40. Gifts of Ministries – to Plant

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 6 – Thinking about Leaders

40. Gifts of Ministries – to Plant

Eph 4:11,12  Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up

1 Cor 12:27,28  Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues.

Lk 6:12,13  One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles:

A Focus & A Question: I am going to divide this subject of ‘ministries’ into those that initiate or establish new local churches and those who maintain and continue to build the local church. Thus in this first part I am going to focus on apostles and evangelists and to a lesser measure, prophets. Perhaps we should first of all deal with a question in some minds, does the church need these ministries? I doubt if there is anyone who would question the need for evangelists, pastors and teachers in the church and we may wonder why therefore the doubts about apostles and prophets? They are, after all, in the same verses where Paul speaks of Christ’s gifts of these men with the specific role of equipping the people of God, and they are still needed to build up the church and bring it to maturity and fulness in Christ. I’m not sure we can ever say that task is completed. I suspect queries against these ministries arise either out of ignorance of their functions, or possibly experience of those who, living out their gifting, fail in some way to maintain grace and humility. A shame in both cases.

Apostles: Very well, first some basics. The word simply means ‘a sent one’ and we see the distinction between a disciple and an apostle in Lk 6:12,13 above where Jesus, “called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles.”  In the New Testament we first see ‘the Twelve’ who Jesus had with him and one of their roles was, in Peter’s words, to be a witness to Jesus’ resurrection (Acts 1:22). From observing them and particularly watching how Peter and John continued after Jesus’ ascension, we see the apostles taking the lead in the church, preaching the gospel and performing signs and wonders. There is authority and Holy Spirit anointing. I have had the privilege of knowing a number of apostles, men who were clearly church-planters, church-builders, men of faith, vision, power and authority, not by mere word but by deed.

Observing Paul & Barnabas: In the previous study we noted how Paul came to the Lord, preached, grew in faith, taught in the local church and was then sent out by the Holy Spirit to preach the Gospel and, watching how that developed, moved from Jews to Gentiles and clearly established groups of believers who became local churches, and then appointed elders (leaders) in each local church. This created a long-term sense of care and responsibility in Paul, seen in how he wanted to go back and check out those churches (Acts 15:36) and so subsequently went back through the area they had been to before, “strengthening the churches”, (Acts 15:41) with the result that, the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers.” (Acts 16:5).  He and those with him (note, “and his companions” Acts 16:6) were clearly directed – limited as well as being led on – by the Holy Spirit (see Acts 16:6-10). It would be foolish to suggest that an apostle need not be filled with the Holy Spirit! Studying both Paul and Barnabas we see them as men growing in faith, being sent, and then being used as they preach with power and authority.

Characteristics? So, from what we have observed of the narratives of the New Testament, the apostles – first the twelve, then others (e.g. Paul & Barnabas seen in Acts 14:14, Andronicus and Junia, mentioned in Rom 16:7, and it may be that those who simply travelled with Paul were generally termed apostles, sent ones, sent to be missionaries, bringing people to Christ, and then establishing them with leaders in the local context) – were people who grew in faith, received vision and would have had to have moved in wisdom, with a strong sense of the Lord’s presence with them on occasion as they moved in authority with power with signs and wonders. These are the things that distinguished them. Are they needed in the Church today? Very much so!

Well, first, perhaps something that distinguishes them from present day bishops, arch-bishops, cardinals etc. was that they were ‘hands on’ out there doing the stuff, not managers or even just good examples for the faithful, but people operating with power as well as authority (and their authority did not come from their position in an institutional structure but from the working of the Holy Spirit in and through them), who were out there ‘doing the stuff’ extending the kingdom. Does a small town say, with a dozen or more local churches today, need the ministry of an apostle coming in? Well the one thing I have observed in the past, being part of a network in which apostles and prophets operated, is that apostles never simply accept the status quo. They are constantly asking, “What next Lord?” and so they energise and motivate the local church on, releasing faith and vision and enabling and equipping and empowering new leaders and new ministries. They are, if you like, God’s catalysts.

