Tag Archives: Gospel

The Ministries of the Church

This is the eighth in a series of letters written to our local church. Enjoy!

Dear Highway

The local church is heaven and earth in collaboration. The agenda is Heaven’s – His Kingdom come; His will be done. Our motivation is Jesus and His Gospel. Paul gave us a microcosmic glimpse of the dynamics when he tells the Corinthians that “I (Paul) planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth” (I Cor 3:6).

When we gather, it is on the one hand very natural – of pews and pulpits, songs and serving. On the other, it is profoundly spiritual. As we gather, diverse parts merge and a body manifests, and functions as such. Individual lights and lamps fuse into a city on a hill emitting glorious blaze. Individual living stones coalesce and a God-inhabited temple arises. Soldiers reporting for duty fall into battle formation and Christ’s victories are enforced and plunderers dispossessed. As we gather, it is God’s family that gathers, and the stranger, the alien, the wanderer, and the otherwise disenfranchised, all find welcome at Heaven’s table.

None of this is rocket science. Even little children can understand it. Holy Spirit’s wisdom and power meets our willingness and availability, and the diverse and disparate coheres into something far greater than the sum of its parts. This is church! The better we understand it all, and the more intentional we are about it all, the greater the heights we’ll ascend to together.

Think of each of these metaphors as a role the church plays, or as a mode in which she functions. Take my wife Estelle as an example: She is a daughter, a wife, a mother, a mother-in-law, a branch manager (The Clothing Bank), a deaconess in the church, and a friend to many. One woman, but multiple roles and responsibilities. Many different hats to wear. Sometimes they overlap, but at other times she is focused on and totally absorbed by one or the other. There’s nothing confusing, duplicitous or pretentious about any of it. No matter the role or mode, she remains authentic Estelle. In the same way, as we gather, on one day the Spirit might take us into a place of militancy. The King’s army has gathered, and there is authority to be exercised and victories to be won. On another day, He might lead us into intimacy. The King is in His chambers, and He’s calling for His bride. One church, but distinctly different roles, with different tones, different vocabulary, different cadence and intensity, different emotions, different atmospheres, and different outcomes.

Of course there are many other frameworks within which we could consider the ministry of the church. Her purpose. Her reason d’etre as it were. A common approach is to think of the church in terms of her ministry upwards (to the Lord), inwards (to one another), and outwards (to the world). Others build their understanding around a proof texts like Acts 2:42-47 or Ephesians 4:11. The metaphors we’ve been using have the advantage of embracing wide diversity in a cohesive way, of keeping our thinking Biblical, and of underscoring the inseparable link between identity and purpose. That said, they are certainly not the only map with which to chart this territory.

Herewith, then, a first stab at a list of the ministries of the church, as opposed to ministries in the church (worship leading or preaching et al) or ministries to the church (apostles, prophets, etc.). These ministries are the things we the church have been tasked with in the Lord, and which should find expression in significant measure when we gather. This list is a draft, and drafts are never complete or tidy, but serve as useful points of departure. You’ll notice that I’ve listed nouns, and done so in random order. Our challenge is to enfold these things into our assembly as verbs, and work out how to do them together. In random order, we the local church, have a ministry of …

  • Hospitality – the stewardship of the Presence of God.
  • Adoration – worship, magnification, captivation.
  • Association – identification with the one, eternal, alternative society.
  • Edification – mutual encouragement and care.
  • Reconciliation – vertical and horizontal; ambassadorial.
  • Demonstration – of the Kingdom, in miracles, signs and wonders.
  • Facilitation – diverse gifts and contributions; all these must be done.
  • Inclusion – the foreigner and alien, widow and orphan; the pilgrim.
  • Embrace – love one another; our most important characteristic.
  • Discipleship – the nurture of maturity and equipping for good works.
  • Intercession – with Christ in His intercession; access to the throne.
  • Dominion – the exercise of authority; binding and loosing.
  • Occupation – the salt being salty; influence; permeation.
  • Proclamation – the Good News, the Gospel.
  • Declaration/Decree – release of the proceeding word.
  • Custodianship – keeping the faith; the stewardship of sound doctrine.
  • Administration – of life (hatch, match and dispatch), of life together (organization); the stewardship of our joint resources.
  • Mercy – compassion to the suffering and the care of the poor.
  • Testimony – witness; showcasing of His manifold wisdom.
  • Celebration – rejoicing in God and His works. Praise!

Multiple proof-texts could easily be listed alongside each bullet point, but we’re more concerned with developing the big picture here. The over-riding point is that we don’t gather to just sing a bit, serve a bit, and listen to the sermon. The bits and bobs that make up any given meeting are scaffolding to the main event, which stems from who we are in the Lord, and unfolds in collaboration with the Holy Spirit, in the spirit-realm first, and in the natural second.

Having belabored the underlying fundamentals in earlier letters – the necessity for gathering, and the leadership of the Spirit – herewith seven practical tips and hints to get us off to a good start on any given Sunday.

  • Let’s be intentional. Let’s embrace our calling, and respond accordingly. Let’s gather to contribute. Let’s take ownership.
  • Let’s be inclusive. Let’s consciously and actively include everyone. Invite others; greet others; be mindful of others; involve others; make place for others.
  • Let’s believe. Everything is by grace, and everything is through faith. As believers, let’s gather to believe together. Let’s stir up our faith.
  • Let’s love one another. This is not-negotiable. Christ’s essential nature must permeate everything, and He is love. When unsure, do the loving thing.
  • Let’s build agreement. Building in the Spirit is in agreement and by agreement. Agree with God, His Word, and one another. This is largely vocal, and takes active engagement and the expenditure of energy. Get spiritually fit. Engage each moment as the gathering moves along.
  • Let’s be authentic. No posturing or pretending. Be yourself. But bring yourself to the party. Ameliorate your idiosyncrasies. Be a team player.
  • Let’s use everything at our disposal. Let’s throw the kitchen sink at it. Every gift and every calling. Every means of grace. When it’s time to make a noise, if you can’t shout, whistle, and if you can’t whistle, pinch a baby!

And with that to make you smile, have a great week. See you Sunday!

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Building in the Spirit

Dear Highway

Paul writes: “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says, “When He ascended on high He led a host of captives, and He gave gifts to men.” (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that He had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.) 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 of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Eph 4:1–16).

From a human perspective, it’s but a bunch of religious folk doing life together. It’s about gathering; about music; about children’s ministry. There’s preaching, and singing, and the breaking of bread, and prayer. All good things, but nothing exceptional. But look at her from a spiritual perspective, and a very different picture emerges. She is a heaven-and-earth collaborative, with heaven unsurprisingly weighing in as dominant partner. In the passage above Paul describes that collaborative as the body of Christ – Jesus the head, us His body. He could have used any number of metaphors, and still made the same point. The local church is primarily spiritual, with the Lord Himself the jewel in the setting, whatever the word-picture in play.

The local church is truly extraordinary!

