September 28, 2022
Recently, I have begun to think more and more about the structure and purposes of the gathering of souls, we call church, and how the roles of members change over time. Two sets of verses came to mind:
Ephesians 4: 11-12, 16 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 ... From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
I Peter 2: 4-5, 9 As you come to him, the living Stone - rejected by men but chosen by God, and precious to him - you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood ... But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
From these verses we see a couple of important messages:
That Christianity is not a spectator sport! We are expected to grow spiritually and become fit "for works of service."
As we grow individually, we also grow corporately. We are to become what Peter describes as "a holy priesthood" of believers. We are all to be ministers, serving in a variety of cooperative and complementary capacities in support of the mission "to declare the praises of Him who called us out of darkness."
As I reflected on the implications of this need for each of us to grow into "ministers," I recalled three interesting stories that depict three types of church experience for comparison. The first story is told by Spiros Zodhiates of a new minister. He had just taken on a new church assignment. On giving his first sermon, he was highly complimented. A number of people told him, that it was just what the congregation needed. The next Sunday he preached well again, but the congregation was greatly puzzled - because he preached the exact same sermon as before. The third Sunday, when the same sermon was preached yet again, the session waited on the pastor for an explanation. He said, "Why, yes, it is the same sermon. You told me the first Sunday how much you needed to hear just that, and I watched all week for some change in your lives. But there was none, so I preached it again. I watched all the following week, but there was still no change; and I don't see any yet. Don't you think I'd better prepare to preach it again next Sunday as well?" The implication is that we should not just listen. We are to allow the Word to change us.
James 1:22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.
Taken as a model of how some churches operate, we see that all ministry in this model is gated by the minister - if the minister isn't the one doing it, it does not get done. This is probably one of the most inefficient and ineffective ways to go about ministry. This is simply because, there is only so much one person can get done by themselves, no matter how many spectators observe. The second story is about a country church, much like you could find in Vermont. It is winter time, cold and snowy. During the church service, a storm rolls in and it snows. The parishioners emerge after the service to find many of their vehicles stuck in unplowed snow. So, the pastor organizes a few of the stronger members to start digging out and pushing a car to get it on the road. This group is making progress, so the pastor goes off to form a second group to work on getting a second vehicle free from the snow. As the second group begins to dig out the second vehicle, the pastor looks back and sees the first group just standing around the first car - they are waiting for the pastor to return and lead them. This type of church is full of people like the early Corinthians, of whom Paul writes,
I Corinthians 3:2 ... mere infants in Christ, I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready.
They are stuck in the early stages of their spiritual development. They can work under the pastor's close supervision, but are unable, or unwilling, to shoulder responsibility for building a ministry. As a church model, this may be a bit more productive than the first model, in that there are a few more workers. Unfortunately there is still only one leader, and the pastor is still the gate, limiting how much can be accomplished.
The last story comes from my grandfather. He was a young man during the so-called big band era. It was long before MP3s, CDs, cassette tapes, and even television. A primary source of entertainment in those days was live music, played in the concert halls and dance halls, that littered the landscape. My grandfather was a music teacher and musician in his own right. So, he taught several people how to play various instruments and formed a small band. They played for dances and parties at various venues in his area. While he taught everyone to play their particular instrument, when they were actually performing, he sometimes played his personal instrument (a string bass), or sometimes conducted, or sometimes, he just stood back and "played through his students." His primary role was the teaching - ahead of time and behind the scenes. After that, it was mostly encouragement and coordination of the various parts of the band as they performed together.
If we take this as a church model, the pastoral role is primarily to teach and mentor - raising up spiritual leaders, who are capable of building and running a ministry without his direct involvement. It is like an orchestra, where the trumpet player plays his part, the trombone player plays his part, as does the clarinet player, violin player, etc, and the conductor simply coordinates the various parts (ministries) to keep them in harmony and balanced to create a beautiful whole. This model of the church is the most productive, because the pastor's efforts are in effect multiplied by the total number of people (ministers) in the band (church).
In the Bible we find a similar model at work where Paul planted numerous churches, raised up leaders, and then moved on to start a new church or ministry, while the first one built and operated effective ministries without his direct involvement.
Interestingly, Paul's letter to the Ephesians, from which I quoted the first verses above, is a letter of encouragement, challenging believers to function as the living body of Christ on earth. At the time, Paul himself was not with them - he was imprisoned in Rome. So, he encouraged them, his spiritual students and brothers, to ...
Ephesians 4:13-14 ... become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants ...
May God bless our efforts to grow and serve in spiritual maturity. Your Brother In Christ, Warren Warren J. Ayer, Jr. Chairperson, Board of Deacons United Church of Colchester