Prophets: We all know what prophets are, for we see their writings and activities in the Old Testament, mostly men, but don’t forget Deborah (Judg 4:4), with that popular image of a man standing on the hillside overlooking Israel declaring the word of God to a disobedient nation. In the New Testament we find Agabus who came and prophesied over Paul (Acts 21:10) but there are other references to prophets – at Antioch (Acts 13:1), Judas and Silas (Acts 15:32), and Philip’s four daughters (Acts 21:8,9). We know about the gift of prophecy because there is much about it in 1 Cor 12 -14 especially, but little about ‘prophets’ except  prophets come with God’s heart and with vision, and like apostles are God’s motivators. The prophet tends not to be just concerned with one or two people for whom he has a word, but for the glory of the Lord in the greater church. I mention prophets here in that they come second in Paul’s listings in Eph 4:11,12 and 1 Cor 12:27,28. In my life, although I have known many people with the gift of prophecy, I have only known personally three men who were clearly prophets (there may of course have been more).

Evangelists: Mentioned in the Ephesian verses but not in the 1 Cor 12 verses, the only one specifically mentioned in the New Testament as an evangelist was Philip (Acts 21:8) and we see him in action earlier in Acts 8:4 onwards, both preaching and operating in signs and wonders and seeing many turn to Christ. Paul also exhorted Timothy, do the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim 4:5).  Now it has to be said that the apostles clearly operated as evangelists – bringing the gospel resulting in salvation – as they went out proclaiming Christ.  At which point we have to wonder that perhaps evangelists are apostles without the wisdom, vision and authority, a simpler and more straight forward ministry of being more fruitful than most in drawing people to Christ. They also appear to have the ability to impart faith to God’s people to likewise reach out with the gospel.

And So? These appear to be the primary instruments that God has used and continues to use in establishing His Church. So often, across the Church, if we are honest, we see an administrative hierarchy that are more known for their committees and the controlling influences, and simply maintaining the status quo rather than their pioneering energy that continues to ensure the gospel is brought to places where it would otherwise appear to be absent and, even more, it is brought to places where the gospel has come in the past but the life of the church has turned moribund, as continuing surveys of denominational numbers so often reveal. The truth is that where apostles, prophets and evangelists function, life flows, and church grows. Where they are absent, so often stagnation sets in and committees rule and the church resorts to social events to attract the starving crowds, rather than seeking God for the Christ appointed and Christ-anointed ministries that he has chosen, “to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”

The unity that is absent across the breadth of the Church, brought through history by men who were insecure and so divided off from others, is a sign of the absence of these ministries which were replaced in the early few centuries by men and institutions that were not Christ appointed and Christ-anointed. The tolerance of a powerless form of religion (1 Cor 4:20 “the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.” and 2 Tim 3:5 “having a form of godliness but denying its power.” ) in so many places, is a similar sign, of the absence of such ministries moving under the power and direction of the head of the Church, Jesus Christ, seated at the Father’s right hand. Let’s pray for the Lord of the Church to send a resurgence of Eph 4:11,12 ministries. We need him and we need his power and we need his ministries – desperately!

9. Frustrated Longings

Meditations in Romans : 9 :  Frustrated Longings

Rom  1:11-13 I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong– that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith. I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now) in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles.

We concluded the previous meditation struggling with the thoughts of Paul praying but only getting partial answers. Many of us would like the Christian life to be a neat package with no questions and everything working out just as we want it to. Unfortunately we live in a Fallen World where lots of people do their own thing in rebellion against God and that means bad and harmful behaviour. Because God has given us free will, He respects our use of it, i.e. He allows us to exercise it, even when we make wrong decisions and exhibit wrong behaviour and speak wrong words. We also have an enemy called Satan who God permits for a variety of reasons. Thus everything does NOT work out exactly as we might hope.

Paul has this yearning and, as we go through the passage, we see that it is being frustrated. He longs to go to see them so that, by the ministry God has given him, he can impart something to them to strengthen them in their faith. This is part of the apostolic gift, the ability to impart faith and grace, in a variety of forms.  Apostles are both ‘fathers in the faith’, and ‘master builders’, and God gifts them in such a way that they are able to pass on or impart faith and grace. By doing that, says Paul, both you and I will be encouraged and (by implication) strengthened.

But then he expresses the frustration that he feels: I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now).” He doesn’t say here what it is that has hindered him but when he wrote to the Thessalonians he said, “out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you. For we wanted to come to you–certainly I, Paul, did, again and again–but Satan stopped us.” (1 Thess 2:17,18).  There he didn’t just put is down to ‘circumstances’ but specifically to the work of the enemy.

