Christianity 201

December 9, 2018

Lay Participation in Sunday Worship

1 Corinthians 14:26 (NET)  What should you do then, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each one has a song, has a lesson, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all these things be done for the strengthening of the church.

1 Corinthains 12:4 (The Voice) Now there are many kinds of grace gifts, but they are all from the same Spirit. There are many different ways to serve, but they’re all directed by the same Lord. There are many amazing working gifts in the church, but it is the same God who energizes them all in all who have the gifts. 7a Each believer has received a gift that manifests the Spirit’s power and presence

This first verse above (from chapter 14) has resulted in many different expressions of spontaneous interjections to any given worship service. I’ve seen it expressed in the Brethren style of worship where there are often long silences before the next person will stand up and share something which blessed them through the week. I’ve seen it happen in the Pentecostal style of worship where people will suddenly start speaking in tongues and as soon as they are seated, someone else will suddenly offer the interpretation.

My favorite was an interdenominational meeting* which wasn’t entirely different from the apparent spontaneity of the Pentecostal service but seemed to also imply the preparation which might have gone into the Brethren service. The thing that made it different is that before speaking, people would first define the gift they were about to bring.

The people would simply jump to their feet — not unlike the figures in the arcade game Whack-a-Mole — and announce:

“I have a word of prophecy!”

“I have a Psalm!”

“I have a teaching!”

or whatever; followed by the short message itself. If my description sounds irreverent, you need to know this also a group that could be brought to complete silence for minutes at a time in what I later referred to as “a holy hush.”

I wrote about this experience on my other blog back in 2008. At the time I noted that with each participant clearly defining what it is they were going to say, nobody could jump up and say, “I have a cute story about my dog.” It was also not the time for prayer requests. It was a time for using spiritual gifts to build up the body.

Their motto was: “Everyone Gives, Everyone Receives.”

That should be the motto of every church…

…I realize writing this that lay participation in the service is perhaps quite uncommon where you worship. It certainly doesn’t fly in a megachurch environment, or where a church has bought into the idea that the people in the seats are an audience or spectators. I got thinking about this after reading an article by Ned Berube at the blog Lionshead Café. The article was titled, Thoughts on Evangelical Corporate Worship.

He first describes the worship pattern for a church where two friends attend:

Because they are quite clear that every believer is inhabited by the Holy Spirit and consequently hearing the word of the Lord hopefully on a very regular basis, they make room explicitly for individual members to share what the Lord may have put on their heart. Two or three may share for 5-10 minutes before an elder speaks for 30-40 minutes on a prepared text. The others might be more spontaneous or thought through earlier in the week. The value of this is apparent-the whole congregation is “on call” for sharing the word of God and they are quite clear that they are part of a gifted body of believers that are to bring forth God’s word to God’s people. They are central to the Liturgy (Greek liturgia– the work of the people). And it derives very clearly from Paul’s exhortations to the Corinthians in chapter 14 of the first letter: “When you come together, you all have a lesson, a revelation, a tongue etc”). They were led to believe that every time they came together they could expect the presence of the Spirit who would use the whole body of gifted believers to minister to the whole body.

Next he describes another church which he started himself:

A good 15-20 minutes was separated for “Sharing” from the congregation. We tried to have a 90 minute service but more often it was closer to 2 hours. Sometimes a bit beyond. And I’m sure that the length eliminated a few folks. Maybe a lot! But our thinking was built on what we perceived as a dearth of spiritual impartation by the body to each other. And many complained and thought that could be better met by a system of small groups. In fact, one couple that visited thought our service was more like a big small group, which they meant largely as a critique, but we felt that the trade-offs were worth it.

There’s one more paragraph I want to get to from Ned’s article — I realize I took most of the space myself today — but before doing so, I don’t want you to miss his description of Simon:

I would consider Simon the most skilled worship leader I have met in the world. The first time I watched and heard him lead worship was an amazing personal event. Simon is very small of stature and he took his guitar and turned his back to the congregation/audience and proceeded to lead us in music that was rich toward the Person of God and circumvented most of the “how I am feeling about God” lyrics that have dominated so much of modern evangelical worship.

Talk about avoiding a personality-driven church!

