Away with Social-Club Church, In With Gospel Partnership!

wp-1449632031481.jpgDid you know that the moment you surrendered to Christ, you became a partner in the gospel with every other believer on the planet? God sent the apostle Paul to plant and establish churches all through Asia Minor, into Rome, and likely into Spain. As he won many to Christ who rescued them from their sins both now and eternally, what God used him to do is acquired more partners in the gospel.

So Paul leads off his prayer with thanksgiving. Dear Lord, every time I think of these believers in Philippi, I am grateful and have joy because of having them as partners!  I wonder, would Paul be able to say that of me? Would he be able to say that of our churches here in Denver? Would he be able to say that of Arapahoe Road Baptist Church. As we see from the Ephesian church in Revelation, Christ told them they had lost their first love. The essentials had moved to the peripherals, and the peripherals move to the essentials.What are the essentials? Albert Mohler helps us out:

First-level theological issues would include those doctrines most central and essential to the Christian faith. Included among these most crucial doctrines would be doctrines such as the Trinity, the full deity and humanity of Jesus Christ, justification by faith, and the authority of Scripture.

While we could spend weeks on each of these issues, what we do see if that if a Christian or churches compromise on any of these doctrines, we undermine the gospel. The gospel is not simply believing a set of facts, but it is a surrender to all that Christ has revealed about His nature, His work in rescuing us, and how He aims to work in us! That’s the good news—God will not hold us according to our sins, but will rescue us according to His grace.

We are partners in this and because of this. And the apostle Paul modeled this partnership. Look at the first three words of this letter: Paul and Timothy. Paul was Timothy’s spiritual father. Paul was 12 years older than Timothy (Paul born in AD 5, Timothy born in AD 17), making them 45 and 33, respectively. Regardless of their backgrounds, they were partners in the gospel,servants of Christ Jesus, and saints.

It’s here we revisit the issue of surrender. Go back to verse 1 again: The word for ‘servants’ is the word doulos which means a bondservant, or a full-fledged slave. Slaves had no rights, but willingly surrendered them to their Master. We hear of slaves and automatically hearken back to the black eye of our history, in the race-based slavery found in our country in the 18th and 19th century. Here, slaves could be found in all strata of Roman life, and serve that way willingly in order to pay off a debt.

Saints come from the understanding of being set apart for His use. In fact,the word church many times in the NT comes from the word ekklesia, which means called out ones. A partnership in the gospel means that we have surrendered our rights to his, we are saints who are called out from the world while still in the world.

He also calls out the overseers and deacons. Overseers (from the Greek presbuteros) are the spiritual overseers and leaders of the church. Deacon are the ones in charge of the physical matters of the church. As the saints are the called-out ones from the world, the overseers and deacons are the called-out ones of the church (ordained, if you will). They are called out to be leaders in the church, as Hebrews 13 identifies,the ones who delivered the Word to you. The Word brings joy and unity, something that the leaders bring with the Word. Ephesians 4:11-13:

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.

You see, the unity that your leaders are to model and provide is a unity not just in being welcoming and friendly, but a unity in the Word of God— which makes us alive in the Spirit but also kills the flesh!

Let’s partner in the gospel, finding our joy in Christ and unity with one another.  The gospel brings joy in Christ, and the more we pursue Christ, the more unified we’ll be with each other.

What Steals Your Joy as a Leader?

So let’s get started with a key question: What steals your joy as a leader?  Low numbers for your events?  Criticisms?  Too many meetings?  Preparing a sermon (or three) each and every week?  Concerns about the future?

I understand completely.  In talking to my buddy and NAMB representative Dave Howeth, he shared that pastors often look at the blade of grass rather than the entire forest.  Sometimes, those blades of grass loom awfully large the closer you are to that issue.

The apostle Paul expressed an anxiety that he has over his churches (2 Corinthians 11:28)–this after expressing how much physical torture and suffering he faced in his day-to-day ministry.  Concern for the health and future of churches brought an anxiety that equaled or even surpassed the physical issues he endured.  Quite telling, wouldn’t you agree?  But all who serve as pastors of their local churches understand this acutely.

Reading through Hebrews 13:17, we see that church members are to “Obey [their] leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over our souls, having to give an account.  Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”  Keeping watch over their souls?  My, no wonder Paul felt such anxiety!

