Ephesians 4 describes some spiritual gifts. Their purpose is to allow the church to function as it should. A properly functioning church spends eternity with God.
A functional church is on the same page (one mind), has spiritual depth, and is workable (more on that in a bit).
Ephesians 4.12ff is about members’ roles. What are they for? Everyone serves to equip saints. Saints are people who have pledged allegiance to God.
We train for morally good works and become stronger through encouragement (12,16). We work toward a unified mindset, knowing Jesus, spiritual maturity, and we pursue the highest standard (Jesus) (13,14).
We work to avoid immaturity and gullibility (14). We pursue maturity until our mindset emulates Christ’s (15). He’s described (multiple times) as the standard we have to have. There’s no room for spiritual laziness here.
Jesus causes growth spiritually, but only if we’ve become soil that can be worked. If our minds aren’t mature, we aren’t workable. Elders are spiritual farmers, our hearts are the soil. If we use Jesus as our standard, we are workable. If not, we’re spiritually dead.
So, what can we do individually? Make the church strong by pursuing unity, by having spiritual depth, and by being workable. If we work on those things we will spend forever with God.
It forces us to focus. So often, churches just “do stuff.” We don’t ask who, what, where, when, or how. We don’t ask if the thing is effective, evangelistic, edifying, or empowering. Is it outmoded? Is it merely self-serving? Can it be improved? Planning clarifies.
It makes us intentional. Whether we are looking at what is currently done or what should be done, planning makes us deliberate. Especially is this true when we consider whether or not the activity, program, or work is merely internally-focused (for us) or externally-focused (for lost souls). Do we plan to grow? Reach a tangible number of people each year? Increase the depth of our footprint in the community? If so, how? Specifically how?
It says that leadership is thoughtful. Planning takes precious man hours from the leadership, but how it pays off! Personal analysis, congregational analysis, and biblical analysis require thought. Done well, it will build conviction that doctrine is never to be tampered with, but that methods and means in harmony with Scripture require judgment, discrimination, and scrutiny. Putting thought into the church’s works and needs is Acts 20:28 in motion.
It combats chaos. So often, a church’s works lack cohesion and coordination. There are no filters in place to ask if an individual work fits with the church’s vision and mission. Works may be good, but who knows what goes on with them or if they are working. Who is accountable? To whom are they accountable?
It expresses discontent with the status quo. It is easy to continue with works, programs, and activities that are already in place and have people managing and executing them. But, most of our methods and means of doing church work need to be evaluated regularly to ask if changes are needed. Change brings discomfort and takes work, but as our resources change–time, talent, treasure–we may find that we are more or less able to engage in the various works of the church. We should always be looking for more and better ways to serve and glorify God.
It is biblical. Jesus had a tangible plan for world evangelism (Acts 1:8). Paul had a tangible plan for growing the church through the missionary journeys (Acts 15:36ff). Look at how 1 Timothy reflects and requires planning to help the Ephesus church (1 Tim. 3:15). Paul had a tangible plan for establishing elders in congregations throughout the island of Crete (Ti. 1:5ff). Something that was in God’s mind in the eternity before time (Eph. 3:9-11) deserves our best effort, using our brightest minds to find biblical ways that are most effective to grow and strengthen it!
Goals, dreams, intentions, and ideas will not, by themselves, accomplish anything. We must work to make those things a reality. But, a crucial first step is to articulate where we want to go. That makes planning so powerful!
In Luke 14, Jesus gives a couple of short parables about counting the cost of discipleship. He prefaces them by saying, “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be my disciple” (26-27). If we drink deeply of this statement, we see exactly how challenging it is. The choice is always between Jesus and everything and everyone else. How badly do we want what only Jesus can give? Think hard, then decide!
Then come the parables. The first is a construction parable, of one building a tower. He first sits down and calculates the cost in order to be able to finish and avoid ridicule (28-30). The second is a military parable, of a king going into battle. He first sits down and considers whether or not he can win (31-32). The common denominator in both parables is to first sit down and deliberate. Ultimately, there is action which follows, but the planning precedes it.
In how many congregations do elderships or men in the absence of elders never get proactive and formulate a plan for the immediate, intermediate, and far off future? Leadership must cast the vision and deliberate about where that congregation is going and how it will get there. What will be done to grow? How can we get more members active? How can we best utilize the collective resources of the congregation? The Bible reveals all the answers, but it is essential for the church’s leaders to gather around the drawing board.