Getting to grips with the fact that the church is spiritual, and that she occupies a place and functions in the spiritual realm, is essential. If we don’t, church will be all about us, what we put in, and what we get out. It starts by recognizing that Biblical metaphor often moves beyond mere literary tool. For example: Christians are not like children of God; they literally are His children. He is not just like a father to us; He is Our Heavenly Father. In the same way, the church is not just like a family, a bride, an army, a body or a vine. We are these things. In actual fact, these spiritual realities are far richer than their reflections in the natural, but these reflections enable all of us to grasp in measure that which is infinite and beyond us.

This in turn means that our primary contribution in being and doing church is in the spiritual realm. The natural things – locking and unlocking, music, child care – these facilitate the real work, and as such are part of it. But these are not the main event. The main event is our collaboration with heaven. Together, we build in the spirit-realm. We use our voices, and we use music, and we use the communion table, but the engine room is the exercise is our faith, responding to grace, and worked out in love. Sometimes gatherings are decidedly militant (army); others are tender and intimate (bride). Some involve a great deal of ministry one to another (family); others are almost entirely consumed with ministry to the Lord and His world (priesthood). The Spirit leads; we follow.

Building the house is first and foremost a spiritual endeavor. Doing it well should lead to more people in the gatherings, a greater range of spiritual gifts in operation, fruit of every description in greater abundance, and increasing effectiveness in the work of the Gospel. It all starts in the Spirit, which is why we can so confidently assert that everyone has a contribution to make, and an indispensable contribution at that. The singing, clapping, dancing and giving is but a means to an end. The real issue is what is achieved in the spiritual realm. Ironically, it is the folk in the pews who are best positioned to contribute, because they are not distracted by serving in some way or another.

Revisit the passage and notice what Paul had to say about it: It’s a calling. The grace that we’ve received belongs to that calling. Our gifts belong to that calling. His injunction is that we should walk worthy of that calling. This is so because the church only builds herself up to the degree that each of us walk in that calling, playing our part. For the local church to thrive, the collaboration has to run every which way, between heaven and earth, and between all of us. As we do, what started out as the “unity of the Spirit” (Eph 4:3), a given in the Lord, becomes “the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:13).

Vision will always be the poster-boy of progress, and what a vision we’ve been given – the fullness of Christ in every way! How we respond in our hearts to this great calling is make-or-break for the church. Gathering matters. Even more important is our attitudes when gathering. Apathy, lethargy and unbelief undermine. But so does legalism. Getting everyone jumping through the hoops in obligation will disembowel life. Faithfulness is required, but its the faithfulness of faith that will get the job done, not a faithfulness born of guilt and condemnation. This great safeguard ensures that doing church can never be onerous. Only faith and love will get us where we’re going, and these fuel us, rather than deplete us. Healthy and vibrant local churches will always give as good as they get, and the people who make the greatest sacrifices for her will be the ones who find them the most meaningful.

The fruit of building in the spirit is spiritual first, temporal second. Local church in full flight is the grace of God on display, reconciling the irreconcilable, and triumphing over sin, flesh, devil and grave! These victories spill over into the natural in blessings and breakthroughs of all kinds. Only a small percentage of these ever make it to testimony or praise report, and are but the tip of the iceberg of what the Lord is doing in and through His people.

A thought in conclusion. We’ll never build in the Spirit in any significant way if we cannot get people through the doors when we gather. In fact, getting them through the doors is the very first step in building. Yet so infra dig has church attendance become, that it is being mooted as one of the most important spiritual disciplines to nurtured in the twenty-first century. The Lord is intent on reversing the trend, and will be re-gathering His people once again. Let’s move with Him swiftly and surely, hearing what the Spirit is saying to the churches, and respond in joy and faith. The future is upon us, and the best is yet ahead!

Yours in Christ Jesus.

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His Presence

Dear Highway

This is the sixth in a series of letters to you, our local church.

We’ve reminded ourselves of the many Biblical metaphors for the church. She is a city on a hill. She is a family, a household, a body, and a fruitful vine. She is an olive tree. She is a temple and a tabernacle, a royal priesthood and a holy nation. She is a bride and a flock, she is a field, and she is an army.

No matter the metaphor, there is an overriding constant: She is His. And as such, she has been granted the greatest gift of all: His Presence!

What is true of the individual believer is true of the church: Christ within!

The texts assuring us of this are many. Let’s quote two of the more familiar. Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matt 18:20). And to the Ephesians, Paul wrote, “In Him you (Jews and Gentiles) also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Eph 2:22).

Imagine for a moment that you are one of those who walked with the incarnate Christ, e.g. Peter, James and John. You personally received His reassurance, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt 28:20). He promised that He would not leave you as an orphan, but that another who is just like Him, the Holy Spirit, would come. He would not only be with you, but within you, never to depart. You were present on Pentecost when the Spirit fell, and you received. Now imagine gathering post-Pentecost with your brothers and sisters in Christ, and suddenly being overtaken by the notion that God Himself is not present. And I’m not talking about God being present in the sense of His omnipresence, but tangibly so. Such a notion – God’s absence or remoteness – would’ve been absolutely unthinkable! His Presence was a given. A gift, and a defining gift at that.

The Presence of God is fundamental to the New Covenant. When God gave is salvation, He gave us Himself. Jesus closed the gap between holy Heaven and sinful earth, without for a moment relinquishing His holiness. Whosoever believes in Him receives Him, His holiness, and His Heaven. The loss of Presence equates to the loss of salvation!

Every believer knows the awful experience of a disconnection in fellowship with the Lord. We’ve all been so carnal (fleshly) in our focus, for whatever reason, that God feels a million miles away. The same thing happens in marriage – a loss of intimacy; diminished fellowship; reduced communication; remoteness rather than closeness. These feelings are factual, but when it comes to the Lord, they are not founded in the overarching truth of our salvation, but in the experience of the moment. And the way back to intimacy with Him is a return to faith. A return to acknowledging Him, His Person, His Presence, and His rightful place. We call that return to faith repentance; a re-alignment of our hearts and minds with Him.

In the same way, churches might lose the Presence. It’s not that God is absent, but that there has been a disconnection in fellowship. A carnality has crept in, and the Lord has lost His rightful place in the corporate heart. Repentance is necessary. But that repentance does not address separation (even though it might feel like it), but orientation. Under the Old Covenant, the Lord might well have withdrawn to the top of a fenced mountain, or retreated behind heavens turned to brass, but not so under the New Covenant. Christ forever rend the heavens, and the tabernacle of God is now with men.

The irony is that those who most fervently set out to seek the Lord run the risk of steeping themselves in unbelief. The harder we search for Him, the more we can undermine the glorious foundation of our faith, which reveals the God who sought and found us! Let us contend for intimacy by all means, seeking the Lord as a wife might seek her husband and vice-versa, but let us make sure that we never assume separation. The unbeliever is yet to be reconciled to God, but the Christian has been reconciled already.

Let’s return for a moment to the many metaphors describing the church. Let’s be careful in how we apply them. The church is not a house being built so that God can move in; it is a house being built around a God who has already moved in! She is not a bride-to-be awaiting her wedding day; she is a bride enjoying her husband, Jesus. The age to come promises a fullness, now tasted, but not yet fully possessed. Yet Christ has blurred the lines, and the age to come has broken into this age as surely as Heaven has come to earth, leaving us with the perpetual promise of more.

