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!

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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!

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?