Moving Your Church Through Growth Barriers (5)
Christianity is not a spectator sport. Australians know what it means to be a spectator. And Australians are not unique in this. Sport is big business and attracts huge crowds to stadiums. What typically happens is that you have a few players on the field who are active participants in the sporting event, be it Cricket, Soccer, Rugby, or the like. The rest are spectators and they come in the tens of thousands to watch these events. They might cheer on a player or a team, but for the most part, they simply watch; they are spectators.
But church life is not about sitting back in a comfortable pew and watching a few people on stage perform ministry. Church life is about fully participating in the ‘game’, engaging in Christian ministry. And this applies to not just a few paid professionals; it applies to all followers of Christ. If you want your church to break through growth barriers, then spectators have to be recruited, trained, and released into ministry. The percentage of active participants in ministry is one of the strongest indicators of church health and vitality and it points to a church’s growth potential.
Now when we speak about ministry we are not talking primarily about ‘serving the church’. The goal in the Christian life is not about doing stuff in or for the church. If you are a Christian you are the church. Now there are those in the church using their spiritual gifting but God has placed them there to prepare God’s people for ministry, for service. The Bible put it like this: “And God gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ …” (Ephesians 4:11-12) If you are serving the church by using your gifts, this ministry is to help the whole body be engaged in ministry. I have seen it before, and perhaps you have as well. There is a sign in front of church with the name of their pastor(s), but underneath you read: ministers – everybody! One would just hope that this signage translates into reality in the life of the congregation.
For a church to move through growth barriers we must overcome the idea that gospel ministry is about serving in a cross culture, most likely across some ocean, in some distant place. Ministry also is not limited to what doing something on the stage Sunday morning, or serving on a committee, or as a Sunday school or youth group leader. The culture of the church needs to move to an every member ministry – where ministry is not just something ‘professional’ ministers do, but ministry is the responsibility of all. All Christ followers are called to be a ministers in their own place and time, beginning in their homes, and beyond that in every area of their lives. The church provides training, tools, and experiences to prepare and help people be engaged is kingdom work 7 days a week, 24 hours of the day. This might mean helping people to equip others, but it ultimately means helping people be salt and light in their homes, neighbourhoods, workplaces, schools, wider community, and for some, going to serve overseas.
This every-member ministry of the church will require at least a couple strategic shifts in the life and ministry of the church. First, the church will have a clear discipleship strategy that is focused on preparing God’s people for works of serving/ministry. It is not enough for the church to assist people to come to faith in Christ, be baptised and/or make public their profession of faith. If that is the extent of discipleship, then what we have created is simply a crowd of spectators, consumers that look to be fed and entertained. The church needs to raise its game! People who come to faith need to be developed in knowledge and prepared for ministry. Those gifted to equip others will assist the whole church be prepared for a lifetime of Christian ministry.
Another shift is required. The church needs to see ministry as happening primarily outside the parameters of a Sunday worship service and/or the church building. The church understands that it exists for God’s glory and his mission. This mission is to all people, to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). So the goal of all the equipping and preparing of God’s people is not to get people to serve the church, but to serve God’s mission in the world. The question asked of people is not whether or not they are involved in some ministry in the church; the question asked is whether or not they are serving God’s mission, being ministers of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18) in all areas of their life! Church might prepare people for ministry, but then they are sent out to serve, to be witnesses, and through Word and deed expand the gospel impact in their spheres of influence.
This focus on full participation of all Christians in ministry is part of the Protestant Reformation some scholars maintain still needs to fully realised: the priesthood of all believers! If one studies Scripture you discover that God’s original intent was all of his people be a kingdom of priests. God instructed Moses to tell the people of Israel: “…you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.' (Exodus 19:5-6) All the people were to serve; they would be a priesthood of all believers. Moses declared his desire that all of God’s people would be filled with the Holy Spirit and engage in prophetic ministry: “But Moses replied, "Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the LORD's people were prophets and that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!" (Numbers 11:29)
What happened? Well, if you follow the Biblical story you read how the people of Israel rebelled against God and the priesthood was restricted to the Levites, to Aaron and his family (see Exodus 28). But the story was not complete. Continue on in God’s story of redemption, his-story (history), after Christ’s life, death, and resurrection all believers are once again called to be priests: “As you come to him, the living Stone--rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him-- you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:4-5) The cross made all the difference. The priesthood is not restricted to certain people, but all believers. God poured out his Spirit on all people (Read Acts 2:14ff). The church is a spirit-filled priesthood, holy and set-apart for God’s service.
This Biblical truth of the priesthood of all believers culminates in the final pages of the Bible in John’s prologue to Revelation, where we read: “To [Jesus Christ] who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father--to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.” (Revelation 1:5-6) The purchase of our redemption through the blood of Christ resulted in the church being made to be a kingdom of priests to serve God and his mission in this world.
Hence Christianity is not a spectator sport! Every believer is a participant. Every believer is a minister of the gospel. Every believer is called to serve. The church is a priesthood of all believers. For churches to break through growth barriers, this Biblical truth, reemphasized in the Reformation, needs to be fully realised!