The Presence of God is the jewel, the gathering of the saints the setting. Let’s keep the main thing the main thing. To assume the Presence is not to be presumptuous, but to believe! Let us be careful to welcome Him whenever we gather, but not from afar. He is the ultimate guest of honour who has condescended to be ever-present when we gather, for which we will be ever-grateful.

Much love!

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Many Metaphors

This is the fifth in a series of letters to our local church. I’ve been mandated by the Lord to gather the congregation in a fresh way, and I write to provide the what and the why. The aim is to see many more of the saints present on Sunday mornings (and on time if possible, please), ready to be and to do in accordance with the Lord – His word, His will and His ways. This letter is effectively His invitation to you to join us on the journey!


Dear Highway

Jesus, the Living Word, said that we, His church, are a city on a hill: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden” (Matt 5:14).

Our Bibles, the written Word, provide us with a host of other metaphors that also describe His church. These are given us to enrich our understanding, even while revealing just how gloriously multi-faceted the church that Jesus is building is. Amongst other things, she is a family, a household, a body, and a fruitful vine. She is an olive tree. She is a temple and a tabernacle, a royal priesthood and a holy nation. She is a bride and a flock, she is a field, and she is an army.

What is so clear from Scripture is less evident on the ground. The statistics reflect that in the average local church, ten to twenty percent of the congregation are workers, and the other eighty to ninety percent attendees. In other words, a congregation of two hundred will have somewhere between twenty and forty people on staff and in volunteer teams, doing everything necessary to keep the wheels turning – music, sound, children’s ministry, small group leadership, and the like. Take the church up to two thousand, and the staff and volunteers complement will be up around the two hundred mark. Twenty thousand, and you’ll need two thousand.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with this. How many preachers can we have on a Sunday, or worship leaders, or ushers? The teams that enable the church to function when gathered are to be lauded and applauded. Their gifts and callings are a blessing, and we value their contributions greatly! But the question remains, what about the rest?

As an aside, the equation changes dramatically when the gathering is much smaller. Plant a church of twenty people and everyone is a contributor. A cell group or house church is the same. The caution in these environments is that with everyone indispensable, obligations easily undermine freedoms, to no good end. Also bear in mind that the first congregation in Jerusalem grew to many thousands very quickly, as did the churches in Antioch and Ephesus in the same era. Small is therefore not necessarily the goal when doing church.

But let’s stay with the eighty percent. The so-called “go to church” people. According to Jesus, they are the light of the world. Monday through Saturday, they are lamps on stands, but together they illuminate nations. Obviously we can’t shoe-horn everything that it means to be and do church into ninety minutes on a Sunday morning, but the point remains. From Jesus’ perspective, the eighty percent are bricks, soldiers, branches and body parts. We must therefore grapple with what that looks like when it’s working as He ordained it to.

As we gather, we should reflect what Jesus declared His church to be. For surely when the church gathers a city on a hill gathers, as does an army, a body, a building, a family and a fruitful vine? Surely this should be self-evident? Unable to conceptualize these things, we’ve traded true contribution for mere participation. Sing. Dance. Clap. Give. Do these, under-girded by supportive virtues like faithfulness, generosity and willing service, and you’re everything the average leadership could hope for. But where in that is the sense of being indispensable. Bricks hardly attend a building any more than arms and legs attend a body. Long may we continue to sing, dance, clap and give, but there has to be much more to it all than that!

Herewith a vital key: In our individual lives as Christians, we do who we are (identity fuels life). As we think in our hearts, so are we. We live right because He has made us righteous. We conduct ourselves as children of God because that is who we are. The same principle applies corporately: congregations will only be who they are in their understanding. Think of the people in the seats as extras on the set on Sunday mornings, and they will never step into their actual role so integral to the plot. People will only brick and branch to the degree to which they are bricks and branches in their own hearts and minds.

Bricks and soldiers, arms and legs – all are indispensable. Simply “getting it” is what starts to change everything. Learning to brick and to soldier together is the easy part, because we can’t but figure that out once the penny has dropped. A renewal of our minds beckons and is pivotal to transformation. As we glimpse a better way, we start the change by first recognising that our thinking needs to shift. That recognition is the beginning of the seismic shift the Bible calls repentance. As the revelation intensifies, we receive the fresh truth, embracing it, taking it to ourselves, and making it our own. And as we do that, we begin to respond accordingly, appropriating and applying it to ourselves and to those around us. Almost before we know it, we find ourselves living in what we’ve seen, doing who we are.

Every gathered congregation is already a city on a hill, potentially ablaze. The other metaphors apply in the same way. Destiny calls. The longing for more is already a-stir in the hearts of the saints. Let that which is asleep awaken and that which is sedentary arise!

Every blessing!

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The Rugby Match

The fourth is a series of letters to a local church …

Dear Highway

These letters are at heart an appeal to a congregation to gather. To get to the Sunday meetings more often than not. To get there on time, and with as open and as expectant a heart as possible. It’s time to build the house! Each letter will speak to why and how we should do so. Please read each one carefully and prayerfully.

“You are the light of the world.
A city set on a hill cannot be hidden” (Matt 5:14).

Someone described the typical local church as a rugby match – a crowd of people badly in need of exercise urging on a handful of exhausted folk desperately in need of a rest! The analogy always brings a smile as folk recognise the truth of it.

But what if the whole idea is a red herring? Truth is, there’s not much space on the playing field for the crowd. It’s all very well to challenge the folk in the seats to get some skin in the game, but what we’re often aiming for is more bums on more seats more often. And of course we need them to keep chipping in their gate money to fund the whole thing while they’re at it. Preach your heart out on subjects like commitment and involvement, and it might well end up in more people in prayer meetings, mens and womens events, small groups, Bible college, and conferences. But that doesn’t equate to a significant increase in the number of players on the field. The club may seem far more successful, even fielding a second or third team in the league. They might move up in the rankings and put some silverware on display. But when all is said and done, you still have a crowd needing exercise watching the few who could really use a rest, just on a grander scale.

Others shift the debate by viewing the church meetings as opportunities for the specialist few to equip the many in the business of Christian living. For them, the church gathered is somewhere between a hospital for the sick and a boot camp for training the army. To return to the analogy of the rugby game, the real stuff takes place out there in the real world during the week. Sunday is all-important locker-room time. The injured get their cuts and scrapes attended. Fresh kit is thrown onto tired bodies. Everyone gets something to eat and drink. The limited time available is put to good use by the experts giving the players a pep talk. Then it’s back out onto the pitch for real-life match-time once again.

This doesn’t align with what Jesus had to say either. Just as His city on a hill cannot possibly be a star-studded stage with an adoring crowd, neither can it be a behind-the-scenes ops center, working to ensure that individual lamps are kept shining brightly on their individual stands in homes during the week. A quantum leap in thinking is necessary.

