For the last several days I have had the privilege of being involved in a time of training and equipping that does not come around all that often. Thanks to the confidence and trust of the associational leadership of the Churches of Christ in WA, I was allowed to create a space where 12 Senior Ministers were able to sit down face to face and talk openly and honestly about the joys and pains of leading in the Body of Christ.
It was my goal to have this group of ministers and church leaders work through a series of real life issues that are common to every church. We did not have an outside “expert” come in and lecture us on what we should be doing better, as if that outsider had his or her act all together. Instead we provided our own content. Peers struggling with the weight of leadership, speaking openly about our successes and our failures.
As we moved from topic to topic, we kept returning to one key truth that we all felt applied to the core purpose and reason for all of our striving and straining to be better leaders and better servants in the church. This truth was the framework upon which all of our stories and all of our efforts were to be hung. If we could not find a hook in this truth then we encouraged one another to let the task or expectation drop to the floor so that we might be focused on what matters most.
This framework was provided to us by God, through the ministry of the Apostle Paul. Paul wanted to make sure that his friends in Ephesus understood why their work in the church mattered, why is was necessary for the people to sacrifice and strive toward an amazing goal.
The framework is as follows:
Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.
Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.
There is more to say about this truth than any of us has time for at the moment. But there are a few key points that stand out as relevant to the work of those seeking to provide leadership in the local church.
One The Church Belongs to
We often forget that the work of the minister, the work of the church, the work of all Christian mission, belongs to Christ. I do not own my church. I do not own my small group. I do not own the mission groups that I support. I am not a shareholder. This is not a limited liability corporation.
The church and all of its outworkings belong to Christ. Jesus is the head, the owner, the builder and sustainer of his own body.
When this central point is forgotten, we see a disconnection of the body from its head. This results in a lot of flapping around, a lot of drama, and wasted effort. When we forget this central truth we seek to own other people, we seek to own the leadership of the Spirit, and we seek to own the truth of God’s word.
When we try and take possession of the body of Christ, we wear ourselves out. We assume a responsibility that we cannot bear up under. Can you imagine what chaos might ensue if the hand should claim that it owns the body and that it knows what the head really wants? The body is best when it knows its place. Under the headship of Christ!
The second point to bring up from this truth is seen in the gift given to the church by Christ.
Jesus Christ gives his people, whom he loves, people that are called to provide the church with leadership, direction, wisdom, and discernment. The titles seen in this gift; Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Pastor and Teacher, are not meant to be all inclusive.
There are more people and more gifts given to the church by Christ. But these gifts are given so that the church might see and understand the will of God more clearly as the church moves and changes to adjust to the world we are called to reach.
These titles have taken on legendary meaning over time. We hear these titles and think they are much more specific in their definitions and applications than ever seen in the early church.
To be an Apostle was to be one sent out by God for a specific task in the church.
To be a Prophet was to be someone who listened carefully to the Lord’s word, whether spoken or read, and to make sure the church at large was also listening to the Lord.
To be an Evangelist was not a specific job. It was to be one who carried the good news. Everyone in the church of Jesus Christ was called to carry the good news of Christ to any and all who needed to hear.
The role of the Pastor and Teacher, was one job, not two. This was a person who was called to be a shepherd for the church and to be a teacher to those being shepherded.
The meaning of the words used here are not meant to signal that only special people, doing special jobs, were to be working for the good of the body of Christ. In fact the opposite is true. Every part of Christ’s body was a gift to the whole body. Every person in the church was equally called by God to be at work, doing their part, for the good of the whole body of Christ.
The last point to be shard is seen in the purpose of Christ’s gift.
The people of the church are all called by God to…
Reach oneness in the faith…
To become mature in Christ…
To reach a place of fullness in our relationship with Christ…
To be anchored in the truth…
To see lies and falsehood before we welcome them into our lives…
To speak the truth to one another from a place of love…
And to find our fit in the Body of Christ.
All who are a part of the church are called by Jesus Christ to be fully committed to one another and to the head of the church. The people with titles and responsibilities in the church are not the head. They are the ones who have the job of making sure all the part of the body are working together.
When the various parts of the body of Christ works in concert with one another, the body grows and flourishes. When the parts see that they have the same mission, the same goal, the same purpose in all of their ministry work, the Body of Christ is an amazing gift to the world.
It is my hope and prayer that you will make the decision today to get on board with your local church, your part of the Body of Christ. It is my hope that you will see that those God has called to lead and guide your church are not the owners of the church, and neither are you! We are all unworthy servants honored by the King in our calling to serve the Lord Jesus!