An Equipping Church

Sixth in the Series “A Church Without Walls”
Delivered June 20, 2004 by Rev. John Schmidt.

See also CPC Distinctives – Our Vision – A Church Without Walls.

Sermon Text:
Ephesians 4:7-16

Sermon Notes are at the end.

To remind us a little bit of what we have been doing across the past few weeks… We have been doing a sermon series on the vision of the church, which is to be a church without walls, and so we have been talking a lot about this and we’ve been focusing week by week on what it means to be a place where every individual member realizes that their life out in the city, in the workplace, in their neighborhood, in their family, that this is the real front line of what God is doing in the world, that what we do when we gather together here is special celebration and special equipping and support and encouragement, but the real work happens in your daily life. And that we want to be a church that kind of gathers around that idea and helps do everything we can as a church to equip you to be that kind of Christian.

And so today we are talking about the final part of the vision statement, which says that we want to be an equipping church. Now this is an important part of the whole vision of the church because being an equipping church, being this kind of church, a church without walls is a different sort of attitude about the church. People very often think about the church being the place that you come to and to kind of being synonymous with the building and the grounds and to look at the church differently is a fairly big change from business as usual. And one of the areas it is most particularly different is in the area of leadership. And so, we need to talk a little bit about this issue of leadership and service.

So many Christians have this idea that pastors or missionaries are some sort of different species of Christian. Homospiritualis instead of homosapians, that we have something special about us. We have a special call or we have a special desire, a special urge to do things spiritual that other normal people don’t need to have. In fact, you can’t have it because you are not of our species. Now it’s surprising how many people carry this sort of idea around with them. And so, if they are the special Christians, then they are the ones that are supposed to get the special training and do all the things necessary to do what we call ministry. And so they do all these special forms of service to God and that means that our idea of Christianity is that we merely need to be more moral in the way we behave, that we need to come to church and acknowledge God that is real in certain ways in our lives and that we pay a certain amount of money to the church so that we can support these professional types and then we basically just go on with life as usual. Now, is that your idea of Christian life? And more importantly, is that a biblical idea of the Christian life? What if God had more for you? What if becoming a Christian meant that God set you apart to do some really amazing and special things in the world? Do you feel ready to do that?

Now it’s easy to have the kind of idea I have been talking about, where you only have a few special people doing all the work. It’s easy to have that kind of idea because the church hasn’t been a whole lot of help in helping us develop a more biblical idea. But think about if McDonald’s acted like the church. One out of fifteen people in the country have had a first job at McDonald’s. One out of ten eat there every day, at least three years ago. They are the largest landowner in the United States apart from the US government and the Roman Catholic Church. But what if they worked like the church? Walk with me into this McDonald’s. First of all there is a long line of people waiting and the line isn’t moving very fast and as you get a little closer you realize the reason that it’s not moving fast is because the only person moving behind the counter is the manager. Now the manager is running back and flipping over burgers and then making sandwiches, then bagging them, running up to the front greeting the customers, taking the change and all the while the other members of the McDonald’s staff stand back there and applaud occasionally. “Good job.” But as the line gets longer and the waiting gets longer the people in the line start getting frustrated and then some of the people start to leave the line. ‘Heck, we will go to Burger King.” And when they start to leave all of sudden the person who’s doing all the busy work, the manager, starts getting all kinds of helpful criticism from both the people who are waiting in line. “Can’t you do something more differently? Can’t you speed up?” But they also start getting some helpful criticism from the staff. Instead of applauding now, they are saying, “You know, if you just shake the bag it would open faster.” It’s a ludicrous idea. The whole reason that McDonald’s works is it mobilizes everybody and everybody knows what their part is. It might not seem like a meaningful part, but every part is necessary for things to happen.

Well the church hasn’t been very good at helping us understand ministry in this sort of fashion. Its been very easy across the years to view pastors as being very different or missionaries as being very different than normal Christians and so for example, one of the ways that this comes up is the word “ministry”. Now that’s a spooky word, a churchly word. What does ministry mean? When you look back in the New Testament all the word “ministry” means is a form of service. That’s all ministry means. Ministries are various forms of service. So you could take the word ministry and every time the word ministry is there just put service, because that is all that it means. Now there are times it might be handy to have the word ministry so we have a shorthand that we know it means Christian service, but it just means service. Another word we throw around is this word laity or laymen. And all that word means is the people. Laity are the people. And a layman or a lay person is simply a normal person. But the problem is we use this specifically to emphasize the difference between laity and pastors and missionaries. So for example it is often used in the sentence, “I can’t do that I am a layman.” It’s used as the barrier and again the church is at fault for helping us think in these sorts of terms. For example, it was in 1867 that an advisor to Pope Pius the 10th wrote this.

