(March 07, 2020) Charles Schwab shares a reflection on this month’s Encouragement article, declaring that every Christian is a minister so let’s cut through the challenges…
I appreciate Dr Robert and Maureen McQuillan’s article Just Hanging Around encouraging Christians to be active in their local churches.
And as I read it I felt a quickening to share my long-term convictions about Christians taking up their God-given capacities to be vessels of God towards a whole range of needs in the lives of others.
But there can be challenges to Christians – ordinary Christians – when it comes to being mobilised in ministry. We will come to these challenges in a moment.
Highlighted biblical truth
Since the Protestant Reformation (1517 AD – 500 years ago) which highlighted the biblical truth that justification – being made right with God – is a consequence of faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord (Romans 5:1), various other biblical truths have been resurrected from relative obscurity.
One such truth is that every believer has one or more areas of ‘ministry’ or service to which the Lord has called and is equipping them. We don’t get to ‘call the shots’; God determines and in such a way that we are not consulted!
The notion that ‘the priest is the minister and does everything that is central in the life of the church’ had its ‘back broken’ in the Reformation.
The Reformers saw that the priests of the churches of that day were not essential at all to receiving salvation. Whatever roles they played, none of them were ‘salvific’ in and of themselves according to the Bible. Rather, Jesus is the Saviour and a person is ‘born again’ – saved – by direct relationship with the Father through the Son, and that by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8).
Every believer is called to minister
And there was more insight to re-surface; insight that would and should energise and motivate every Christian believer to give themselves to the call of God on their lives throughout their earthly journey.
Since the Reformation there has been a fresh entirely biblical discovery that every believer is called and equipped to be a minister – a servant of the Lord – a servant to others; primarily to other Christians but also to those presently outside of the Christian faith.
Many parts of the Bible declare and explain this including –
- ‘Serving one another through love’ (Galatians 5:13)
- ‘Prophesying…serving…teaching…encouragment…giving…leading…showing mercy’ (Romans 12:3-8) and
- Various ‘gifts of the Spirit’ as chronicled in 1 Corinthians 12:7-11.
So, what is the ‘health report’ on this every-Christian-a-minister doctrine in the practical arena of church life today? A bit patchy, I would say.
It seems to me that sometimes the long-term practice of someone being referred to as ‘the minister’ or ‘the pastor’ of a church may lead to some new or untrained Christians erroneously thinking that that person alone is the one who more or less ‘does the ministry’ and so that is how ‘ministry’ gets accomplished.
Of course the church doesn’t say that in words, but that can be how some Christians interpret the practice subconsciously.
It seems there is sometimes a sort of carry-over from pre-Reformation times when the priest was pretty much everything to the church. And since the Reformation, there can be the absorption of a false notion that ‘the pastor’ or ‘the minister’ is pretty much the engine that gets the work of the church done.
The idea of just one person in the church doing the ministry is not grounded in the Bible. The person labelled as ‘the minister’ or ‘the pastor’, in concert with a group of elders or leaders in that church, provides a needed leadership function for the church.
But there is a huge need for every Christian to grow in, and give themselves to, the ministry or calling assigned by God to them… to each one… and this is a profoundly true understanding revealed in the Bible.
And sometimes it may be that someone’s gift or calling from the Lord does not fit easily within a particular local church’s immediate vision and programming.
But that should be no barrier – rather a challenge. They should remain accountable to the church oversight while they receive help and encouragement to discover how to follow the Lord’s purpose for their lives leading to good outcomes for others with all praise to the Lord.
Needed: Another ‘box’
I recall sitting down with a church pastor who asked me to evaluate the diagrammatic representation he was putting together to explain how his church functioned. After looking at the ministry opportunities shown on the page, each one nominated within a separate box, I said I found only one thing that concerned me, challenged me.
While it was fine for there to be boxes for such aspects as Women’s Ministry, Children, Youth, Seniors and so on, I could not find anywhere on the page where I could fit in terms of my motivation, calling and gifting (which, in brief, was/is encouraging churches and church leaders along with preaching and teaching in a variety of denominations in Australia and elsewhere).
I suggested he could consider drawing another box and label it ‘Everyone Else’ because anyone seeing the ministry diagram page, and who couldn’t see a box for their calling or gifting, might assume that that church could be for them an unprofitable one in which to remain.
We should observe that…
- Not every person who exits relationship with a church does so needlessly or because of undealt-with problems.
- Sometimes it is because they are rightfully looking for a base within which, or from which, they can serve in their calling.
- And sometimes the exercise of that calling may be quite beyond the ‘borders’ of the church to which they are attending.
- The reality is that this is no problem – if properly understood by the person and the local church leadership.
- God is a God of unity and diversity.
In Christ we become one with God and other Christians. But the things that matter to us in terms of God’s calling on our lives will vary, sometimes it seems quite radically so. And it almost goes without saying that that is God’s prerogative.
Oh the hues and colours, as it were, of the multifaceted and diverse will and calling and equipping of God towards his people! What a joy to be who we are in God’s plan even if it seems hard to find someone else who functions in a similar way.
The time factor
C.T. Studd – well-known famous cricketer and missionary of early last century wrote:
‘Only one life, the still small voice,
Gently pleads for a better choice
Bidding me selfish aims to leave,
And to God’s holy will to cleave;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.’
Let’s not waste time… our time, God’s time. I encourage every follower, disciple, of Jesus to seek God as to the best way we can serve our Lord and so help expand the kingdom of God. That will have to include ongoing attention to the unique calling and opportunities given by God to each one of us.
Paul’s urging of Colossians 3:23 is to all of us, not only ‘the minister’ or ‘the pastor’: ‘Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.’
Charles Schwab lives in Geelong, Victoria. Having served as a staff associate pastor for lengthy periods in two churches in Adelaide and Geelong and ministered in the Philippines and Fiji, his vision these days is to encourage churches and leaders wherever the Lord ‘opens the doors.’ Link: firstname.lastname@example.org