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Series Theme: The Wonder of the Church

The Wonder of the Church: Part 5 – Starting from Scratch

28. Clear your Mind


Mk 2:21,22 “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins . Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins .”


The Problem of Presuppositions: A presupposition is, according to a dictionary, “a thing tacitly assumed beforehand at the beginning of a line of argument or course of action.” I concluded the previous study with the following words: I want to start by considering what would we do if we were starting utterly from scratch. The next few studies will be:

28. Clear your Mind

29. A New Creation

30. Life (1)

31. Life (2)

32. Being Together

33. Fellowship


So take a dose of amnesia, sit down on a desert island with a Bible, and see what might happen. I have tried to put myself in the position of starting completely from scratch, as if I knew nothing about church life at all, but the trouble is I have all these assumptions, these presuppositions, because I have history and I've just written twenty-six studies on the beginnings of it. It's almost impossible to clear my mind of what I know from the past fifty years of being a Christian. But why should I want to do that? To perhaps see if it is possible to imagine what Jesus wants of us, without all the clutter of my (our) history.


An Imaginary Scenario: Supposing I just had a Bible, found myself on a desert island with a bunch of other people and we're all unbelievers who have never been to church. We know nothing of church. I read the Bible I find in the remains of a wreck that got us there, and as I read my heart is strangely warmed on one hand yet convicted on the other. There is a sense of truth about what I am reading and I am warmed by the sense of love that comes through the stories of Jesus in the four Gospels and then I find myself convicted that I know nothing of this love. As I read on through the New Testament, I hear more of prayer, of talking to God and so one day, on my own, I talk to Him for the first time. I tell Him how wonderful I find the things I've been reading and yet how sorry I feel that all these years I have not known of it or experienced it, and I ask Him to change me, take me and do whatever needs doing in me to make me the person He would like me to be. I assume, having come down this path, it is first and foremost to experience more of this love that I have been reading about while at the same time letting Him (somehow?) speak to me to show me more of what He does indeed want me to become.


Church? But then one day I share what has happened with another of the survivors and they respond in exactly the same way as I did. Amazingly the word spreads like wildfire and before we know it there are over fifty people who have responded in the same way. As we read the Bible, we realise we are what the Bible calls ‘Christians' . “The disciples were called Christian s first at Antioch.” (Acts 11:26 See also Acts 26:28) and then we realise we have run across the word ‘church' a number of times: “on this rock I will build my church , and the gates of Hades will not overcome it,” (Mt 16:18) and “If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church ; and if they refuse to listen even to the church , treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” (Mt 18:17). Then later, “Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events,” (Acts 5:11), and “On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem,” (Acts 8:1) and “But Saul began to destroy the church ,” (Acts 8:3) and, Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened,” (Acts 9:31) and “News of this reached the church in Jerusalem,” (Acts 11:22) and “Barnabas and Saul met with the church ,” (Acts 11:26) and so on. We see that ‘church' were the Christians gathered in various places, presumably where they lived. But what more can we gather about this concept of these Christians who gather together? Why do they gather together? What do they do together?


Back-tracking? Yes, I realise as I said that I have already written a lot of words describing how this body of people comes into being, but what do they do in the New Testament and why? If I've taken rather a tortuous route to get here, this far in this study, it is simply because I have history that includes the knowledge of so many different churches and it is almost impossible to clear away my presuppositions of what church ought to be, but I can't help thinking that going back to basics must be a healthy exercise and if it challenges some of the things we do today, so be it.


Where to Start? The Gospels are not the obvious place to start; following the Son of God in the flesh was a limited-period experience. The easier starting place – as far as experience in history rather than principles in teaching is concerned – has to be Acts. At least it shows us a) how the church started off without the physical Jesus in their midst and b) what God led them to do. Now in respect of that latter thing, some of the things they did were clearly led or inspired by the Holy Spirit and others were natural responses to who they now were and the circumstances in which they found themselves. Let's try and tabulate those two things:


Things clearly inspired by the Holy Spirit

Natural expressions

All filled with the Spirit 2:4

Prayed together 1:14 (men & women together)

Spoke with other tongues of other nations 2:4-11 Peter preached 2:14-40

Chose replacement for Judas 1:15-26 (Some point out nothing more heard of Matthias!)

Apostles performed signs and wonders 2:43

Taught by apostles, met in fellowship, held ‘communion' and prayed together 2:42

Peter & John heal a cripple 3:1-8

Met regularly, had everything in common even selling goods to help others 2:44,45

Gave answer to leaders 4:8-12

Met regularly for breaking bread together, praising God and seeing more added 2:46,47

Sprit falls as they pray 4:31 and enabled to speak boldly

Went to temple prayers 3:1

Peter exercises word of knowledge and Ananias dies 5:3-5 Ditto his wife 5:7-10

Preached to crowd 3:12-26

Signs & wonders performed by the apostles 5:12

Arrested for preaching Jesus 4:1-3

Angel releases apostles from jail 5:19,20

Prayed together 4:24-39


Apostles arrested & jailed 5:17,18


That is probably enough to go on with. In the left-hand column some of the things are specifically explained as happening as the Spirit filled individuals, power fell, angelic help given, but some, the miraculous happenings at the hands of the apostles, are clearly impossible to humans and are therefore obvious manifestations of the work and power of the Spirit.


Early Spirit Activity: Here we see inspired preaching, healings, signs and wonders, all very clearly the work of God in their midst. In each instance we see men inspired and empowered by the Spirit, i.e. responding to and being used by the Spirit. For future consideration, the questions might be asked, were these things purely for that point of history? Well history denies that. The records show that at various times (relatively rarely before the 20th century) such things have been seen in a number of parts of the church. Following the Spirit outpouring in the early part of the 20 th century, and then subsequent movements of the Spirit (Charismatic movement, Toronto Blessing, Wimber movement etc.) in the late decades of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first century, it is obvious to anyone with integrity who bothers to research these things, these things have had a resurgence in various denominations and ‘streams' within the Church. Perhaps we need to look later at why.


General Lifestyles: Without doubt the early church was impelled by the wonder of the Spirit's outpouring, and their ‘life-in-common' lifestyles are sufficiently challenging that we need to consider them more fully in subsequent studies. A common prayer life, regularly meeting together, specifically to remember the Lord, sharing with one another, caring for the less well off, etc. seem to be uncontroversial characteristics of their corporate life that perhaps we need to think about emulating. Watch this space!




The Wonder of the Church: Part 5 – Starting from Scratch

29. A New Creation


Mk 2:21,22 “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins . Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins .”


The Problem to be faced: Did you notice in the previous study, I had at the top of it the above verses but never got around to citing them. But I don't want to spend much time expounding them now either, but they just hang there in the background acting as a reminder: this church thing, this Christianity thing, was something utterly new for the Jews of Jesus' day. What Jesus had on his heart was completely different from the structured institutional Judaism that they knew, described by the apostle Paul, “ the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah.” (Rom 9:4,5)


An Uncomfortable Past: Yes, they had their past, made a special people of God at Sinai, they had the Law, the Temple, the covenants, their origins in the patriarchs. They had history that Stephen spelled out in some detail before he was stoned (see Acts 7), but that was where it got embarrassing because as he said, speaking of Moses, “But our ancestors refused to obey him. Instead, they rejected him and in their hearts turned back to Egypt.” (Acts 7:39) and went on, “Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him— you who have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it.” (Acts 7:52,53) And that got him stoned! The truth hurts, and the truth of history for Israel is in many ways embarrassing. This is not to put them down for they simply demonstrate what the rest of the world is like left to themselves. But it showed the inadequacy of simply trying to have a relationship with God based on rules, on the Law. It had to happen – it wasn't a failure on God's part, a thought that Paul shied away from in the early verses of Rom 3. It revealed the sinfulness of mankind and the need for something better to save us.


Jesus' Warnings: The trouble with the two illustrations that Jesus gave in our starter verses, is that they are slightly quaint and therefore we smile at them but so often fail to try to apply them to life today. He points out to us an old garment lying around and there on the shelves some old wineskins. Both familiar, both comfortable. But then he puts forward the idea of someone trying to mend the old garment by piecing in a brand-new piece of material, and then of putting new wine into the old wineskins. Yes, right. Not a smart thing to do if you are a homemaker and know about these sorts of things. The first time you wash the patched garment, the new material will shrink (the old has done all the shrinking its going to do) and pull away from the garment or pull it out of shape. Not a good idea. But then comes winemaking time of the year and running out of new wineskins, you pick up and fill the old wineskin with the new – probably still fermenting wine. Not what smart winemakers do because they know the wine is likely to effervesce and seek to expand the wine skin, but being old it is rigid and will simply split. Two instances where mixing old and new just don't go.


Context? So what is the context of this little bit of homespun wisdom? Well it is sandwiched in between people complaining that Jesus' disciples weren't fasting like John's were (Mk 2:18) and the Pharisees complaining that Jesus' disciples were picking grain of wheat to eat – on the Sabbath! Working on the holy day!!!! In both cases Jesus brought corrective teaching (v.19,20 about a bridegroom, and v.25-28 on David's use of the holy bread). In between there is this telling and very pointed double-illustration answering their complaints that might have been summed up as, “Your religion isn't up to what we've had for centuries! What are you doing?” But of course we noted earlier that that religion wasn't worth trying to keep up with – it constantly failed!


Comparisons: Now I'm not saying anything that hasn't been said many times before and so I'm not trying to be insulting or hostile, but just simply point out something about so much modern religion. Let's compare three different things. First , consider Judaism . Based on a building, the temple, expressed by rites and ritual laid down for centuries, teaching the same old material laid down for centuries, an altar and a priesthood who wore unusual clothing to distinguish them. Fixed, static, unchanging. Second , consider Jesus . One man, anointed of God (he was and is God), constantly on the move, bringing new teaching, expressing the power of God so changing people's lives dramatically, delivering from demons, raising some from the dead, performing signs and wonders, teaching others to do exactly the same as he was doing, so creating an army of active ministers bringing in the kingdom of God. Third , now consider so much of the modern church , especially the denominations: buildings (often big, Rome is the classic overstatement), clergy wearing strange clothing to distinguish them, services that often is made up of ritual, pre-stated words and services where movement of God is prohibited, and an altar, remarkably similar in character to Old Testament Judaism but with ‘Jesus-words' added. Fixed, static and rarely changing.


Do we need to paint an even bigger picture of the life of the church that is characterised by new ‘garments' and new ‘wine'? But those of us in freer evangelical or charismatic or even Pentecostal circles should not feel comfortable because so often our ‘services' are just as predictable. Even in the new ‘streams' so often we slide into the same pattern – chairs in rows, predictable service, even though we may tack on a ‘Holy Spirit ministry time' at the end. Look again at the second one above – Jesus – and ask whether those four or fives lines of description are true of our church experience?


But why? So why do we do it like we do? I think there are a number of answers. First , we've always done it like this, and because we have never taught our people to embrace change, some of the voices upraised against change would make it too difficult to change. Second , we've perhaps never taught systematically the things I'm trying to pick up in this series and so we don't see how far we have strayed from the New Testament guidelines, and so we see no need to change. Third , an underlying and uncomfortable factor in much of what I have been saying is the Holy Spirit, and we would have to confess our inability to recognise Him, know Him and be led by Him, and in fact have a completely new Spirit-led and Spirit-empowered perspective on ‘church'. Fourth , it is easier to stay the same and not think about change which will require thinking about, teaching and then (scarily) applying. Fifth , the other side of that coin, it requires effort to consciously structure church to be unstructured or able to accommodate a move of the Spirit in our gatherings. Sixth , having perhaps done it once, there is always a great temptation to try to replicate that and then we slide back into man-planned meeting. Seventh , we so enjoy the good elements of what we do – some of our preachers are excellent and sometimes our worship band leads us into the heavenly realms – that we dare not lose these things or release them in a different context that might include the unknown. Eighth , for there to be a true flow of the Spirit that flows through the whole congregation rather than just three or four leaders, it requires careful, patient and graceful teaching, encouraging and empowering of the whole congregation or as many as possible of it, to bring this about. Is it possible? I don't know, I haven't come across a church of any size where this happens – and that raises another question that we will pick up in the days ahead, that of size of congregation.


