Snapshots: Day 91

Snapshots: Day 91

The Snapshot: “Send some men to explore the land … all of them were leaders.” (Num 13:1,3) They do say leaders are those who go ahead. These men certainly did, but we know the story of how they came back and only two were full of faith to take the Land while ten only saw problems, and the ten caused Israel to end up for forty years in the wilderness. What a responsibility. There’s a challenge for any of us who have been, are, or will be leaders in whatever capacity in ‘the church’. We have the capability of encouraging and leading God’s people on in acts of faith, or we can just see problems and difficulties and hinder the progress of God’s plans. Such a responsibility is scary, but such a responsibility is only on those called and equipped. Who? Those with hearts open to be used by God.

Further Consideration: Responsibility in leadership is a tricky thing and it is something that has the potential to weigh one down with ‘all that responsibility’. Well let’s see if we can lift the load off while avoiding becoming negative reporters like Moses’ leaders.

I did a study recently on church leaders. There are those in the New Testament who appear to have been spirit-filled guys who looked after the material well-being of the flock. They were the deacons. The ones with spiritual responsibility were called elders, overseers or shepherds (pastors).  As the interchangeable names imply they were the mature and wise in the congregation of God’s people, those who guarded and protected the flock, and those who provided for the flock, whether it was food, security or healing.

Now here’s the thing, there seems little reference to them being ‘called’ whereas some denominational leaders make a big thing about ‘calling’. Actually in scripture it seems more of a natural gifting thing, an aspirational thing (1 Tim 3:1) and a character thing (3:2-7), something recognized by apostles (where there are apostles) or by the flock, and so if you are there, it is probably because God has gifted you accordingly and touched your heart – and will equip you with His grace to enable you to be a blessing to the flock. Calling? Maybe.

That’s it; if we are leaders we are called to be a blessing to the flock, serving them, looking out for them, not dominating them, but loving them and looking for all God’s goodness to them. So if you have God’s grace, what’s so difficult about that? People and Satan! Right, but His grace doesn’t change and will be sufficient to cope.

And one final thing in a short reflection like this: remember you’re imperfect and will not get it perfectly right all the time, but as long as we’re steering away from major sin, that doesn’t disqualify you. Enjoy it, be a blessing and be blessed.

43. Nature of the Church (2)

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

43. Nature of the Church (2)

1 Cor 12:27   Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

So what? In this final  study on Leadership, I want to try to bring together some of the things we’ve said so far and see where they lead us. I want to start by picking up the thread from the previous study about deacons. Now even before I go there, may I simply testify to an experience I’ve had when I was leading as an elder and retired. The greatest sense that I had when I stepped down and retired was relief that I was no longer ‘running’ a church. This was some years ago and I have thus had time to ponder on that. As much as I led a charismatic and (we would have said) a Spirit-led church, we had never broken free from organised ‘services’. Now I realize I am about to move onto shaky ground for many here, and the larger the church the shakier it will be, because the more people you have the more they expect an organised service that blesses them, and I have never yet found a local church that risks stepping out without structure. Bear with me, I may not end up where you think!

Years ago I had someone in the church who wanted us to approach every Sunday morning without any preparation except prayer. He and I discussed this at length. Brethren friends suggested their experience was that although that was the intent of their meetings, in reality the lead was always taken by the same people and in reality it was no freer than any other church meeting. Pentecostal churches I have known have been just as structured and hidebound as any other church. Those of you who come from liturgical backgrounds may wonder whatever I am talking about and wherever I am going.

Spirit Led? Let’s put it in the context of much of what we have said earlier in these studies when we talked about the Holy Spirit, life and trying to get back to basics. I think I probably said this before, but compare life with Jesus with our current traditional approaches to meeting together. Now yes, I am aware that Jesus went to the synagogue and then to the Temple to celebrate the feasts but also bear in mind two things he taught. First, God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” (Jn 4:24) Be honest, can that happen with a fixed liturgy? (and so called Free-churches may not have it written down but are usually as predictable). What does worship “in the Spirit and in truth” mean? The Message version puts it well: “the Father is out looking for those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship. God is sheer being itself—Spirit. Those who worship him must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration.” It means no pretense, no putting on a show, no going on what someone else has written, but what our heart and mind pour out in His presence.