The timing on this is interesting because just this week, I remember reading someone saying that in a really well-run small-group, it’s not apparent who is in charge of the meeting. My personal longing would be to experience this in our weekend worship as well, on a more regular basis. (‘Who’s in charge? God’s in charge.’)

I’ll let Ned have the last word:

If we do not provide a venue for the general sharing of the body in a worship service or small group, we run the risk of creating an elite that alone can speak the word of the Lord. And that is not to dismiss gifted preachers who should indeed be handling the bulk of preaching and teaching, but there must be a place for the larger body to bring their unique perspective into the mix of a worship service. And as I share these sentiments, I am also personally aware of pastors and friends who would consider these thoughts anathema. And there are decent reasons for so thinking. There are a lot of ways for this to go off the rails. But if there is sufficient teaching and healthy leadership during the worship service that can be minimized. We did this for 18 years at Christ Community Church with far more blessing than weird off-key expressions.

…read the full article at this link.


*The meeting I referred to took place in Toronto under the name Reach Out. “Everyone Gives, Everyone Receives.”

 

 

April 26, 2018

The Purpose of a Church: Helping People

by Clarke Dixon

(This is part two in a series based on the tagline of our church: “To the Glory of God, Helping People Walk with Jesus in Faith, Hope, and Love”)

Why “Helping People”?

When we want as few words as possible in our tagline, why should “Helping People” make the cut? In reading the Bible we learn that God has always had a focus on helping people. One example is the giving of the the law. Consider the words of Jesus:

The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath” Mark 2:27 (NLT).

When God gave the law He was not arbitrary in choosing its commandments. The law helped people. A day off for rest is helpful. It still is! We choose many other examples. If you were keeping God’s law, you were forbidden from sacrificing your child in fire as some religions from Biblical times required. That too, is helpful! God’s law also helped people to realize their need for grace which brings us to Jesus. He was always helping people through his teaching and miracles. However, Jesus also helped us with our greatest need, reconciliation to God. In Jesus God offers the grace we need. That too, is helpful! Since God has always had a focus on helping people we can expect that His Church will be called to help people also.

What are we helping people with?

Consider the story of Jesus helping a man and his son:

21 He replied, “Since he was a little boy. 22 The spirit often throws him into the fire or into water, trying to kill him. Have mercy on us and help us, if you can.”
23 “What do you mean, ‘If I can’?” Jesus asked. “Anything is possible if a person believes.”
24 The father instantly cried out, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!” Mark 9:21-24 (NLT)

Jesus is asked for help in a very practical way, the curing of the child through the casting out of the demon. However, the father also asks for a help with his spirituality: “I believe, help my unbelief”.  Churches may help people with very practical things, helping with food, clothing, shelter, and the like. But there is a spiritual help that will only come through the Church. Jesus spent three years helping people by working miracles, but it was only three years, and it was only in a small corner of the world.  However, Jesus has helped people across the world and throughout the generations by offering the cure for what alienates us from God. We do good works as Christian people, but they are not the core of what we are about. We are to do something that only we as Christians will do; that is, point people to God in Jesus Christ. If all heaven rejoices over the repentance of one sinner, then the people called the Church will be reaching out to that sinner. If the Father runs to welcome home the prodigal son, then we want to call the son home.  While helping people with the practical stuff of life is important, our main focus is on helping people to connect with the Giver of Life Himself, to help people walk with Jesus.

Whom are we helping?

Jesus teaches us to love our neighbor, and through the parable of the Good Samaritan we learn that our neighbor is anyone and everyone. But are we to focus on helping the people who are the Church, or people beyond the Church? Our neighbor includes both. Churches which do not help Christian people walk further with Jesus have a wide open back door. Churches which do not help non-Christian people begin, or at least consider, walking with Jesus do not have a front door.

Who is helping?

We could phrase this question another way. Is the task of Christians to support the church financially, then the staff of the church will help people? Ephesians 4 will bring some clarity:

11 The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. Ephesians 4:11-13 (NRSV emphasis added)

The entire church body is involved in ministry, the entire church is to be involved in helping others. The people of our church family have passions and gifts which I, the pastor, do not, so they can be of greater help to a greater number of people. They also have connections with neighbours and friends and acquaintances which I do not. Any church which limits its helping of others to its staff is severely limiting its capacity to help people. The mission of the Church is always to be carried out by all the people of the church.

