In What Type of Community Must the Church Live? – Part 1

The community represented in Acts 2 reminds me of an illustration I recently read in a book. The author spoke about the giant Redwoods just outside of San Francisco in the Armstrong Redwood National State Reserve. These Redwoods extend skyward over a football field in length. They have stood for centuries despite heavy storms coming through the region. The way they have been able to face storm after storm after storm without toppling over has to do with their root system. When you read about their roots, you learn that they are only about 12 feet under the surface. While 12 foot is not shallow, it doesn’t seem deep enough to hold a tree 100 or more yards in height in the ground against fierce winds. On it’s own it probably wouldn’t. But the giant Redwoods aren’t standing on their own. If you were to scrap back the earth, you would see an intertwined network of roots. The Redwoods are able to stand because they live in community with one another. In other words, they depend on one another for strength. What they couldn’t do on their own, they are able to do in community.  So that’s how they have been able to stand for 100’s of years despite the storms Mother Nature throws at them.

Likewise, the only way we are going to be able to endure the storms of life and thrive as God has intended us to is by living in authentic and interdependent community with one another. In other words, our spiritual roots must not just extend deep but also wide. We must be connected with and depend on our fellow believers around us. If not, we aren’t going to stand when the storms of life come at us. Instead we will fall. We need one another. We need to live in authentic and interdependent community with one another.

What does that look like live in authentic and interdependent community?

I. What does it look like for us to live in authentic community? (vs. 42)

Authentic is a word that gets thrown around a lot these days. You have authentic clothes, shoes, bags, drinks, coffee, stores, etc. It seems that everything and everyone wants to be authentic. But have you ever thought about what it actually means to be authentic? When you look that word up in the dictionary, you’ll find that one of the definitions is genuine, which is  how I’m using authentic here. As Jesus’ disciples, we are to be genuine.

A. What does it look like for us to be genuine?

In Acts 2:42, we read,

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:42)

This verse tells us what it means for us to be authentic. Looking at it in more depth, the first thing we encounter is the idea of devotion. Devoting ourselves to something means we approach that activity with an intense effort over a sustained period of time.  We are told in verse 42 that the early church in Jerusalem were devoted to several things.

B. To what were they devoted?

They were devoted:

  • To the Apostles teaching
  • Fellowshipping with one another
  • The Lord’s Supper
  • Dining together
  • As well as praying together.

These were things, the activities they were devoted to. Their devotion to these things allowed them to carry out the mission Jesus gave them — to make disciples. That tells us, then, that making disciples requires more than telling others the good news about Jesus, or urging the pastor to do that. I mean, certainly we need to tell others about Jesus, and we need to encourage our pastor to do the same. Paul does tells us in Romans that others aren’t going to believe unless they hear, and they aren’t going to hear unless someone tells them. So we we must be about the business of speaking the gospel.

But speaking the gospel is only step one in the disciple making process. There are other things that we need to do in order to make disciples. We see what those are in this verse. But here is the thing, we can’t do those things unless we are in community with one another. Not just community that leads to business connections, social activities, or cultural approval. No, I’m talking about real authentic community where we are genuinely sharing our lives with one another and we are devoted to one thing — accomplishing Jesus’ mission.

So those who are authentic disciples are not just in it for themselves. They genuinely care about the lives of those around them. They genuinely want to see others built up in the faith. They genuinely want to use their God-given gifts to minister to one another. There is not an ulterior motive.

So when you think about your church involvement: Is it authentic? Is it genuine? Are you here because you are devoted to your growth, the growth of others, and furthering Jesus’ kingdom? Or are you here for another reason? If we are going to grow as a church and impact Jesus’ kingdom, then we have to be here for the right reason. We have to be authentic disciples, who are devoted to one another.

Question for Reflection

  1. Are you are a disciple that’s devoted to others in your church?

Resources

Post developed from my sermon In what type of community must the church live?

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What’s the Pastor and Church’s Goal and Purpose in the Work of Ministry? – Part 3

Some of my readers may know that I attended the University of Georgia for my undergraduate studies. When I entered the University, I hadn’t declared a major. Eventually, I landed on Biology. Why I landed on Biology as my major I don’t know. I’ve never worked in my degree field and the classes I had to take were much more difficult than those in other majors. But that is where I landed.

Even though I was a Biology major, I had to take a number of classes in other disciplines. English Literature, Psychology, Sociology, Philosophy, and Spanish to name a few. While I wished I didn’t have to take those classes when I was in college, thinking back I now see that there was a method to the University’s madness. There was a sort of unity in the diversity. The subjects they selected were designed to work together to make me a well-rounded student. Teaching me skills I didn’t have and helping me hone the ones I did possess.