Let’s stay with the rugby match analogy. Imagine the same stadium that we started with, match underway, with a significant crowd in attendance. But now, imagine that the really important stuff is emanating from the crowd. What they are doing is the main event, and everything going on down on the pitch is geared towards encouraging their contribution. The actual game is being played in the stands. Animate the bleachers in your mind’s eye. They’re pulsating with life. There’s nothing passive about these people. They’re doing the stuff. They’re not spectators, or fans, or consumers. They’re contributors. They are locked in, fully engaged. They know why they’ve gathered, and they know what they’re doing. On purpose, and in purpose. They know that the important stuff they’re doing is only possible en masse, and the more the merrier. Apart, they are individual lamps on stands. Together, they are a city on a hill, giving light to the nations.

I’d be interested to know what it was you visualised them doing? What is the “stuff”? No metaphor is complete in and of itself, and I’m not trying to stretch things to the point of incredulity, but please take my point. I’m also not minimizing the giving and serving that keeps the wheels turning on a Sunday morning, but these are things we all know intuitively if we’re honest. Something is not quite right with the way we’ve thought about church gatherings. Something is missing!

But what if any gathered congregation is potentially much, much more than we’ve thought? The Scriptures teach that, “we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:10). What if some of the most important good works are to be walked in together as a congregation when we gather? What if we’ve been walking right past significant breakthroughs, blinded by our preconditioning?

Ask yourself the question (in the context of the church gathered): What is it that anyone can contribute, and that everyone should contribute, in order for the church to be the city on a hill Jesus is raising up?

Our challenge is to answer that question well. To see, understand, enable and release what is already in the house every Sunday, sitting right there in the pews. If we can do that, then gathering will once again become one of the most important things that any Christian can do!

Every blessing as we discover more together.

See you Sunday!

This was the fourth in a series of letters to our local church. Here are the links to the first three …

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The Great New Covenant Proposition

We have a new identity in Christ. This “new-creation-ness” is thanks to the once-for-all perfect-making work of Jesus on the cross, and is reflected innumerably throughout Scripture. Digest it with joy! If you are in Christ, then this is who you are!

Not of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil but of the tree of life
Not of Hagar but of Sarah
Not Ishmael but Isaac
Not of Moses but of Abraham
Not of the fig tree but of the olive tree
Not in Adam but in Christ
Not of the will of man but by the will of God
Not of perishable seed but of imperishable
Not fragile but indestructible
Not a work of human effort but a work of God
Not from below but of above
Not temporal but eternal
Not of earth but of heaven
Not of this age but of the age to come
Not defined by the past but defined by the future
Not according to facts but according to truth
Not aligned with things seen but aligned with things unseen
Not old but new
Not dead but alive
Not entombed but exalted
Not darkness but light
Not separated from God but reconciled to Him
Not far away but those brought near
Not condemned but justified
Not guilty but made innocent
Not unclean but clean
Not sinful but made holy
Not of old nature but having a new nature
Not held to ransom but redeemed
Not God’s enemy but God’s friend
No longer a sinner but now a saint
Not neglected but attended
Not bound but free
Not of random happenstance but predestined and chosen
Not lost but found
Not disqualified but qualified
Not disowned but affirmed
Not a slave but a son
Not under law but under grace
Not cursed but blessed
Not to be pitied but to be envied
Not hopeless but hope-filled
Not sick but healed
Not oppressed but delivered
Not poor but rich
Not rejected but accepted
Not shamed but glorified
Not in scarcity and lack but in abundance and amply supplied
Not orphaned but adopted
Not fearing men but fearing God
Not weak but strong
Not powerless but empowered
Not barren but fruitful
Not alone but in community
Not disenfranchised but belonging
Not useless but useful
Not the tail but the head
Not beneath but above
Not purposeless but having good works prepared in advance for us to do
Not cast aside but incorporated
Not by accident but on purpose
Not confused but clear
Not blind but seeing
Not deaf but hearing
Not lame but leaping like a deer
Not broken but made whole
Not inadequate but adequate
Not anxious but confident
Not complaining but rejoicing
Not down but up
Not inconsolable but comforted
Not ashes but beauty
Not variable but constant
Not temporary but permanent
Not of works but of faith
Not of striving and human effort but of rest
Not mourning but gladness
Not disgraced but dignified
Not accused but vindicated
Not defeated but defended
Not under the dominion of satan but under the government of God
Not out of this world but not of it
Not anticipating judgement but rendered unpunishable
Never deserving, but awash in mercy
Not fearful but bold
Not for victory but from victory
Not anxious but confident
Not burdened but light of yoke
Not unlovable but lovely
Not ugly but beautiful
Not unrighteous but righteous
Not in turmoil but at peace
Not irrational but of sound mind (in fact, we have the mind of Christ)
Not disinherited but the heir of the double portion
Not in the flesh but in the Spirit
Not fading away but from glory to glory
Not inept but enabled (the Helper dwells within us!)

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Pray for South Africa

Our local church, so guided by the Holy Spirit, has embarked on a pilgrimage of intercession for our nation. “Pray for South Africa”. What that means in practice is that a significant portion of our Sunday morning services have been ceded to prayer. A few months in, and we’re learning to shun fear and stand in faith as we square up to the enormous challenges of the day. So far, so good!

The other Sunday morning I woke early with a single sentence running around on the inside: “Pray that the country doesn’t burn!” What a charge. And what to make of it? A threat of civil war? Anarchy? Perplexed, I made my way to the gathering.

Not many minutes in, Pat van der Zee took the congregational microphone and shared the following. Here is an edited version of her putting pen to paper …

“On Thursday evening we overnighted with our daughter and family. It was her birthday, and all four of our children with their families joined us for supper at a local restaurant. As we were leaving the restaurant we noticed a fire on the horizon in the direction of their homestead, and the journey home soon revealed that the farm was ablaze, with the homestead under threat.

Immediately, the decision to evacuate was taken. We tried to quickly pack a few things, but at times like that realise that the only thing of any importance is the saving of lives. As we left the homestead, we saw the lights of many vehicles driving up to the farm from the village to see if they could help. There was a great deal at stake, including a second homestead and several bed and breakfast rooms that are income-generating.

There seemed little hope, but then our prayers were answered, as the wind first changed direction, and then died down. The next morning we saw that the flames had stopped less than a hundred metres from the fence that surrounds the homestead. God is the God of the impossible, and this hopeless situation became a celebration of His love, faithfulness, grace and mercy.

We experienced such fear in the face of the fire, but the support of the community and the agreement in prayer by all concerned made such a difference. And over and above that, we call on a God who wills all to be saved, and who gave His Son for this purpose. It has made me realize so clearly the reality and urgency of the Gospel in our day.”

That testimony provided an extraordinary context of faith in which to “pray that the country doesn’t burn”. This we did, calling on the God of the impossible, who wills that none perish, but that all are saved.

Pray with us. Pray for South Africa. Pray for peace and prosperity. Pray for repentance and faith. Can a nation come to God, and substantially so? Of course it can! Can a nation escape from the threat of destruction and emerge humbled, believing, and pulsating with life in every sense? Of course it can. And our God wills it so!