But: Buildings are not bad. Big congregations are not bad. Small congregations are not bad. That's not what is being said. Jesus' teaching of wineskins and garments highlights the differences that he came to bring, summarised by one word – ‘life'. Perhaps we need to ponder that next, but don't lose the heart of this study, so when Paul wrote if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here !” as I've said before, I'm sure that means the individual, but in the light of Jesus' broader teaching, I'm equally sure it must apply to the whole church as well. So, have we gone back and resurrected the old? Perhaps we need to think about that.



The Wonder of the Church: Part 5 – Starting from Scratch

30. Life (1)


Mk 2:21,22 “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins . Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins .”


Life? According to my concordance the word ‘life' occurs 565 times in the NIV. It is possibly one of the most often read words (229 of them in the New Testament) and yet, I suspect, one of the most least unthought about words. We speak so easily of ‘eternal life' and we see Jesus speaking of it so often, for example,

Quote 1: “I tell you, do not worry about your life , what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?” (Mt 6:25) and,

Quote 2: “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life ?” (Mt 6:27) and

Quote 3: “small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life , and only a few find it.” (Mt 7:14)

Even that little selection should get us thinking. Life, says Jesus, is more than about eating. Well yes, we might respond, it's about meaningful things like relationships, family, work, fulfilment and so on. And indeed, that is the life in both the first and second quotes, but then then comes the challenge of Mt 7:14 about another dimension, life that is more than mere physical existence; it has to be spiritual life he is referring to.


John's perspective: Look up life in John's Gospel and it is mostly this spiritual dimension. John, who had had decades to ponder on the things he had personally heard Jesus say, comes into the Gospel accounts at a much more profound level: “In him was life , and that life was the light of all mankind,” (Jn 1:24) and, “For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life , even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it,” (Jn 5:21) not to mention the numerous references to eternal life (e.g. 3:15,16,36, 4:14,36 etc. etc.)


And So? What is the outworking of this? It must be to ask the questions, “Do we know and experience this ‘life' individually and in a corporate sense in the church, is this what we seek to impart to one another, and is this the dimension we seek to introduce others to?” To this we might add, “Where in our church experience is this ‘life' evident?” The discerning Christian recognises another Christian by the sense of ‘life' about them. I have shared previously how, when I came to the Lord, I woke up next morning a completely different person. There was ‘life' there in way that had not been previously. I was once in East Malaysia in a jungle village waiting for a translator to turn up and our Christian hosts were having to communicate by sign language, and I have testified many times that I had this bursting sense to want to be able to speak language to them because there was this sense of ‘life' in these Malaysian Christians, a life that wanted to be communicated.


It's Absence: But then, I have attended services that were pure performance and the dear man out the front was ‘doing his job' and life was not flowing. You know it when you see it, but you also know it when it's not there, whether it be Nuns in a Convent who may be overflowing with life or monks in a Monastery who may be there for a quiet life but there is no ‘life'; it may be in an Anglican church where the Spirit has been let loose and life abounds, or it may be a little evangelical church where law, conformity and lifelessness abound. The ‘streams' tend to have let the Lord loose but many denominational churches hold fast to a rigid past, fearing a God on the loose. Its absence is seen in an environment where, “We don't do it like that,” prevails, very similar to “We've always done it like this.” Its absence is also seen where there are power groups in the church who exercise control, whether it be ‘the choir', or ‘the worship band' or even a family that has been here since the church began a hundred years ago, who want to hold fast to tradition at the cost of the Presence of God!


Recapping? But why do I seem to be recapping where we've been before, I hear you say, I thought we are moving on to look in detail at the church of the New Testament? And so we are but whatever we talk about as aspects of the life of the Church, we must keep reminding ourselves of the foundation upon which we are built. So, yes, we've previously considered the language of ‘being born again' which, although disliked by some, nevertheless is language used by Jesus and language which points us at this very subject, and we perhaps need to remind ourselves what is at the heart of it.


Life involves Movement: When you look at Jesus' words in Jn 3 through the lens of the Message version, it sheds light: “You know well enough how the wind blows this way and that. You hear it rustling through the trees, but you have no idea where it comes from or where it's headed next. That's the way it is with everyone ‘born from above' by the wind of God, the Spirit of God.” (Jn 3:8 paraphrase) Jesus spoke of the moving of the Spirit upon us using the picture of wind, and then it indwelling us. Now that is very helpful because it is something with which we are all conversant. Who hasn't felt the wind on our face, watched the trees sway and bend, and all this speaks of movement?


When a child is born, if there is no movement, we know something is wrong. When a person is born again, we expect to see movement, change, and if there is none, we question the reality of it. When a person says they have been filled with the Spirit, we expect to see change, movement. When it happens, signs of it happening (or happening again) may be a release of tongues or prophecy (see instances in Acts) and will certainly be accompanied by a fresh outpouring of joy with a sense of being loved. There is always a release of ‘life' and sense of ‘freedom'. I have entitled this Part as “Starting from Scratch” and this is exactly what we are doing. At the heart of the life of the individual AND the Church has to be ‘life' and life involves change and movement.


  Church involves Change: Because of all this, the life of a Spirit-led, Spirit-empowered, Spirit-directed church will mean that ‘change is here to stay' as is sometimes said. In a healthy church, those changes will be seen in several different ways. First , in the addition of new members, new people coming to Christ and being added to the Church. Second , as people grow up and develop spiritually, they will change. Are we different from what we were say five years ago? We should be? We should be learning new things that change our outlook, the way we think, and that in turn will change our behaviour, the things we say and do. But, third , as we grow and mature, that will also include in areas of gifting and ministry, as we learn to recognise the gifting God has put within us and we become more confident in using it, and thus become more fruitful. We recently quoted Jesus' teaching of the vine which is applicable here: I am the vine ; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (Jn 15:5) That speaks about life flow, Jesus life flowing in us and as we maintain this relationship, so it brings forth fruit in and through us.


And So? We should conclude by asking those questions we asked before and hold them before us, to ponder the reality of our answers: “Do we know and experience this ‘life' individually and in a corporate sense in the church, is this what we seek to impart to one another, and is this the dimension we seek to introduce others to?” To this we might add, “Where in our church life is this evident?” Stuff to think about.



The Wonder of the Church: Part 5 – Starting from Scratch

31. Life (2)


Jn 6:54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. 


Pause: I was wanting to move on but then the Lord reminded me of something I saw a little while back while studying John 6. There a number of times Jesus spoke the same sort of thing we see in the verse above, and we might summarise this ‘eating' and ‘drinking' as a requirement of us, that we are to take Jesus fully into our lives. The Jews with Jesus struggled with this sort of language and I wrote in a previous study as follows: Talking to Jesus when you don't understand is the answer, the path to wisdom, not just grumbling. I suspect if they had done that Jesus might have said something like, “Follow me, learn of me, live with me, watch me, share with me, encounter me, share your life with me and let me share my life with you, join with me in doing the things our Father wants us to do.” That, I suggest, is ‘eating Jesus', taking Jesus into your life, absorbing him, feeding on him. In a later study I added, so what is that truth? It is, very simply, that you have to take Jesus fully into your life, his life entering your life. This is not about the Holy Spirit coming to indwell us but more about taking the very nature or character of Jesus into our lives so that our lives are changed by it.


Us Today? So why do I raise this again here, just after we have been thinking about ‘life', spiritual life? Well, as I looked back, I noted that I wrote in one study as follows: In recent days I have been watching the work of erosion of faith that the enemy of souls is working in many of the children of God; good Christians, believers who are for God, and yet I watch and see an erosion of the practices that have been referred to by some as the ‘spiritual disciplines'. Prayer ceases, the Bible is rarely opened, church gets dropped and, and here is the point, I have watched an impoverishing of spirit taking place that makes them vulnerable to knocks of the world, vulnerable to anxiety and worry and an inability to cope with those knocks. What has been happening? They have stopped eating the Bread, they have stopped receiving regular life nourishment and they grow weary, downcast, and weak. When Jesus said, again and again, “I am the bread” he didn't mean that he was to be put on some altar of remembrance, but that he was to be eaten, taken in, absorbed, become one with. Only in this way is he the source of spiritual life that we need every single day of our lives. As we focus on him, wait on him, seek his face, pray, read, worship, we are ‘eating'. This isn't just about life after our body dies physically, this is about having ‘life' every single day our heart beats and we breath.


And Church? Very well, let's get to the heart of the burden I feel here. Church should be about conveying this ‘life'. Initially it is about sharing about it with unbelievers so that they become believers, become Christians, become part of the Church, become receivers of this ‘life'. Then it is about teaching them, encouraging them, building them up in their faith so that they see a fruitfulness coming from their life, a sense of fulfilment as they become part of the active body of Christ and see God using them to bless others. ‘Life' involves conveying life to others. Where there is this ‘life' you cannot help conveying it in some form or other. In the first paragraph above I have italicised Jesus' call to each one of us, a call that the Church should convey and keep on conveying, not as Law that Must be followed, but as the wisdom of living out the life with Christ. In the second paragraph above I italicised what happens when we don't do that and do it through the so-called spiritual disciplines, so that we become spiritually impoverished, weary, downcast and weak and, what I didn't add back then, vulnerable to the attacks of the enemy and the trials of life.


Jesus' Wisdom: We sometimes, I think, view Jesus' parables as quaint little stories, especially good for telling in Sunday School. No more is this true than in the parable of the Two House Builders (see Mt 7:24-27) that teaches that if you want a stable and strong life that can weather the storms of life, you will base it on Jesus' words, Jesus' life. And again, that is not just academic knowledge but actually taking Jesus' words and Jesus' very life into your life so together you become one. Jesus sought to convey this sense of oneness with him when he spoke of us being yoked together with him like two oxen working together (Mt 11:28-30) and us being branches of the vine that is his life (Jn 15:1-5). This ‘life' comes by obeying Jesus, by being tied to him, but being one with him so his life flows into us.


This happens when we pray, when we wait on him, when we read and study his word, when we fellowship together (and we'll see this in the coming studies), when we worship, when we share him, when we minister to others in his name. In all these ways his life will flow in us. When we start giving up these things we become under-nourished and weak, vulnerable to attack and unable to cope with the storms of life that will come. It's that sort of world and we need Jesus' resource to handle it, cope with it, and triumph over it. And this is where the church comes in. We are not called to do it alone, we are called into a corporate experience, if I may put it like that, and that is what we will shortly go on to consider.


To Summarise: Jesus taught us, using very graphic, almost shocking language, to take him into our lives. We do that by giving ourselves to him to be our Saviour and Lord at conversion. Thereafter we are learning what it means to ‘feed' on him, experiencing him through things such as prayer, reading his word, worshipping, fellowshipping, sharing him, ministering him, etc. This is the role of the Church, a body of people with Jesus as their head, rather like a mutual self-help group, except it is not self but Jesus through each member of the body building up the rest. The apostle Paul explained it, “ so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ,” (Eph 4:12,13) and the Message paraphrase so graphically puts it, until we're all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God's Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ.” Isn't that good, just like a physical body moves. But see those closing words: fully alive like Christ”. That's the ‘life' bit! So perhaps we should now move on a see something of this corporate dimension of church life, first in the way we relate to one another, and then in the next Part, how God provides for us in the form of those specifically raised up to provide for and protect this body.




The Wonder of the Church: Part 5 – Starting from Scratch

32. Being Together


Acts 2:44,46 All the believers were together and had everything in common…. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts.