The church works in a similar way. While there’s not a diversified list of classes we have to take, there is a diversity of gifts that exist within the church. Within that diversity, there should be a unity. In our unity we should be working towards one goal. What is that goal?

What is the purpose and goal of ministry in the church?

At the end of verse 12, we learn that the purpose and goal of ministry is to build up the body of Christ.

Think of the body of Christ as a building, not the church building, because the church isn’t a building, it’s the people. But for the sake of illustration, think of the church as a building.

In order for a building to become a home for someone to live in, many different things have to take place. The foundation has to be poured. Walls need to be erected. A roof has to be put on. Plumbing and electricity has to be installed. Storage and furniture have to be placed within, among other things. All that has to take place in order for a building to become a home, at least in a first world country like the United States.

None of that stuff takes place on its own, nor does one person do it. A lot of work goes into building a home by a bunch of different people, who are all gifted in different ways.Concrete workers, framers, and roofers; electricians and plumbers; cabinet and furniture makers. As well as painters, people to lay the floor, and those who design the interior. All these people and more have to contribute their part in order for a building to become a home.

Something similar has to happen in the church. The saints, equipped by a pastor, must all, and I stress the idea of all, all must use their gifts to build up the body of Christ. So we must all be actively engaged in the area of ministry with which Jesus has called us.

Now, we all have a good idea of what a home looks like. But What should the church look like? In other words,

How do we know when the building has been built?

Look at the text starting in verse 13,

“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.” (Eph 4:13–14)

Now, there is a lot here, so let’s break it down into it’s component parts just like you would a building project.

First, we see that we are working towards:

(1) A unified understanding of the faith and a deep intimate knowledge of the Son of God

What this means is that,

We should all have a likeminded understanding of the core convictions of the Christian faith. 

The core convictions of the Christian faith would represent things like:

  • What is the Gospel?
  • Who is God?
  • Who is man?
  • What is Scripture?
  • What does Baptism and the Lord’s Supper represent?
  • How we are live as followers of Jesus?
  • Among other things.
  • These are the core convictions of the Christian faith.
  • We should all be helping one another gain a competent knowledge and understanding of these things.

Along with that,

We are also to help others gain a deep intimate knowledge the Son of God. 

The knowledge Paul has in mind is not just head knowledge. It is not just something we can gain from a book. Instead, it is knowledge we must gain from one another as we live in community together. This is why I believe Paul begins this chapter stressing unity. We must be unified with one another so we might enter into one another’s lives and see, hear, and experience the Son of God actively working. When that happens, our knowledge of the Son of God will be deepened. It will become more than book knowledge. It will become an intimate knowledge.

Chuck is a man in my congregation, and I asked Chuck before sharing. I have known Chuck for 6.5 years. The whole time I’ve been at Sycamore. We have gathered together in our Friday morning men’s group for the last 6 years.

When we first started getting together, Chuck wasn’t the easiest person to get along with. It was hard to have a discussion with him. He would get defensive and even angry at times. But over the years as our group has pressed into him, speaking the truth in love as Paul tells us to do in verse 15, and praying for him, using our gifts to minister to him, Jesus has changed Chuck. So much so that I now look forward to getting together with him. I find our discussions to be a time of encouragement, blessing, and learning.

But here is the thing, if I wasn’t actively using my gifts, if I wasn’t getting together with him week in and week out, if I wasn’t speaking the truth in love, then I wouldn’t have seen this brother change. My sanctifying knowledge of Jesus wouldn’t have been deepened. It would have remained theoretical instead of becoming concrete.

So what Paul wants us to see and what I want you to see is that we not only need to be unified with one another, but we must also enter into one another’s lives actively using the gifts we have been given by the conquering King. If we do that, we will not only be unified in our understanding of the faith, but we will have a deep intimate knowledge of the Son of God which will serve to sustain and drive our ministry to one another even deeper.

So that is the first thing we are working towards in our building project, a unified understanding of the faith and a deep intimate knowledge of the Son of God.

Next, we see that we are working toward:

(2) A church that resembles Christ in its thoughts, actions, and knowledge

Paul says in the middle of verse 13,

“to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,” (Eph 4:13b).

A mature man is someone who is full-grown. We know someone is full grown when they meet certain standards, a certain measurement.

As our kids grow, we have to periodically take them to do the doctor for what is called a “wellness checkup”. At that checkup, our kids get the shots they need. The doctor asks us a bunch a questions about how they are doing and what they are eating. As well as she measures their height and weight. Our doctor uses all those measurements to tell us if our kids are maturing properly, and to instruct us as to what we are to be doing as parents to help them reach that goal of maturity.

