It’s vital that we equip the saints for works of ministry (Ephesians 4:12). The word for ministry is the word that we get “deacon” from (diakonia), a word that means “service” or “ministry.” The Bible is pregnant with examples of the body of Christ working together in unity–both with one another and with the Lord. The clearest example probably comes from 1 Corinthians 12:12-31.
In this passage, Paul makes the strong point that the body of Christ (the church), much like our physical body, is made of of many different members that each have their own specific function. The members work in perfect unity, ebbing and flowing together as the body functions as one single unit. Paul asks, “If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be?” (1 Corinthians 12:17-19 ESV).
Paul says that no certain part of the body can disregard another and say there is no need for it. Nor can a member of the body refuse to be a part because it doesn’t have the same function (giftedness) as another. The human body is a great example because of the complexity of the many different parts juxtaposed with the simplicity of the body functioning flawlessly syncretized. The church should not be clunky, non-functioning, or worse, having members working against one another.
Equipping the saints for works of ministry requires each member to know what his or her function is. We cannot be doing each others’ jobs. We cannot be getting in the way of each other. Instead, we need to each do what God has gifted us with doing, and do it with excellence.
Paul talked a lot about unity in the church in Ephesus. He urged the Christians to live in a manner worthy of their calling, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, and bearing with one another in love. The purpose was to maintain the unity in Christ through the bond of peace. As Paul says many times elsewhere, the body of Christ is made up of many parts. Each member of the body has a different function, and one is no more or less important than the other. Some of what could be considered less noble parts are actually indispensable.
The model was healthy and holy. Paul intensifies the purpose of maintaining this unity: “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and to the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the of the stature of the fullness of Christ. . . we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-13, 15 ESV).
It’s important now, more than ever before, that we live this out. The church in this nation is on life support in many respects while it
could should be thriving. We Christians have an amazing opportunity to turn the weakened body into a unified, holy body that is bound together by peace through the Holy Spirit. But to do so takes equipping of the saints. We have our work cut out for us, but as followers of Christ we can do it.
There are countless opportunities to serve people in need and to teach them the good news of Jesus Christ. This coming year will be one of equipping, equipping, equipping!
Hillsong Church, best known for its inspiring Christian music compositions, is a global church that has about 700,000 followers world wide. Founded in Australia by Brian Houston, it has been steeped in controversy. Mr. Houston said in a sermon once that Hillsong sermons should be formed in a way that “leaves people feeling better about themselves than they came.” There is a culture in this nation of “celebrity pastors”–preachers who become famous and a church is built around the personality of the celebrity.
Recently, Hillsong NYC fired its pastor for all kinds of abuses, including multiple affairs and verbal abuse. Carl Lentz attained celebrity status fairly quickly, and was often seen hanging out with his close pal Justin Bieber. Some church members from Hillsong NYC described a culture where Mr. Lentz was only reachable if people had “the right badge” to be backstage. This notion that the religious elite are better than others has done great damage to the church. More importantly, it is wrecking innocent lives and runs completely counter to everything Jesus taught.
When Jesus called Matthew, he ruffled feathers because he wasn’t rubbing elbows with the religious leaders. Instead, Matthew paints this scene: “And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples” (Matthew 9:10 ESV). Jesus attracted the outcasts of society. They were often poor, sick, lonely, and had nowhere to turn. This was not typical behavior for religious leaders. Status was important, just like it is among our celebrity pastors of today. Many religious leaders care more about their image than doing what’s right. The Pharisees asked Jesus’ disciples why he was eating with tax collectors and sinners.
Jesus’ response was perfect: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (vs. 12-13). Jesus was the great physician. Christians are called to point sick people to Jesus, not to celebrate and deify religious leaders.
When Jesus told his disciples that they would be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth, it’s hard to imagine that they knew what challenges waited for them. Very shortly after the ascension of Jesus, the church was persecuted and scattered. Christians were literally meeting in a cave in Antioch of Syria (which ended up becoming the sending church for Paul and Barnabas on their missionary journeys).
Peter clearly had in mind preaching to Jewish people. But that idea got flipped on its head when God sent him to Cornelius, a God-fearing Gentile. When more persecution came, James the brother of John was killed with the sword. This alone would have been a devastating blow to the disciples, because James was one of the “inner circle” during Jesus’ ministry.