But let’s pick up some of the other things we have hinted at along the way. A church that has a fixed liturgy cannot respond to the directing of the Holy Spirit who may want to come and bring revelation, or healing or deliverance to God’s people when they meet together. Liturgical churches either have to pause the liturgy to make space for God to move and make space after the liturgy. Please don’t hear me wrongly; liturgy can be very beautiful and may be the one time the truths of the faith are regularly declared by the people of God, and in those senses can be a great addition to the experience of the church, but if it means there is no openness to the moving of the Spirit to bring guidance, direction, revelation and so on, we are not only demonstrating a very poor example of what the church can be, but we are failing to reveal to visitors the powerful presence of the living God.

Leaders? But, I hear someone complaining, I thought this was all about leadership? But it is. How we ‘do’ church is down to leaders. In an earlier study I listed a number of reasons why we don’t accept change but persuading the church to catch the vision of the ‘better’ that God has for us, is the responsibility of leaders. As we saw, where there are apostles and prophets exercising their ministry, there will be this ongoing motivating and driving force, but in the absence of such ministries, it is down to the elders-overseers-shepherds to do the motivating. The enemy will constantly be seeking to thwart change and so there will be a spiritual battle which will be overcome by prayer and preaching and teaching. Those are the three primary tools that God uses to mature and develop His people. Very well, let’s look at these three, demonstrated by the leaders.

Preaching: Put most simply, preaching is the declaring of the truths of the Bible so that the intellect is informed and the will challenged. But preaching has to be a faith exercise, a declaration of the truths that God has spoken into the hearts of the preacher as he has waited on his Lord. What a difference there is between sitting down and concocting a neatly packaged three point sermon  that has been arrived at by hours of striving, and a message (which may have three points!) that has come from waiting in God’s presence and is stirred by the heart of God in the heart of a preacher who is convinced that the Bible is the vital inspired word of God and the Gospel is the power of God that brings salvation.” (Rom 1:16) God’s redemptive saving process is brought through the application of the power of the word of God. Lives change, the church grows and matures, and the world will be impacted.

Teaching: Put most simply, teaching is the expounding the truths of the Bible to provide a foundation of belief and faith on which the believer’s life is founded, strengthened and built up.  The more we spend time in God’s word, the more we study it, the more we seek the Lord to understand it, the more confident we will be as to the veracity of the whole book. The more we do this, the more we may find there are things we have accepted in the past, because traditionally the church has accepted it thus, but are not as we have previously thought. One of the challenges that seems to be rippling through the modern church is the difference between trying to scare people into the kingdom and trying to woo people into the kingdom. There is a delicate balance between the two that can only be resolved by a strong knowledge of the whole Bible and an openness to the Spirit’s teaching. There is a constant battle, not only to proclaim the truth, but how we are to proclaim the truth. Many modern believers only tolerate a twenty or twenty-five minute weekly sermon, but that may be because of the quality of what has been put before them. Seeking God, catching God’s heart, catching the wonder of the truth, all these things will contribute to the leader being able to feed the flock in ways that leave them going, “Yes! And more please!”.

Prayer: If you find a ‘leader’ for whom prayer is not of vital importance, I question whether you have a spiritual leader. Where leaders do not demonstrate that by pausing up in the presence of God, pausing to recognize the one to whom we speak, yet taking any and every opportunity to pause the activities of the people of God and come to the One in whose name it is all being done, then it is likely that there will be a shallowness in the people of God and a vulnerability to enemy attack.

Back to the Service: I suggested earlier that leaders are responsible for how the church goes about meeting, worshiping etc., and raised the question of how we can allow the Spirit of the Lord to have space, and the struggles we have in seeking to walk a path between over-organising our services and under-planning them. The first produces sterile performances and the second can produce a shambles. So is there something between? The key, I suggest, might be summed in the adage, “Planned but flexible and open to change.”

