Exploring the Word | Spreaker

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Ministers of the gospel, 5.5.13

Proverbs 2:1-11
My child, if you accept my words and treasure up my commandments within you,
2making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding;
3if you indeed cry out for insight, and raise your voice for understanding;
4if you seek it like silver, and search for it as for hidden treasures—
5then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.

6For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding;
7he stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk blamelessly,
8guarding the paths of justice and preserving the way of his faithful ones.
9Then you will understand righteousness and justice and equity, every good path;
10for wisdom will come into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul;
11prudence will watch over you; and understanding will guard you.

Ephesians 4:1-7, 11-16
I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

7But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift… 11The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.

14We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. 15But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.
            People often ask me what they should call me, what my title is. Those who grew up in the Catholic church sometimes call me Father. Others aren’t sure what to say, so they ask. I say they should call me Sam, but sometimes that’s not enough.

            The answer depends on what we’re talking about. The title the Presbyterian Church gives me is reverend, so that’s the “correct” way to address me formally. The new Book of Order, which is the second part of the Presbyterian constitution, refers to me as a teaching elder. That emphasizes my role teaching in the church and also reminds us that, like the elders you will elect in June, I am an elder. We vote with the same weight, and we’re eligible for the same offices in the church.

            When we talk about what my job is, what my role is in this church, the correct word is pastor. In Spanish “pastor” is the word for pastor and for shepherd. My job in some ways is to guide the church and care for it, like a shepherd, which is where the word comes from. Another advantage of this term is that people outside our church understand it, whereas if I tell someone I’m a teaching elder they won’t have any idea what I’m talking about .

            Often people will say I am the minister of a church. That’s correct because that’s a term we have used in much of the church’s history. It also makes sense for people outside the church, because, like pastor, minister is a word people recognize. But the truth is that we are all ministers, so sometimes if people say I am the minister we forget that you are also ministers.

            Minister originally meant a servant. It means someone who serves others. Ministry means service, and the ministry of the church is everyone’s job together. That ministry is proclaiming the good news, serving the poor, encouraging people to live righteous lives, providing for fellowship, education and worship, and making our life as a church reflect God’s kingdom, so people can see what God wants our life to be like. That is not my job, it’s our job together. We are all ministers at Laurelton.

            Along with ministry, we talk about calling. God calls people to ministry in different ways. Some are painfully obvious and others are difficult to figure out. But there is a calling for everyone. God calls you to ministry. That starts with the calling to follow Jesus. Like Jesus invited the first disciples, Jesus invites each of us to follow him now. That’s a calling all Christians share. We don’t just happen to show up at church or Bible study. God calls us here.

Our calling shapes every part of our life, because following Jesus means turning away from certain other things, things like hatred, selfishness, judgment and sin. That’s why Paul urges the church, urges each Christian, to lead a life worthy of the calling to which we were called. Our call to discipleship and ministry is a high calling from God, and it takes work for our lives to be worthy of that calling.

Another part of our calling has to do with specific gifts and interests God has given us. Some of us have great gifts of organization, those folks have an eye for how things should be laid out and put together. They are happiest when they are using that gift and when everything is in its place.

Others have a gift of care; they naturally sense what other people need and they want to help fill that need. Some have a gift of music, others a gift of finding the right word for a particular time, others have gifts for healing, or seeing situations clearly or being especially generous. God gave each of us different gifts and provides ways we can use those gifts as we follow Jesus and share God’s love with our neighbors. Our individuality is part of how God made us, part of how we follow Jesus and grow in our faith.

            Paul talks about some specific jobs in the church. He says God gave the church a gift by calling some people to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers. Here are some of the particular roles we think of some times as ministry, including my job as pastor and teacher. But notice the real role of those people: “to equip the saints for the work of ministry…” My job isn’t to do ministry; my job is to equip the saints, to equip all of you for ministry.

            When Paul or any other biblical writer talks about saints, he means all believers. The word “saints” means holy ones, and the way we become holy is by becoming one with Christ and sharing his holiness. In the Bible saints aren’t faith superstars; every disciple of Jesus is a saint, a holy person. And every saint is called to be a minister of the good news of God’s love.