It was exciting to spend a few hours at the Lehman elders’ 2019 retreat to discuss the short-term plans of the congregation. These men are convicted about the stewardship of the work they eagerly consented to do as our shepherds. They want us to be more effective, but they are determined to set the tone and example for us. I’m amazed at how deeply they care about us and the growth they want us to collectively experience. Words like emphasis, accountability, and purpose continually came up. Building a biblical culture, which works against our contemporary culture of consumers rather than producers, is foremost in their minds. They desire for us to “grow together” as a church, drawing those outside of Christ to our spiritual family.
I cannot wait to see what God will do through such capable leaders in 2020 and beyond. We are blessed with such godly, conscientious elders. Please don’t miss a day praying for Russell, Riley, Kevin, John, Darrell, and Bobby and their families. Also, please never miss an opportunity to express your love, encouragement, and support of them as they strive to do their best to fulfill their God-given duty. Or, as Paul put it, “But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another” (1 Th. 5:11-12).
They are first sitting down this weekend, but then they will challenge us all to “rise up and build” (cf. Neh. 2:18).
One of the hamstrings of most every church is a lack of dependable Christians. When Christians do show themselves undependable, they contribute so much to a church—much frustration, disappointment, and friction. We should all be dependable. You probably know little about Shelemiah, Zadok, Pedaiah and Hanon. Little is said about them. But listen to what is said. They were placed in charge of the storehouses because “they were considered reliable” (Neh. 13:13).
What a glowing epitaph. One the other hand, David wrote of some wicked individuals, of whom he said, “There is nothing reliable in what they say” (Psa. 5:9). Too many otherwise good people are leaving such a reputation for themselves. In frustration, sometimes elders may join Solomon in asking, “Who can find a trustworthy man?” (Prov. 20:6). But, good news! We can all be dependable. Why?
First, we are ABLE. God blesses us with talents, time, and treasure. With them, we can (as good stewards) use our resources to God’s glory. If something hinders us from doing our duty, we can let others know and cover for us. But, whenever and wherever and however we can, we use ourselves as workers in the kingdom (Mat. 9:37).
Second, we are DEPENDENT. God pours blessings into our lives (Eph. 1:3; Js. 1:17). Without Him, we are nobody! Except God provided all our needs, we would be nowhere and have nothing. We are obligated, and our best efforts could never earn or repay God’s graciousness (Lk. 17:10). But, surely, appreciating His grace, we will be workmen (Eph. 2:8-10). When needs are made known by our elders or other church members—food or teachers or folks to visit or calls to make or new Christians to aid or missions to encourage or elderly, shut-ins to help—let us remember our dependence upon God and be dependable for those dependent folks around us.
Finally, you are thereby DEEPENED. When we do what we can in the kingdom, giving it our best, we are enriched and strengthened thereby. Our relationship with Christ is deepened, for we are imitating Him. Our appreciation for God’s blessings is deepened when we sacrifice and extend ourselves. Our faith is deepened by our interaction with those in need and by our participation in what needs doing. Our joy is deepened by being active and involved in the Lord’s work.
One song in our song book asks, “Can he depend on you?” If He has no hands but our hands to do His work today, shall we allow our hands to sit idle? Christianity is a commitment. It’s a wonderful commitment, but commitment nonetheless. Let us take it seriously and be a brother or sister upon whom our brethren and our God can rely!
Quirky closer (a redundant statement) Sean Doolittle was interviewed last week right after the Washington Nationals clinched the city’s first trip to the World Series since FDR was first inaugurated there. Asked how they did it, Doolittle said, “I think once you start naming guys that stepped up in different ways, you’ll end up naming everybody on the team. We got so many contributions from different guys who had to embrace new roles. There are so many examples of that up and down this team” (MLB.COM). That’s frequently the testimonial of winners. It takes everybody pitching in and doing their part, All-Stars or role players, starters or reserves, veterans or rookies. However you distinguish between them, each person must step up and successful teams do just that!
Have you thought about how the church was designed to be that way? Congregations successful in executing the mission of Jesus are filled with members who step up in different ways, make contributions, embrace new roles, and exemplify team spirit. Paul tells us that “we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Eph. 4:15-16). Notice the all-inclusive wording of Paul, pointing out what Jesus desires for His church. “Grow up in every way…” “From whom the whole body….” “Held together by every joint….” “When each part is working properly….”
