Recently we’ve heard Christians comment that they feel God is giving them, their church, our nation, America and the world a wake-up call. Wake-up calls are meant to be acted on!
Decades ago, English bandleader Billy Cotton was particularly known for his rousing catchphrase intro to his BBC radio and television shows – ‘Wakey, Wake-aaaay! ’
A London choirboy, Cotton was awake to living life. Not yet 19 he had seen action in World War 1, become a pilot, worked at several jobs and commenced his own orchestra (even though he couldn’t play an instrument or read a word of music).
Billy Cotton went on to become a boxer and a racing driver and lived life to the full. His was a life regarded as ‘a life less ordinary.’
This first August Encouragement article is a wakey,wake-aaaay call to both ministers and churchgoers!
Don’t miss out
Paul encouraged Jesus’ followers not to miss out on life: ‘So be on your guard, not asleep like the others. Stay alert and be clearheaded’ (1 Thes. 5:6NLT).
Although Greek word ‘asleep’ simply means to lie down to sleep, the Message Bible version implies missing out on many things around us – ‘So let’s not sleepwalk through life like those others.’
Either way, we highlight this verse to encourage Christians not to go through life missing out on what’s going on around us, especially not being involved in areas where we can be of assistance to others, whether individuals, family, groups or organisations.
This includes church life – whatever church we attend. It needs to be noted that the Greek word ‘not’ is me – indicating ‘an absolute denial,’ a matter of ‘God forbid’ that any Christian should waste time and opportunities because of ‘sleepwalking’ through life! Hence we’re particularly thinking church life.
When we were kids (a very long time ago!) the local church was the major focal point of suburban life – if parents didn’t go, they recognised that churches taught good values on living aright and insisted that their kids went to Sunday school!
Church and its various community activities was regarded as a good place to belong to…local ministers were highly respected. One was proud to claim one’s association with whatever church they attended.
But while local churches had some members willing to accept some responsibilities, there was one major flaw! At the end of the day, so much fell on the minister’s doorstep, so many burdens were on his shoulders, so much decision making, such an overload of role playing – a case of ‘Reverend, what are you doing about evangelising, growing the church … (and so on).’
Many ministers were expected to do all the visitation, home and hospital, as well as preach at all Sunday services (no matter how many!), pray with the needy after the services, prepare and take the midweek Bible study, lead the men’s group, inspire Sunday school teachers, service every wedding and funeral, do all the counselling alone, inspire the youth … and much, much more.
He was also expected to know every hymn or chorus, lead worship and preside over monthly communion services as well. Further… be the church’s witness and shining light in the community, win many to Christ and so grow the local church by himself.
The list goes on… very few churchgoers, or church board members, really helped. Everything seemed to be left up to the minister…’after all, that’s what we pay him for.’ No wonder some gave it away or ended up burnt out (although back then this was really an unknown term – although you read of Paul’s warning to every believer in today’s Message Bible, Romans 12:11: ‘Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame’).
Body ministry so vital
But…note that we don’t generalise here, otherwise we’d appear to be tarring every church and its attenders with the one brush, and that won’t do!
Praise God that there were individuals who understood Paul’s teachings that the church is the body of Christ and they took body ministry seriously! They were strong community witnesses for Jesus, praying for/with neighbours, not only inviting people to church but escorting them along. And much more.
In so doing they didn’t leave everything up to the minister… they helped build the local church. They shared the load, running departments, presiding over communion (although some denominations still only permitted an ordained minister to do so), visiting and praying for the sick and were a vital part of an approved ministry team. The minister was then freed to focus on those aspects of his ministry that were vital to it.
Acts 6/Matthew 25 reality
Over the years the opening verses of Acts 6 became a reality, especially in churches open to giving the Holy Spirit (the church’s real CEO) his place and allowing him to lead.
These Acts verses (see Message Bible) could be excerpted as:
- The church’s spiritual leaders made it clear that their responsibility was to preach and teach God’s word, not be sidetracked by other matters.
- Their direction? Teamwork was the answer and the church should choose people full of good sense and the Holy Spirit – a ‘pastoral team’ that everyone trusted.
- They would then assign such ‘trustees’ their tasks, allowing the church leaders freedom to stick to their own assigned tasks of prayer and speaking God’s word.
Verse 5 indicates that ‘The congregation thought this was a great idea.’
- They went ahead and chose men such as the renowned Stephen, full of faith and the Holy Spirit.
- These were commissioned for their task and the ensuing result was that God’s word prospered.
- And, most importantly…‘the number of disciples in Jerusalem increased dramatically.’
This is an outworking of a strong principle found in the Matthew 25 parable of the talents – that every follower of Christ has a God-given talent, and that not even one should be wasted. Every servant, even a one-talented follower, should be kingdom involved and neither waste time nor the gift. To do so displeases the Lord!
Some such ‘good sense people’ are blocked today!
Over the years many have been available and, led by the Holy Spirit, willingly and boldly involved (inside and outside the church itself). And churches grew because of this sharing the load principle – and allowing the Spirit to have his way.