I think the focus on professional religious people over the last few hundred years has really messed up our understanding of ministry. We have gotten this idea that professional ministers are the ones who do ministry while members of the church support that ministry financially and in other ways. That idea has taken deep root in our culture and in our minds.

The other side of that idea is that members of the church come to church to be ministered to by the minister. So if we’re not careful we can get pulled into our cultural model where you pay me to entertain you as a preacher and teacher and your main responsibility is contributing to the church financially and helping maintain the church structure.

That’s why so many churches, especially smaller churches, struggle and sacrifice to keep a full time pastor. They cut mission and cut programs so they can pay a pastor. Because we think of ministry as what the pastor does, a lot of churches feel like they are not real churches if they don’t have “real,” meaning full-time, paid pastors. Many of us grew up with that idea so adjusting to something else is hard. There’s fear and pride and anxiety all tied up in having a full time pastor in the church, because the pastor is supposed to do the ministry, so without a pastor we worry there won’t be ministry.

That model, that approach to church and ministry is wrong. It comes from our culture, not from God. It is not the way God meant for the church to function, and as a result, it doesn’t work right, even though for many of us it’s the only kind of church we’ve ever known. It’s an approach that leaves churches disappointed, pastors stressed and actual ministry neglected.

I want to pause right now and say that I think this congregation has not been totally sucked in to this model. You have done a great job of adapting to having a part time pastor and you create a great work place for me where I am not stressed out and where I feel like my work is rewarding. We still have work to do to really own the biblical meaning of ministry, but I love serving with you, so that’s not the point I’m trying to make here.

The point I’m trying to make is that ministry is for everyone. It doesn’t matter if your ministry is washing dishes or preaching sermons or cutting the grass. All our gifts contribute to making the church run. Some gifts are more high profile than others, but that doesn’t mean they are more important. All our gifts are necessary for the church as a whole to be its best.

We also often think about gifts and ministry mostly in terms of what we do in the church. For sure, the roles we play here are important. But the more important roles we play are usually outside the church. There’s a lot more to say about this another time, but in terms of evangelism and sharing God’s love with others, your role outside the church is much more important than your role here.

For one thing, even in a busy week the most active church members spend say 10 hours here. That means that person will spend about 100 waking hours each week somewhere other than church. Since we spend most of our time in other places, many of our closest relationships are outside the church too. That means the people we have the most opportunity to care for and the best chance so share the good news with are somewhere else.

On top of that, everyone we meet here has some connection to this church already. That means they know something about Jesus and at the very least know they are welcome at Laurelton. That’s not necessarily the case for people you work with, or parents you know from your children’s school of soccer team.

I’m not suggesting you get in people’s face about Jesus; that’s almost never a good way to encourage people in their journey to faith and it’s not very loving anyway. But you are our best minister to most of the people you know, and your perspective is essential if the church is going to reach those folks.

Even for those of us whose main job is in the church, it’s more and more obvious that a lot of our best ministry is going to happen somewhere else. It’s really rare for someone who isn’t part of this church to seek me out in my office to talk about their life and faith. It’s much more likely that connection is going to be made in one of my other jobs or in some other place. A lot of the thinking about church growth and evangelism focuses on how to get pastors and other leaders out of the building. The thing is, we are all already outside the building most of the time; we just have to embrace that time as an opportunity for ministry.

As we exercise our gifts and as we follow Jesus intentionally, we will grow in our faith. Paul talks about building up the church, strengthening the community, but he also talks about goals for each of us. He says the goal is for us each to be spiritually mature, and the ultimate measure of maturity is being like Jesus. Jesus is not only our Lord and savior; he is also our model for faithful, mature discipleship.

Most of our growth towards maturity is on the job training. We get wiser and more like Jesus by practicing our faith, by using our gifts and looking for opportunties for ministry wherever we go. As we do that we see new areas in which we need to grow, new things we need to learn, new ways we need to be equipped. As we bring those needs back to worship and education I can help equip you for the next step of ministry in Jesus’ footsteps. There’s a cycle of coming in to the church for training and equipment and going out to put that equipment to use in ministry.

My job is not to make you mature. I can’t do that. My job is to equip you for the work of ministry. You are the ministers of this church and we will grow in our calling together as we practice.

Thanks be to God.

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