Tag Archives: Local Church

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 New Covenant Ecosystem

This is the second in a series of letters written to our local church. They build upon one another, line upon line, precept upon precept. To read the first letter, click here – City on a Hill

Dear Highway

I’m so grateful for the power of the pen, which allows me to communicate across the congregation amidst the pressing demands of modern living.

Jesus said of us, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house” (Matt 5:14-15).

It is vital for each and every believer to take their place amongst God’s people in a tangible and practical way. Being a city on a hill is not pie in the sky stuff; it’s steak on the plate stuff. Jesus was not describing an ethereal, invisible or conceptual city, but a dynamic reality. The local church is God’s light shining into the darkness of our actual world. We are Him on display. We shine in words, works, ways and wonders. Jesus in our midst imbues our gathering with Presence and glory. People can see it, point to it, visit it, experience it and join it. It turns out, brothers and sisters, that we should all “go to church” after all!

The whole exercise is a multi-dimensional partnership. As we choose to muck our lot into our local church in partnership with other believers, a wonderful thing happens – Heaven partners with earth also. The result is a breathtaking win-win every which way. God is glorified, we are edified, and the world is impacted. We benefit even as we give ourselves away, and find ourselves immeasurably enriched.

I’m not proposing some petty cause-and-effect, self-enhancement formula here. This is not tit-for-tat and give-to-get. Teach it that way and you’ll shipwreck people. The truth is that we don’t usually need our local church in any urgent, day-to-day sort of way. We might serve it with that kind of immediacy, but it serves us in a far more big-picture sort of way. Solomon understood when he wrote, “Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days” (Eccl 11:1). This sowing and reaping is a dynamic which the Lord has embedded in creation. Even those who are not Christians recognise it. They call it karma – what goes around comes around. This is why losing one’s life for Christ and His Gospel ultimately saves it. This immutable principle is plastered across Scripture. Examples abound. “Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” (Luke 6:38).

The local church is an ecosystem. Relationships are symbiotic, with every organism benefiting as the entire ecosystem thrives. Belonging to it is not an optional extra either, but a facet of our very identity in Christ. We are all temples of the Holy Spirit, but only together are we the church. We are all children of God in our own right, but only together are we His family. There my Father is “our Father in heaven”, as Jesus said.

In making the point, our own children spring to mind. I’m so grateful that Estelle and I have raised our family within the local church. It’s not always been easy, what with leading, and with two church splits in a four year period some while ago. Nonetheless, I rejoice that my children have had the basics of the faith instilled in them. They have a grounding in the Scriptures. All three know the Lord. They’ve been baptised as believers. They’ve been baptised in the Holy Spirit and speak in tongues. They’ve been persuaded of His faithfulness through a myriad of testimonies of all imaginable kinds over the years. They know how to pray. They know what it means to lift their hands in worship in the congregation of the saints. They are no strangers to the Lord’s manifest Presence. They’ve witnessed miracles, signs and wonders. Of course we’ve played our part, but the local church has been indispensable in the journey.

Our need for the benefits of this symbiosis intensifies all the more when the days are dark. Jesus said, “And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold” (Matt 24:12). We would be hard pressed to better describe our day and age. The imminent threat is not the lawlessness itself, nor a loss of salvation, but the life-extinguishing impact which sustained trouble has on our inner man. Dreams fade and visions die as hope is suffocated. Stretched to the limit, tank empty, the besieged heart unwittingly moves into survival mode. The walls go up as the core temperature goes down, leaving the inner man curled up in a foetal position. The experience is not unique to the Christian, but for those of us who are in Christ, it numbs our faith, sending it into hibernation. Instead of living, we exist, forfeiting the abundantly fruitful “reigning in life” Jesus promised (Rom 5:17).

How exquisite the wisdom of this New Covenant ecosystem is. We keep our eyes glued on Jesus and yield our hearts in service alongside our brothers and sisters. As we do, we are encouraged, nourished, edified, renewed, refreshed and sustained. We who ensure the city on the hill remains ablaze find our own hearts warmed again and again. Our lamps have oil, as it were. Grace abounds, faith grows, the kingdom comes, life flows, and fruit abounds.

I’m not suggesting for a moment that the church should be the center of our Christianity. Jesus is that! But the local church is a God-given means of grace. She facilitates the touch of Heaven on earth in ways we cannot routinely access on our own. She was never designed to tower over our lives in Christ, but to undergird them. As such, she should always be keel-heavy and superstructure-light, with Christ and His Gospel her foundation, and Christ in His glory her crown.

The starting point is in gathering. Nothing complicated or onerous. Just the willingness and expectancy of faith. Me thinking we, and responding accordingly.

Every blessing!

Gavin

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