Are there any icebergs ahead? Is there anything that might sink a church in helping people?

There is a subtle slide that can happen.

15 But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love. Ephesians 4:15-16 (NRSV emphasis added)

Here we read about “the body’s growth”. We might, therefore, try every trick in the book to “grow” our church. However, we can lose sight of the fact this passage is about people. Just as we saw last week that the church is the people, not the building, so too we must realize that each church is the people, not the organization.  Just as the Sabbath exists for people and not people for the Sabbath, the organization exists for people, rather than people existing for the organization. There is a subtle difference.

Conclusion

It has always been about the people. When God introduced religion, it was about the people; a better way to live, a way to live that pointed to the need for a better way to relate to God. Now that God has come to us in Jesus and we relate to him, not through religion, but through relationship by His grace and through faith – it brings glory to God, but it helps people.

To the glory of God, may the people called “Church” always be helping people.


Clarke Dixon is the Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Cobourg, Ontario.

clarkedixon.wordpress.com

 

December 29, 2015

All Your Church Needs to Grow is Jesus

This is our 4th visit to Created to Give God Glory, the blog of Baptist pastor Prentis McGoldrick. Click the title below to read this at source.

Is Jesus Not Enough for Your Church?

Churches are promising undeliverable enticements for people to visit. I heard one recently that promised that the people who visited would learn the purpose and meaning for their lives. Yes, it is possible to find that in Jesus Christ but no one can promise, no matter how hard they preach who Jesus is, that you will find purpose and meaning in one visit. I am afraid this is what the visitors believe will happen if they come. The local bar has a better chance of delivering their expectations.

I noticed another church promising that those who come will receive a “dynamic” sermon. I’m not sure what that means. Surely, no preacher is trying to make his sermons boring. Most preachers don’t know if their sermons are boring. I know I don’t. I just notice the sleeping people. I conclude that the sermons are boring.

Many churches are using marketing as their main draw for people to enter their churches. They are using “churchy” words and drawing in people from other churches who believe there must be something better than they have where they are. Then, these churches are crowing about their growth. Attendance and giving have become the main goals of the modern church. Any means of packing them in is okay.

But let’s look at what the Bible says.

Jesus said that He would build His church.

Matthew 16:16-18 (ESV)
16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

Jesus said He would build His church on the testimony of a faith in Him as the Christ. This is the foundation of the Church.

Jesus said that the Father must draw people Himself before they can be reached.

John 6:44 (ESV)
44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.

Is this why Paul was so determined to preach Jesus only?

1 Corinthians 2:2 (ESV)
2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

For the longest time I blamed myself for every person who left the church and praised myself for everyone who joined. I kept thinking that I had to grab their attention with more creative messages. I searched for videos to enhance messages, practiced what I would say and did my best to find amusing and emotional stories to hammer in my points. Even now, I don’t think these things are inherently wrong. They are only wrong when the message of Jesus takes a back seat to the efforts of man.

Several months ago I began to pray to be filled with the Holy Spirit. I have recently gathered with others to pray that God would fill our church with His Spirit. I am neither testing nor challenging God to act. I am asking that He would build His church on the testimony of His Son. I am praying that our church turns the corner and becomes so Spirit filled that no one says that it was marketing, better preaching techniques or any other reason for what God will do. I don’t pray that our church is filled with people. I pray it is filled with Jesus.

Personally, I believe He is enough.

September 28, 2015

Are You a Fountain or a Drain?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:36 pm
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fountainThrough a rather roundabout journey on the weekend, I found this 2011 post at the blog The Pound Proclaimer by Glen Young. Click the title below to read at source.

Be a Fountain Not a Drain

I saw a marquee in front of a church’s building that had the following on it: “BE A FOUNTAIN NOT A DRAIN”. I looked over at my wife and said, “There is a sermon in there somewhere.” Indeed, there is a lesson in this simple statement that every Christian needs to hear.

Christians will either be a fountain or they will be a drain when it comes to their responsibilities in the kingdom of God. This is especially seen in the local work of a congregation. There is no middle ground. As a member of a local church, I am either a fountain that nourishes the work or I am a drain that is depleting the energy and life from that work.

Paul expressed the ‘either or’ principle when writing about the life of the Christian.

“Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.” (Romans 6:16-18)

Having become slaves of righteousness, we are bound to fulfill our servanthood. Slaves have a vested interest in the success of their master. The accomplishing of the master’s desire is directly related to the faithfulness of the slave. The lazy servant fails to understand that he is important in the process of completing the task. A modern expression to emphasize this principle is, “he got skin in the game”.

Every member of a local church has “got skin in the game”. Therefore, when a member is lazy and a slacker regarding the work of the local church, they become a drain rather than a fountain of life giving water. Drain is defined as, “To deplete gradually, especially to the point of complete exhaustion.” (American Heritage Dictionary) My oldest son has a GMC pickup truck that began having a problem with the battery losing power when the truck wasn’t run for a day or so. It was determined that it had an electrical short that drained the battery. Like the electrical short in my son’s truck, a member who does not consider that they have “skin in the game” will drain the life out of a local church.

Christians often lament the lack of growth in the congregation where they hold membership. We all have known of local churches that at one time were growing but today are on the verge of death. Why do congregations find themselves in this dilemma? In my humble opinion, it is because members have failed in their servitude by losing sight of their personal responsibility. A local church’s spiritual vitality is predicated upon the individual member’s participation. Yes! Every member has “got skin in the game”!

Some will say, “I can’t do anything.” Peter says you can, and he was inspired by God to say so.

“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.” (2 Peter 1:3-10)

What makes a local church grow and do the work God has assigned to it? It takes a membership where each individual member is personally involved in every aspect of its work. In this way and only in this way, will it be a living active organism.

Members who are fountains will give forth their energies to serve. Local churches that are alive and well have members who are fountains. Further, churches whose members are drains are being depleted of their life’s energy which leaves them a useless shell; an illusion rather than the real thing.

Which are you, a fountain or a drain?

August 16, 2015

Lord, I Can’t Do This; Please Get Somebody Else

A few days ago we looked at how Moses was reluctant to be God’s chosen mouthpiece and his reasons why God should get someone else. Our particular focus there was the public speaking aspect of the job God was calling Moses to do.

But sometimes it’s not public speaking, we have other reasons why we just wish God would choose someone else. (After writing this, I realized there’s also a tie-in to our devotional from two days ago; that often we just wish we could be somewhere else.)

I never really thought of this verse in this context until a sermon I heard this morning, but certainly God understands when we are struck by our limitations:

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses – Hebrews 4:15a

and an earlier verse in the same book:

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity – Hebrews 2:14

In Christ we have a role model, who as he took on a mission that, in his humanity, as Calvary loomed large, caused him to ask if there were not a better way or a different way. It’s like he was almost saying, ‘Maybe someone else can take over at this point.’ Okay, I know that’s not the way it works, but you do get a sense of the anguish that Christ as feeling at that time.

But sometimes we hesitate to enter into the mission God has for us because of condemnation. This is a difficult subject to address because sin needs to be dealt with before a person is fit for public ministry (which might include everything from teaching a class to helping at the soup kitchen.) But sometimes the condemnation is simply an attack of the enemy.

I John 3:20 states,

If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.

From the Forerunner Commentary at BibleStudyTools.org:

When we commit the occasional sin, are we no longer acceptable to God? Is our fellowship truly cut off? While it is true that sin separates us from Him, do we remain unsatisfied because we feel there is no communion? Once again, God’s grace rescues us from what would otherwise be an impossible situation.

The answer to this confounding situation lies in a change of our natures arising from repentance, receipt of God’s Holy Spirit, and—perhaps above all—access to God through Jesus Christ. Through these come fellowship and experience with Them throughout the remainder of life and access to God’s merciful grace when we fall short. There can be no doubt we are saved by grace through faith. Our depression and extreme self-condemnation reveals a lack of faith in God’s willingness to forgive upon repentance. Though works are required of us, we cannot earn our way into the Kingdom through them because they will forever fall short in providing payment for sin.

As mentioned earlier, there is a tension between the two extremes of excessive guilt and feelings of worthlessness in contrast to the casual, careless, irresponsible, “God will just have to take me as I am” disregard of our responsibility to glorify God in all we think, say, and do.