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Thinking about Discipleship

“Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw Him they worshiped Him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age’” (Matthew 28:18-20).

The word disciple comes from the Latin discipulus, for pupil or learner. It corresponds with the Greek mathetes, from manthano – to learn. The corresponding Hebrew term, limmud, is somewhat rare in the OT, but common in the rabbinical writings. That said, the practice of discipleship is to be found throughout the Old Testament. In the Greek world, philosophers were likewise surrounded by their pupils. A disciple is thus in the most fundamental sense the pupil of a teacher. And since pupils often adopted the distinctive teaching of their masters, the word also came to signify adherence to a particular outlook in religion or philosophy.

The believers were first called Christians in Antioch, and were known as the Way in Ephesus. But the term disciple remained the most common term for them throughout the Gospels and the book of Acts. So saying reveals that Jesus both broadened and deepened the meaning of the word. He broadened its meaning by gathering around Himself concentric circles of disciples. The first circle comprised a tiny, intimate inner core. The largest a perimeter embracing thousands and reaching into nations. But all were His disciples. He also deepened its meaning. he extended a call to His disciples to deep personal allegiance and exclusive loyalty. This willingness to put Him above and before all else went well beyond the norm. For many, heeding His call has literally required the abandonment of home and family and business ties, and even meant relinquishing all possessions.

Conventional thought

With Jesus creating the initial impetus, the church has discipled people ever since. It has done so within three frameworks.

Firstly, and in the broadest sense, the local church is a discipling environment in and of itself. By definition, the church is a community submitted to God, His Word, and to one another. Vulnerability, malleability and accountability are inherent to the equation. This way of life is described in a rather fascinating way by doctor Luke in the book of Acts. In documenting the exponential increase in the number of believers, he reveals a culture of discipleship by describing it as the word having increased (Acts 4:31, 6:2, 6:7, 8:4, 8:14, 11:1, 12:24, 13:48-49, 19:10, 19:20). This warrants discussion later on.

Secondly, the church embodies choreographed order, exquisitely crafted by the Lord. The same thing is observable within the Trinity. Collaboration between Father, Son and Holy Spirit is carefully appointed. Nothing is at all haphazard. The same carefully appointed order permeates family and state also, when we allow it. This is so because Creator God is the founder of these institutions. What He creates is always consistent with His own nature. So it is that diverse gifts and callings collaborate seamlessly in their respective roles. Embedded within this dynamic flow of authority and responsibility is an element of discipleship. Teaching and training can occur along any appropriate interface. We all play a part, and build one another up in love.

And finally, the church disciples with in relationships especially constituted for this purpose. Jesus and the Twelve are the obvious role model. Barnabas and Paul are also an excellent example, as are Paul and Timothy. It’s this type of arrangement that most likely springs to mind at the mention of discipleship. The Scriptures reinforce the validity of the practise by encouraging imitation. First of Christ, but also imitation of the life of faith of the mature in Christ. Paul champions this thinking when instructing Timothy: “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” (II Timothy 2:1–2). Paul was raising a disciplers, who would in turn raise up other disciplers, and so forth. His aim was to establish a self-perpetuating cycle. Discipleship should multiply mature equippers ad infinitum.

Essential qualifiers

Our synopsis is thus far both satisfactory and Biblical, yet incomplete.

The inseparable relationship between authority and discipleship must be underscored. Whenever the Lord delegates responsibility, He also delegates the concomitant authority. Yet, in the final analysis, all authority remains with Jesus. All authority has been given to Him. He was Himself emphatic about this. For that reason discipleship can never be regarded as an exercise in authority. It is, and always will be, a function of servanthood. It undergirds. Church history records authority’s many abuses, and more than a few were in the name of discipleship. That fact alone adorns the subject in red flags.

The essential qualifier is that authority and submission always rests on the foundation of mutual submission. We submit one to another out of reverence for Christ. This is the great equaliser. Detach the flow of authority and submission from this essential foundation, and abuse must ensue. Leadership and governance devolves into a lording over. It is only because husband and wife are mutually submitted to one another out of reverence for Christ that the wife can safely submit to her husband’s headship in the marriage. The same applies, leader to follower to leader, in the context of church and state.

A further essential is emphasis on the “Go” of the Gospel. All discipleship must ultimately be about establishing the nations in Christ, and under His government. Thankfully this cry continues to ring out from pulpits across the globe. All nations need discipleship. And it is the will of God that we disciple them. He has given all of us the job. This “Go” is important for two reasons. Firstly, it ensures that we disciple away from ourselves and towards mission. And secondly, only the multiplication afforded by a “Go” paradigm will get the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

But don’t miss the revelatory gem in the offing. Discipleship must establish the nations in Christ before establishing them under His government. People are to be immersed into Christ before they are taught to obey anything. Read it carefully. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Many sermons could and should be preached at this juncture. Jesus was instilling in His apostolic band a theology that embraced the Trinity. The Eleven to whom the words were spoken were all Israelites. They had always been taught that the Lord their God was One (Deuteronomy 6:4, Mark 12:29, et al). But possibly even more important than that, He was emphasising the fact that all Christianity is identity-driven. Disciples “be” before they “do”. All training must therefore be on the foundation of grace through faith, for all authentic Christian behaviour stems from newness in Christ.

These observations impose significant caveats on our earlier observations. The machinery of discipleship is one thing; life and effectiveness in the process another. In practise, the leader of a congregation might well be the leader of the leadership team, a husband and father, and the convener of several discipleship forums. In an authoritarian culture, this would make him a very powerful individual indeed. He could exercise enormous control through simple approval or disapproval. Unless of course he is first submitted. To his fellow leaders, to his wife, to the congregation, and even to his kids as age-appropriate. And unless he is discipling away from himself, relinquishing power and authority wherever possible.

Biblical curriculae

As the Gospel first spread, doctor Luke documented it as the word increasing. This was more than a mere turn of phrase. It points to an important component of discipleship’s gambit of essentials. Discipleship requires curriculum. Any training exercise requires suitable training material. So, the word increased. Good. But what word was it?

We know that the Luke could not possibly have been referring to the written Word as we know it today. The New Testament had not yet been written. It could also not possibly have referred to the words of Moses. The Old Covenant had been set aside, replaced by a new and better covenant, founded on new and better promises.

Jesus’ words shed light – “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you”. And while He taught many things, do the scholastic legwork and you’ll discover that He only issued two commands: Believe, and love. Love as you have been loved, that is. Which takes us right back to the Gospel!

Paul’s curriculum statement echoes the words of Jesus. “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men”. Paul’s discipleship curriculum was what he taught wherever he went. His “whole counsel of God” in Ephesus was his “knowing nothing amongst you except Christ Jesus and Him crucified” in Corinth, was his “word of Christ” through which faith comes about which he wrote to the church in Rome.

The word in question is the Gospel, of course. It is the power of God for salvation for all who believe. Discipleship is nothing other than the application of the perfect, finished work of Christ, and this to every area of life. A narrow curriculum, but one which impacts on everything else. It does so without condemnation. There is no guilt and manipulation; no stick and carrot. It leaves responsibility with the individual in unmitigated ways. But it offers love, acceptance, and the gift of righteousness in equally unmitigated ways.

