For hundreds of years God had worked almost exclusively through the Jews, but He had promised Abraham that all the nations of the earth would be blessed in him (Gen. 12:3). Centuries later, God revealed to Paul that Gentiles, former enemies of the Jews and strangers to God’s plan, were to be finally included. Paul said, “For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles— if indeed you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you” (Eph. 3:1–2).

A mystery is a truth that was previously hidden in God but is now being made known. The mystery is that both Jews and Gentiles are being placed into Christ and are becoming one new body because of the gospel. Paul was set apart to preach the gospel to the Gentiles.

Paul was given grace from God to perform a stewardship. The word stewardship is very important. It is the Greek word oikonomia, and it is translated “dispensation.” It means “household manager.” At a particular time and place in history, God extended His grace to Paul, giving him the responsibility to manage the spreading of the mystery of Christ (Rom. 1:16). This was Paul’s work of faith. He called himself an example for those who would afterward believe in Christ for eternal life (1 Tim. 1:15–16).

The word example is translated both “pattern” and “standard.” It literally means a “prototype.” A prototype is a model. Paul’s life and ministry is to be a model for the life and ministry of every Christian.

Paul preached the gospel in the ancient city of Corinth, and many Gentiles came to faith in Jesus Christ. Paul said to the believers at Corinth, “I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus” (1 Corinthians 1:4).

Notice the change in direction of the grace coming from God. Paul did not say, “according to the grace that was given to me” but “which was given you” (Corinthian believers). God passed Paul’s stewardship responsibility on to the Corinthian Christians. They, like Paul, were given a stewardship responsibility to fulfill. Like Paul, Christians throughout history have been created, called, and saved by God to perform a faith work, a stewardship.

Many well-meaning Christians today see the local church as the end of ministry. Their goal is to get as many people into “church” as they possibly can. The local church is not the end of ministry. It is designed by God to be the means of ministry, God’s equipping center for those who do His work.

Paul also carried the gospel to the Ephesians. The church at Ephesus began to grow as many came to faith in Jesus Christ. God’s prescription for growth for all local churches is found in Ephesians 4:16. This passage stands as a condemnation to all the modern market-driven techniques for growing the church. Many organizations that call themselves “churches” are not using this method at all. But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift” (Ephesians 4:7). Every Christian is given a work of faith to accomplish within the body of Christ. We have all been equipped by God to serve.

Paul related to the Ephesians how Christ distributed gifted believers into the body of Christ. “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers” (Ephesians 4:11). Apostlesincluded Paul and others sent with God’s message. Prophets were some New Testament believers who preached the message of God with depth and power. Evangelists are those who are gifted to share the gospel. Pastors are those who shepherd the flock of God.  Teachers are those gifted to teach the children of God.

It was not Paul’s desire to mention all the spiritual gifts here. His goal was to show why these gifts are distributed throughout the body. Here is God’s plan for building His church (Matthew 16:18). He gave no other plan! We have all been equipped by God and strategically placed into the body of Christ in every generation for two reasons: for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry and for the edifying of the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:12).

Equipping means “to train or to prepare.” The local church is a spiritual training center. As amazing as this may sound, the Bible never instructs an unbeliever to attend church. The local church is designed to train Christians. There are many passages that instruct the church to take the gospel into the world. Believers are then to be brought into the local assembly to be taught and trained.

Bible colleges and seminaries have been used of God in significant ways. It is God’s design, however, that every believer be trained to do the work of ministry within the confines of the local church. Believers are taught to perform this work of ministry.

Work is the Greek word ergon. It implies energy being used. Ministry is the word diakinos. It means “to serve.” Paul was not speaking specifically of elders, pastors, or deacons but of the special service of every member of the body. Every Christian has a work of faith to do, and they are to be trained in the local church to do it.

The ultimate goal of God’s stewards is to edify the body. Edify is a combination word made up of oiko, “to build,” and dome, the “top or roof.” Together, the word means “build from the ground floor all the way to the top.” We are all to grow to spiritual maturity.

Spiritual maturity is to be measured against the stature of the fullness of Christ. The characteristics of our lives are to reflect the characteristics of His life to the world.

When believers reach a mature status, they will no longer be like little children who are confused and sidetracked by the false teaching of deceivers who seek to destroy (Eph. 4:14-16). Instead, they will speak the truth in love and will grow up in all things into Him who is our head, even Christ.

It is from our head, the Lord Jesus Christ, that the whole body fits together! Even though He is seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven, His life and ministry to the world continues to be communicated through every part of His body (Hebrews 1:3, 13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2).

How do we discover our gifts? As we serve the Lord and observe and receive the gifts from others in the body, our own gifts begin to become clear. If our gift is Bible teaching, we are to teach other believers the Word of God. As we are taught by others and observe their gifts, God will impress upon us the desire to teach. If our gift is mercy, we will show mercy to those who need it. If mercy is our gift, we will be challenged to use it as we observe this gift in others.

If our gift is helps, we are to help with all the tasks of the church, and in doing so, we will teach others how to help the body of Christ and encourage others with the same gift to become involved. If our gift is faith, we use our giftedness to trust God to do what He says He will do and to train others to live by faith. If our gift is administration, we organize the church in a godly way and train others in the proper way to administer the activities of the church.  If our gift is evangelism, we share the gospel with the lost and teach other believers how to share the message of the gospel and motivate them to do so.

If our work of ministry is encouragement, we are to encourage others, and by doing so, we teach others how to encourage.

The church will grow both numerically and spiritually in direct proportion to the quality of the work of gifted believers. This should shout to us as God’s prescription for the spiritual growth of the church. Missing is the exclusive role of a pastor to equip the flock. Paul does not mention human schemes, programs, or motivational methods.

Every member of the body of Christ is to grow based upon the spiritual contribution of every other member in the body. Every believer has been uniquely gifted of God to play a part. What is to be achieved when every believer performs his stewardship?  

“Till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13).

Every Christian is to come to understand what it means to live by faith within the community of believers (2 Corinthians 5:7). Every Christian is also to have an adequate knowledge of the Son of God, His deity, His life, His death, His resurrection, His ascension, and His present ministry. Every Christian is to become spiritually mature and productive.

The body of Christ is alive and well on the earth. Jesus Christ continues His ministry to His body through His body. His body grows—spiritually and numerically—as a direct result of the ministry that every believer performs. When every part does its share, the body matures and grows in love. That is the purpose of every believer’s faith work. This is God’s formula for growing a church. This is God’s prescription for growth in the local church. In every generation since Pentecost, God continues to build the body of Christ exactly the same way. There is no other method of church growth taught in the Bible. It is painfully clear how far we have strayed from this formula today.