As if James’ death wasn’t bad enough, Peter was imprisoned. “He (Herod) killed James the brother of John with the sword, and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also” (Acts 12:2, 3 ESV). We don’t know why Herod kept Peter alive and not James, but clearly Herod was most likely going to put on a show for the Jewish people before killing Peter. Luke records a miraculous escape for Peter, then Peter appears to a group of people praying at Mark’s mother’s house. He told them to “tell these things to James and the brothers,” then he left and went somewhere else.
Peter did not shrink back. Neither did the other disciples. They boldly preached the word of God, because Jesus told them that they would be his witnesses. This is an amazing example of the boldness that we need to have today. The Gospel will go on, but we need to be willing to step up and share it.
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There are a lot of really sobering discussions on where the direction of the church is headed. I’ve quoted Thom Rainer a few times recently because I think he really has a good grasp of trends in the church. Mr. Rainer hosted a podcast today called “Five Reasons Why the Speed of Change Must Accelerate in Your Church in the Post-Quarantine Era.” It was spot-on. The problems that the church is seeing at unprecedented rates have been festering just beneath the surface for a long time.
Church apathy, sliding attendance, tensions within leadership–these have all been warning signs that things were reaching a tipping point. When COVID hit, it accelerated these problems at a very high rate. Rainer argues that COVID didn’t cause the problems, but accelerated them. So to counter these problems, leadership needs to accelerate change. The days of “easy conversions,” he argues, are over. Instead of merely inviting people in, he says that churches need to be very intentional about reaching the lost.
This is an “Acts 1:8” moment, he says. Acts 1 is the ascension narrative. Jesus was giving final instructions to his disciples. Acts 1:8 says, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Not long after that, the Christians faced persecution and were scattered. The disciples had to move out of Jerusalem and had to be very intentional about reaching people and being witnesses to those who had never heard the gospel.
The face of the church is changing rapidly. The question is, are we keeping up?
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The calling of the first disciples in Luke is an incredible story. After struggling to catch any fish all day, Peter and his companions went ashore. Jesus had been teaching large crowds of people and got into Peter’s boat. Jesus told him to put out a little and Jesus continued teaching the crowds from the boat. When he was done speaking, he told Peter to put out into the deep of the lake and let his nets down for a catch.
Peter explained that they had worked all day and caught nothing but, because Jesus said to, he would lower the nets. When they did so, the nets filled with so many fish that they began to break. After signaling to the other boat, they filled both boats so full of fish that they began to break. Peter fell down at Jesus’ feet and begged him to leave because Peter was a sinful man.
Luke records that “he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon” (Luke 5:9, 10 ESV). Jesus said to Peter, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men” (Luke 5:10). When they came ashore, Peter and his friends left everything to follow Jesus.
Our current events are putting a major strain on churches. Many are wondering how they can help. The church will continue on. It always has. But we each need to be doing our part to give of our time and money to make a difference in the world. Like Jesus’ disciples, we need to trust Jesus. We need to trust that he will provide plenty of people for the kingdom. But we need to work. We cannot blindly expect the church to flourish if we are not willing to follow Christ.
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What caused the church to grow so rapidly that, by 110 A.D. Pliny the Younger was writing a letter to Emperor Trajan about his concern for the “problem” of Christians? By then, most of the pagan temples had been deserted. This was in spite of strong Roman policies that were designed to squelch the spread of Christianity. It really confused Pliny, and he was requesting help from the emperor himself.
Business marketers, believe it or not, use biblical concepts to rapidly grow an sustain businesses. Think, for a moment, what it is that draws you to a particular brand or store. There is one theme that marketers begin with–commonality. A good business will find something that customers will share commonality with, something that fulfills a need or brings a sense of satisfaction. In Acts, Luke said that the believers had everything in common (Acts 4:32). Finding common ground is unifying. It’s what draws us to other people and can be a great source of finding hope.
It wasn’t commonality by itself that caused the church to grow. Of course, everything Christians did was rooted in the cross of Jesus. They proclaimed Christ, fed the poor, took care of orphans and widows, and freed the oppressed. This was their common ground in Christ. Luke said, “Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common” (Acts 4:32 ESV). The word for common actually means defiled. In other words, everything to them was stripped of its spiritual value and material possessions were just that–they were meaningless material possessions. Therefore, they could freely share them with others because there was no attachment to things.
Pagan people were drawn to Christ because Christians knew what they stood for. They had zero attachment to physical things and, in fact, shared their money with others to help them out. Christians spent their time preaching Christ, calling people to repentance, and offering hope to people who were desperate. They did it with kindness and humility, emptying themselves of pride. They pointed people to the cross of Jesus. This was attractive to some unbelievers, and through the Holy Spirit the church began to see a major increase.
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