God expects each of us to step forward, using our talents, opportunities, financial blessings, influence, time, energy, and intellect to reach lost souls, strengthen the church, and meet needs. A church filled with people stepping up and embracing Christ’s mission will stand out in a community and glorify God. We will grow and be built up.
In 1895, Vilfredo Pareto observed that society divided into what he called the “vital few” and the “trivial many.” There is a top 20% and a bottom 80%. From such a genesis, we ultimately got the 80/20 rule, that 20% of the people in an organization do 80% of the work (Explained here: FORBES.COM). Maybe, we’ve heard that so much that we’ve just resigned ourselves to it being a universal truth. Do not be content until you discuss the growth and work of this church, and by the time you’re done “you’ll end up naming everybody on the team.” That’s the goal! Let’s pursue it!
Yesterday morning, I learned how much of a sense of humor the Lehman Avenue church members have. I prefaced my sermon by sharing a great tip a fellow-preacher passed along to me last week. He told the folks at his new work, “Please introduce yourself by name until I greet you by name when I see you.” So, I decided to give an example, saying, “Every time you introduce yourself, say, ‘Hi, Neal, I’m Roger Johnson (if that is your name)…” Well, that helped me ferret out some of Lehman’s finest comedians. Did you know there are 15 or 20 Roger Johnsons here (except that the guy I thought was Roger introduced himself as “Frank Sinatra” after church). But, everyone was upstaged by young Kamdyn Depp. Kamdyn came up to me right before evening worship, promptly shaking my hand and saying, “Hello, my name is Roger Johnson.” She deadpanned it perfectly, and it took me a while to stop laughing.
Kamdyn may never know how much it meant to me that she did that. First, it meant she was listening to my sermon. Second, as I found out it was her own idea, it meant that I meant enough to her for her to take the time to come tease me (side note: my mom used to tell me that people only tease you if they like you). It told me she was thinking about me. Third, it meant she was willing to engage me. We don’t know each other very well yet (though last night was a great head start), but she took the initiative.
Much talk is made of being a friendly church and how important that is to church growth and evangelism. All of us should take a page from Kamdyn’s playbook. Pay attention to people. Care about them. Don’t be afraid to engage them. You may quickly forget your act, but the recipient won’t! We will have visitors at most of our assemblies. Your taking just a moment of time with someone might be the first seed that germinates in such a way that he or she ultimately is in heaven. It’s that big of a deal! So, go on up to that new person, smile, look them in the eye, and introduce yourself, but it’s probably best if you use your real name. Even if it isn’t Roger Johnson!
I was intrigued by an article written by Janet Thompson of crosswalk.com. The eye-catching title asked, “Why Is The Church Going Dark?” She meant this literally. Her complaint was about the design of many auditoriums having dim lighting and being windowless, almost like a movie theatre or concert venue. She wondered if this was to reach a younger generation or to set a certain mood.
While I prefer a well-lit room, there is a more significant concern. Jesus taught, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Mat. 5:14-16). His words have nothing to do with church building designs, LED lighting, or window sizes. Preaching to His disciples, Jesus wants us to know that those reflecting His light cannot be hidden, but shine in such a way that others will see our good works and glorify God.
Dark churches are situated in neighborhoods that know nothing about them.
Dark churches are so indistinct that the world can see no difference between themselves and those churches.
Dark churches have no vision or plan to fulfill God’s purpose for them.
Dark churches exist to assemble, but not much more.
Dark churches focus inwardly, but neither outwardly nor upwardly.
Dark churches operate from fear and prefer the safe route, taking no risks and attempting only what they can produce.
Dark churches are disconnected from the Light of the world.
It is good for us to constantly challenge ourselves, when setting budgets, making plans, gauging our true priorities, or evaluating the leadership or the pulpit. Are we doing what will help us be “Light-Bearers” or what will cause us to be “Dark Churches”? What an important question! Our actions determine the answer.
Paul makes an interesting statement while addressing the successful effort the Corinthian church made in disciplining an erring brother along with the successful outcome of his having repented. He urges them to show him love, comfort, and forgiveness. The bottom line Paul gives for the urgency of their obedience is “so that no advantage would be taken of us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes” (2 Cor. 2:11). Back in the first letter, the church’s attitude and actions regarding a brother needing discipline was horrible, and Paul commanded them to act (1 Cor. 5). Here, they have acted and their efforts worked. They were in a prime position to grow and thrive. Yet, Paul reminds them of Satan’s motivation (to take advantage of us) and means (his schemes).
