In Ephesians 4:11-12 (NLT) Paul wrote as follows: “Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ.” In other words the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers are supposed to function as trainers and capacity builders. They are to train the “ordinary members” of the church, who will then be deployed to do the work of the ministry. In God’s scheme the congregation are personnel in training. They are the “ministers”, not the people we ordinarily call “ministers.” Those are trainers and program managers. Their primary function is human resource development. We could in fact define the work of the evangelist as mass recruitment, in which case the apostles are God’s business development executives, the prophets are program directors, and the pastors and teachers are mentors and capacity development executives.
Deployment of the people into ministry doesn’t necessarily mean deployment into classical “pulpit” ministry. What William Wilberforce and the Clapham group have taught us is that there are big roles in society for the Christian. There are responsibilities out there, huge responsibilities. The Clapham group was responsible for the abolition of slave trade and the founding of Freetown in Sierra Leone, for the purpose of “the abolition of the slave trade, the civilization of Africa, and the introduction of the gospel.” Huge vision. These were politicians, businessmen, writers, bankers and clergymen. They were regarded as radical. In 1807, they got the Slave Trade Act passed in Parliament.
What God propounded in Ephesians 4:11-12 is such a brilliantly efficient model: the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers are “to e quip God’s people to do his work…” The few will train the many, who are then deployed into the world. It is most unfortunate but we have inverted God’s order and swapped the ratio. In fact we think the pastors and the clergy are supposed to do the work of the ministry, whereas God’s plan is to give each and every individual a purpose and a calling in life. Our callings bear correlation to our context and circumstances. Purpose is never an orphan. Our backgrounds, experiences, mistakes and trials…these are crucibles of purpose. Trials refine and prepare us for purpose. We are refined in the furnace of affliction. (Isaiah. 48:10) Purpose can also come from the pricking of our conscience, even our conscientiousness. We all have a calling from God. We all have a purpose for our lives. It’s not just the clergy.
The church is an institutional platform for the actualization of mandates. It is not an end in itself, cannot be. Only God is an end in himself. He is the omega. When a local assembly becomes an end in itself it loses focus, goes off on a tangent – ritualism subverts its mission. Such a church risks generational obsolescence. We must necessarily view church as an assemblage of resources, human and material for actualization of mandates from God. What God has in mind is an exponential profusion and diversity of lay ministry. Religious rites are not an end in themselves. We must know why we do what we do – know the essence. We eulogize God for example because he deserves praise like any potentate and king, not because we want to “do praise worship.” To that extent praise worship is political genuflection before the most powerful ruler in the world. It is not a talent show for members of the choir. A sermon is not what we do after worship. It is personnel instruction– a developmental diet. It’s easy to get caught up doing “church”, so easy to forget the purpose of doxologial exercises. Church attendance can easily become “something we do every Sunday.”
The foregoing naturally affects the concept and configuration of “church.” Our conception of church is one tending towards centralization. We envisage a centripetal system – from the outside in. But God’s design and conception is a centrifugal church – one radiating from the inside to the outside. We are trained in church to function on the outside. Our theatre of operation is outside the church not inside the church. Many of the distortions and contradictions we see in the body of Christ today are the result of inversion of God’s concept. It’s why enormous resources are concentrated INSIDE the church. And so churches are highly capacitated but underperform relative to the issues in society because of inefficient deployment of resources. The harvest is plenty but skilled workers are few. God wants to send trained individuals into society to function as the salt of the earth. He wants to democratize “ministry.” The clergy are not supposed to take on the world, the people are. Were we to follow God’s model, there would be a profusion of individuals tackling different issues in different dimensions of society– politics, economy, culture (music, fashion, photography, acting, media), social services, advocacy, social activism, education, business, information services, youth mentoring, sports, technology, arts, science, evangelism, governance… That’s how each individual will discover his calling and purpose. We can’t significantly influence what’s out there otherwise.