Paul is telling us something similar here. On the one hand, he is telling us that we should all be working towards maturity. We shouldn’t be stagnant Christians. We should all be maturing in our faith.

But on top of that, Paul is also telling us that we should all be employing our gifts to help one another grow in the faith, just like parents help their kids grow into mature adults.

Just like our doctor has a standard of measurement against which she compares our kids, the church has a standard of measurement. That standard is Christ. I know it’s a tall order, but our job as the church is to help one another become like Christ in our thoughts, actions, and knowledge. So that is the second thing we are to do.

Now, we are almost done in our building project, but we have one last item to tackle. While you might view the last two points as the walls to the building, you can think of this last one as the roof. I say that because the other two hold this one up. We know that because Paul uses the connector “so that”. In this case, “so that” tells us the result of the last two. So let’s look at the result. Paul says in verse 14,

“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.” (Eph 4:14).

So the result is that:

(3) We should be a church that is able to discern and combat false doctrine.

The way we get there is by building each other up in an understanding of the basics of the faith and a deep intimate knowledge of the Son of God. As well as by being a church that is given to being like Christ in our thoughts, actions, and knowledge, and helping others do the same. Again, the only way to do that is if:

  • We are unified.
  • We are gathering together in community on a regular basis.
  • We are using our God-given gifts.
  • We are speaking the truth in love to one another.

If that is our focus, then we will build one another up in the faith to mature manhood. We won’t be a church that is tossed to and fro. A church that is easily deceived by false teachers.

But on the other hand, if we aren’t doing those things, then we aren’t going to reach mature manhood. Instead, we are going to remain children who are easily deceived and led astray.

So to get back to the question this series is seeking to answer:

What is the Pastor and Church’s goal and purpose in the work of ministry?

It is to use our God-Given gifts and connection to one another to build one another up in the faith and knowledge of the Son of God, as well as it is to help one another think, live, and know as Christ does, so that we will not be deceived and led astray.

That can’t happen if you only attend your church every now and again. That can’t happen if you aren’t involved. That can’t happen if you just come and sit in the pew and walk out the door. Sure you might learn something about God. You might grow a little bit in your faith. But you aren’t going to grow in the way God wants you to grow, nor are those around you going to grow in the way God’s wants them to grow.
You aren’t going to be protected from false teaching, nor are those around you going to be protected from false teaching.

So if you haven’t been involved, if you aren’t using your God given gifts, if you aren’t connecting with others in the church on a regular basis, if you aren’t sharing with others the work God is doing in your life, if you aren’t doing those things, then it’s time you start.

There are a number of ways for you to get more involved in the church.

Most churches have a Sunday school program. That’s usually an easy way to get involved because it only requires you to arrive at church an hour earlier than you normally would.

My church gathers on Wednesday nights for Bible study, prayer and fellowship. Your church may do something similar. I encourage you to explore the options your church has for corporate Bible study.

Friday mornings a few men in my church meet for breakfast and Bible study at a local IHOP. The point is for men to connect over the word. Explore the options your church has and get involved.

Other than attending church sponsored studies, you can get involved in people’s lives and serve one another by simple:

  • Inviting them to your house.
  • Going to lunch with them.
  • Grabbing coffee.
  • Etc.

Ministering to one another involves more than just fulfilling a role or performing a duty at the church. It involves us actually getting involved in the lives of others and sharing with them what we are learning from God.

Conclusion

So if you aren’t involved, I challenge you to get involved. To use your gifts in such a way that others are built up in the faith.

Question for Reflection

  1. Are you involved in the life of your church?

Resources

Post developed from my sermon: What’s the Pastor and Church’s Goal and Purpose in the Work of Ministry?

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What’s the Pastor and Church’s Goal and Purpose in the Work of Ministry? – Part 2

Some of my readers may know that I attended the University of Georgia for my undergraduate studies. When I entered the University, I hadn’t declared a major. Eventually, I landed on Biology. Why I landed on Biology as my major I don’t know. I’ve never worked in my degree field and the classes I had to take were much more difficult than those in other majors. But that is where I landed.

Even though I was a Biology major, I had to take a number of classes in other disciplines. English Literature, Psychology, Sociology, Philosophy, and Spanish to name a few. While I wished I didn’t have to take those classes when I was in college, thinking back I now see that there was a method to the University’s madness. There was a sort of unity in the diversity. The subjects they selected were designed to work together to make me a well-rounded student. Teaching me skills I didn’t have and helping me hone the ones I did possess.