A change around: Back in Study 26 “Building People” we focused on the subject of people in the church in the context of vision. Here I want to expand on that and focus ‘church' in the context of people. We have previously considered this verse near the end of Acts 2 but I just want to emphasise this word ‘together' and what is implied by it, noting also the fact that they were together every day . Now I know this was the embryonic church and it was full of excitement, no doubt at the wonder of the new thing that was happening and, indeed, I have been around and been part of the birth of a new local church – and it is exciting – but the sense that comes over in these verses just seems to highlight and emphasise the different culture of which we are part today. I know that the experience of church for some is simply an hour on a Sunday morning each week – and that's it! It is possible that there is an hour prayer meeting or maybe a fellowship group once a week or once every two weeks, but it seems our ‘church experience' is so often far from what we find here in Acts.


Modern Culture: Now I can almost sense the angst rising up in some as they want to scream out, “But we're so busy!” Now I assume this is a purely Western experience that comes out of affluence, the ability to travel and the amazing provision that is here within modern culture. Last year we visited a couple of friends who had moved out of our district several years ago and we were doing a catch-up visit. “So what do you do with yourselves up here, John?” I asked with a slightly foolish condescending attitude, that now they were living in this rural area they probably found it hard to fill their time. For the next half hour John listed off and explained the ten activities that they were now involved with each week, things outside their church experience (which they still maintained). I sat dumbstruck and chastened. They had fuller and more interesting lives than we had – but their life WAS FULL.


I watch the families of our three children and observe the many things the grandchildren get involved with. I watch other young families and see how one or other of the parents is constantly taxiing the children from one football practice to an art group to a ballet class to tennis lesson, and so it goes on. It is little wonder that to focus on these strange Christians in Acts 2 is almost embarrassing. It is another world. The tragedy for us – and it seems we don't realise this most of the time – is that this merry-go-round of activities (ours and of the children) saps our energy or we fail to see these things in the light of the potential of the kingdom of God.


Modern Relationships: The world of text, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc. etc. seems to suggest a world of communication, a world of relationships but more and more studies indicate that the truth is that these communication methods are purely superficial and although they do give a feeling of connectiveness it is very shallow, and many (at a point of vulnerability) confess that they have very few real friends. So why is that? Is it that real friendship means sitting down and spending time, face-to-face sharing open-heartedly, and that in reality we can only have a limited number of real friends with whom we do open up and share our hearts?


A Modern Agenda: So here is a suggestion. First, recognise the value of real relationships with other Christians – we'll come to that in a moment. Second, pencil into your diary or wall calendar or phone calendar, specific times when you will purposefully not let anything else get in the way so you have value times with a limited number of church friends. (Yes, it may be that this is a ‘fellowship group' or ‘house group' but be careful what you do at that!)


Biblical focus: To make sure we don't let this become just some social exercise, let's remind ourselves of the New Testament teaching that reminds us of this ‘togetherness' thing. “Love one another . As I have loved you, so you must love one another .” (Jn 13:34) “Be devoted to one another in love. Honour one another above yourselves.” (Rom 12:10) “Live in harmony with one another .” (Rom12:16) “Accept one another , then, just as Christ accepted you.” (Rom 15:7) “agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you.” (1 Cor 1:10) “encourage one another.” (2 Cor 13:11) serve one another humbly in love.” (Gal 5:13) “be patient, bearing with one another in love.” (Eph 4:2) “Be kind and compassionate to one another , forgiving each other,” (E;ph 4:32) “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Eph 5:21) “teach and admonish one another with all wisdom.” (Col 3:16) “encourage one another.” (1 Thes 4:18, 5:11) encourage one another daily.” (Heb 3:13) “spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” (Heb 10:24) “Keep on loving one another.” (Heb 13:1) do not slander one another.” (Jas 4:11) Don't grumble against one another.” (Jas 5:9) love one another deeply, from the heart.” (1 Pet 1:22) “Offer hospitality to one another .” (1 Pet 4:9) “clothe yourselves with humility toward one another.” (1 Pet 5:5) We should love one another.” (1 Jn 3:11, 3:23, 4:7, 4:11,12 2 Jn 1;5)


Christian Community: Now there is sufficient to say here that we will continue this in the next study on ‘Fellowship' but with what we have considered here in this present study may we make one or two closing comments. The New Testament teaching is laden with instructions that indicate the expectation of a community, of relationships of a nature that shows in the church a whole variety of interactions that God expects of us. Obviously these cannot happen (and therefore we miss out and our lives will be stunted) if we never meet with one another. An hour on Sunday morning is not adequate. As to all the things we take our children to, or get involved in ourselves outside church, what brilliant opportunities to make contact with others outside the church and build relationships there which create, in turn, opportunities to share Jesus and show others the love of God. Enough to ponder on for the moment.



The Wonder of the Church: Part 5 – Starting from Scratch

33. Fellowship


Acts 2:42 They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship

1 Cor 1:9 God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

2 Cor 6:14 Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?

2 Cor 13:14 May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

1 Jn 1:6,7 If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another


More than Social Interaction: I am sure I must have written about ‘fellowship' before but I am not going to search back and so, instead, I will try and come at the subject from a fresh perspective. It seems the natural flow on after having been considering the early believers meeting together every day. Our first verse above speaks about how they “they devoted themselves …. to fellowship .” Now a dictionary definition of ‘fellowship' is ‘ a friendly feeling that exists between people who have a shared interest,' but in a spiritual context I believe that really doesn't go anywhere near what ‘fellowship' is for a Christian. In Study No.29 on ‘Life' I testified about the presence of ‘something' that is there between two believers, even when they can't speak the same language. It is of course the life of God, the Holy Spirit.


A Definition: Fellowship occurs, I suggest, in the interaction between two believers in the dimension of the spirit as the Holy Spirit in them both witnesses to His presence in them. There is often not something conscious but at a deeper level than mere surface conversation, there is this touching of heart to heart, spirit to spirit. Does it always happen between two Christians? I suggest not, because there has to be an open-heartedness to one another and that, for a variety of reasons may not always happen.


What holds back Fellowship? You might think that the presence of the Holy Spirit in each believer would mean that automatically fellowship takes place. Certainly surface conversation might take place but I think there are various things that will stop that deeper level, that open-heartedness occurring. For example where a believer is deeply into sin and deception, I believe their inner protective barriers will be up, even at the sub-conscious level, defending what they are doing, justifying their stance in life. On the other hand, where a believer has been deeply hurt in life there will be a protective barrier that is difficult to come out from. I know of (and I am sure there are many, many others who are similar) a lady who was a battered wife until it came to a head, went to court and the court ordered the husband away. She finds it almost impossible to escape the past and the effects it is having on her life even today – but there is a way and it is happening slowly. In both of these two illustrations I have just given, there is a defensive barrier, there for different reasons, which hinders true fellowship taking place. In the former one the person is trying to hide their sin, but there are also people whose failure has gone public, and they now struggle with guilt and the fear of public (Christian) hostility towards them, real or otherwise.


Koinonio: Now perhaps there are some, feeling slightly frustrated because they want a more theological approach than I have given here so far, so let me add in this paragraph in passing. The Greek word in the original is koinonio, which has hints of ‘sharing' or ‘giving to one another' about it. It is used in the NIV in Lk 5:10 for ‘partners' referring to the four famous fishermen called by Jesus, indicating a closeness of relationship there, formed by business. It seems clear from Gen 3 that before the Fall there was this close open relationship between God and the couple, but this was lost by their disobedience resulting in fear and a defensive need to hide away from God (see Gen 3:8-10). That loss of fellowship with God has been restored by the salvation that comes through His Son, Jesus Christ, hence our second verse above: God … has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ.”


So often in the New Testament, we are said to be “in Christ” and of course we have already referred to the presence of the Holy Spirit within us, or Christ in us. Is that why Paul referred to, “the fellowship of the Holy Spirit” ? (2 Cor 13:14). Clearly in each of these instances, where there is reference to our fellowshipping with God, Jesus or the Holy Spirit, it is a contact of the most intimate kind being spoken of. At a spiritual level, what we said earlier about hindrances to fellowship is born out in John's words: “ If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another.” Living in the light must surely mean living free from wrong in its many different forms that we referred to earlier.


Making Fellowship Possible: The fact that we live in a Fallen World and are often scarred by it, and we ourselves trip over our own feet, so to speak, and get it wrong, mean that actually many of us struggle with defensiveness and therefore know little of true fellowship. Fellowship can be built or restored, I suggest, best in small groups. Now many of us (leaders of such groups) maintain groups where fellowship is avoided, and we do this by focusing on Bible Study or prayer. Now please don't jump defensively at me for, yes, I believe both are essential to Christian discipleship in such groups, but I would like to suggest that THE greatest priority for such small groups is helping bring about fellowship. Why?


A very practical reason. You cannot love someone fully if you don't know them and so often in modern church life we hardly go beyond the surface in getting to know people. When fellowship truly takes place it means people have been able to truly open their hearts to one another and this fellowship is evidenced when there is a sense of security. Jesus clearly created that with his disciples, so are we following his example? (see how free Peter felt free to speak out.) How do we bring that about? How do we create security so that our people can come out from behind their masks, be real, fellowship with one another, recognise mutual frailty and become open in new ways to the grace and changing power of God?


Creating A Secure Group: Leaders of such a group will maintain a new order: God first, the people second, and only then spiritual disciples (Bible Study, Prayer etc.). Leaders of such groups will come with a blaming-free attitude that says, “How can I bless you?” not, “How can I blame you?” Such leaders see that people need to feel secure before they can open up and face their failures, their frailty and their faults. There are two rules that need to be spoken out from the creation of such a group. The first is, “You can say what you like within this group and it will never go outside the group.” Second, “You can say what you like within this group and no one in this group will be shocked or point accusing fingers at you.” When that is understood AND operated, then people start feeling secure and can open up and share the worst sides of their life.


Our response when they do, MUST NOT be to appear shocked, for each of us has the potential for all kinds of failures and if we haven't struggled with this particular one so far, it is simply that we have been fortunate enough not to have been tested by it. Our failures (hopefully rare) are ours and before God they are all the same. We come together as redeemed sinners, i.e. children of God, loved by a Redeemer who is more concerned to bless than to blame. This is not to say he doesn't hold us accountable, for he does, but Jesus' objective, clearly seen in the way he responded to the tax-collectors and ‘sinners', is to restore us to a good place before his Father, where we are overcoming those things and eventually not repeating them.


If someone opens up in our group and confesses something of major significance, there are three questions to be asked in gentleness and full of grace: (i) “Have you told the Lord about it yet, and would you like to with us now? (i.e. you give them opportunity to confess it to heaven and receive God's forgiveness now), (ii) may we pray for you now? (looking to bring God's love through prayer ministry – see a later study), and (iii) what can we do to help you?” (i.e. is there some practical way we can bring God's grace to your life situation to help bring change?)


And So? You might like to read these last paragraphs again and check your attitude and respond accordingly. We are not talking about tolerating or accepting sin, but we are talking about accepting the sinner, because we're all in the same boat together. Loving them in such a way that they have the courage, within the sense of security we are creating, to honestly face themselves and God, enables them to come to a place of repentance where they receive forgiveness, cleansing and healing. They will not be able to do that while you point fingers!


Final Testimony: I have, in the past, lead Parenting Groups in the local community and by creating this sort of group have had new mothers opening up in tears and confessing how, in the middle of the night when their partner left the crying baby to them, they ended up roughly throwing it onto the bed in desperation – and the group talked it through with understanding, empathy, tears and compassion and enabled change (and this wasn't even a Christian group!). In another group of mixed maturity Christians (i.e. including some very new in their walk with Jesus), I often felt more like a father-confessor as new believers opened up on things that would shock the Pharisees – but they were enabled to do it, and the love of the group enabled them to face it and change. Perfect love not only casts out fear (1 Jn 4:18) but it enables honesty, confession and transformation. May that be us.