That reminds us that we are in a spiritual battle which Paul spells out best in Ephesians 6.  Why ever does God allow Satan to hinder us?  Surely God is much greater that Satan so surely He could stop his activities if He wanted to? Of course, but Scripture indicates that God uses Satan and one way that He uses him is to allow him to bring hindrances to us so that we will learn to persevere and overcome and, in so doing, will be strengthened.  A world where everything was laid on and life was very easy would produce a weak humanity, characterless and grey.  Instead we rise to greatness in the face of obstacles, even though we may not like those obstacles at the time. If only we could see them as activities in the gym of life designed to strengthen us and make us fit, we might feel happier about it!

So here was Paul with the best of motives – to come and bless the church in Rome – being thwarted, whether by people, circumstances or the enemy, we don’t know. If that happened to this great saint, then we should feel happier when it happens to us. It is not a sign of our sinfulness but it may just be that God is allowing it to sharpen us up and teach us some things along that way. Of course it is just possible that we’ve got it wrong and the course or path we are trying to follow isn’t the right one, or perhaps not the best one and so the Lord allows us to be slowed up or redirected.

In Acts 16 we see examples of Paul trying to go one way and being redirected by the Lord.  See: “Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.” (Acts 16:6-10) That is possibly the classic passage on redirecting by God, but what it means is that initially Paul had one idea in mind – to preach in the province called Asia – and then another one – to preach in Mysia and Bithynia – and finally a third one – to preach in Troas – but in each case was stopped because the Lord was trying to lead him over into Europe to Macedonia. Does that mean that Paul was wrong or obtuse? No, of course not, simply that it isn’t always easy to hear the Lord even when you are an apostle!

So, as we said in the conclusion of the previous meditation, that’s what faith is all about – listening with imperfect ears and seeking to do our best at obeying what we believe is right.  Hopefully much of the time we’ll get it right; sometimes we won’t – but God will always we working in the background to bring good out of it all. Pray, seek God for guidance and step out on what you believe you have, and if you get it wrong, the Lord still loves you and will be working to bless you anyway! So, go on, go for it!

5. Andrew

People who met Jesus : 5 :  Andrew

PART TWO : The Apostles

Jn 1:40-42    Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus.

Today we are going to start looking at the apostles, the twelve who walked most closely with Jesus. We’re going to start with Andrew for a reason that will become obvious.

Sometimes I hear people saying that the Bible is full of contradictions. “Oh,” they say, “one Gospel says this and another that,” as if that were proof of a contradiction. It is only a contradiction if one Gospel says one thing and the other specifically says exactly the opposite – and that never happens. What we do find with the Gospels is that different writers include different things, but that simply means we get a fuller picture. Now this is true of the first of the apostles that we will be looking at in the coming meditations.

Andrew originally came from Bethsaida on the north coast of the Sea of Galilee (Jn 1:44) Jesus had settled in Capernaum (Mt 4:13) just a few miles along the coast. Most people remember Jesus encountering the fishermen alongside the Sea of Galilee, so it is somewhere there on the coast that we see Andrew being called with his brother Simon Peter: “As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” At once they left their nets and followed him,” (Mt 4:18-20) but that, John tells us in our verses today, wasn’t the first time Andrew had encountered Jesus.

Prior to those verses we find something quite special: “The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!” When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?” They said, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” “Come,” he replied, “and you will see.” So they went and saw where he was staying, and spent that day with him.” (Jn 1:35-39)   It is then, in our verses today, that we are told that one of these men who had been with John the Baptist was actually Andrew. Andrew had left his fishing up in Galilee, gone down to hear John, had obviously been baptised, stayed on for a while at least, and had then encountered Jesus there for the first time. Andrew was first and foremost a seeker! He meets Jesus, spends the day with him, comes to belief in him as the Messiah, and goes and finds his brother Simon, who is also obviously down there, and tells him. So now we have a seeker who has become a believer and then a messenger of the gospel – we’ve found the Christ!

It would then appear that at some point they go back north and settle in to fishing again, so that that is where Jesus finds them when he too moves north to start his ministry, working out of Capernaum. We’ll see the incident with Simon Peter in the next meditation but for now we simply note that when Jesus starts calling disciples to leave their everyday jobs, Andrew is one of the first to follow him. References to individual disciples are often fairly few; they simply get mentioned when they stand out in some particular way.