Leaders have an industrial-strength calling: to keep watch over the souls of those to whom God has entrusted them.  Why?  We’ll have to give an account.  So the Spirit tells the congregation to “let them do this [watch over our souls] with joy and not with groaning.”

In looking at this passage, pastors and leaders could put all the onus on the congregation:  “OK, people, obey me and submit to me.  I gotta watch over your souls and give an account for you.  So don’t make this difficult.  The better you obey and submit, the more joy I will have.  That’s what God says.  Amen.”

So, is it all on the congregation?  Does the call of God to lead the church give us a bulletproof vest? No! No! No!  Joy comes to the leader when they see God’s children walking with Christ.  The apostle John in his third epistle notes, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 4).

So this leads to the question: what steals our joy?  Is it the congregation that refuses to “obey and submit?”  Is it your own personal expectations that rob you?  What other things at play?

What steals your joy?  According to Scripture, what may steal our joy is the inversion of what John wrote:  few heartbreaks exist like seeing those in our churches not walking in the truth.  This is why Jesus instituted church discipline (Matthew 18:15-17; 1 Corinthians 5:9-13) in order to bring about repentance of sin and restoration to Christ and His body.  We must desire to pour ourselves out to help others walk in the truth.  And that we ourselves walk in the truth.

What steals your joy?  Share with us in the comments section.

Five Reasons to Identify and Equip Other Leaders

  • “We should leave the work of the ministry to the professionals!  After all, they’ve been to seminary and been trained.  We haven’t.  And that’s what they get paid for, right?”
  • “I have an idea of what the church should be doing.  I think I’ll suggest it to the pastors and deacons so they can get to work on it.”
  • “So the ministers do all the work?  I want to get involved in a church where I can make a difference for the Kingdom.  That doesn’t seem to be happening here—I think I’ll move on.”
  • “You mean the ministers expect us to be involved in ministry?  That’s not what I signed up for—I just want to go to heaven, and not go to hell.  Isn’t that why Christ died?  I don’t like these expectations—I think I’ll move on.”

These quotes above are examples of how people think the ‘work of the ministry’ should go in a church.  Some think it’s up to the trained people, while others don’t want that but want to be a part of Kingdom work in a local church.

Ephesians 4:11-12 gives a helpful (and Spirit-inspired) insight into the purpose of the leaders in the church—to identify and equip future leaders in the church for Kingdom work.  Why?  What are some reasons and benefits that come from this.  Below are five.  It’s not a comprehensive list by any means, but a list nonetheless that will get the conversation started.

  1. This is a command of Christ himself.  This is sufficient—but as always, when Christ commands us to do something, reasons abound.  He never commands anything in a vacuum or to simply cramp our style.
  2. This is a reason He called you into the ministry.  We are called to “make disciples”—that is, we are called to reproduce ourselves.  This is part and parcel of our calling into the ministry.  If you have any doubt, read 2 Timothy 2:1-2.
  3. This builds up the body of Christ into unity and maturity.  The more people are involved in leadership, the less time they may have to complain about what’s happening.  They will see what it takes to make things ‘run’ (for lack of a better term).   But when we work in the same direction, captured by the same mission and vision that Christ has laid on us, a unity and maturity into the likeness of Christ takes place.  We are, as Tozer said, all instruments tuned to the same tuning fork.  And by virtue of that, we are tuned to each other.
  4. This safeguards the minister from believing he is irreplaceable.  Few things serve as stumbling blocks to leaders in thinking that the ministry of a church would fail without them.  This stems from a significant insecurity in the minister needing to believe he is irreplaceable.  This mindset is dangerous for the church and for the leader.  A leader must not consolidate ‘power,’ but give it away.  That way, things do not grind to a halt when he is out of the pulpit or out of his class.  The church keeps moving along because the true pastor is the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ (John 10:10; 1 Peter 5:4-5).
  5. This develops ownership of all of the members of the body of Christ, not just the leaders.  While you will have people content to spectate, more and more people have other options to take up their time.  If we as leaders do not equip and encourage and provide opportunities for people to learn and serve, we will lose them.  People wish to be a part of something bigger than themselves.

Can you think of any other reasons why identifying and equipping leaders is necessary?