The Wonder of the Church: Part 6 – Thinking about Leaders

34. Led


Acts 20:17,28 Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church…. Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers . Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.

Eph 4:11,12 Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.


Taken for Granted: We have been, may I remind us, considering facets of what the church is, if possible by going back to basics and starting from scratch. The difficulty, as I sought to point out a few studies back, is that church has been around for two thousand years and we take certain things for granted, no more so than when we come to the subject of leadership.


Where Angels fear to Tread: To try and consider from scratch the whole area of leadership in the church is potentially a hotbed for hostile responses. The Church changed dramatically from that first century after Christ and so our perspective on church leadership is, in many places, set in the concrete of tradition and passing centuries, a concrete that is staggeringly different from that found in the decades after Christ.


Balance: It is too easy to attack modern structures but we should never attack the leaders for many are the godliest men you can find – not all, but many (you only have to follow the news to see ongoing child-abuse scandals to note that not all are godly). Some of these leaders use their roles in very good ways to demonstrate righteous living. Never write off leaders of a part of the Church that is alien to your way of thinking because at the worst these are men or women considering they are following a vocation, a job with a calling, even if some are not sure of their calling when it comes to it; often, in the middle, are godly men and women trapped in an institution, trying their best, even if that falls short of the New Testament teaching; at the best it is men and women with a godly call on their lives seeking to be God's servants with whole hearts and blessing those in Jesus' kingdom.


Madness: Having been a church leader for well over twenty-five years, having known many leaders, and having watched many more, my long-term conclusion is that anyone who wants to be a church leader without a very clear calling from God is mad. Sorry to be blunt but leaders are God's ‘out-front-people' and as such they are the first to receive brickbats from the enemy, and I know very few leaders who have not been wounded along the way, and some who have had serious mental or physical breakdowns because of being ‘in the ministry'. One has to be honest and say that often the causes of such breakdowns are the people of God, as tragic as that is, and we will seek to cover how to avoid that in the days ahead, as we consider plurality of leaders.


A Difficulty: The presence of these established institutions, because we take them for granted, makes it very difficult to put aside all our presuppositions and start from scratch. Why, some might immediately ask, do we need to do that anyway? Supposing (and it doesn't) the world said that child abuse, for example, was acceptable behaviour, that would not mean that it is right, especially when we measure it against New Testament teaching. We who are church leaders are not to measure what we do by way the world does things, but by the way God does things as revealed through the New Testament, and the responsibility for holding on to that sits on the shoulders of God's leaders at large. It is important that we try, therefore, to truly get to get to grips with this subject which is why this Part will extend to at least ten studies.


Who is a Leader? All, whatever shade or hue of ecumenical life they come from, would agree I believe that church leaders, meaning those at the top of the pile, if I may put it so crudely, are to be those called of God; let's agree on that. It starts with God. But the difficulty is knowing or recognising such a call. There are, essentially, two different approaches to recognising calling. The main traditional denominations usually go along with the sense of calling that an individual has, and if other ‘senior' leaders agree to what they have sensed, they tend to send them off for training and then after a period of education and training, formally release then into a church context. A second approach is to simply watch and observe the life, gifting, and emerging ministry of a member of the church, and give them space to work that out even more and, as the body recognises them, openly accept them as leaders. Training may or may not follow. Both approaches have both pros and cons. But, I suggest, there are two bigger questions to be asked and answered: first, why does the church need leaders (not so obvious as you might think) and then, second, what actually is a leader?


Why do we need leaders? Put aside my earlier analogy of a desert island where a number of survivors find the truth of the Bible impacts them, and they turn to God through Christ as they find it in the New Testament. Instead take them back to the mainland where they all happen to live in the same area. They decide to continue meeting together and now they are a ‘church' living in a Western nation, say. Let's consider various things that they might experience:

(i) They are now in an environment where the world imposes questions on them. They talk among each other about issues raised. One or two have taken the trouble to dig more deeply into the Bible and come up with suggested answers.

(ii) Life goes up happily until one day some newcomers arrive sowing doubts about the way they are conducting church and life in general. The group now shows signs of confusion that might best be described as that which is seen when a flock of sheep are disturbed and potentially scattered. The ones and two's who had previously shown signs of leadership step up to the mark and with authority refute the false teaching being brought in from outside. Peace is restored.

(iii) Then one day, two of the members of the group have a disagreement. It could be theological, it could be ethical, it could be over material or practical issues in life. It has the potential for causing division in the group. The ‘leaders' step in and with wisdom and grace bring about reconciliation, and peace and order are restored.

(iv) A need appears within some in the group and they call on the group to help. The ‘leaders' preside over that help and ensure it is fair and adequate.

Leaders, we have seen are those who oversee and seek to resolve these various problems or difficulties for the good of the greater body.


So what is a Leader in the Church? Because of the nature of the church and all that we have said about how people become Christians, they are first and foremost believers, Christians who have been born again of the Holy Spirit. Moreover, we would hope in the light of what we have said about ‘life' and the Holy Spirit, they would clearly be Spirit-filled believers. Moreover, because we have said our starting place is God, we would hope these are clearly godly people, people who demonstrate a depth of relationship and experience with the Lord, people who put prayer high on their agenda.


Because the church, we have said, is also a place (a body) where lives are founded on the New Testament, we would want these ‘leaders' to be clear examples of those who understand and keep to that teaching and whose lives are righteous, who are examples to others of right and good and godly living. We would want them to demonstrate maturity, a maturity that is demonstrated by wisdom and the fruit of the Spirit. But as we look at the teaching on loving and caring for one another, we realise that we are looking for people who care about people: first and foremost caring about God, but then second, very clearly putting people as their next highest priority on the agenda.


And So? What have we said in these last two paragraphs? First, problems occur. Problems to do with belief, problems to do with relationships, problems about the way we go about life as Christians, the way we go about the corporate life as church, and the way we fend off heresy, and the way we ensure the church is a place of goodness, righteousness and caring. In other words, these are the needs that arise when any group of Christian people gather together. Second, we find that there are those who rise up to meet these needs but, more than that, they do it out of a living, vibrant, Spirit-filled relationship with God, demonstrating the life He reveals in the New Testament, an example for others to follow. Now that is clearly our starting point and there is much more to be added which we will go on to consider shortly. What I have sought to do, is put aside all we know of ‘what is' and reflect on why there are ‘leaders' in church, the needs for leaders and the type of people who will meet those needs.


To finish with, let's move into Scripture next and note Paul's instruction to Titus and highlight the things we've just seen: “An elder must be blameless , …   Since an overseer manages God's household, he must be blameless —not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined . He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it,” (Titus 1:6-9) and tomorrow we'll reflect more on some of the names given to leaders. This is just the starting place.




The Wonder of the Church: Part 6 – Thinking about Leaders

35. Local Leaders - Overseers


Acts 20:17,28 Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church…. Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers . Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.

Titus 1:6,7 An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. Since an overseer manages God's household…

Phil 1:1 To all God's holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons:

1 Tim 3:1 Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. Now the overseer is to be above reproach

1 Pet 2:25 For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.


A New Start: Starting from scratch we have tried to imagine what would happen if a new group of believers came into being and we suggested that it was likely that some among them would stand out as leaders. Now we want to start again but now look at what the New Testament says about leaders. I am going to distinguish between local leaders and gifted ministries (e.g. those found in Eph 4:12,13). We'll go on to the gifted ministries in later studies but for the moment I want to stick with those whose role was specifically to watch over the local church, the local flock.


Overseers? The word ‘overseer' comes in this context in the New Testament only a limited number of times. Some translations use the old English word ‘bishop' but as that term has taken on a new ecclesiastical meaning in later centuries we will stick with the term ‘overseer' which describes the role more accurately. Also in the New Testament there are not tiers of ecclesiastical government. The ministry of the apostle, as we shall see later, was a role that enabled ‘elders' to be formally recognised and brought into public affirmation. But as our verses above indicate, the terms ‘elder' and ‘overseer' and ‘shepherd' (the other term for the old English ‘pastor') are expressions of one and the same person. But each term has a specific meaning. But we would do well to face some of the difficulties for this expression of leadership.


A Difficulty - Work: I am dealing with ‘overseer' first simply because it occurs fewer times than ‘elder' who we will come to a little later on. The trouble with dictionary definitions is that they usually refer to a job or work context, of a person overseeing other workers and although that actually IS how it is supposed to be in church, the connotation with secular work is so often not such a good one. As we have noted previously, all ‘work' in the church context is to be that inspired by and for God, an expression of grace. The sad thing about Christian ‘ministry', Christian ‘workers', and Christian ‘leaders', is that we so often see these roles as ‘work' and see the leader as ‘employed' by the flock which is a dramatic change of view from what it was originally, and one which so often causes such hindrances in the modern church.


A Difficulty – Superiority: The term that is here used, ‘overseer' is a functional role and not a role of superiority. Yes, it is a role that Paul referred to as being one called by the Holy Spirit (Acts 20:28 see above). Having watched the growth of what might have been referred to as the ‘Restoration Movement' at the end of the last century, where there is a (wrong) exaltation of ministries, instead of humility and servant-heartedness, we see there can arise a disguised superiority attitude in leaders and wrong submissive attitudes within the flock that take away personal responsibility. It is little surprise that many of those ‘ministries' no longer exist.


A Difficulty – Exaltation: Yet, if we are honest, it is incredibly difficult not to exalt an individual, male or female, who God anoints mightily in His service, but it is not what should happen, and it opens the way for a variety of both misunderstandings and misuses. Where a person is anointed for leadership by God, especially in this overseeing role, it is especially difficult for that leader (who indeed may appear spiritually head and shoulders above those around him) to maintain a right perspective and recognise that they, just as much as anyone else, need a mentor or someone to hold them accountable. They are still human beings and are still vulnerable to feeling inadequate and in need of encouragement and counsel, if not in their ministry, so often in their family circumstances.


A Difficulty – Hierarchy: Similarly the ‘managerial hierarchy' (for it is nothing less than that) which is witnessed in most denominations, has no place in the ones Jesus calls into being as his Church. We perpetuate such structures with all that is wrong with them, because we have built up organisations who have large finances, own many buildings and generally exhibit the functions of a secular business organisation even, in the case of some, being involved in property investment to maintain their structures in a manner that is so different from that shown in the New Testament, which we will look at in more detail in a later study.


The protective meaning: The meaning of an overseer should that be simply one who watches over and guards the flock, who protects the flock. In this it overlaps the idea of shepherd, although shepherd encapsulates, caring for, and providing for, as well as protecting. Indeed in his famous ‘on the beach' elders' briefing Paul goes on to warn them, “I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard!” (Acts 20:29-31) and he said it so they would be alert, watching out for these workers of the enemy and resist them on behalf of the flock, to protect it.


The corrective meaning: Rather like the secular overseer there is, to use the dictionary definition, the sense of, “ to make  certain that an  activity  is being done  correctly.” The big difference between the church (spiritual) and the business (secular) is that the church overseer is answerable to Jesus to demonstrate and express Jesus' love and humility in all he does. The goal of the overseer is to equip, enable, empower each member of the body of Christ to function in the way that God enables and gifts them, in ways that will build up and bless the body (see 1 Cor 14:12), while humility remains a primary characteristic as we considered back in Study no.17.


Keeping to the plumb line: Thus we might summarise the role of an ‘overseer' to be twofold. First to protect and second, to enable the flock to remain on track in the light of the New Testament teaching. The picture of Jesus acting as a cornerstone (e.g. Acts 4:11) means we do all we can to keep people as close to Jesus as possible, for him to act as a plumb-line if you like, against which all we do is checked. It is to ensure that each person is enabled to see themselves as a valuable member of the body, no greater than and not less than, anyone else, needing and needed, for the blessing of the body. Such a task requires grace, humility and wisdom. Where there is an absence of those three things, there becomes a ‘mechanical process' approach that is more familiar in secular training courses, but which is not that which should be observed in the church. So, protection, equipping, enabling, empowering, guiding, these are the activities of the ‘overseer'. In the next study we will consider the ‘shepherding' aspect in more detail, and then finally the meaning and role of the elder which will provide the greater context and role of these local leaders.




