Slow and Steady
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…
One of the curious consequences of Church in the past 100 years is the deemphasis on the congregation fulfilling their calling as Christians in the world. Between professional church ministries (youth, children’s, event-based ministries all run by church staff, etc.) and the isolationism of how we live life (in homes blissfully ignorant of even our neighbors), any individual can easily feel content enough not doing much. And somehow, we’ve found tons of things to fill in our spare moments even though we have all this technology making life easier (washing the laundry, for instance, is a lot easier and takes up a lot less time.) In other words, we’ve been trained into thinking the church’s ministries keep things going, and an individual can be meaningfully involved just by attending.
You all know me, and I hope you realize we’ve attempted to move away from this kind of thinking slowly but surely, and hopefully permanently. I’ve been reviewing a few books I’ve read over the years that I’ve appreciated, and one phrase stood out to me today, ‘The mobilization of ordinary Christians.’ This has been something of a burden for me as your pastor. Our natural state for one reason or another has been immobilized, and my goal has been to awaken you to a simple, faithful, and regular ministry of God’s word where God’s put you in the world. The job of your pastors is to equip you to do this ministry. The job of your pastors is to actually not do all the work for you but instead to lead you to this simple ministry. This is a difficult thing, because as pastors, it’s easy to just do everything, to make everything happen, to save the world through our efforts alone. And by the way some famous preachers of yesteryear were advertised, it seems as though it was actually the supernatural work of the preacher who built such and such church. That’s not true, but the way the image of any of the famous preachers of the 20th century were shared, it made it seem like, for instance, Rick Warren built Saddleback (he of course also just said that he did it all too).
But I’m afraid that this is all just a shade hiding in plain sight. Yes, it looks like one man built this or that empire of a church, but it was the work of many hands. And this also denies the fact that God is the one who works good for those who love him. It neglects the truth that God sends rain on the just and unjust. It neglects the fact that God raises up and tears down kingdoms. And maybe we could add churches. At the end of the day, a church built on the labors of one man is shallow work. First, because it implies the dereliction of duty: the pastors of that church should have been equipping the saints. Second, because it denies the true means that God uses to build the church: through his Spirit and word.
But in the slow and steady work of any church, the pastors ought to humbly be laboring to equip the saints for the work of the ministry. It’s a patient work. It’s a work where we pastors won’t fully see the fruit of our labors. We’ll see glimmers here and there, the glory of humble maturity shining out here and there. But the labor is one that continually denies simply finding a program to fix it, and instead leaves room for the members to meet the challenge of fulfilling the work of the ministry in a way that uses the gifts they have. This pastoral labor expects the members to step up and see that it’s actually their neighbor, their co-worker, their friend who is lost and in need of a savior and not just the generic 50% of people who report not going to church every Sunday in a Barna study. This pastoral labor is one that equips the congregation to see the cultural problems in their own hearts versus the random problem our discernment blogs have told us are the real issue. This pastoral mobilization, although it is slow in gathering steam, has the potential to bear excellent fruit that endures, and it has the potential to bear cascading fruit that keeps coming like a well-attended garden. And I think this is where I have seen each of you all make progress, and where I pray you continue to make progress wherever you go. Do not neglect yourselves then, to take up this equipment, and don’t neglect to keep taking the next step toward faithfulness wherever God puts you.