A rather useful bottom line is simply this: When discipleship is undertaken off an unsuitable foundation, it centres around accountability. Behaviour is policed, and the exercise devolves into people pleasing. But when discipleship is appropriately embarked on, in the Gospel, everything revolves around encouragement. The perfect work of Jesus is what is kept central. This allows limitless opportunity for failure, and equally limitless opportunity for restoration. Love abounds and life flows. Even discipleship, in the final analysis, is all about Jesus.

Disciples of whom?

One final matter, and an important one at that. Christians are disciples, but disciples of whom?

In the broadest sense, all believers are disciples of Jesus. The Scriptures are unequivocal on this matter. Peter tells us that He left us an example to follow. John insists that, “Whoever says he abides in Him ought to walk in the same way in which He walked” (I John 2:6). Differentiating, as some do, between believers (the saved) and disciples (the obedient saved), is judgmentalism. It introduces unhelpful class distinctions in the church. Far better to insist that every believer is in fact a disciple. That makes obedience the natural and anticipated outflow of faith.

Yet caution is necessary. Implying that discipleship is the conforming of believers to Christ is problematic. We carry such varied paradigms on the matter. White people tend to have a white Jesus, and black people a black Jesus. Reducing the Christian life to imitating “our” Jesus is thus folly. The outcome must be a form of legalism of our own crafting.

The Bible also encourages us to imitate the way of life of those beyond us in maturity in the Lord. We gladly do so. We learn from them, imitating their faith and faithfulness. But without becoming imitations of them. One of religion’s more abhorrent characteristics is that those trapped by it reproduce themselves. This is certainly not the discipler’s brief. Every believer is already a clone of Jesus. Born again of the Spirit, every believer has a new nature which is His identical twin. Discipleship should never work towards conformity. It works towards nurturing the new life already granted, in fullness and freedom.

Fortunately Jesus made matters plain, and emphatically so. Believers are His disciples in the broad sense, but followers of the Holy Spirit in the specifics. He is the Helper within, our teacher and guide. He is the One who will never leave us. He will lead us into all truth, making the things of Jesus and the Father known to us. It is He we are following, moment by moment, day by day. He is our teacher. As Jesus said to His own on the night of His betrayal, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth, for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak, and He will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for He will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that He will take what is mine and declare it to you” (John 16:12–15).

Which is why Paul could state so unequivocally, “all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God” (Romans 8:14).

It is true that disciples are made, not born. But they are made by the One of whom they are born. Discipleship is by grace, through faith, and always, always, in the power of the Spirit.

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Do Who You Are

The Gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.

As good news goes, it’s simple and straightforward. Jesus lived the sinless life none of us could live. He then died the sinner’s death we all deserve. He did this all as our substitute, and His resurrection ratified His substitutionary sacrifice.

As good news goes, though, there is so much more going on with the Gospel than mere information. It is revelation. Word and Spirit. That’s what gives it power in and of itself. Wherever it goes it imparts faith. And anyone who believes receives. More than that, everyone who receives is received also. In that first moment of faith, Holy Spirit unites new believers with Christ. He literally immerses them into Christ’s crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection, even while recreating them in Christ’s image. From that moment on, they are in Christ, and He is in them.

The Gospel comes to us, enters into us, and draws us into itself. We Christians live because of the Gospel, by the Gospel, in the Gospel, through the Gospel, and for the Gospel. Prepositions abound as we attempt to give words to it all. Christ and His Gospel are inseparable; Christ and Christians are inseparable; Christians and the Gospel are inseparable. It is the power of God by which we are being saved. Paul put it this way to the Corinthians, “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain” (I Corinthians 15:1-2). Its claims are all-or-nothing. Either it is fully saving for all who stand in it, or else it is sheer vanity, saving none at all.

We will always be grateful to the Reformers for restoring the Gospel to the church. They did what they could see. Yet they unfortunately stopped short of its full application. They restored it as the only means of salvation. They even sought to restore it as the only means of living the Christian life. But what they didn’t do was establish it as God’s exclusively ordained means of ministry. The New Covenant’s way. This limited follow-through saw the Reformers themselves remain identified with the ecclesiastical elite of the day, and deprived the rank and file of it’s freedom and fullness to the point of themselves becoming the New Covenant’s fully-fledged torchbearers.

This is not said in criticism of the Reformers. They walked by the light they had. But it is said to underscore the need for a further reformation in the church of our day. Jesus was clear that there is no room for an elitism in His church. His Gospel is His gift to His world, for the salvation of all who believe; there for the possessing by the whosoever will. Most Evangelicals and Charismatics are a far cry from this. In these circles the Gospel tends to be the domain of the evangelist, while the bulk of the church remains mired in a mixture of Law and Grace. Nowhere is this more prominent than in matters of leadership and governance.

It’s time for change!

Dismantle the heirarchy

In Luther’s day, the priesthood had positioned themselves between God and His people. In our day, the church has positioned herself between God and His world. Just a slightly different manifestation of the same misbelief.

In Christ, God came to His world. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to Himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (II Corinthians 5:17–21).

God has reconciled the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them. This is the Good News of the Gospel. Grace and truth have come. All that remains is for men and women to believe and receive. Access has already been granted into the kingdom of heaven. All that men and women have to do is accept His invitation, and in so doing make the journey from where they are (in Adam) to where they belong (in Christ).

This proclamation is unfortunately seldom heard. That’s thanks to the convoluted belief system of most of His ambassadors. Most somehow believe that if they’re ambassadors for the kingdom, then their local churches are somehow its embassies. It then follows that these embassies must have been charged with issuing Heaven’s visas. This of course is definitely not so. God, in Christ, has already personally issued a visa to everyone on the planet. They just don’t know it yet, and our job as His ambassadors, is to tell them! Our ambassadorial role is nothing more than to herald that which has already been decreed. Far too many Christians are so far away from understanding this that they also see their church leaders as the visa issuers, which is not too different to the way things were in Luther’s day. Little wonder the church as a whole is insecure in her salvation and so fickle in her witness.

Discern accurately

The church is not between God and His world. Unbelief is.

Our priestly role celebrates His work, but does not mediate it. Our inclusion in the outworking of it all is by His condescension, and is our privilege. He does use us, but He does not need us. Any other view, even subconsciously, will inevitably subject those who hold it to unbridled pressure and debilitating condemnation. Even incarnate Jesus wasn’t perfect enough to impress His brothers. If He fell short, how can we even begin to believe that the salvation of those around us can possibly hinge on our performance.

That’s not to suggest that the obedience of faith is to be taken lightly. Even Paul, who was well aware that he could not save anyone, told the Ephesian elders that he was innocent of the blood of all, having declared to them the whole counsel of God. He also relayed to the Galatians that he regarded his own sufferings as a necessary extrapolation of the sufferings of Christ. I’ve encountered similar views amongst persecuted believers who suffer for their faith even today. Thought forms like these in no wise trivialise the all-sufficient sacrifice of Christ, but honour it. The Gospel is a life and death matter, and eternally so. To treat it as anything less is to dishonour Christ’s work, His world, and His Gospel. We who have been redeemed by the blood of the Saviour would do well to consider ourselves as under orders, and do as we’re told. No other response could ever approximate appropriate.