The Wonder of the Church: Part 6 – Thinking about Leaders

36. Local Leaders - Shepherds


Acts 20:17,28 Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church…. Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers . Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.

1 Pet 5:1,2 To the elders among you …Be shepherd s of God's flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be

1 Pet 2:25 For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

Eph 4:11,12 Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors (shepherds) and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up


What next: I almost tossed a coin, figuratively speaking at least, as to whether to take overseers or shepherds first before elders. As Paul said to the, “elders… the Holy Spirit has made you overseers so (implied) be shepherds.” (Acts 20:17,28) i.e. if you are an ‘elder', recognise God has called you to be a protective overseer, so consider yourself a shepherd of God's flock in this particular local church. Peter basically said the same thing. The word for shepherd comes up more in respect of the Lord than it does his leaders but, nevertheless, they are called to shepherd his flock. Indeed in the list of gifts to the church of ministries, shepherds (or Pastors, the old English for shepherd) are seen there.


A Caring Role: Notice what both Paul and Peter say: “Keep watch over …. all the flock…” (Acts 20:28) and “God's flock that is under your care.” (1 Pet 5:2) I gave a clue to their role in the previous study when I said, ‘shepherd encapsulates, caring for, providing for, as well as protecting.' Perhaps nowhere can we better see the role of the shepherd displayed than in the famous Psalm 23. Having said that we must note that in that psalm David refers to the Lord as his shepherd and, would suggest there are some things the human shepherd needs to leave to the divine shepherd. So let's see what we can see from that psalm:


“The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.” (v.1) Our role, I would suggest, is always to direct our people into a relationship with the Lord, in which HE will provide everything they need. My God will supply all that you need from his glorious resources in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:19) The under-shepherd will always point the flock towards the Chief Shepherd.


“ He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters,    he refreshes my soul.” (v.2,3) i.e. he provides for me sustenance, and guidance into a place of peace and refreshing. The under-shepherd does this, I suggest, as he leads the flock into the presence of the Lord and shares His heart with them through His word. Teaching is thus a key element in the ministry of a shepherd which is why in Eph 4:12,13 there are often questions as to whether “pastors and teachers” are one and the same or two different ministries. I believe the answer comes to Paul's words to Titus when speaking about elders (who we see above are also shepherds, He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.” (Titus 1:9) Yet he said to Timothy, “The elder s who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honour, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching,” (1 Tim 5:17) which implies that not every elder will be so gifted. Combining the two, I would suggest that every elder must have a firm grip on the word of God to be able to help and guide others with it (and refute error) although not all of them will be equally gifted with preaching gift.


“He guides me along the right paths   for his name's sake.” (v.3) The role of the shepherd (who is also, don't forget, an overseer) is thus that of a guide, which implies a) he has walked this path before, i.e. a person of maturity, b) he shows the right way ahead, i.e. a teacher, and c) he walks it with them. This calls for a level of closeness which is rarely seen in modern churches, especially the bigger they are (which reinforces Francis Chan's call for small churches that replicate easily). The reminder is always to be, “The Lord is with you – Immanuel” but having said that Christ-incarnate today means Christ expressed through his body, the church, and especially through loving, caring and available leaders.


“Even though I walk   through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil,   for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.   You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil;
  my cup overflows.” (v.4-6) Again, we have to emphasise, our teaching is, “God is with you (Heb 13:5b,6) and for you (Rom 8:31), working all things for our good (Rom 8:28), and we are seated with him in the heavenly realms (Eph 2:6)” These verses remind us that there are dark days in every life, whether caused by mourning or simply by difficulties and opposition. That takes us into the realm of spiritual warfare (see Eph 6) where we need to teach the flock that opposition comes from the enemy and our call is simply to stand and hold the ground (the Christian life) God has given us, and we do that with His grace and with the comfort of fellow believers around us, which includes shepherds who learn to use the authority (the rod and staff) that God gives them (More on this perhaps in a later study).


   A Starting Agenda: From, these verses, we can perhaps set out a framework of some of the teaching etc. that the shepherd will bring to the flock, learning:

•  how to feed on the word,

•  how to sense the presence of God,

•  how to come into a place of peace ‘in Christ' and ‘in the Spirit',

•  how to receive guidance,

•  the nature and character of the path we are called to walk,

•  how to empathise which those who mourn and weep (Rom 12:15),

•  how to stand and triumph in spiritual warfare,

•  what it means to be more than conquerors, seated with Christ.


Shepherds go ahead: Each of these things will not be mere theory but will be things put into practice by the shepherd who will, by going ahead, be an example to the flock: set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity,” (1 Tim 4:12) and,   In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech,” (Titus 2:7,8) and, “Be shepherds of God's flock … being examples to the flock.” (1 Pet 5:2,3) As is fairly obvious from all this, shepherd-leadership is not for the novice, the new Christian or the faint-hearted, but for the mature, and that leads us into the whole subject of elders that we will consider next.



The Wonder of the Church: Part 6 – Thinking about Leaders

37. Local Leaders - Elders


Acts 20:17,28 Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church…. Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers . Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.

1 Pet 5:1,2 To the elders among you …Be shepherd s of God's flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be


So eventually: Yes, eventually we get here, to think about elders. The word appears 127 in the O.T. and 64 times in the N.T in the NIV. When it was first used in Exodus (mentioned 11 times), the ‘elders' were simply the most senior men of Israel there in Egypt. The Patriarchs were gone as the nation grew in number and there were simply those who were, no doubt, the oldest and most mature of the community. As such we see them involved in things with Moses from which others were excluded. In Leviticus it was the elders who had to step up and offer a sacrifice on behalf of the people when the nation had sinned (Lev 4:15); they were the senior representatives of the people before God. The elders of a local community were to act as judge and jury when the occasion required it (see Deut 21:19,20, 22:15-18, 25:7-9) and they were to be bearers of the law and the testimony to next generations (Deut 31:9,28, 32:7) and they led national repentance (Josh 7:6) and took punishment for community failure (Judg 8:16) and clearly showed they were the leaders of their local communities. And so it continued through the Old Testament period into the New, where we find they are leaders of the community, sharing in the rejection of Jesus with the chief priests. Throughout the Gospels they are simply senior members of the community.


But then Church: The first mention of ‘elders' in the Church, in the historical accounts in Acts, comes right at the end of Acts 11 where the church at Antioch, “decided to provide help for the brothers and sisters living in Judea. This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.” Acts 11:29,30) A little later we find Paul and Barnabas returning on their first missionary trip, checking each of the churches they had established and we see, Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church.” (Acts 14:23) There is no mention there of qualification (which is found elsewhere in Paul's letters) but for the church to accept the apostolic appointment of these leaders, would suggest they were people who were simply being recognised for what God had already done in them. When it became necessary for Paul to go to Jerusalem to resolve a theological debate, we find numerous references to not only the apostles in Jerusalem but also the elders (plural) in the church there in Jerusalem. (see Acts 15:2,4,6, 22,23 etc.) There had clearly been an appointing of men to act as leaders of the church at Jerusalem, as well as the apostles. The remaining 8 references to elders in the letters come as teaching or instruction. The 12 references to elders in Revelation all refer to the twenty-four elders around the throne of God.


The Teaching: We have seen previously how the term elder, overseer and shepherd are interchangeable (see Acts 20:17,28 above) To Timothy, Paul spoke of, “The elders who direct the affairs of the church,” ( 1 Tim 5:17) and had instructed Titus to, appoint elders in every town,” (Titus 1:5) meaning every church. James expected the elders to be channels of Christ's healing in the flock: “ Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well.” ( Jas 5:14,15) Is this one of those verses that parts of the Church conveniently forget or make excuses for (now the canon of Scripture is complete)? What a challenge! “Is anyone among you sick?” Half the modern church is sick! What are the elders doing about it?


And so? What have we seen so far, what can be implied in the general usage of the term ‘elder'? First and foremost the historical picture shows men (and it would only have been men) who were older, mature and hopefully wise. Their age and wisdom was used to settle problems within the community and, on occasion, to answer to God for the community. Translating that into the church, again there is the implication that ‘elders' are those of mature age and who exhibit wisdom and, we might suggest, godliness. Linked with the term ‘overseer' their role is also to protect the flock and there goes with that accountability and a responsibility before God. If I look back over my years as an elder, I am grateful for the Cross for no other way can we fallible leaders stand. So how do the teaching elements of the epistles fit with what we have said so far? The two main passages are found in Titus 1 and 1 Tim 3.


Titus: “ An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. Since an overseer manages God's household, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.” (Titus 1:6-9) Intriguingly, this is largely about character with little about spirituality, although both must be tied together. Note it says he “manages God's household” not, we suggest, as a business or organisation but in the protective way we have considered previously.


The standard that Paul sets here is so high that I suggest it excludes those who have been divorced, and I realise in the modern church in some places that may cause immense difficulty. His requirement is for impeccable men, whose families hold together in faith and godliness, because they are to be an example to the rest of the world, and in the utterly confused and messed up West where divorces abound, cohabitation is almost the norm, and relationships are so often unstable, this has to be an area where leaders must stand out as salt and light, showing an alternative way. I suspect that ‘being filled with the Spirit' was something Paul took for granted, for how otherwise can such men pray for the sick and see them healed? Similarly, when it comes to Deacons (who we will consider later on) for those who simply serve the church rather than protect or spiritually feed it, the one time when these is seen in the narratives, deacons were required to be men “known to be full of the Spirit.” (Acts 6:3) Surely elders, with all we have seen of their responsibilities could be nothing less.


Timothy: “Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach,   not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect.   (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God's church?)   He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil's trap.” (1 Tim 3:2-7) Similarly, because both have the same author, we find ‘above reproach' instead of ‘blameless' but carrying the same meaning, especially in respect of family life and general character. The Titus verses finished with the need for maturity in respect of knowing the word, whereas here to Timothy, he is simply to “be able to teach,” and “not a recent convert” both imply maturity again. But there is something about this ‘maturity' we have been referring to, and we will pick it up more fully later on when we consider ‘Teachers' and it is the thing about not merely ‘knowing about' (which is an essential starting point for an elder) but includes actually doing. Maturity is measured by obedience and availability and that is see in the believer who is well-rounded in both character and service.


And so: Because we have taken three studies to consider this matter of local leadership and the names and roles expected of such men, we really need to get an overview that draws together and highlights these things. For that reason, if you will excuse us stretching this out, the next Study will be a recap that draws all things together and asks two questions: 1. What sort of church or what picture of church is conveyed by all these verses? and 2. What effect should that have on the ordinary believer, the person who has just come to Christ and finds themselves part of the Church?




The Wonder of the Church: Part 6 – Thinking about Leaders

38. Local Leaders – the Nature of the Church


Rom 12:6-8 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead , do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.


A Pause: Before we rush on to the gifts of ministries to the church I believe we need to pause up and review where we have been in these recent studies on local leadership. We have done the ground work and now all that remains is to stand back get a sense of the overall picture. Particularly, as I said as I concluded the previous study, I want to asks two questions: 1. What sort of church or what picture of church is conveyed by all these verses? and 2. What effect should that have on the ordinary believer, the person who has just come to Christ and finds themselves part of the Church?


