of the gift of Christ given to them. These vocational grace motivations have been bestowed upon every one of God’s redeemed sons and daughters in different measures. They are divinely designed to work in the building up of His body, the church, that it might become Christ’s fullness to all of creation.
Rick Joyner, in his book Breaking the Power of Evil, addresses a most tragic failure in our understanding of Christian ministry. He says: ‘For a couple of years I asked almost every large group of Christians that I spoke to, how many of them know their calling, ministry, gifts of the Spirit or place in the body of Christ. I came to the conclusion that those who did were around five percent of the believers. How well would you function if just five percent of your body was working?’4
How many times throughout our Christian lives have we found ourselves laboring over the question of how best to fulfil God’s will and serve His purpose in our life and in the world around us? Many haven’t been able to find satisfying ministry roles within the church gathered, because their particular graces and gifting were meant to function in a broader context. Others have struggled in the world as the church extended because they have taken on roles that are not suited to their God-given vocational calling. The average church-going believer has not been fully released into effective kingdom ministry. Many are left frustrated and end up walking out of church life altogether.
I believe the resolution to this dilemma, one that has largely escaped the present-day church, can only come as we discover and fulfil our vocational grace motivations.
A person’s vocational grace motivations are essentially connected to their ‘being’. They are not just about what a person does; they are about who a person is. They will certainly be manifested in different works or activities undertaken by people, but essentially they will reside at the core of their personal make-up – how they think, act and relate in every sphere of life and work.
Understood as such, a person’s vocational grace motivations become key drivers in their life. They should be the motivating force behind the roles and functions undertaken by each member of the body of Christ, and be observable in any field of endeavor or relationship in which the person in Christ participates. One way or another, these vocational grace motivations will find a way to work their expressed nature out through a person’s life and work experience.
Christ’s ministry graces, given at the time of His ascension, belong to each one of His redeemed sons and daughters. They enable us to reflect His image and to do His works, so that people will see God’s ‘kingdom come, [His] will be done, on earth as it is in heaven’ (Matt. 6:10). Imagine for a moment what might occur if everything that happened in the life of the church (gathering and beyond) flowed out of each person’s vocational grace motivations. The impact would be immense; it would be life-changing and creation-changing. Each one of us has the calling, the design, the grace and the gifts to propel us into our inheritance. So, with this revelation in our hearts, let us now move on and explore in more detail the nature and the purpose of these vocational graces.