This is why John says, “God is greater than our heart.” He is ever willing to accept us as Christ—even though we personally bring Him blemished offerings in our life’s experiences—as long as our attitude has not turned to trampling the sacrifice of His Son underfoot and treating it as a common thing.

We will never enter into God’s acceptance and fellowship based on any work of offering we sacrifice to Him. The only thing He will accept is the unblemished offering of Christ’s life, and because it accompanies or precedes us into His presence, we are accepted, have communion with Him, and are fed.

[read more at Bible Study Tools]

Ephesians 3:12 states:

 In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.

If we find ourselves in a battle, Ephesians 6:13b reminds us:

…[W]hen you have done everything you could, you will be able to stand firm. (ISV)

Our local congregations are in need of people who are able to give their time in ministry service, but many are afraid to step up because of what the commentary above calls excessive guilt; however, our texts today I hope help us see that this may just be another tactic of the enemy to get us to quit.

Don’t get discouraged and don’t get overcome by feelings of inadequacy.

 

 

 

 

 

January 25, 2015

It Takes All Types of Churches…

 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.  I Cor 12:4-7

I’ve copied excerpts from books here before, but this is the first time I’ve ever copied a table of contents. The reasons are twofold: First, I wasn’t given a review copy, and second, I haven’t started the book yet. But the table of contents is impressive.

Ten Most Influential Churches - Elmer TownsWe had a pastor who repeatedly quoted a U.S. pastor who said “It takes all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people.” Every church has something special to offer. The parish system — where you simply attend the church located closest to where you live — has some things in its favor, but for centuries now, Protestants have chosen their place of worship based on a variety of factors, some doctrinal and some, if we’re honest, that are totally superficial.

I also had a missionary friend who said, “Every denomination is an overstatement.” What he meant was that if you have a particular distinctive, you are going to emphasize that above everything else, which means that sometimes other priorities will fade into the background. So our churches often feature a particular facet of ministry life, but may do so at the expense of something else. Hopefully nothing that should be absolutely central is diminished beyond recognition.

The book is, The Ten Most Influential Churches of the Past Century: How They Impact You Today by Elmer L. Towns, published by Destiny Image. I’m not quoting the index verbatim here, I just want to give you an overview. And there are more than ten chapters! I’ve combined a few here, and listing does not imply endorsement.

  • The worldwide Pentecostal movement
  • House church / Home church movement
  • Churches at the forefront of racial integration
  • Church structures using a network of cell groups under a central administration
  • Churches built on Christian Education / Sunday School outreach
  • Churches using non-traditional teaching methods
  • Churches targeting seekers, skeptics; the non-churched
  • Baby Boomer churches
  • Worship/Praise driven churches
  • Integrated media, or internet-based churhes
  • Churches promoting multi-generational appeal and programs
  • Positive-thinking or prosperity teaching churches
  • Churches built on personal evangelism
  • Churches focused on foreign missions
  • Multi-site churches with video teaching
  • Churches modeled after the concept of using church plants to evangelize

Now remember, with a couple of exceptions above, this has nothing to do with doctrine or teaching. You could map this on to a variety of denominations and many of the models would fit.

What’s your reaction to this?

Mine is, “Wow!” God us using many people in many different ways to accomplish his Kingdom Purposes. Yes, some of these have emerged more driven by the culture than by anything the First Century Church knew and some of these styles may be unknown a generation from now. Some are more likely to lead people into a deeper walk with God, and some are more entry-level; their converts will eventually feel the need to settle in another congregation.

But instead of bemoaning the particular styles you personally don’t care for, I think we need to celebrate what God is doing around the world.  There are a few styles listed there that I know will cause eye rolls, but I’ve been to some of these and have found a depth of devotion and Bible knowledge beyond the stereotypes.

If the gospel is presented clearly and is unobstructed by distractions, people will come to Christ through all types of churches, and those already in the fold will find avenues for greater growth and discipleship.


