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!