Nevertheless, a careful distinction must be drawn between fruit and success. Or, perhaps better put, we ought to give careful thought to how we define success. A local church might exhibit every sign of being successful, yet be less fruitful than one might think. That’s because fruit stems from the members of the congregation walking in the good works the Lord has prepared in advance for them to do. No matter how grand the vision, or how vibrant the programs, unless these are works done in the obedience of faith, they are the dead works of human effort. For many of us, the thought that much of what happens in a local church could be wood, hay and stubble, is somewhat unpalatable. Yet when we take a step back, and we consider how far short we are of evangelising the planet, and that after two thousand years of concerted effort, we can begin to open ourselves up to the notion that perhaps an entirely different approach to being and doing church might be needed.

Truth is, in the Gospel we’ve already been given everything necessary for maximum fruitfulness. Everything within the New Covenant operates by grace and through faith. Fullness and freedom have already been granted in Christ Jesus. All God’s promises are yes and amen in Him. For that reason, all that is needed is a revelation of the Gospel, and the faith to follow through on what and where that takes us. Because the Gospel contains all, and is given to all, the great deliverance needed is not from our shortcomings and weaknesses, but from our unbelief.

As earlier observed, unbelief typically manifests in self-absorption. Self-awareness, and especially so in the context of our new nature in Christ, is a good thing. We only love others because we ourselves are loved. And we can only serve others well when we are conscious of our own impact upon them. Self-awareness is thus foundational to maturity. But self-centredness is something entirely different. It is of the flesh, and not of the Spirit. It considers self above all else and before all else. It is self-conscious, self-serving, self-preserving, self-promoting and self-indulgent. In a nutshell – selfish. And sinful. And as it is with the individual, so it is with the corporate. The mature local church, secure in the Gospel, is self-aware, but not self-absorbed. Her Christianity is all about Him. She does not see herself awkwardly poised between God and His world, but at one with Him, and serving His world in and for Him. It is not Him who is sought, for she is His and He is hers. It is His will that is sought. It is His will which is loved, longed for, embraced and done.

Respond appropriately

This makes leadership under the New Covenant a simple matter. This is because it asks nothing different of leaders than what it does of anyone else.

The underlying premise under the New Covenant is the same for everybody. All are in Christ, and indwelt by the Spirit. Fullness and freedom have already been granted. Design and destiny are hand and glove. All the necessary gifts and callings, graces and anointings are in place. Remember that everything the Lord ever asks for, He takes full responsibility for by providing first.

Now take a moment to factor in our supporting cast. It’s similar, no matter who we are. The fact that there even is a supporting cast is quite remarkable, given the fact that He alone is always more than enough. Yet the New Covenant is a covenant that just keeps on giving. The Lord places brothers and sisters beside us. His has given us His written Word, pulsating with revelation, to aid and abet us. The bread and the wine are constant reminders, and they assist us in the appropriation of all that He has promised. The impartation we receive when our brothers and sisters lay hands on us does the same. Unlimited, unhindered access to His throne of grace is ours also. And if that were not enough, the Lord Himself never slumbers or sleeps, but is behind the scenes, working for good in all things. Someone has said that He does far more behind our backs than we’ll ever know.

His grace abounds indeed. As we’ve seen, its means are many. And as it finds us, it’s first gift is always faith.

What then must we do? How are we to respond. There is no script to follow; no task to complete, standard to meet or goal to achieve. Any battle to be fought will be won by standing in His victory. The faith that is to be kept is kept in His strength, in His wisdom, and by His abundant grace. And the race which we are to run is entirely unique. It is ours. No one can run it for us, and no one can run it better than what we can. It is ours, and ours alone.

What then do we do? How do we respond? And this much applies to leader and follower alike also, for all that differs are the roles to be played.

We believe!

Live authentically

And in believing, we love. Loved ourselves, we extend to others that which has been freely given us. We are alive thanks to the Gospel, and we are alive in the Gospel. We therefore live for the Gospel, and we do so by allowing it to flow through and from us, in words, ways, works and wonders. In believing, we love, and in believing and loving we do, and as we do, we find ourselves walking in the obedience of faith.

Nothing could be simpler. Being who He has made us to be, we quite naturally then do what He has called us to do.

This is the only legitimate point of accountability for our lives. We are new creations in Christ. Are we living authentically?

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Reflections on Leadership

Leadership is a big subject. Church leadership is a small sub-category of this much larger whole.

The Bible places church leaders in one of three broad categories. These are not as precise nor as prescriptive as some would have us believe. Theology is a man-made discipline, in which gleaning is common practise. This leaves little room for dogmatism.

Three broad categories

Those leaders who oversee the affairs of the local church are the elders. Biblically, they always function in plurality. The Scriptures also refers to them interchangeably as bishops and shepherds. Each of the three terms carries helpful descriptive nuance. Eldership (presbyteros) derives from the familial and tribal roots of nations. It speaks clearly into the desirability of plurality in governance. Shepherding (poimen) derives from the agrarian society of the Bible days. Bishop (episcopos) derives from the foremen or overseers of construction sites. Acknowledging these nuances enriches the job description of the eldership as a group. It also grants insight into the possible strengths of respective individuals in that group. Important to note is that the church is God’s nation, flock and building. Bearing that in mind keeps human leadership in appropriate perspective.

The second category is the deacons. These were first appointed to manage the distribution of food to widows in the Jerusalem church. From there the role developed. It now describes leaders who facilitate the practicalities of the local church community. As the etymology suggests, deacons are servants. Literal ministers, in the original sense of that word. (The sensibilities of which seem to escape many modern-day politicians). Deacons are appointed to watch over their Master’s business. Important to note is that the elders are not their masters. Deacons are the servants of the Chief Servant, administrating His affairs. As such, they are servants to His church, and not the servants of His church. We are equally all servants of one another in Him.

Finally, there are the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. They are appointed by Christ for the sake of His bride. These are specialists in the maturing of the saints. As such these ministries tend towards trans-local influence. They can be cast in a role reminiscent of John the baptiser. The difference is that John was appointed an attendant of the betrothed. He was only needed until the coming of the Bridegroom. These ministries attend also, but the lady in question is no longer Christ’s betrothed, but His wife. Their role is not to prepare the bride for her Bridegroom, as was John’s. Theirs is to mature the bride in her Bridegroom. This distinction reaches far beyond mere semantics.

Suffice to say that contributions vary, even within categories, let alone across them. Paul the apostle lived celibate and traveled extensively. James the apostle, who presided over the Council of Jerusalem, did neither. In defining ministries and their respective contributions, little place for dogmatism remains.

Influence in diversity

The churches leaders serve are as varied as the leaders themselves.