The church works in a similar way. While there’s not a diversified list of classes we have to take, there is a diversity of gifts that exist within the church. Within that diversity, there should be a unity. Last time I argued for a unity in diversity based off the idea that Jesus has given these gifts to the church and we should be unified in Jesus. You can read that post here.

Today, I’m going to focus on some of the gifts Jesus gives in order to equip His saints for the work of ministry.

Jesus gives certain men to the church as gifts to equip the church for the work of ministry (vs. 11-12)

We are still in the book of Ephesians chapter 4. Look at verse 11 and I will show you what I mean,

“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” (Eph 4:11-12)

So you have an idea of what these people do, let’s run quickly run through this list. First we are told that He gives:

Apostles

When Paul uses this term, he is not referring to The Apostles, the disciples that walked with and were commissioned by Jesus, instead he’s referring to little “a” apostles. You can think of them almost like church planters or church strengtheners.They are the sent out ones. While the title is not used often, if you see that on someone’s business card or website, that’s typically how they are thinking of themselves.

Next, we are told that He gives:

Prophets

The prophets Paul is referring to don’t operate in the same way that the Old Testament prophets did. These aren’t people who foretell the future like Daniel, Isaiah, or Jeremiah. Instead prophets are those who speak Spirit prompted truths to the church in order to strengthen, encourage, comfort and build it up. These truths are not their own. They are based off of and derived from God’s Word.

Next, we are told He gives:

Evangelists

Evangelists are those who are especially gifted to speak the gospel to others. Now, that doesn’t absolve us from our responsibility to present the gospel to others. I don’t want you to get that impression. It is just that these men have been especially gifted in evangelism.

Lastly, we see that He gives:

Shepherds and Teachers

I don’t believe shepherds and teachers represent two distinct categories. Instead, I believe they tell us the dual role of a pastor. As we consider both of those terms together, we see that a pastor is supposed to: (1) Shepherd the flock, protecting and correcting them. (2) As well as they are to teach others God’s Word.

Paul tells us that all of these men have been given, they have been gifted to the church:

To equip the saints for the work of ministry

Now, you more often than not interact with the last category on this list — a pastor, so let’s talk about that for a minute to try to bring a proper perspective to how we should think about pastoral ministry. As we do, the main thing we see is that it is the pastor’s job to equip the saints for ministry.

Who are the saints?

You, Christians, Church Members. You are the saints. It is my job, then, as the shepherd/teacher to equip you to do the work of ministry. Now, that doesn’t mean that I don’t minister, I do. But it means that I am not the only minister in the church. You, the saints, are also to think of yourselves as ministers. This is where the idea of The Priesthood of all believers in the Reformation era came from. There isn’t a special class of people — pastors, priest, bishops, etc — that do the work of ministry. Everyone is a priest. Everyone ministers.

So when a church calls a pastor, they aren’t to call them with the mindset of outsourcing their ministry to a hired hand.

No, they are to call them with the mindset that this man is going to equip them to do the work of ministry.

Not only does Scripture tell us that is how we are to think, but practice does as well. It is physically impossible for one person to do all the ministry in a church. Considering the job of a pastor, we have learned that he is to be a shepherd and a teacher. With that in mind, let’s zero in on one aspect of a pastor’s job, the teaching aspect, and specifically as it relates to the Sunday morning service. Now, you have to know that God doesn’t tell me what to say, He doesn’t provide me with an entire message, as I’m walking up to the podium. No, I spend hours thinking, reading, writing, praying, and preaching this message before I ever deliver it to you. Just to give you an idea, I spent 15+ hours on my last message I preached. That’s just for the Sunday Sermon. There is also Wednesday night and Sunday School to prepare for along with other things I am tasked to do.

Now, I don’t tell you that to complain. I love doing what I do. It doesn’t even feel like work to me. Instead, I tell you that so that you can see from a practical standpoint, that’s it’s physically impossible for one person to do all the ministry that takes place in the church, even a small church. That’s why God gives men to the church to equip the saints for the work of ministry.

This is also why I also said last time that everyone must do their part; everyone must be in the game. We can’t afford to have anyone sitting on the sidelines. We all must be ministering and working toward the same goal.

Next Time

Next time we will look at the purpose and goal of ministry in the church.

Question for Reflection

  1. Do you see why it is necessary that a pastor work to equip the saints for the work of ministry?
  2. Are you allowing your pastor to equip you to do ministry in your church or do you expect them to do the work of ministry alone?

Resources

Post developed from my sermon: What’s the Pastor and Church’s Goal and Purpose in the Work of Ministry?