This is from an undated blog post by Josh Hunt titled What Do All Growing Churches Have in Common:

So, here are six ways to grow a church:

  • Balance the purposes–Rick Warren

  • Emphasize evangelism–Bill Hybels

  • Emphasize worship–Jack Hayford

  • Emphasize service–Steve Sjogren

  • Emphasize discipleship–John MacArthur

  • Emphasize fellowship–Josh Hunt

July 10, 2014

Church Life: The Spectacular and the Ordinary

Modern Church Interior

With a name like Christianity 201, we know some people reading this are in church leadership, and we try, once each month, to include an article which looks at the workings of church life. For this one, we’re introducing you to the writing of Maryland Church of Christ pastor K. Rex Butts who blogs at Kingdom Seeking (KingdomSeeking.com) where is blogroll includes many of our personal favorites! To read this article at source (with pictures!) click the original title below.

Discernment and Mission: Seeing Beyond Our Own Church

Many commentators treat this statement simply as a summary of what’s going on among this early movement of Jesus followers. While it’s entirely appropriate to this passage as a summation, we miss a lot if we limit this text to mere rhetorical strategy. Regarding v. 24, Luke Timothy Johnson says, “it is also a triumphant assertion of the movement’s growth despite the attempts of a tyrant to suppress it through the harassment of its leaders” (The Acts of the Apostles, p. 216). Therein is a clue regarding what ought to challenge every church’s understanding of what participation in the mission of God may involve.

Baptisms and Bible-Studies

Let’s first take a few steps back and think about church and mission. I think it’s fair to say that when it comes to the church and the mission of God, there’s a lot of for the spectacular occasions. For example, in the book of Acts, churches love to talk about chapter two where the Spirit is poured out and 3,000 plus people are baptized upon hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ preached. The same is true for chapter eight where an Ethiopian eunuch is baptized after basically asking Philip to study the Bible with him.

Churches love stories like these and would love for them to be the stories of their churches. That’s why churches talk about their yearly number of baptism or about the evangelistic Bible studies taking place, as if the number of baptisms and evangelistic Bible studies are the sure marks of a good church (don’t get me wrong here, I’m all for baptisms and evangelistic Bible studies). However, turn to Acts chapter twelve and we won’t find any spectacular stories of baptisms and evangelistic Bible studies. What we find is a church struggling in turmoil and this is where churches today must pay attention because, as I’m suggesting, they can learn a lot about what participation in the mission of God may involve.

A Theological Conundrum and Persecution

At this point in the book of Acts, its somewhere between 41-44 CE during the reign of Herod Agrippa and the church is facing a lot of challenges. First, Peter has already baptized Conelius and his household (ch. 10). The baptism of Gentiles has now thrusted a theological conundrum upon the church that results initially in a counsel (ch. 11) but one in which the church, through the ministry of Paul, will wrestle with for the next several decades. Second, Herod has begun persecuting the church, having James executed and Peter arrested (presumably to suffer the same fate as James).

While Peter is rescued from his imprisonment by an angel of the Lord, the church doesn’t know this. So when Peter returns to his church gathered at the house of Mary where, according to v. 12, “many people had gathered and we praying” (churches brag about baptisms but how often do they brag about gathering for prayer?). Peter, who already realized it was the Lord that rescued him from prison, tells the church that it was the work of God. Then we are told about Herod’s death (which also is the work of God), which says something about the continued unstable political climate the church lived within. But… With all these challenges facing the church, “the word of God kept on increasing and multiplying” (NET).

Seeing Beyond Our Church

Why did the word of God, the gospel of Jesus Christ, keep increasing and multiplying? This is, after all, what matters. The answer is none other than God. God was at work and this early Jesus movement believed so, which is why they continued faithfully following Jesus even when the difficulty of their circumstances escalated. If more churches would understand that the multiplication of the gospel is the work of God then they might also understand the futility and unnecessary need for the utilitarian thinking that undergirds many books on ministry. The increase of God’s word is the work of God that happens through the faithfulness of the church and not through turning this multiplication into an end that justifies whatever means gets the job done. This is not to say that churches should cease casting vision and planning for ministry. Rather, vision and planning for ministry must begin with the question of discerning: how must the church live faithfully as participants in the mission of God within the current circumstances?