“What is the province of the laity, to hunt, to shoot, to entertain.” It must have been rich laity, okay? These things they understand but to meddle with ecclesiastical affairs they have no right at all.”

Here are the problems of the church. Normal people have no right at all, so it’s the priests that are supposed to get together and make all the decisions. Everybody else stands clear and do what you normal people do. Now just a generation ago it wasn’t a whole lot better in the Protestant church. In the Protestant church at many churches, the whole idea was that a faithful good Christian basically, prayed, paid and obeyed. Pray, pay and obey. In other words, a good Christian is somebody who acknowledges God is in the world and so you say grace before meals, you pray before bedtime and at special church meetings. And then, in addition, you try to live a moral life. Obey the things that you are starting to learn about God and then you pay the church to hire staff to do all the really important things. Now that doesn’t mean that there weren’t a lot of people who volunteered their time, but this whole idea of volunteering was that you do the background little things because the important things that involve face to face contact or involve sharing things about the gospel, that is something that only those special people can do. I can’t do that. It’s a very different mindset about the church. But is that biblical? I don’t think so. And so one of the things that churches all over the nation and all over the world have been recovering is a biblical sense of what the members do. And so I would like to focus on that a little bit by looking into the scripture in Ephesians 4.

So let’s pray. Lord we thank you for this word. We thank you for this time together and we pray now that you help us. Help us to hear whatever you need to say to each one of us today. It might be a slightly different message to each of us, but speak to us and help us to hear. For we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Let me read to you Verses 11 to 16 from Ephesians 4. We are talking about God.

“It was he who gave some to be Apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists and some to be pastors and teachers. To prepare God’s 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. Then we will no longer be infants tossed back and forth by the waves and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men and their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up in to him who is the head that is Christ. From him the whole body joined and held together by every supporting ligament grows and builds itself up in love as each part does its work.”

Ephesians 4, Paul begins this chapter by saying, “I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” So that means that the words we just read and the other words in Chapter 4 through the end are all talking about how do you then live if you have been called by God, forgiven, given a whole new kind of life in fellowship with him. How then should you live? And so in Chapters 4 and 5 there is all kinds of things that talk about our morality, talk about our relationships with one another, how we should treat each other and that’s important because we are one body. We are a Body in the church. And that means that we are all interconnected. We are all indwelled by the same Holy Spirit. We are all called to the same future and we are all part of Gods same mission in this world. Together. Not only this body, but all true Christian churches throughout the world. We are one Body. And so that means the capacity to cultivate good relationships together and hold to that unity, is an essential component of what it means to be a Christian. And so Paul talks a lot about unity in these early verses in Chapter 4.

But then in Verse 7, which is right before what we read today he starts talking about our dissimilarities, but “to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.” There are several words there that start to emphasize that they are differences among us and then in Verse 16 in today’s passage, it says “from him the whole body”, again this body image, “joined and held together by every supporting ligament”, starting to focus on this issue of difference, “grows and builds itself up in love as each part does its work.” So it’s a body and its comprised of parts that are very different from one another. But each one of these parts has an essential role in the body accomplishing what God has called it to do.

Now just about everybody over 40 years old or so has had some kind of knee problems. And when you have knee problems, think about it. It kind of affects your whole life. It affects your whole body. Everything seems to ache. You can’t get around as well. You can’t do things as fast and sometimes it doesn’t even seem that you can think as fast, because you are always sort of paying attention to not getting your knee banged up more. One part fails and the whole life limps along. And so one of the questions that you need to ask yourself is, do you even know what your role as a part of the body of Christ is? And are you eagerly trying to pursue fulfilling the calling that God has given you? With feedback from other people about what you do well and what you don’t do well, with spiritual gifts inventories. It doesn’t matter. There is a bunch of different ways that we find this out, but are you even pursuing it, because if you are not then in some kind of way the body is limping along, because every part needs to do its work, because growth internally and externally comes as each part does its work. And so that means that for the body to grow numerically each part needs to do its part. For the body to grow in depth and spirituality it means that you need more than just a preacher and a few elders and others doing ministry. It means that each of us have a role in helping the body deepen so that it won’t fall into error, so that it won’t be blown here and there, so that it will be joined together and built up and so you have an essential part.

Now if this is the view of what is going on in this body, that there’s a body with parts that have different gifts and different contributions and that each one needs to make that for the body to grow and mature, then that means that the leaders have some specific roles. Let’s take a look at Verse 11 in particular. “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists and some to be pastors and teachers.” Now that sounds like the professional Christian list, teachers, pastors, evangelists, apostles which were similar in some ways to what we view as pioneering missionaries. So these are the professional Christians. So if we were going to write this verse in the old church mindset we would say, “God has given apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers to build up the body of Christ and to do its work.” But it doesn’t say that. It says that God has given all of these special rules to prepare God’s people for works of service so that the body of Christ may be built up. So that means that leadership in the church is an equipping style leadership, that we are here to help you get something done in the world. That God has called you to something special and as leaders we are here to help make sure that has every possibility of happening in your life. And so that’s a different kind or different mindset about leadership.