Planned and Flexible? In other words, although there is a general idea – formulated while waiting upon the Lord beforehand – of where the service is going (and this may include  the worship leaders having an idea of what music is wanted, and the preacher having a structured sermon to deliver, and maybe a variety of other things to be gone through – the infamous ‘Notices’ of which a book could be written, possibly a set time of prayer etc.), the role of the leaders becomes more and more to be listeners to the Spirit so that at any time there can be a change of direction etc. The worship team may suddenly sense the manifest presence of God and either pause up to appreciate His presence or may direct a perhaps quieter, more reverent worship time, and times may be given for the releasing of prophetic words and subsequent prayer ministry.

Here there needs to be a flexibility and wisdom as to how to administer such times so that the majority of the people are not mere spectators. Having space at the back for people to respond to such words and to go to receive prayer ministry, enables the time to proceed without the majority sitting a little bored.  It is in such situations that certain words become highly applicable. For example our starting verse: “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”  (1 Cor 12:27) In other words, we need to release gifting in each and every member so a ‘service’ is not merely a time for out-front participation by the leading few, but the whole body be encouraged to learn to listen to God and participate with whatever He gives. This is down to the leaders to bring about in the long-term training of the body of Christ. There is also, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Eph 5:21) Yes, I know Paul is going to expound on family relationships, but doesn’t it apply well here as well? Failing to be aware of one another and, I suggest, encourage all to be part of the active body, was part of Paul’s corrective words to the church at Corinth (see 1 Cor 11)

And so?  So much to think about. What sort of church do we want, or more to the point, what sort of church does the Lord want? Much to think about, much to pray about. Dare we become something far more glorious that we know at the present, and something that is definitely not boring, but is instead life-bringing and life-transforming, as His revelation and His power is released in our midst to His glory. Amen? Amen!

42. The Servants – Deacons

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

42.  The Servants – Deacons

1 Tim 3:8  deacons are to be worthy of respect…. They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons.

Rom 16:1    I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae

Acts 6:3 choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom

Who? What? Coming to the subject of ‘deacons’ we are in an area that is, in some ways, unclear. A concordance or Bible dictionary will tell you that the Greek word diakonos occurs some thirty times in the New Testament as minister or servant and diakonia meaning ministry occurs a further seventy times. In Greek culture diakonos is a servant. Paul used it of himself as a servant (Col 1:23,25) It sometimes comes up as ‘serves’ (e.g. 1 Pet 4:11) As a word it applies to Jesus (Mk 10:45) and in his teaching to every disciple (see Lk 22:26). So in one sense it is used generally to all believers. Having said that there are some features to be noted.

Distinction: The translated Scriptures clearly differentiate between deacon and overseer, e.g. “To all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons.” (Phil 1:1) Similarly in 1 Tim verses 1 to 7 are about overseers and then verses 8 to 13 are about deacons. Paul would not have covered the same people twice.  What is interesting in the 1 Timothy passage on deacons is that initially (v.8-10) Paul makes no mention of men or women in the role and in fact then picks upon women in v.11 within the overall brief and then goes on to indicate men in v.12. The fact that in Rom 16:1 Paul indicates that there is a woman who is a deacon(ess) suggests that perhaps his first inclination was that deacons initially are likely to be men but that is not exclusive.

Qualification: The only listing of qualifications comes in the 1 Timothy passage requires that they be people (we could imply men here) who are respected, honest, sober, and honest in business (again implying men) (v.8) and be clear and obvious committed Christians (v.9) whose background should be checked (v.10) before being allowed to serve. Women, who we may imply be included as deacons, should similarly be respected, not gossips, not extreme in any characteristic, and completely trustworthy (v.11). Following this there is the requirement for having a household free from dissension or upset, implying any form of immorality (esp. adultery) immediately rules out any such person (v.12).