As I suggested earlier, Churches love to talk about the mission of God when it involves preaching, a lot of evangelistic Bible studies, and especially a lot of baptisms. More importantly, Churches love the mission of God when it means church growth with lots of people joining their church. But… That is not how God always works. Sometimes God is taking that large church gathering in Jerusalem and scattering it though out the region (cf. Acts 8:1-3) so that the word of God may keep on “increasing and multiplying.” Sometimes God simply needs the church to gather for prayer and fasting so that Barnabas and Saul can be sent off as missionaries to serve somewhere else (cf. Acts 13:1-3) so that the word of God may keep on “increasing and multiplying.” Sometimes a church’s best vision and planning for future ministry is not how God is working. Sometimes the vision for growth and new ministry Churches have for their church is not how God is working. And let’s be clear… The mission of God is about the increase and of God’s word, not the increase of their church or our church per se.

The question is then, are churches willing to participate in the mission of God even if it means faithfully walking down a path different than it envisioned? The answer to this question takes discernment but the story here in Acts is inviting and challenging churches today to see beyond the realm of their own church so that they may fully live as participants in the mission of God.

July 12, 2013

The Ministries of the Local Church

I found this outline in one of my son’s youth ministry textbooks, Four Views on Youth Ministry, published by Zondervan in 2001. This was from an article by Malan Nel of Vista University in South Africa. What I’ve done here is strip out the youth and children’s ministry references to focus on some core definitions.

First, some scripture verses to frame this discussion:

(NIV) Ephesians 4:11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up…

(NIV) I Corinthians 12:28 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. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues?  Do all interpret?

(NIV) I Corinthians 12:20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”

Kerugma – preaching

[usually rendered as kerygma in North America] Through kerugma, God comes to the congregation….Of course, the better the preacher’s textbook delivery and dynamics, the more relevant the message will be… Modern insights in homiletics — insights that emphasize the dialogical character of the sermon — all these make the sermon that much more meaningful…

Leitourgia – worship service

The gathered congregation is the basic form of the functioning of the congregation and its ministries. Where people…enter into the presence of God.  If this mode has stagnated as a result of unchanging liturgical agendas, the fault is not in the leitourgia mode itself, the fault should be identified and corrected in a practical theological way in the subdiscipline of liturgy.

Didache – teaching

[Joining] on the road to Yahweh. Initiation into, guidance along, and wise choices for living on the way are part of the congregational ministry…  Like other modes of ministry, didache seldom if ever occurs in isolation. It emphasizes that the congregational didache becomes part of the edification… and training… of the people of God to ably represent him as his people in this world.

Paraklesis – pastoral care

God is with us in all circumstances and situations — in anxiety, pain, sin, doubt, error, weakness, loneliness and success.  …God is with us to free us from the constraints of brokenness that threaten us. Paraklesis wants to lead us out of a life of imperfection and into a life of wholeness in spite of and in the midst of all the brokenness within and around us.

Koinonia – mutuality

Closely related to paraklesis, the mode of God’s coming to people through others is built on this truth: God is with people by means of each other, because in Jesus he came to us in flesh. Through the indwelling of the Spirit, people can live and discover their humanity through one another.  About this there is little doubt: Christians are people for one another and are the people of God in their togetherness.

Diakonia – service

…In scripture… the term is used to show that individuals find the fulfillment of their calling in service. Diakonia, therefore, is the umbrella term for all that the congregation does, for all its ministries. …The term refers to an activity performed out of love of God for the sake of one’s fellow man — so much so that it is called a service of love. It is easy to understand how the term changed to refer mainly to the ministry of care; in acts of caring and deeds of mercy the diakonia finds special expression.

Marturia – witness

The church is to be understood in missionary perspective, not because it is the primary activity of the church, but because we know that God is constantly involved in bringing wholeness — that is, salvation — to his  creation. The missio Dei includes the missio ecclesia. The congregation participates and is involved in the missio Dei, and in this way: The church is not the one who sends, but rather the one who is sent. This sentness is therefore not one of the results of being a church, but a prerequisite. It is the character of a true church.

Kubernesis – administration

The ministry of the management and administration of the congregation is usually explained with a helmsman [ie. nautical] term, cybernesis. The early church was often contemporarily described as a ship with Christ himself as the helmsman. This cybernesis ministry is related to a strongly pastoral term for leadership, used in Romans 12. It connotes a pastoral ministry of care and empathy, which was the duty of the leading members of the early church. This ministry is about caring guidance in the name of the Helmsman, and implies an orderly and appropriate journey toward a destination (I Corinthians 14). The unity and the edification of the congregation should be served in this way.