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!

43. Be Ready

Meditations in 1 Peter : 43 : Be Ready with an Answer

1 Pet 3:15 Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,

Sometimes there are Christians who are very diffident about sharing the faith. “I’m not sure what to say,” is a common reason given, or “I don’t know how to open up a conversation about Christ.” Well, yes, there are those who are gifted at opening up conversations and they are the envy of the rest of us, but the truth is that they are probably the ones who are gifted as evangelists, a specific calling. Most of us are simply called to be witnesses. Jesus said to his apostles, “On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles.” (Mt 10:18) and then later on, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) A witness is simply someone who recounts what they have seen or what has happened to them.

But that still doesn’t help the person who struggles to know how to open up a conversation about their Lord. It is at this point that Peter helps us. He comes at it from the opposite direction: “Always be prepared to give an answer.” An answer is a response to another. They initiate the conversation: “to everyone who asks you…” For some reason, Peter supposes that people are going to ask you about your faith: “who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” Now that implies something very specific. It supposes that they know you are a believer. This is the next point at which many of us struggle. We live as a minority (if you live in Britain at least – not so much in the States) and we have allowed the enemy to marginalise us, to push us to the side where in many people’s thinking we are of little importance.

That is simply because people don’t realise who or what we are. My daughter runs a Mums and Toddlers group. One day one of the Mums asked who it was who ran the group. She was told the church. “What’s a church?” she asked. (Yes, this is true in modern day Britain.) Come along on a Sunday morning and see, she was invited, so she came. As she stood in the worship she found herself crying for apparently no reason. She kept on coming and kept on crying. God was at work. She heard ‘the reason for the hope’ that we have and she came to the Lord. Her partner wondered what was going on in her but was scared about the thought of church which he knew nothing about. But when he came to pick her up at the end of each Sunday morning, he was invited in for coffee and was overwhelmed by the love he received and started asking questions. He too came to the Lord. Both of them asked questions in response to what they saw. One saw an organisation putting on a local service for Mums, the other the love of Christ.

If we are living the life of Christ, people will ask questions. Yes, they do need to know who we are and at some point we are going to have to let it be known that we are Christians and that we ‘go to church’ (Yes, I know we are the church, but that’s how the world sees it!). If our Sunday morning meeting is more than a dull liturgy where familiarity has now invoked contempt, then questioners will encounter God.

Another man, now in our congregation, was a devout sceptic and had been so for many years. He was utterly hardened against the truth.  Yet one Sunday he found himself asking his Christian wife if he might come along that morning to her church. He wasn’t sure why, but he wanted to come. He came for about five or six weeks, I think it was, and then one morning in the middle of worship, one of our girls shared a general prophetic word that apparently went straight to the heart of this hard man. He went to the back where some leaders were praying for people and buttonholed one of them and came straight way to the Lord. God had provoked questions within him and now he was given answers which satisfied him. He was gloriously born again.

But perhaps your church experience isn’t like that and so you’ll have to do it on your own. In conversation you quietly drop that you had been in church that weekend, or you simply exude the love and patience and perseverance of Christ that Peter has been talking about in his letter so that indeed you let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds,” (Mt 5:16) and they question you why you are like that.

Now Peter takes the pressure right off in the closing words of this verse: But do this with gentleness and respect.” You don’t have to attack people – in fact you mustn’t. Many young Christians (and older ones too) feel defensive about their faith and so become harsh and hard in their presentation. Don’t be! Remember it is God who convicts and converts! All you can do is love and testify. The blind man in John 9 is a lovely example of this: they said. “We know this man is a sinner.” He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!” (Jn 9:24,25) i.e. I don’t have all the answers but all I do know is that Jesus changed me.

So in your preparation to be a witness, yes, you can think about what life used to be like and how it has changed when you came to Christ and you can think how you would briefly explain in non-spooky terms what happened. For me it would be, “My life was pointless and was out of control and one night I was challenged with the truth about Jesus Christ, that he loved me and died to take the punishment for the wrongs of my life, and so I prayed and asked his forgiveness and for him to take over and lead my life, and all I can say is that I was utterly changed and it’s been great.” Simple isn’t it.

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?