Descriptions of the local leaders: As we do this we must remind ourselves we are talking about spiritual leaders of the church, not those who administer it, looking after the numerous material aspects that arise, which we will consider later when we consider ‘deacons'. But these roles are of the spiritual leaders and we need to be very clear on this. We have considered the descriptions given in the New Testament of these men – overseers, shepherds, elders – titles or descriptions that are given to each spiritual leader over the church. Each one is an overseer, each one is a shepherd and each one is an elder. The term elder implies maturity and wisdom. The term shepherd implies one who cares for, provides for and protects the flock. The term overseer implies one who guards the flock against outside attackers and internal dissenters.


Plurality: Now the various verses that we have considered imply a plurality of elders. No where is there the picture of one man leading the flock. Now that makes highly uncomfortable reading in the modern day where have (in the UK as an example) Catholic Priests, Anglican vicars or rectors, Methodist ministers, Baptist ministers, Congregationalist ministers, Evangelical Free Church ministers, mostly men, now a few women, but all one-man ministries. The fact that these individuals tend to be professionals, on a salary from the church, mostly full-time ministries, as we see them, often makes them ‘special people' in our eyes, even referred, and certainly set apart in our thinking (if by nothing else by the strange clothes they insist on wearing) as ‘different'.


Special? How different this was in the early church, where difference was seen by the authority and power that came with the apostles, but there is no indication it was seen in the same manner in the elders appointed. Indeed it is probable that local elders were simply men who had a job in life and in addition they were the elders of the local church. Further we might suggest it seems unlikely that they were marked out as today's professionals tend to be, as someone special and different, and so any deference given was simply in accord with the roles, for example, The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honour,” (1 Tim 5:17) or, “you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders ,” (1 Pet 5:5) and yet these things seen in context are just one set of relational attitudes, so Peter continued, All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another,” (v.6) and elsewhere we find, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ,” (Eph 5:21) a very general injunction to the whole flock, not unlike the teaching, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Phil; 2:3,4). Each of these verses encourage the whole flock to be caring for one another, esteeming one another, submitting to one another, and so to elevate ‘the minister' appears incongruous in the light of all this.


Different and Lonely: Because we have elevated these roles, made them something special and not worked with a true plurality of elders, we have not only made our leaders ‘different' but also so often, very lonely. When we move onto the gifts to the church of ministries (see Eph 4:12,13) we will see then the heart burden that such ministries carry – and pastors (shepherds) and teachers are included in that list. I have tried to explain this to the unknowing in the past, by describing how, as a pastor, I carried the church on my heart twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year. It never went away. The fact that we employ such leaders only adds to their burden because it is a rare paid leader who cannot help feeling accountable to the flock – because there are paid, are employed by them! Elders (leaders) need other elders and they need friends and they need understanding.


The nature of the role cannot but mean that there will be a distinguishing between leader and flock. When you have counselled people in crisis and they have shared their innermost failings, it is very difficult to maintain an ordinary friendship subsequently. (Which suggests a smaller group of real friends who you probably have not counselled!!!) The fact that the average person in the flock isn't carrying the burden of the flock on their shoulders, and the fact that their lives are filled with family, recreation and work concerns, and church only a distanced second, means that the leader IS in reality living in a different often difficult world. It is helped with a plurality of elders, even if one (or maybe more in a large church) are full-time devoted to the ministry. (You are ‘full-time' in your heart, even if not seen by the flock as paid to be full-time while having some other form of employment as well).


But the church? This has focused very much on the individuals, but what about the nature of the church that I referred to earlier on? Protected, provided for, cared for, by mature and godly leadership – that is plural. If it is working right (which I suspect is a rarity), I believe that the presence within the church of a number of men (and women) who are there for every member of the flock,

•  creating this sense of security (protected) and

•  by feeding the flock (provision) and

•  caring for the flock (recognising needs, problems, difficulties, and being there to declare awareness, bring encouragement, wisdom, personal ministry and Spirit impartation),

•  not being a special clique, people ‘in the know', but those who are open and sharing,

•  while at the same time holding confidences,

•  being an example of godliness and holiness as well as ordinariness,

all this will create an environment where the feeling is conveyed, “It is good to be here!” and within that there is encouragement to get healed up, change, grow, develop and mature, for wasn't that Paul's declared goal for the church by the use of the ministries (including that of the Pastor-leader-elder): “ to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Eph 4:12,13)


And So? I said much earlier on, it is madness to desire to be a spiritual leader unless given a heart for it from God. But if God does give you that heart to serve in grace and humility as a leader within the local church then, as Paul said it, “do it diligently”, give yourself to it, pray your heart out for it, stand alongside other leaders, and if you haven't got them, search them out, raise them up, cry to God to give you them and I realise, if you have been a one-man ministry previously, it is a nerve-wracking and even threatening thing to think about drawing others alongside you to whom you will make yourself answerable, but the rewards will be immense. Yes, it can go wrong for the Christian life can be a battle and the battleground is sometimes within the church, which is why seeking others who are godly and humble – and ensuring we all remain like that – is so important. If you are not called to be a leader but have ploughed through these more recent studies wondering why I have been making such as meal of it, in your case it is to bring understanding and a burden to pray, so that together we may bring glory to the one who died to bring us into being. May it be so. Now we need to move on and examine the Lord's gifts to us of the ministries we see in the New Testament.



The Wonder of the Church: Part 6 – Thinking about Leaders

39. Gifts of Ministries – Introduction


Rom 12:6-8 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead , do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

Eph 4:11,12 Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up

1 Cor 12:27,28 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues.


A Focus: There are ‘gifts' and there are ‘ministries' and sometimes there is confusion between the two. A ‘gift' is a precursor to a ‘ministry'. I recently came across a quote of some leader saying in accordance with 1 Cor 14, we can all have the ministry of a prophet. Wrong! Paul doesn't say that; he says, “I would rather have you prophesy,” and the whole context there is gifts not ministries. The difference? The heart the individual contains and the anointing upon them.


Gifts to? Another way of distinguishing is by saying who are these gifts to. Gifts of the Spirit, for example itemised in 1 Cor 12:8-10, are gifts to individuals, for use within the church. Gifts given by Christ seen in Eph 4:11,12 are gifts of people to the church. To take prophecy and prophets as an example here, Paul makes it clear that anyone can prophesy when they are filled with the Spirit. As I have led groups seeking to move in the gift, I have noticed a number of times that, although I may pray over them as a group of usually about ten, and that evening all of them will step out and have a word for another that is pure revelation, in the months that follow I have noted (in a church where the gifts are encouraged) that of that ten, two or three will have words regularly, four or five will have an occasional word, and two or three will never have a word again.


Different people, different gifts: This says nothing about the spirituality of the individual, but more about the heart that God gives the individual. In the Romans verses above, Paul speaks of the grace that God gives in different measure to different people. I have expressed it more in the past as the level of faith that God gives individuals. Thus I see individuals who have great faith for giving financially but not, let's say, for healing. Then there may be others with great faith to pray for healing but don't have any feeling for giving. It is a mystery but ultimately it is down to God to find people who will respond in differing ways, and so He gifts them, I believe, accordingly.


Gifts into Ministries: Now I have never carried out surveys on this but I think my general observation through the years is that God gifts many individuals with gifts of the Spirit, but He develops that in only a relatively few to bring about a ministry. A ‘ministry' is a form of service that captures the heart of an individual and receives the special anointing of the Holy Spirit and is used by God to build the church. The heart for this will grow and develop in an individual and as they step out, so the anointing will likewise grow.


The Example of Saul/Paul: The apostle Paul is a good example of this. it is a fairly lengthy story (taking up chapters 13 & 14 of Acts) but will have bearing in the next study. In it we see the development of his spiritual life and ministry experience.

Earliest days: From the time he was saved and filled with the Spirit (see Acts 9) Saul, as he was originally known, started preaching (see v.20). With the help of Barnabas he was accredited as a Christian believer by the apostles in Jerusalem (v.26-28). Because of opposition from the Jews he was sent off to Caesarea and then to Tarsus (v.30).

In Antioch: Later he was brought by Barnabas to Antioch (Acts 11:25) and he taught for a year alongside Barnabas (v.26) and was then sent as a finance carrier (v.30) to Judea, returning some time later bringing John Mark with them (12:25). Saul and Barnabas were known in the company of “prophets and teachers” (Acts 13:1). In the context of the church there in Antioch, Barnabas and Saul were commissioned to go out to take the Gospel on what we now refer to as their first missionary journey

First Missionary Journey: Initially this was to Jews in the synagogue at Salamis on Cyprus (Acts 13:4,5), where his name is changed from Saul to Paul (13:9) and brings blindness to a sorcerer (a power sign) before moving on. After leaving Cyprus they returned to the mainland (13:13) and then went inland to Pisidian Antioch (13:14) where Paul preached powerfully to the Jews but was ultimately rejected by them (13:45), and so turned to preach to the Gentiles (13:46). Moving on to Iconium, they preached boldly with signs and wonders following (14:3) and it is there that they are first indirectly referred to as apostles (14:4). Moving on to Lystra, Paul healed a cripple (14:8-10) causing many to hail them as ‘gods'. It is at this point that Luke rather pointedly speaks of, “the apostles Barnabas and Paul” . (Acts 14:14). Moving on to Derbe, they had many converts (14:20,21). They then backtracked and appointed elders in each of the churches they had previously formed (14:21-23) and eventually make their way back to Antioch to whom they reported all that had happened (14:26,27). In the next study we will perhaps backtrack and observe the stages of Paul's development as an apostle, seeing the characteristics that went with it.


Serving to Build: Now we should also note in passing that the Greek word used in the New Testament for ‘ministry' is ‘diakonia' (plus other forms of that word) that essentially means ‘to serve'. It is from that word that we get ‘deacon', one who serves in the church, and we'll look at them in a later study. I have said it twice already but we should emphasise that, first and foremost, spiritual gifts and gifts of Ministries are to bring about, create, and build the church. In the following studies we will see how this happens in each case. In respect of spiritual gifts Paul taught, Since you are eager for gifts of the Spirit, try to excel in those that build up the church .” (1 Cor 14:12) What is true of spiritual gifts is also true of ministries. If there is anyone who appears to exercise one of the Eph 4 ministries and does not have the heart to build the church and thus glorify God, their ministry is suspect.


And So? We find provision in the Church of ‘Gifts of the Spirit' which are used by individuals to bless and build the church. We also find provision of ‘Ministries', gifts of people with heart and anointing calling to minister to bring about, create and build the church. I have twice used this language here to emphasise what these ministries do. In their differing ways they bring about or bring into being what we have throughout these studies been calling ‘the Church'; they create it by spreading the Gospel and creating believers who are the Church, and they build up, equip and empower those believers to act as the body of Christ and continue the creating-building process. This we will see in more detail as we move on.




The Wonder of the Church: Part 6 – Thinking about Leaders

40. Gifts of Ministries – to Plant


Eph 4:11,12 Christ himself gave the apostles , the prophets , the evangelists , the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up

1 Cor 12:27,28 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And God has placed in the church first of all apostles , second prophets , third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues.

Lk 6:12,13 One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles :


A Focus & A Question: I am going to divide this subject of ‘ministries' into those that initiate or establish new local churches and those who maintain and continue to build the local church. Thus in this first part I am going to focus on apostles and evangelists and to a lesser measure, prophets. Perhaps we should first of all deal with a question in some minds, does the church need these ministries? I doubt if there is anyone who would question the need for evangelists, pastors and teachers in the church and we may wonder why therefore the doubts about apostles and prophets? They are, after all, in the same verses where Paul speaks of Christ's gifts of these men with the specific role of equipping the people of God, and they are still needed to build up the church and bring it to maturity and fulness in Christ. I'm not sure we can ever say that task is completed. I suspect queries against these ministries arise either out of ignorance of their functions, or possibly experience of those who, living out their gifting, fail in some way to maintain grace and humility. A shame in both cases.