Example of Acts 6: The only time there is anything that might be considered an example or even a model for deacons is that seen in Acts 6 although the word is not used there. The situation arose where, because the church was looking after the needy and there tended to be a Jewish faction and a Greek faction who had not yet learned to live very well as one, the Greek group complained that they were not being cared for as in the way the Jewish group were. It is at this point that the apostles make an important distinction: “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables.” (v.2)

Distinction Again: These primary leaders clearly imply that there was a spiritual responsibility upon them to somehow ensure the ongoing growth and development of the Church through the means of spreading the word of God. When they speak of ‘waiting on tables,’ it is not speaking of this service in any derogatory manner but distinguishing a practical service from the spiritual responsibility that they held. In all else we have considered in the studies on local leadership, it is legitimate to distinguish between the spiritual responsibilities of the elder-overseer-shepherd and the non-spiritual material serving the church in practical ways.

Importance & Significance: I am aware that it is often said that everything we do should be as unto God and should therefore be considered ‘spiritual’ – and I agree – but the distinction here is between spiritual provision as we considered in the earlier studies, and material provision as we see here now in Acts 6.  The fact that this is also to be considered a ‘spiritual function’ (because it is before God and for the church) is enhanced by the requirement that these ‘servants’ are to be known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom.” (v.3) The fact that there were to be seven of them indicates the importance the apostles gave to this – a plurality of deacons needed to care for the material well-being of the church which, as we’ve seen before, was a major characteristic of the early church.  The apostles saw this as a significant ‘responsibility’ and it thus enabled them to, give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word,” (v.4) i.e. getting before the Lord, keeping close contact with him and fulfilling their mission from Jesus to, “be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth,” (Acts 1:8) and, “make disciples of (or from) all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Mt 28:19,20)

Let me ask a pertinent question in the light of what I have seen in church life for over fifty years: How many spiritual leaders are NOT fulfilling their calling because they still have their hand on the tiller of the material well-being of the church, instead of leaving it to Spirit-filled, godly, humble, servant-hearted men and women? That poses two further questions? Where are the deacons who fit that description, and where are the leaders who give themselves to the spiritual ministry we’ve described above?

So what do the ‘deacons’ do? Perhaps more to the point is what do the elders do and whatever else needs doing to ‘run’ the church?  With that thought in mind I am going to stop and pick up this thread in the next study, the final one in this Part on leadership of the church.

41. Gifts of Ministries – to Build Up

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

41. Gifts of Ministries – to Build Up

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.

The Need: Where there are apostles and evangelists you have men who are constantly wanting to extend the boundaries of the kingdom and whose focus is not therefore, so much on the local church as going out to push the boundaries. That is understandable and right and where that heart starts rising in members of the local body, we should encourage that and not feel threatened by it, fearing we are going to lose ‘our best people’. Although I think there is value in the larger congregation meeting together from time to time, I confess I like Francis Chan’s recent emphasis on small groups that look to build and send out leaders to create new groups (churches). The kingdom is extended by the present church being equipped and envisioned and empowered and then being sent out. Apostles and prophets, in particular encourage that. Pastors don’t tend to have the same drive and therefore possibly fear that happening and fear constant change.

The Pastor: Pastor, in many parts of the world is synonymous with ‘main leader’. It is better to say it is synonymous with ‘shepherd’ (and ‘elder’ as we saw in an earlier study). Because we have covered this in some measure previously we only need to re-emphasise what we have said before. The role of the shepherd (pastor)-overseer-elder is to guard the flock and provide for the flock.

Guarding & Providing for the Flock: The role of guarding the flock comes first, I suggest, by teaching. Building knowledge and understanding in the new believer, is the starting place for creating strong believers. So guarding and providing become one and the same thing, teaching the Bible, emphasizing the New Testament, and providing a framework of basic teaching that I suggested at the end of Study No.35. To save you going back there, that included:

  • how to feed on the word,
  • how to sense the presence of God,
  • how to come into a place of peace ‘in Christ’ and ‘in the Spirit’,
  • how to receive guidance,
  • the nature and character of the path we are called to walk,
  • how to empathize which those who mourn and weep (Rom 12:15),
  • how to stand and triumph in spiritual warfare,
  • what it means to be more than conquerors, seated with Christ.