But that’s what we mean when we talk about this church being an equipping church, the final part of our vision. It says that we want to be servant leaders who raise up other servant leaders. That means that we need to help people in certain ways. The first way is maturity and that’s what we talked about last week. That in order for us to bear fruit as a congregation and as individual Christians, we have to mature, we have to grow in this essential connection to Jesus Christ and so we need other Christians to help us with that in small groups. We need classes to help us understand the scripture better, special seminars, conferences, and worship on Sunday. There are all kinds of things that feed together to help us make progress in this essential issue of maturity and we talked about a lot of that last week. But another way is that we have to help the church with its mindset. In other words, your self-understanding and your world view. We need to be place that encourages each of us to see ourselves as ministers or as servants of God. Remember that word “ministry” just means service. So that means that each of us are called to service. Each of us are ministers called to ministry. And so we need to be the kind of place that helps people struggle with what that means in their world. We are people that are called to be part of a big plan, a big purpose that God has in the world and with the gifts and the grace of God given to us, we individually can really make a difference.

Right now we have an evangelism candle here and I can light it this morning, not because I did anything, not because any of our missionaries did anything, not because any of our elders or deacons did anything. One regular member of this church went and prayed for somebody because they were sick and as they were there praying that God would be gracious and would heal them, they got the opportunity to share the gospel to three people who accepted Christ. A church without walls. The ministry was done out there by one of you. That’s what we want to be all about and we’ve got to have the mindset that this candle can be lit because of something we do, and that people can be built up in their faith because of something we do, that this city can change, that the schools can change, that lives can change because of things that we do.

Mindset. How do you envision yourself as being a Christian? You know your particular contribution might seem unimportant, but there are no unimportant things in the kingdom of God. If the God who created the whole universe in all of its complexity has called us into a living relationship with himself and has enlisted us to be agents of his in the world, then that means that the things that seem so little and unimportant still have eternal significance and deep importance because God is using me as part of a bigger picture. It doesn’t have to be quite as visible as this to be important. Are you engaged in whatever it is that God’s calling you to do?

Since God has gifted us for service and called us to use those gifts of service, the third area the church needs to help us is in building the skill set of people who are involved in ministry. Because our skills and our experience do matter in ministry. That’s why to a certain extent age helps us in ministry because there are things we have already failed at and we’ve learned from that and we come at it differently now. Skills are important and so we need to be a church that helps us to develop those skills. So is it the skill of leading a small group, we need to be a place that helps people with that. Is it learning how to share our faith? Is it learning more how to pray, how to pray for certain sorts of things? Is it learning how to use media to support what happens in worship and teaching at this church? There are all kinds of areas where we can build our skills and we need this to be this sort of place that helps people build those skills, whether they are the technical ones or the ones that seem so spiritual, because you, each one of you is gifted by God. Each one of you by God’s grace will continue to grow in Christ and anyone who is growing in Christ and gifted by Christ is essential to what God is doing in the world.

So what are your gifts? Where do you serve right now or where do you want to serve? And I am not just talking about here inside the building, in the church building. I am talking about there, out there in the world where the worlds needs rub up against your gifts from God. Where do you serve? Wherever it is, whatever you are doing, we want to be the kind of church that helps you with that, but we need help. Help us to be the kind of church where nothing will stand in the way of your growth and your service to Christ. We want to be a church without walls, an equipping church and ultimately whatever label we put on it, we want to be a church that brings joy to the heart of God.

Let’s pray. Gracious God, we thank you for your work in our lives. We thank you for the fact that you have gifted each one of us to be a part: it might be a voice, it might be musical talent, it might be a concern for prayer, it might be technical ability, ability to lead small groups, be a good listener or counselor, be someone who is good at yard work and fixing things. Lord, there are so many different gifts, skills and strengths you want to use in us. Whatever they are Lord, help us to take next steps in being obedient people and so bring joy to you and honor to the name of Christ. For its in his name that we pray. Amen.

Sermon Outline Notes:

“What is the province of the laity? To hunt, to shoot, to entertain. These things they understand, but to meddle with ecclesiastical affairs they have no right at all…” (Advisor to Pope Pious X , 1867)
A Good Christian: Prays, Pays, and Obeys (the old way of thinking)
Ephesians 4:
A Body
With Parts
That grows (inwardly and outwardly)
“Some” are given “to prepare God’s people for works of service”
An Equipping Church:
Skill set