I know of no local congregation, with a vibrant life in Christ, which does not engage in many activities designed to instruct their people. Bible Studies, small group fellowships, programs of one sort or another, the variety is extensive. The question I ask is this: Are all these activities effectively equipping the congregation to serve Christ Jesus well? Are the men and women sitting under these things becoming the disciples the Lord Jesus clearly describes in the New Testament? Or have they become used to, trained in fact, to being perpetual students of the words and thoughts of their earthly teachers and guides?
Recently a woman, raised in the church, came to me in her seventieth year and asked to be discipled so as to be able to disciple another. The request was both a joy and an occasion of sorrow. Seven decades! Of course I will help her, and by God’s grace she will have a significant impact on the lives of other women as long as she lives. But the remedial work will probably be slow. She had a fine career, and I doubt not that her love and faith were used by God in the lives of many. But I cannot help but grieve at what might have been.
To be equipped for ministry. That is how the apostle Paul describes it. (Eph 4:12)The apostle Peter says equipped to be “good stewards of God’s varied grace.” (I Peter 4:10) Both are describing the same reality. The people of God are to be using the gifts and talents, the experiences of their lives as followers of Jesus, to be serving the Lord in his church. It is the irreplaceable locus of their discipleship, but it is not for the purpose of institutional survival. The purpose for equipping all God’s people is that they equip others. Thus they build up the body of Christ. Thus they help the kingdom of God to spread on the earth.
Various attempts have been made to enumerate all the various gifts and ministries that are explicitly mentioned in the Scriptures. Some say twenty-three, some twenty-seven. What surely matters most of all is that the gifts anyone possesses, by the Creator’s first touch in the womb, by the experience in life God has granted, or by the direct impartation of the Holy Spirit, are used to glorify God and build up his church.
When I first heard these biblical truths taught, I was in a classroom, and so I established classes to teach these things. To my chagrin, the classroom did not convey what I desired to convey. The classroom taught people to want more classes. It taught them that they needed to know more to be “good Christians.” It taught them that it was alright to pass a lifetime in the church, always learning but never sharing fully in the ministry of Christ Jesus. When finally I saw my error, and cried out to the Lord for guidance to make a difference, he answered my plea. The people of God must be the ones who pass this on in their lives, not in the classroom. That is what was missing.
Next Week: Actually Sent?