I say, ‘that included’ because should not be considered a comprehensive list of things to be taught, but certainly should be considered to be the basic foundation which inherently includes, who God is, who Jesus is, who the Spirit is, their characteristics and activities, who we are, our need for salvation, how it is received etc. etc.

Speaking about providing a framework of teaching is the positive aspect of building strong believers but there is also a negative side, that might be considered under the section on ‘spiritual warfare’ (which we may get to cover later in this series) – teaching about false teaching and raising awareness of the variety of forms of deception that the enemy seeks to bring. This should also include becoming aware that over-emphasis sometimes seems to come as some believers suddenly start making unhealthy emphases which very soon starts to have a divisive nature to it. It is healthy that people show interest in various facets of the Churches broader ministry – concern for various ministries reaching out into the world – but unless such things fit the vision and heart of our local church community, they can be distractions that can cause division. Paul specifically warned the Ephesian elders about this in Acts 20:29-31.

The Pastor’s Heart: If there is true heart of the shepherd, I believe the heart of the Pastor will constantly be yearning for the good of each and every member of the flock. Now we perhaps need to backtrack momentarily here and remind ourselves that shepherds-overseers-elders are one and the same in Paul’s teaching, and that the norm is a plurality. Now this is not to say that every ‘elder’ will have the same intensity of concern for the flock but I would suggest that all elders should have some concern. Some may have such a concern that it takes them into the realm of true counselling, but that is not necessarily true of all. That concern for the flock, should include in all elders, I suggest, a desire for each and every member of the body to grow and mature and enter into the fullness of the gifting that God has for them.  This takes us to the other side of the coin, teachers.

Teachers: Now we have already seen that some elders, but not all, will have a teaching/preaching gift. Now that is what tends to take place in the presence of the entire congregation and by its very nature is Bible exposition and more general teaching. However, and we will take this as a separate subject in later studies, when Jesus taught he declared, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you,” (Mt 28:19,20) and whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing.” (Jn 14:12) The first level of teaching, I suggest, is imparting knowledge, conveying the expectations of the New Testament for the believer. The second level of teaching, I suggest, is imparting faith TO DO. This is done by explaining the possibilities (vision) and then encouraging people into it.

A very fundamental level of this teaching should include, for example, an understanding of prayer, including learning to listen to God and then minister in prayer, praying over others. Where faith is flowing this will include revelation in its various forms, but this is not something that happens naturally but needs teaching and teaching includes exampling, i.e. the leader is saying, “This is what you do, this is how you do it,” and then demonstrates it and leads others into doing it as well. This very practical outworking of teaching can be seen and applied in a variety of areas – in giving, in providing hospitality, in being an encourager, in being a Bible student, in being a faithful praying person, in healing and deliverance, in demonstrating spiritual gifts, and so on. The point that is being made, is that we are NOT called to create a body that is just full of information, but a people who know it and DO it. So great is this subject that we will devote a complete Part to it later on.

Boring Church: I quite often hear the complaint from those who are dropping out of church (meaning they are stopping being with the body regularly) that church is ‘boring’. If it is a constant week by week repetition of the same package that lacks the Spirit, that lacks life, then it is not surprising for that was not what the experience of a disciple with Jesus (in the Gospels), or subsequently a disciple led and empowered by the Spirit (in Acts) was. The completion of the canon of Scripture is not an excuse to say we no longer need the power of the Holy Spirit, but it is a challenge to respond to all that God has laid out for us there, entering into the wonder of this life. If we are not being led into this empowered, equipped and envisioned life, then it will be boring – and wrong! The apostles and prophets will be there in the background bring added impetus and helping overcoming blockages, but the main ongoing building work will come through the pastor-teacher.