We next see Andrew in the account of the feeding of the five thousand: “Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” (Jn 6:8,9) Jesus, in teaching mode, has challenged Philip about where to get bread to feed the crowd. Philip sees the size of the crowd and concludes it is a hopeless task. Andrew is willing to step out as little bit further with, “Well we have a few resources here but I realise they are few.” Yes, he’s willing to step out and look silly with his suggestion. (Had he made friends with this small boy?) Is it that he has in mind the solution but doesn’t quite like to bring it out in the open?  Jesus solves the problem and performs a miracle and feeds them all with these few resources.

At a later date we find another simple incident involving Andrew: “Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the Feast. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.” (Jn 12:20-22). It suggests that Andrew is somewhere up the seniority order. Some seekers came but approached Philip. You approach the outer members first. Philip goes to talk to Andrew. Why? To get reassurance from him that this is all right!  He shows he looks up to Andrew.

We next see Andrew with the post-resurrection and post-ascension group: “Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James.” (Acts 1:13) Andrew is a sticker, he’s still there and is going to continue there.

Let’s summarise what we have seen. Andrew was a seeker who became a believer, who was called to be a follower to serve and his faith gradually grew to the point where he was not afraid to speak what appeared humanly silly. He became a fairly senior member of the apostolic band and carried the faith on after Jesus had ascended. (Yet for some reason he wasn’t included in that very inner group that consisted of James and John and Peter – e.g. Mt 17:1)

Now let’s apply that to ourselves. Do we have seeking hearts? Have we become believers, followers who are willing to go where Jesus leads and live out faith, determined to go on and be continual carriers of the Gospel – even if we don’t get a great deal of recognition. Andrew wasn’t especially famous and didn’t reach the senior ranks of the apostles – but he clearly played a significant part in life. May the same be able to be said of us!

32. Equipping

Ephesians Meditations No.32

Eph  4:11-13 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

As a pastor of a church I really like these verses. They come as a total surprise to many Christians because they reverse the roles, so often perceived of  ‘clergy and laity’ (terrible descriptions!). So often we see the role of the vicar, minister, call him what you will, as the man who we hire to do all the stuff. Well look again at these verses and you may be very unsettled if that’s what you thought!

Remember, in the previous verses, Paul has just been writing about the gifts that Jesus gives through grace. Now we see that those gifts are gifts of men, gifts of ministries: It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers.” Apostle simply means ‘sent one’, one sent out by Jesus to establish new churches. Prophets are those with the ministry of a listening ear to convey the heart of God for the now moment. Evangelists are those who have the divine ability to move hearts in conviction to make a commitment to Christ. Pastors are shepherds of the flock, those with local oversight and a caring role. Teachers impart knowledge, understanding and wisdom for the body of Christ. All of them operate because they have been given divinely supernatural abilities by Jesus. So that, very simply, is who they are.

But it is when we come to why they are to do it, that the shock comes: “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.” Wow! What Paul is saying is that the job of the spiritual leader is to prepare God’s people so that they do the stuff! Christians are meant to be servers. You may remember that Jesus had a slight upset with his disciples on one occasion: “Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave– just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mt 20:25-28). At the Last Supper “he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” (Jn 13:4,5) and then taught them, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” (Jn 13:14-17). Later he taught, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.” (Jn 14:12).

So Jesus looks in each of us to find a servant heart but He is the one who guides us into what we do: For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10) and, you may remember from previous meditations, He is the one who equips us: “think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you…..We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.” (Rom 12:3,6). This is for ALL Christians, not just a special few. As we give our lives over to Him so He will bring out of us the gifts that He has on His heart for us. He knows exactly what we are best suited for and will bring that about – using these faith ministries we referred to earlier in today’s verses. That’s what each of these men are – faith ministries, because they have a large portion of faith for their particular role and they impart that faith to those who are open and who God has chosen.

What is the end product of all this? It is we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” It is to build unity in the church, as we each learn to move in faith in the way God equips us, getting to know Jesus and his will for us more and more. This is maturity as we become more and more the body that Jesus wants us to be. Maturity is thus knowing the Lord, being open to him, receiving the gifting he wants to give us to serve in his kingdom, accepting that we are all different and that we complement each other, fitting together in harmony, producing a body that brings God’s blessing in a variety of ways to the church and to the world around it.

That is Jesus’ ultimate present goal, what he is working for in the present, and to achieve that he wants to use every Christian, not just the full time leader. The role of the leader is to teach, train and release the people of God so that the people of God can be the person they are designed to be in Christ. Where do you ‘fit’ in this body?