But, when does Satan like to try and employ his schemes and take advantage of us? When we aren’t being sober and vigilant (1 Pet. 5:8). When we aren’t focused on resisting him (Jas. 4:7). When we aren’t standing firm in the Lord or against his schemes (Eph. 6:10ff). When we aren’t exercising self-control (1 Cor. 7:5). If you study those contexts and others that mention Satan more closely, you will see that he would like to take advantage of us in good times and bad times. He may be at work through the willing choices, words, and actions of people who unwittingly aid his cause through their sins.
When might he seek to employ his schemes?
When new elders are appointed
During building programs
As numbers swell through baptisms and families placing membership
When preachers come and go
In a flurry of exciting activities
In the heart of some church problem or struggle
At the center of some personality struggle or conflict within the congregation
Through some controversial doctrinal, moral, or even cultural issue
When brethren put politics, race, or another issue of lesser importance over Christ and His church
Obviously, there are many more examples. The point is that Satan would love to use the good times or bad times we experience as a church to undermine and harm the work of the Lord. That should not make us paranoid, so paralyzed by fear that we refuse to act, or petrified to make needed changes. It does mean that we must not be ignorant of the fact that he doesn’t want the church to grow or move forward, and he will do what he can to stop it. What is so exciting is that he stands no chance against God. James says, “Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (4:7). Let us never be afraid to “dare and do” for God. We can do great things for Him and keep an eye out for the devil’s schemes.
The early church grew (Acts 2:41; 5:14; 6:1,7; 9:31; 11:24). As we read of this growth explosion, we see the key role member involvement played. Christians were spreading the word (8:4), involved in each other’s lives and in the lives of the lost around them. This is such a simple concept, but churches not practicing it are not growing. What is involved in involvement?
I–“I” am the heart of involvement. I must resolve to be involved. I must do my part, for I will give an account for my level or lack of involvement (1 Cor. 3:8).
N–“Negativity” is the enemy of involvement. “I can’t help.” “It won’t do any good.” “I don’t like working with that person.” Listen closely. Involved Christians rather say “I can do” (Phil. 4:13) and “we are well able” (Num. 13:30).
V– “Visitation” is a part of involvement. Matthew 25:34-46 confirms it. Non-Christian visitors, sick, imprisoned, and needy folks need it. Those who do it are richly rewarded, and those who are recipients of it profoundly appreciate it.
O– “Obedience” is the cause of involvement. Faithful Christians believe the commands to make disciples (Mat. 28:19), build up brethren (Rom. 14:19), and meet needs (Js. 1:27).
L– “Love” is the motive of involvement. Paul says good deeds, without love, are profitless (1 Cor. 13:1-3). The counsel of Scripture is “by love serve one another” (Gal. 5:13).
V– “Victory” is the goal of involvement. By being involved, we help others win the victory (Js. 5:19-20), we help the cause of Christ advance, and we aid our own walk in the light that leads to eternal reward (1 Jn. 1:7).
E– “Everybody” is the scope of involvement. What able-bodied Christian is excluded from the work God has given the church? Once, a man did nothing and gave every excuse imaginable. We remember how that turned out (Mat. 25:28-30).
M– “More” is the adjective of involvement. That is, “more involved” and “more people involved.” Has there ever been a church with too many involved? God is able to do more than we ask or imagine (Eph. 3:20), and He wants to see us always trying to do more for Him!
E– “Evangelism” is the fruit of involvement. Active churches attract the curiosity of the community. Those involved in the church’s work naturally grow more spiritual-minded, and by this grow more bold in sharing the gospel.
N– “Now” is the time for involvement. What in our lives do we definitely know will change between now and the never-seen tomorrow (Prov. 27:1)? Let’s kill the excuses! Resurrect the enthusiasm! Start today!
T–“Teamwork” is the mindset of involvement. We’re to work together. No one man, no staff, no eldership, no group of deacons or others can or should do the work of an entire congregation. The local church is a team.
To become adequately involved, let’s ask three questions.
“What needs doing in this church?”
“Who needs help in doing it?”
“What can I do?”
Be an Isaiah, a child of God who enthusiastically says, “Here am I, send me” (Isa. 6:8)!