Apostles: Very well, first some basics. The word simply means ‘a sent one' and we see the distinction between a disciple and an apostle in Lk 6:12,13 above where Jesus, “called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles.” In the New Testament we first see ‘the Twelve' who Jesus had with him and one of their roles was, in Peter's words, to be a witness to Jesus' resurrection (Acts 1:22). From observing them and particularly watching how Peter and John continued after Jesus' ascension, we see the apostles taking the lead in the church, preaching the gospel and performing signs and wonders. There is authority and Holy Spirit anointing. I have had the privilege of knowing a number of apostles, men who were clearly church-planters, church-builders, men of faith, vision, power and authority, not by mere word but by deed.


Observing Paul & Barnabas: In the previous study we noted how Paul came to the Lord, preached, grew in faith, taught in the local church and was then sent out by the Holy Spirit to preach the Gospel and, watching how that developed, moved from Jews to Gentiles and clearly established groups of believers who became local churches, and then appointed elders (leaders) in each local church. This created a long-term sense of care and responsibility in Paul, seen in how he wanted to go back and check out those churches (Acts 15:36) and so subsequently went back through the area they had been to before, “strengthening the churches”, (Acts 15:41) with the result that, the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers.” (Acts 16:5). He and those with him (note, “and his companions” Acts 16:6) were clearly directed – limited as well as being led on – by the Holy Spirit (see Acts 16:6-10). It would be foolish to suggest that an apostle need not be filled with the Holy Spirit! Studying both Paul and Barnabas we see them as men growing in faith, being sent, and then being used as they preach with power and authority.


Characteristics? So, from what we have observed of the narratives of the New Testament, the apostles – first the twelve, then others (e.g. Paul & Barnabas seen in Acts 14:14, Andronicus and Junia, mentioned in Rom 16:7, and it may be that those who simply travelled with Paul were generally termed apostles, sent ones, sent to be missionaries, bringing people to Christ, and then establishing them with leaders in the local context) – were people who grew in faith, received vision and would have had to have moved in wisdom, with a strong sense of the Lord's presence with them on occasion as they moved in authority with power with signs and wonders. These are the things that distinguished them. Are they needed in the Church today? Very much so!


Well, first, perhaps something that distinguishes them from present day bishops, arch-bishops, cardinals etc. was that they were ‘hands on' out there doing the stuff, not managers or even just good examples for the faithful, but people operating with power as well as authority (and their authority did not come from their position in an institutional structure but from the working of the Holy Spirit in and through them), who were out there ‘doing the stuff' extending the kingdom. Does a small town say, with a dozen or more local churches today, need the ministry of an apostle coming in? Well the one thing I have observed in the past, being part of a network in which apostles and prophets operated, is that apostles never simply accept the status quo. They are constantly asking, “What next Lord?” and so they energise and motivate the local church on, releasing faith and vision and enabling and equipping and empowering new leaders and new ministries. They are, if you like, God's catalysts.


Prophets: We all know what prophets are, for we see their writings and activities in the Old Testament , mostly men, but don't forget Deborah (Judg 4:4), with that popular image of a man standing on the hillside overlooking Israel declaring the word of God to a disobedient nation. In the New Testament we find Agabus who came and prophesied over Paul (Acts 21:10) but there are other references to prophets – at Antioch (Acts 13:1), Judas and Silas (Acts 15:32), and Philip's four daughters (Acts 21:8,9). We know about the gift of prophecy because there is much about it in 1 Cor 12 -14 especially, but little about ‘prophets' except prophets come with God's heart and with vision, and like apostles are God's motivators. The prophet tends not to be just concerned with one or two people for whom he has a word, but for the glory of the Lord in the greater church. I mention prophets here in that they come second in Paul's listings in Eph 4:11,12 and 1 Cor 12:27,28. In my life, although I have known many people with the gift of prophecy, I have only known personally three men who were clearly prophets (there may of course have been more).


Evangelists: Mentioned in the Ephesian verses but not in the 1 Cor 12 verses, the only one specifically mentioned in the New Testament as an evangelist was Philip (Acts 21:8) and we see him in action earlier in Acts 8:4 onwards, both preaching and operating in signs and wonders and seeing many turn to Christ. Paul also exhorted Timothy, do the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim 4:5 ). Now it has to be said that the apostles clearly operated as evangelists – bringing the gospel resulting in salvation – as they went out proclaiming Christ. At which point we have to wonder that perhaps evangelists are apostles without the wisdom, vision and authority, a simpler and more straight forward ministry of being more fruitful than most in drawing people to Christ. They also appear to have the ability to impart faith to God's people to likewise reach out with the gospel.


And So? These appear to be the primary instruments that God has used and continues to use in establishing His Church. So often, across the Church, if we are honest, we see an administrative hierarchy that are more known for their committees and the controlling influences, and simply maintaining the status quo rather than their pioneering energy that continues to ensure the gospel is brought to places where it would otherwise appear to be absent and, even more, it is brought to places where the gospel has come in the past but the life of the church has turned moribund, as continuing surveys of denominational numbers so often reveal. The truth is that where apostles, prophets and evangelists function, life flows, and church grows. Where they are absent, so often stagnation sets in and committees rule and the church resorts to social events to attract the starving crowds, rather than seeking God for the Christ appointed and Christ-anointed ministries that he has chosen, “to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”


The unity that is absent across the breadth of the Church, brought through history by men who were insecure and so divided off from others, is a sign of the absence of these ministries which were replaced in the early few centuries by men and institutions that were not Christ appointed and Christ-anointed. The tolerance of a powerless form of religion (1 Cor 4:20 “the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power .” and 2 Tim 3:5 “having a form of godliness but denying its power.” ) in so many places, is a similar sign, of the absence of such ministries moving under the power and direction of the head of the Church, Jesus Christ, seated at the Father's right hand. Let's pray for the Lord of the Church to send a resurgence of Eph 4:11,12 ministries. We need him and we need his power and we need his ministries – desperately!



The Wonder of the Church: Part 6 – Thinking about Leaders

41. Gifts of Ministries – to Build Up


Eph 4:11,12 Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up

1 Cor 12:27,28 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets , third teachers , then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues.


The Need: Where there are apostles and evangelists you have men who are constantly wanting to extend the boundaries of the kingdom and whose focus is not therefore, so much on the local church as going out to push the boundaries. That is understandable and right and where that heart starts rising in members of the local body, we should encourage that and not feel threatened by it, fearing we are going to lose ‘our best people'. Although I think there is value in the larger congregation meeting together from time to time, I confess I like Francis Chan's recent emphasis on small groups that look to build and send out leaders to create new groups (churches). The kingdom is extended by the present church being equipped and envisioned and empowered and then being sent out. Apostles and prophets, in particular encourage that. Pastors don't tend to have the same drive and therefore possibly fear that happening and fear constant change.


The Pastor: Pastor, in many parts of the world is synonymous with ‘main leader'. It is better to say it is synonymous with ‘shepherd' (and ‘elder' as we saw in an earlier study). Because we have covered this in some measure previously we only need to re-emphasise what we have said before. The role of the shepherd (pastor)-overseer-elder is to guard the flock and provide for the flock.


Guarding & Providing for the Flock: The role of guarding the flock comes first, I suggest, by teaching. Building knowledge and understanding in the new believer, is the starting place for creating strong believers. So guarding and providing become one and the same thing, teaching the Bible, emphasising the New Testament, and providing a framework of basic teaching that I suggested at the end of Study No.35. To save you going back there, that included:

•  how to feed on the word,

•  how to sense the presence of God,

•  how to come into a place of peace ‘in Christ' and ‘in the Spirit',

•  how to receive guidance,

•  the nature and character of the path we are called to walk,

•  how to empathise which those who mourn and weep (Rom 12:15),

•  how to stand and triumph in spiritual warfare,

•  what it means to be more than conquerors, seated with Christ.

I say, ‘that included' because should not be considered a comprehensive list of things to be taught, but certainly should be considered to be the basic foundation which inherently includes, who God is, who Jesus is, who the Spirit is, their characteristics and activities, who we are, our need for salvation, how it is received etc. etc.


Speaking about providing a framework of teaching is the positive aspect of building strong believers but there is also a negative side, that might be considered under the section on ‘spiritual warfare' (which we may get to cover later in this series) – teaching about false teaching and raising awareness of the variety of forms of deception that the enemy seeks to bring. This should also include becoming aware that over-emphasis sometimes seems to come as some believers suddenly start making unhealthy emphases which very soon starts to have a divisive nature to it. It is healthy that people show interest in various facets of the Churches broader ministry – concern for various ministries reaching out into the world – but unless such things fit the vision and heart of our local church community, they can be distractions that can cause division. Paul specifically warned the Ephesian elders about this in Acts 20:29-31.


The Pastor's Heart: If there is true heart of the shepherd, I believe the heart of the Pastor will constantly be yearning for the good of each and every member of the flock. Now we perhaps need to backtrack momentarily here and remind ourselves that shepherds-overseers-elders are one and the same in Paul's teaching, and that the norm is a plurality. Now this is not to say that every ‘elder' will have the same intensity of concern for the flock but I would suggest that all elders should have some concern. Some may have such a concern that it takes them into the realm of true counselling, but that is not necessarily true of all. That concern for the flock, should include in all elders, I suggest, a desire for each and every member of the body to grow and mature and enter into the fulness of the gifting that God has for them. This takes us to the other side of the coin, teachers.


Teachers: Now we have already seen that some elders, but not all, will have a teaching/preaching gift. Now that is what tends to take place in the presence of the entire congregation and by its very nature is Bible exposition and more general teaching. However, and we will take this as a separate subject in later studies, when Jesus taught he declared, “G o and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you,” (Mt 28:19,20) and whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing.” (Jn 14:12) The first level of teaching, I suggest, is imparting knowledge, conveying the expectations of the New Testament for the believer. The second level of teaching, I suggest, is imparting faith TO DO. This is done by explaining the possibilities (vision) and then encouraging people into it.


A very fundamental level of this teaching should include, for example, an understanding of prayer, including learning to listen to God and then minister in prayer, praying over others. Where faith is flowing this will include revelation in its various forms, but this is not something that happens naturally but needs teaching and teaching includes exampling, i.e. the leader is saying, “This is what you do, this is how you do it,” and then demonstrates it and leads others into doing it as well. This very practical outworking of teaching can be seen and applied in a variety of areas – in giving, in providing hospitality, in being an encourager, in being a Bible student, in being a faithful praying person, in healing and deliverance, in demonstrating spiritual gifts, and so on. The point that is being made, is that we are NOT called to create a body that is just full of information, but a people who know it and DO it. So great is this subject that we will devote a complete Part to it later on.


Boring Church: I quite often hear the complaint from those who are dropping out of church (meaning they are stopping being with the body regularly) that church is ‘boring'. If it is a constant week by week repetition of the same package that lacks the Spirit, that lacks life, then it is not surprising for that was not what the experience of a disciple with Jesus (in the Gospels), or subsequently a disciple led and empowered by the Spirit (in Acts) was. The completion of the canon of Scripture is not an excuse to say we no longer need the power of the Holy Spirit, but it is a challenge to respond to all that God has laid out for us there, entering into the wonder of this life. If we are not being led into this empowered, equipped and envisioned life, then it will be boring – and wrong! The apostles and prophets will be there in the background bring added impetus and helping overcoming blockages, but the main ongoing building work will come through the pastor-teacher.