Our inability to deploy human resources to influence what is out there is what creates the paradox of increasing number of churches but little impact on society. Which then makes people wonder about the relevance of the church. It’s because we’re running a terribly inefficient model. The church struggles for relevance outside its spiritual comfort zone because we limit the ministry of the church to the work of the clergy. And so many see the church as no more than a moralizing medium. And that’s a rather dubious role since even atheists have moral quotient. Morality is not the definition of Christianity, righteousness is. And anyway the State can teach morals through its public school system.
Our conception of church can only create an isolationist system. And yet God’s vision is not an island of virtue. It’s globalisation. The work is not inside the church, it is outside the church. We are called to minister to the world. Jesus died for the world – “For God so loved the WORLD that he gave his only begotten Son that WHOSOEVER believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)
We’re supposed to salt society not become isolated and far removed from society as a sin avoidance scheme. That’s the thinking of the Essenes. Jesus related with society at all levels. As long as the church is isolationist in orientation the potential of the church to revolutionize society and align it with the political vision of Heaven will never be realized. Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven. God is interested in all spheres of society, not just the spiritual sphere Our job is not just to herd people into Heaven. It’s why our spiritual order is Melchizedekian. It is not Aaronic, a purely priestly order. The order of Melchizedek is a spirito-secular order, a priest-king equation.
Our inversion of God’s scheme is why we’re so concerned about church growth in numbers. We’re dedicated to quantitative parameters – numerical strength, not qualitative parameters – impact. Churches tend to have strategies for numerical growth not strategies for impact. A successful church is not a large congregation, or even a rich one. A successful church is one impacting lives and society; capacitating people for service, helping individuals discover their purpose in life.
Our inward focus constrains us inside the four walls of the church, hemmed in by our religiosity. And the model we have adopted is most unhealthy. It adversely feeds the ego of the pastor. The deification of the pastor is one of the byproducts of our distortion of God’s order. Everything points to the pastor in such a distortion. He becomes the core of the church not Jesus. That’s not saying that pastors should not be revered, respected and appreciated. They’re not called “Reverend” for nothing. 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 (AMP) is instructive in this regard: “Now also we beseech you brethren, get to know those who labour among you – recognize them for what they are, acknowledge and appreciate and respect them all – your leaders who are over you in the Lord and those who warn you and kindly reprove and exhort you. And hold them in very high and affectionate esteem in intelligent and sympathetic appreciation of their work.” And so the Bible lays down a rational and emotive framework for appreciation of men of God. But the natural outflow of our distortion of God’s order is that men of God become gods of men. Which vitiates the principle of servant-leadership. Jesus said, “The rulers in this world lord it over their people, officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different.” (Matthew 20:25 NLT) In essence, when men of God become lords of men we’re running the system of the world. In such a scenario the pastors themselves become endangered species, prone to certain classes of temptation including abuse of power. Being deified they are vulnerable to hero worship, sycophancy and heresy. The checks and balances that recognize human foibles are compromised in a lordship system. Gifting can seemingly confer infallibility on a man of God. But a man of God is a man still. Men are fallible. That sense of infallibility invariably leads to absolutism. Backed as it were by manifestations of the gifts of God the pastor amasses inordinate power. And that becomes reinforced by the non-discretionary administration of God’s grace. The gifts and callings of God are without repentance. (Romans 11:29) The manifestation of these gifts creates false validation. And soon the people begin to place their faith in the words of the pastor and not in the word of God. This leads to tragic consequences. The pastor ends up breeding Christological robots – an unthinking, unexamining and unquestioning congregation who never study the Bible but rely simpliciter on the word of the pastor. They can’t be Berean. (Acts 17:11) Their imagination is dulled. The church soon becomes a big brother society. Any error introduced by the pastor turns virulent. And the people who are supposed to liberate society are now themselves in need of deliverance and liberation, their lives rendered mute. They can’t fulfil God’s purpose. It is our inward looking model that makes the church ineffective in impacting society.
If you’ll like to give your life to Christ please pray this prayer: “Father, I come to you in the name of Jesus. I know that I am a sinner. I believe Jesus died for me and that you raised him from the dead. I confess with my mouth that Jesus is Christ is Lord and I receive him as my Lord and my Saviour. I am now born again. Amen.”
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