Today there is much talk about body ministry, of building together. However, of recent times, we hear, some cult-like restrictions have crept into some churches – good people willingly desire to spontaneously give of their time to help build their local church, but such endeavours must line up exactly as the hierarchy see things, otherwise they are not permitted to follow their God-given calling.
(Admittedly, there are some members who think they have a particular ministry – letting them loose would do more harm than good! They need blocking because either they don’t have what they think they have, or their gifts/abilities may not be complementary to their church’s current vision. Sadly, sometimes such people can get very hostile when not given a free reign, becoming dissenters and gossipers).
Now it’s important that those moving in ministry activities operate within the overall vision – but individuality and spur-of-the-moment response to Holy Spirit leadings shouldn’t be overlooked, put down, or derided!
On the other hand, there are some churches where ministers insist on doing everything themselves, and not because the church is pressurising them. Experienced congregants, ready to play their part as led by the Holy Spirit, are not permitted to assist. And churches don’t grow as expected. (Added to this is the fact many such churches lose some very good people!).
Of course, we must be open here. Sadly some pastors are lazy! Some try to avoid preaching, never conduct teaching sessions, very rarely visit the sick or house bound, never promote or attend regular prayer meetings (See Dr Jim McClure’s article linked below).
So we boldly sound that ‘Wakey, wakeaaaay’ call to both ministers and churchgoers …
Ministers: Some church leaders are like the burdened guy on the left! Or even the little YouTube chap in https://www.youtube.com/embed/TmYsaCZpjaA – then moving across dangerous pathways.
This leads to overwork, personal and church problems!
Churchgoers: Check out this YouTube – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wM6cSXUn1Xw It’ll cause you to think about the all-important function of several people working together in unison to build the local church of Jesus.
Notice the team work – from the ground up to complete a tall purposeful building. That’s a great and necessary key to effective church life – people working together. It is not the pastor’s responsibility alone to do all the work. Jesus himself set the example of sharing the load when he sent out the first team of pastoral carers.
Matthew 10:1 (Mge) tells us the tool they were given for the task: ‘Jesus called twelve of his followers and sent them into the ripe fields. He gave them power (exousia…authority) to kick out the evil spirits and to tenderly care for the bruised and hurt lives.’ They, even Judas, returned not with reports of failure but reporting incredible results.
Working together is vital
Ministers need to release people willing to serve Jesus in various ways to help build their church, to buy into the vision. That means accepting churchgoers whom you know are genuine and scripture based, then inspiring and encouraging such to achieve, not hindering.
Notice in the video clip how material from the ground found its way to the other workers on different levels further up. They were all sharing the load! No one person is meant to be doing everything on any one level. Teamwork is about sharing the load at different levels to achieve the finished objective. Some people are shaky when it comes to heights. But they’re great on ground level.
Notice too that there’s a guy on the top floor with his arms folded and seems to be doing nothing, idly staring somewhere. Then he’s quickly back to work. It’s okay for church leaders/kingdom workers to take breaks when opportunity permits. Otherwise the ministry becomes a forced labour camp and we can all easily lose heart or burn out.
We all need to take a breather every now and then, especially those ministers carrying heavy loads, then return refreshed to the God-given task. Perhaps even take a moment and stare off into the distance, remembering again what God has called us to achieve for him. Then, with renewed energy and vision, we can return to the current phase of that very real and achievable God-given dream.
Reminder: The old saying affirms that many hands make light work. Building a great local church that effectively touches its community takes time, finance and many talented people as well as a dedicated leader. Consequently every church needs a great team to fulfil its destiny, not just ‘the usual 5% of the congregation.‘
Ministers: ‘Real’ ministers themselves must not be curbed from following their genuine God-given vision for the local church. But any church without a committed active team is in trouble – the minister and his pastoral team need to pray in willing available workers that they can be confident in (even if they have to ’test’ their attitude first). Otherwise the lead minister operates without confidence in others and can become either a one-man-band or a dictator.
Congregants: Regarding being appreciated, committed workers need to remember that servants at home or abroad may not always be understood and honoured (see Erica Grace’s article linked below).
Everyone: Yes, building a great effective church isn’t easy many times – but neither ministers nor congregants should lose heart. May none of us ‘sleepwalk’ and miss out on an exciting, meaningful, fulfilled life. TEAM means…
No ‘life less ordinary’ for us as we work together!
Or if you like, alone we’re smart but together we’re brilliant! But then Jesus’ followers are kingdom kids, after the Father’s heart – ‘God, brilliant Lord, your name echoes around the world’ (Psalm 8:9).
(Scripture emphases ours). Links: Erica Grace’s Reachout – https://connectingwithyou.net/2016/08/05/the-world-is-not-worthy-of-them-august-5-2010/ / Jim McClure’s Teaching – / Jim McClure’s https://connectingwithyou.net/2016/05/03/the-tyranny-of-pastoral-visitation/