Because such a vision (and remember all we are quoting is the New Testament teaching) can be daunting for one man, let’s conclude by reminding ourselves that where there is a plurality of elders they will have different aspects of the same gifting, bringing out different strengths and compensating for different weaknesses. May we also add the vital ingredient of an elder-pastor-teacher-overseer that we noted in the earlier study on elders: Maturity is measured by obedience and availability and that is seen in the believer who is well-rounded in both character and service, one who does not merely ‘know’ but ‘does’.  The result? An alive church, and one that is certainly not boring!

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!

39. Gifts of Ministries – Introduction

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

39. Gifts of Ministries – Introduction

Rom 12:6-8 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

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.

A Focus: There are ‘gifts’ and there are ‘ministries’ and sometimes there is confusion between the two. A ‘gift’ is a precursor to a ‘ministry’. I recently came across a quote of some leader saying in accordance with 1 Cor 14, we can all have the ministry of a prophet. Wrong! Paul doesn’t say that; he says, “I would rather have you prophesy,” and the whole context there is gifts not ministries. The difference? The heart the individual contains and the anointing upon them.

Gifts to?  Another way of distinguishing is by saying who are these gifts to. Gifts of the Spirit, for example itemised in 1 Cor 12:8-10, are gifts to individuals, for use within the church. Gifts given by Christ seen in Eph 4:11,12 are gifts of people to the church. To take prophecy and prophets as an example here, Paul makes it clear that anyone can prophesy when they are filled with the Spirit. As I have led groups seeking to move in the gift, I have noticed a number of times that, although I may pray over them as a group of usually about ten, and that evening all of them will step out and have a word for another that is pure revelation, in the months that follow I have noted (in a church where the gifts are encouraged) that of that ten, two or three will have words regularly, four or five will have an occasional word, and two or three will never have a word again.

Different people, different gifts: This says nothing about the spirituality of the individual, but more about the heart that God gives the individual. In the Romans verses above, Paul speaks of the grace that God gives in different measure to different people. I have expressed it more in the past as the level of faith that God gives individuals. Thus I see individuals who have great faith for giving financially but not, let’s say, for healing. Then there may be others with great faith to pray for healing but don’t have any feeling for giving.  It is a mystery but ultimately it is down to God to find people who will respond in differing ways, and so He gifts them, I believe, accordingly.

Gifts into Ministries: Now I have never carried out surveys on this but I think my general observation through the years is that God gifts many individuals with gifts of the Spirit, but He develops that in only a relatively few to bring about a ministry. A ‘ministry’ is a form of service that captures the heart of an individual and receives the special anointing of the Holy Spirit and is used by God to build the church. The heart for this will grow and develop in an individual and as they step out, so the anointing will likewise grow.

The Example of Saul/Paul: The apostle Paul is a good example of this. it is a fairly lengthy story (taking up chapters 13 & 14 of Acts) but will have bearing in the next study. In it we see the development of his spiritual life and ministry experience.

Earliest days: From the time he was saved and filled with the Spirit (see Acts 9) Saul, as he was originally known, started preaching (see v.20). With the help of Barnabas he was accredited as a Christian believer by the apostles in Jerusalem (v.26-28). Because of opposition from the Jews he was sent off to Caesarea and then to Tarsus (v.30).

In Antioch: Later he was brought by Barnabas to Antioch (Acts 11:25) and he taught for a year alongside Barnabas (v.26) and was then sent as a finance carrier (v.30) to Judea, returning some time later bringing John Mark with them (12:25).  Saul and Barnabas were known in the company of “prophets and teachers” (Acts 13:1). In the context of the church there in Antioch, Barnabas and Saul were commissioned to go out to take the Gospel on what we now refer to as their first missionary journey