Some are tiny third-world communities that gather under trees in the rural outback. Others are modern mega-churches in the hearts of the globe’s leading cities. Each is a limited manifestation in the here and now of Jesus’ glorious, transcendent, eternal bride. Even where their contexts are comparable, each church is still unique. Each has its own personality, character, culture and ethos. Each is a blend of nature and nurture. Longevity adds by contribution over time into the complex matrix of variables shaping any given situation.

With such diversity and variance, the common denominator, by way of definition, is influence. And amidst the many variables influencing the local church, leaderships influence is arguably the most impactful. Culture and context contribute much, but if the local church is to enjoy any conscious shaping that is counter-culture or counter-context, it will likely be through the leadership. Further reflection reveals leadership as influence as a crystalline gem, with rich interplay between its many facets. Wisdom, inspiration, vision, strategy, mobilisation, commitment, planning, fortitude, and many more besides. Books can be written, indeed have, on each. But we’re painting with a broad brush here, and so regarding leadership as influence in a generic way suits our purposes well. It’s not the only influence in the local church, but it will always be a major influence, by commission or omission, for good or for ill.

That said, every positive influence traces back to God. He is good, always and only does good, and is the originator of every good gift. And because He is so generous, there is always a great deal to thank Him for. Every corrupting influence, on the other hand, traces back to unbelief, which is the essence of sin. Within the confines of our humanity, sin inevitably involves self. Self-awareness may well be a mark of maturity, but self-centredness is not. Its nuances are numerous: self-reliance, self-indulgence, self-righteousness, self-promotion, and every other kind of selfishness. On point is that sin always leads to death. Fallen world and satan’s minions compound its destructiveness. They work together to ensure that the deeds of the flesh are as necrotic as possible.

This applies to leadership as much as to anything else.

Leaders should influence, not define

Jesus nurtures His church through others, and her leaders play a most significant role in this. Yet her leaders are within her. They are not first and foremost over her, or ahead of her, but within her. They are as much a part of the community of faith as anyone else. As integral. As mutually submitted.

Many would acknowledge this, yet still make the mistake of believing that leadership should be skeletal to the body. In other words, those who are in authority in the local church are her mainstays. Allow me to illustrate …

According to Scripture, the apostles and prophets are foundational to the church, with Jesus as the chief cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20). Interpret this statement structurally, and local churches should be built upon men and ministries. Interpret it in the sufficiency of Christ’s redemptive work (as context dictates), and we glimpse again His glorious, transcendent church. Jew and Gentile are included on equal footing. This latter interpretation is consistent with the City and Bride of the Revelation. Her gates carry the names of the twelve tribes of Israel (prophets). Her wall’s foundation stones the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb (Revelation 21:9-14). So it is that she is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets; not on apostle so-and-so or prophet-what’s-his-name.

A second example is the misbelief under which I labored for decades. To use Paul’s analogy, leaders are the bones of Christ’s body. The thinking is that just as in the human body, the nerves, arteries and veins are paired along the skeleton. There they enjoy the protection bones provide, and from there they are able to reach throughout the body, providing their essential services. Such a view aligns all the essential services of the body with leadership. Nerves and blood; connection with the Head; all dependent on leadership. Such a view relegates the bulk of a local church’s membership to simply fleshing out the skeleton. Show up, serve and give. Do as you’re told and go where you are sent. With apologies for mixed metaphors, leadership becomes the pergola on which the vines of church members grow. The result is that church members seldom become the oaks of righteousness as destined in Christ, but remain dependent on others in matters spiritual.

A third example is the degree to which churches are defined by structure. Episcopal, presbyterian or congregational. It would be far more helpful if context determined structure. A young church, or a church in trouble? Undergird it from outside of itself through a strong, wise, experienced episcopate. A strong, mature, healthy church? A plurality of elders would be best. And the more extensive the work, the more important a Spirit-filled, vibrant and able deaconate. All three have their place. All three should influence every local church to some degree. But none should supplant the governance of Christ or the leadership of His Spirit. These abide within the believers. Christ is her foundation, and He is her life-blood.

As an aside here. Most local churches require a constitution. Be this for land ownership, or even for something as simple as opening a bank account. This constitution will demand that the church be defined by its structures of leadership and governance. Someone, after all, has to take responsibility. May I suggest that every constitution should have the following three characteristics. Firstly, each local church must be autonomous. Our Heavenly Father has granted us volition by design, and our structures should do the same one for another. Secondly, the constitution should be minimalist and simple, providing maximum flexibility. Our God is invested in diversity, and it is therefore incumbent upon us to grant that gift to one another. And thirdly, those in authority should be accountable to the congregation as a whole. This ought be so as we’re all to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. This is the backdrop against which all other authority and submission is worked out (Ephesians 4:21). Heed these three navigation beacons, and constitutional responsibility will stop short of governmental rigidity.

Liberating fluidity

Such ecclesiastical fluidity opens the floodgates of liberating revelation.

It turns out that getting everything right and just-so is not such big a deal after all. Church is all about Jesus, and He is building His church. Jesus is conducting the orchestra, and Holy Spirit is the unction to every moving part. Secure in that, we can all relax into authenticity.

There is no recipe. There is no ideal organogram. Churches should not built according to pattern, model or blueprint.

At the end of the day it doesn’t even really matter all that much whether we can tell the difference between an apostle and a deacon. Love one another, and receive one another with open hearts, and we’ll get all that He gives through each anyway. What matters is our in-Him-ness. It’s the measles and mumps thing. Get around a fellow who has measles but says he has mumps, and you’ll catch what he’s got, no matter what he calls it. In the same way, the church may appear to be bumbling along at best. But as long as Jesus is the CEO and Holy Spirit the Director of Operations, we can be sure that business will be brisk. When our hearts are open to Him, we feast on all that matters, and gold, silver and precious stones abound.

The Gospel makes everything so simple, because God Himself nurtures. People, including leaders, are merely a means.

How then should leaders lead? If not primarily through the conventional tools of leadership and governance, then how? How do apostles apostle? How do prophets prophet, and evangelists evangelist? And what about elders and deacons? How should the elders eld and deacons deac? The answer could not be more simple. In Christ, by the Spirit, and through the Gospel!

In one sense there is no script at all. In another sense, there is only one script, written once-for-all. His script – the Gospel!

All of Christianity is identity driven. So beats the New Covenant metronome, which applies equally to leadership and ministry. Authentic function stems from who we are in Christ. Thorough exegesis might well be used to shape a well crafted job description for the various ministries, but that cannot make anyone performing the tasks into a purveyor of life. Authentic ministry arises from within, from gifts and callings, graces and anointing. The primary issue is one of fruit, and not performance. It’s what folk get from us that counts, remember. Measles or mumps. The good works prepared in advance for us to do are all things that the Lord Himself does through us, as opposed to things we’ve set our our own hearts and minds on doing. Acorns become oaks. Not so aspirant oaks unfortunately, no matter how hard they try. Such is the way of the Lord.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8–10).

This applies to leaders as much as to anyone else. Gone is the stress and strain of trying to be enough. Let’s all just be who we are, in Christ, by His Spirit, and allow His life to flow from that.

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