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