First Missionary Journey:  Initially this was to Jews in the synagogue at Salamis on Cyprus (Acts 13:4,5), where his name is changed from Saul to Paul (13:9) and brings blindness to a sorcerer (a power sign) before moving on. After leaving Cyprus they returned to the mainland (13:13) and then went inland to Pisidian Antioch (13:14) where Paul preached powerfully to the Jews but was ultimately rejected by them (13:45), and so turned to preach to the Gentiles (13:46). Moving on to Iconium, they preached boldly with signs and wonders following  (14:3) and it is there that they are first indirectly referred to as apostles (14:4). Moving on to Lystra, Paul healed a cripple (14:8-10) causing many to hail them as ‘gods’. It is at this point that Luke rather pointedly speaks of, “the apostles Barnabas and Paul”. (Acts 14:14). Moving on to Derbe, they had many converts (14:20,21). They then backtracked and appointed elders in each of the churches they had previously formed (14:21-23) and eventually make their way back to Antioch to whom they reported all that had happened (14:26,27). In the next study we will perhaps backtrack and observe the stages of Paul’s development as an apostle, seeing the characteristics that went with it.

Serving to Build: Now we should also note in passing that the Greek word used in the New Testament for ‘ministry’ is ‘diakonia’ (plus other forms of that word) that essentially means ‘to serve’. It is from that word that we get ‘deacon’, one who serves in the church, and we’ll look at them in a later study.  I have said it twice already but we should emphasize that, first and foremost, spiritual gifts and gifts of Ministries are to bring about, create, and build the church. In the following studies we will see how this happens in each case. In respect of spiritual gifts Paul taught, Since you are eager for gifts of the Spirit, try to excel in those that build up the church.” (1 Cor 14:12) What is true of spiritual gifts is also true of ministries. If there is anyone who appears to exercise one of the Eph 4 ministries and does not have the heart to build the church and thus glorify God, their ministry is suspect.

And So? We find provision in the Church of ‘Gifts of the Spirit’ which are used by individuals to bless and build the church. We also find provision of ‘Ministries’, gifts of people with heart and anointing calling to minister to bring about, create and build the church. I have twice used this language here to emphasise what these ministries do. In their differing ways they bring about or bring into being what we have throughout these studies been calling ‘the Church’; they create it by spreading the Gospel and creating believers who are the Church, and they build up, equip and empower those believers to act as the body of Christ and continue the creating-building process. This we will see in more detail as we move on.

38. Local Leaders – the Nature of the Church

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

38. Local Leaders – the Nature of the Church

Rom 12:6-8 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

A Pause: Before we rush on to the gifts of ministries to the church I believe we need to pause up and review where we have been in these recent studies on local leadership. We have done the ground work and now all that remains is to stand back get a sense of the overall picture. Particularly, as I said as I concluded the previous study, I want to asks two questions: 1. What sort of church or what picture of church is conveyed by all these verses? and 2. What effect should that have on the ordinary believer, the person who has just come to Christ and finds themselves part of the Church?

Descriptions of the local leaders: As we do this we must remind ourselves we are talking about spiritual leaders of the church, not those who administer it, looking after the numerous material aspects that arise, which we will consider later when we consider ‘deacons’. But these roles are of the spiritual leaders and we need to be very clear on this. We have considered the descriptions given in  the New Testament of these men – overseers, shepherds, elders – titles or descriptions that are given to each spiritual leader over the church. Each one is an overseer, each one is a shepherd and each one is an elder. The term elder implies maturity and wisdom. The term shepherd implies one who cares for, provides for and protects the flock. The term overseer implies one who guards the flock against outside attackers and internal dissenters.

Plurality: Now the various verses that we have considered imply a plurality of elders. No where is there the picture of one man leading the flock. Now that makes highly uncomfortable reading in the modern day where have (in the UK as an example) Catholic Priests, Anglican vicars or rectors, Methodist ministers, Baptist ministers, Congregationalist ministers, Evangelical Free Church ministers, mostly men, now a few women, but all one-man ministries. The fact that these individuals tend to be professionals, on a salary from the church, mostly full-time ministries, as we see them, often makes them ‘special people’ in our eyes, even referred, and certainly set apart in our thinking (if by nothing else by the strange clothes they insist on wearing) as ‘different’.