Because such a vision (and remember all we are quoting is the New Testament teaching) can be daunting for one man, let's conclude by reminding ourselves that where there is a plurality of elders they will have different aspects of the same gifting, bringing out different strengths and compensating for different weaknesses. May we also add the vital ingredient of an elder-pastor-teacher-overseer that we noted in the earlier study on elders: Maturity is measured by obedience and availability and that is seen in the believer who is well-rounded in both character and service, one who does not merely ‘know' but ‘does'. The result? An alive church, and one that is certainly not boring



The Wonder of the Church: Part 6 – Thinking about Leaders

42. The Servants - Deacons


1 Tim 3:8 deacon s are to be worthy of respect…. They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacon s.

Rom 16:1 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae

Acts 6:3 choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom


   Who? What? Coming to the subject of ‘deacons' we are in an area that is, in some ways, unclear. A concordance or Bible dictionary will tell you that the Greek word diakonos occurs some thirty times in the New Testament as minister or servant and diakonia meaning ministry occurs a further seventy times. In Greek culture diakonos is a servant. Paul used it of himself as a servant (Col 1:23,25) It sometimes comes up as ‘serves' (e.g. 1 Pet 4:11) As a word it applies to Jesus (Mk 10:45) and in his teaching to every disciple (see Lk 22:26). So in one sense it is used generally to all believers. Having said that there are some features to be noted.


   Distinction: The translated Scriptures clearly differentiate between deacon and overseer, e.g. “To all God's holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons .” (Phil 1:1) Similarly in 1 Tim verses 1 to 7 are about overseers and then verses 8 to 13 are about deacons. Paul would not have covered the same people twice. What is interesting in the 1 Timothy passage on deacons is that initially (v.8-10) Paul makes no mention of men or women in the role and in fact then picks upon women in v.11 within the overall brief and then goes on to indicate men in v.12. The fact that in Rom 16:1 Paul indicates that there is a woman who is a deacon(ess) suggests that perhaps his first inclination was that deacons initially are likely to be men but that is not exclusive.


   Qualification: The only listing of qualifications comes in the 1 Timothy passage requires that they be people (we could imply men here) who are respected, honest, sober, and honest in business (again implying men) (v.8) and be clear and obvious committed Christians (v.9) whose background should be checked (v.10) before being allowed to serve. Women, who we may imply be included as deacons, should similarly be respected, not gossips, not extreme in any characteristic, and completely trustworthy (v.11). Following this there is the requirement for having a household free from dissension or upset, implying any form of immorality (esp. adultery) immediately rules out any such person (v.12).


   Example of Acts 6: The only time there is anything that might be considered an example or even a model for deacons is that seen in Acts 6 although the word is not used there. The situation arose where, because the church was looking after the needy and there tended to be a Jewish faction and a Greek faction who had not yet learned to live very well as one, the Greek group complained that they were not being cared for as in the way the Jewish group were. It is at this point that the apostles make an important distinction: “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables.” (v.2)


Distinction Again: These primary leaders clearly imply that there was a spiritual responsibility upon them to somehow ensure the ongoing growth and development of the Church through the means of spreading the word of God. When they speak of ‘waiting on tables,' it is not speaking of this service in any derogatory manner but distinguishing a practical service from the spiritual responsibility that they held. In all else we have considered in the studies on local leadership, it is legitimate to distinguish between the spiritual responsibilities of the elder-overseer-shepherd and the non-spiritual material serving the church in practical ways.


Importance & Significance: I am aware that it is often said that everything we do should be as unto God and should therefore be considered ‘spiritual' – and I agree – but the distinction here is between spiritual provision as we considered in the earlier studies, and material provision as we see here now in Acts 6. The fact that this is also to be considered a ‘spiritual function' (because it is before God and for the church) is enhanced by the requirement that these ‘servants' are to be known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom.” (v.3) The fact that there were to be seven of them indicates the importance the apostles gave to this – a plurality of deacons needed to care for the material well-being of the church which, as we've seen before, was a major characteristic of the early church. The apostles saw this as a significant ‘responsibility' and it thus enabled them to, give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word ,” (v.4) i.e. getting before the Lord, keeping close contact with him and fulfilling their mission from Jesus to, “be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth,” (Acts 1:8) and, “make disciples of (or from) all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Mt 28:19,20)


Let me ask a pertinent question in the light of what I have seen in church life for over fifty years: How many spiritual leaders are NOT fulfilling their calling because they still have their hand on the tiller of the material well-being of the church, instead of leaving it to Spirit-filled, godly, humble, servant-hearted men and women? That poses two further questions? Where are the deacons who fit that description, and where are the leaders who give themselves to the spiritual ministry we've described above?


So what do the ‘deacons' do? Perhaps more to the point is what do the elders do and whatever else needs doing to ‘run' the church? With that thought in mind I am going to stop and pick up this thread in the next study, the final one in this Part on leadership of the church.

The Wonder of the Church: Part 6 – Thinking about Leaders

43. Nature of the Church (2)


1 Cor 12:27 Now you are the body of Christ , and each one of you is a part of it.


So what? In this final study on Leadership, I want to try to bring together some of the things we've said so far and see where they lead us. I want to start by picking up the thread from the previous study about deacons. Now even before I go there, may I simply testify to an experience I've had when I was leading as an elder and retired. The greatest sense that I had when I stepped down and retired was relief that I was no longer ‘running' a church. This was some years ago and I have thus had time to ponder on that. As much as I led a charismatic and (we would have said) a Spirit-led church, we had never broken free from organised ‘services'. Now I realise I am about to move onto shaky ground for many here, and the larger the church the shakier it will be, because the more people you have the more they expect an organised service that blesses them, and I have never yet found a local church that risks stepping out without structure. Bear with me, I may not end up where you think!


Years ago I had someone in the church who wanted us to approach every Sunday morning without any preparation except prayer. He and I discussed this at length. Brethren friends suggested their experience was that although that was the intent of their meetings, in reality the lead was always taken by the same people and in reality it was no freer than any other church meeting. Pentecostal churches I have known have been just as structured and hidebound as any other church. Those of you who come from liturgical backgrounds may wonder whatever I am talking about and wherever I am going.


Spirit Led? Let's put it in the context of much of what we have said earlier in these studies when we talked about the Holy Spirit, life and trying to get back to basics. I think I probably said this before, but compare life with Jesus with our current traditional approaches to meeting together. Now yes, I am aware that Jesus went to the synagogue and then to the Temple to celebrate the feasts but also bear in mind two things he taught. First, God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” (Jn 4:24) Be honest, can that happen with a fixed liturgy? (and so called Free-churches may not have it written down but are usually as predictable). What does worship “in the Spirit and in truth” mean? The Message version puts it well: “the Father is out looking for those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship. God is sheer being itself—Spirit. Those who worship him must do it out of their very being , their spirits, their true selves, in adoration.” It means no pretence, no putting on a show, no going on what someone else has written, but what our heart and mind pour out in His presence.


But let's pick up some of the other things we have hinted at along the way. A church that has a fixed liturgy cannot respond to the directing of the Holy Spirit who may want to come and bring revelation, or healing or deliverance to God's people when they meet together. Liturgical churches either have to pause the liturgy to make space for God to move and make space after the liturgy. Please don't hear me wrongly; liturgy can be very beautiful and may be the one time the truths of the faith are regularly declared by the people of God, and in those senses can be a great addition to the experience of the church, but if it means there is no openness to the moving of the Spirit to bring guidance, direction, revelation and so on, we are not only demonstrating a very poor example of what the church can be, but we are failing to reveal to visitors the powerful presence of the living God.


Leaders? But, I hear someone complaining, I thought this was all about leadership? But it is. How we ‘do' church is down to leaders. In an earlier study I listed a number of reasons why we don't accept change but persuading the church to catch the vision of the ‘better' that God has for us, is the responsibility of leaders. As we saw, where there are apostles and prophets exercising their ministry, there will be this ongoing motivating and driving force, but in the absence of such ministries, it is down to the elders-overseers-shepherds to do the motivating. The enemy will constantly be seeking to thwart change and so there will be a spiritual battle which will be overcome by prayer and preaching and teaching. Those are the three primary tools that God uses to mature and develop His people. Very well, let's look at these three, demonstrated by the leaders.


Preaching: Put most simply, preaching is the declaring of the truths of the Bible so that the intellect is informed and the will challenged. But preaching has to be a faith exercise, a declaration of the truths that God has spoken into the hearts of the preacher as he has waited on his Lord. What a difference there is between sitting down and concocting a neatly packaged three point sermon that has been arrived at by hours of striving, and a message (which may have three points!) that has come from waiting in God's presence and is stirred by the heart of God in the heart of a preacher who is convinced that the Bible is the vital inspired word of God and the Gospel is the power of God that brings salvation.” (Rom 1:16) God's redemptive saving process is brought through the application of the power of the word of God. Lives change, the church grows and matures, and the world will be impacted.


Teaching: Put most simply, teaching is the expounding the truths of the Bible to provide a foundation of belief and faith on which the believer's life is founded, strengthened and built up. The more we spend time in God's word, the more we study it, the more we seek the Lord to understand it, the more confident we will be as to the veracity of the whole book. The more we do this, the more we may find there are things we have accepted in the past, because traditionally the church has accepted it thus, but are not as we have previously thought. One of the challenges that seems to be rippling through the modern church is the difference between trying to scare people into the kingdom and trying to woo people into the kingdom. There is a delicate balance between the two that can only be resolved by a strong knowledge of the whole Bible and an openness to the Spirit's teaching. There is a constant battle, not only to proclaim the truth, but how we are to proclaim the truth. Many modern believers only tolerate a twenty or twenty-five minute weekly sermon, but that may be because of the quality of what has been put before them. Seeking God, catching God's heart, catching the wonder of the truth, all these things will contribute to the leader being able to feed the flock in ways that leave them going, “Yes! And more please!”.


Prayer: If you find a ‘leader' for whom prayer is not of vital importance, I question whether you have a spiritual leader. Where leaders do not demonstrate that by pausing up in the presence of God, pausing to recognise the one to whom we speak, yet taking any and every opportunity to pause the activities of the people of God and come to the One in whose name it is all being done, then it is likely that there will be a shallowness in the people of God and a vulnerability to enemy attack.


Back to the Service: I suggested earlier that leaders are responsible for how the church goes about meeting, worshipping etc., and raised the question of how we can allow the Spirit of the Lord to have space, and the struggles we have in seeking to walk a path between over-organising our services and under-planning them. The first produces sterile performances and the second can produce a shambles. So is there something between? The key, I suggest, might be summed in the adage, “Planned but flexible and open to change.”


Planned and Flexible? In other words, although there is a general idea – formulated while waiting upon the Lord beforehand – of where the service is going (and this may include the worship leaders having an idea of what music is wanted, and the preacher having a structured sermon to deliver, and maybe a variety of other things to be gone through – the infamous ‘Notices' of which a book could be written, possibly a set time of prayer etc.), the role of the leaders becomes more and more to be listeners to the Spirit so that at any time there can be a change of direction etc. The worship team may suddenly sense the manifest presence of God and either pause up to appreciate His presence or may direct a perhaps quieter, more reverent worship time, and times may be given for the releasing of prophetic words and subsequent prayer ministry.


Here there needs to be a flexibility and wisdom as to how to administer such times so that the majority of the people are not mere spectators. Having space at the back for people to respond to such words and to go to receive prayer ministry, enables the time to proceed without the majority sitting a little bored. It is in such situations that certain words become highly applicable. For example our starting verse: “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” (1 Cor 12:27) In other words, we need to release gifting in each and every member so a ‘service' is not merely a time for out-front participation by the leading few, but the whole body be encouraged to learn to listen to God and participate with whatever He gives. This is down to the leaders to bring about in the long-term training of the body of Christ. There is also, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Eph 5:21) Yes, I know Paul is going to expound on family relationships, but doesn't it apply well here as well? Failing to be aware of one another and, I suggest, encourage all to be part of the active body, was part of Paul's corrective words to the church at Corinth (see 1 Cor 11)


And so? So much to think about. What sort of church do we want, or more to the point, what sort of church does the Lord want? Much to think about, much to pray about. Dare we become something far more glorious that we know at the present, and something that is definitely not boring, but is instead life-bringing and life-transforming, as His revelation and His power is released in our midst to His glory. Amen? Amen!