Special? How different this was in the early church, where difference was seen by the authority and power that came with the apostles, but there is no indication it was seen in the same manner in the elders appointed. Indeed it is probable that local elders were simply men who had a job in life and in addition they were the elders of the local church. Further we might suggest it seems unlikely that they were marked out as today’s professionals tend to be, as someone special and different, and so any deference given was simply in accord with the roles, for example, The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honour,” (1 Tim 5:17) or, “you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders,” (1 Pet 5:5)  and yet these things seen in context are just one set of relational attitudes, so Peter continued, All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another,” (v.6) and elsewhere we find, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ,” (Eph 5:21) a very general injunction to the whole flock, not unlike the teaching, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Phil; 2:3,4). Each of these verses encourage the whole flock to be caring for one another, esteeming one another, submitting to one another, and so to elevate ‘the minister’ appears incongruous in the light of all this.

Different and Lonely: Because we have elevated these roles, made them something special and not worked with a true plurality of elders, we have not only made our leaders ‘different’ but also so often, very lonely. When we move onto the gifts to the church of ministries (see Eph 4:12,13) we will see then the heart burden that such ministries carry – and pastors (shepherds) and teachers are included in that list. I have tried to explain this to the unknowing in the past, by describing how, as a pastor, I carried the church on my heart twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year. It never went away. The fact that we employ such leaders only adds to their burden because it is a rare paid leader who cannot help feeling accountable to the flock – because there are paid, are employed by them! Elders (leaders) need other elders and they need friends and they need understanding.

The nature of the role cannot but mean that there will be a distinguishing between leader and flock. When you have counselled people in crisis and they have shared their innermost failings, it is very difficult to maintain an ordinary friendship subsequently. (Which suggests a smaller group of real friends who you probably have not counselled!!!) The fact that the average person in the flock isn’t carrying the burden of the flock on their shoulders, and the fact that their lives are filled with family, recreation and work concerns, and church only a distanced second, means that the leader IS in reality living in a different often difficult world. It is helped with a plurality of elders, even if one (or maybe more in a large church) are full-time devoted to the ministry. (You are ‘full-time’ in your heart, even if not seen by the flock as paid to be full-time while having some other form of employment as well).

But the church? This has focused very much on the individuals, but what about the nature of the church that I referred to earlier on? Protected, provided for, cared for, by mature and godly leadership – that is plural. If it is working right (which I suspect is a rarity), I believe that the presence within the church of a number of men (and women) who are there for every member of the flock,

  • creating this sense of security (protected) and
  • by feeding the flock (provision) and
  • caring for the flock (recognising needs, problems, difficulties, and being there to declare awareness, bring encouragement, wisdom, personal ministry and Spirit impartation),
  • not being a special clique, people ‘in the know’, but those who are open and sharing,
  • while at the same time holding confidences,
  • being an example of godliness and holiness as well as ordinariness,

all this will create an environment where the feeling is conveyed, “It is good to be here!” and within that there is encouragement to get healed up, change, grow, develop and mature, for wasn’t that Paul’s declared goal for the church by the use of the ministries (including that of the Pastor-leader-elder): “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.” (Eph 4:12,13)

And So? I said much earlier on, it is madness to desire to be a spiritual leader unless given a heart for it from God. But if God does give you that heart to serve in grace and humility as a leader within the local church then, as Paul said it, “do it diligently”, give yourself to it, pray your heart out for it, stand alongside other leaders, and if you haven’t got them, search them out, raise them up, cry to God to give you them and I realise, if you have been a one-man ministry previously, it is a nerve-wracking and even threatening thing to think about drawing others alongside you to whom you will make yourself answerable, but the rewards will be immense. Yes, it can go wrong for the Christian life can be a battle and the battleground is sometimes within the church, which is why seeking others who are godly and humble – and ensuring we all remain like that – is so important. If you are not called to be a leader but have ploughed through these more recent studies wondering why I have been making such as meal of it, in your case it is to bring understanding and a burden to pray, so that together we may bring glory to the one who died to bring us into being. May it be so.  Now we need to move on and examine the Lord’s gifts to us of the ministries we see in the New Testament.