Being the Church: The Church as a Ministry Community
The tension between merely going to church and "being the church" is growing among those in the know about what it means to be a Christian. You may have seen the meme or heard some pastor give a rousing call-to-action for you to BE the CHURCH! Perhaps you have even stopped to ponder what being the church looks like and what exactly that entails. The only way for people to "be the church" is for a group of people to constantly be becoming a worshipping community that responds to the presence of God in every avenue of their life. This doesn't mean we (always) break out in church-music flash mobs, but it does mean that we are always striving to provide ministry to those who are in closest proximity to us at any given time.
The term ministry has become so closely aligned with the idea of pulpit or stage ministry that the people of God have become detached from their calling to minister to the lives of others. To many pew-dwellers, the only person allowed to "minister" is the "Minister" - the one who is paid to do all things considered "ministry." American's feel the need to go to specialists in almost every area of life. As a result, certain types of ministry must only be done by those who are trained well. In the area of preaching, counseling, church-music leading and others, the people have evacuated their callings to serve because they would rather leave it to the specialist. This attitude has led to spongitude, that is, a spiritually lazy consortium who only "worships" in ways that make them feel better about themselves.
But what of the blessed spiritual gifts that Paul and Peter wrote about? The gifts that were distributed to the entire church? Listen to Peter's instruction:
"Each one should use whatever gifts he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's Grace in its various forms."
If each Christian has been given spiritual gifts to serve others and to faithfully administer God's grace to others, then we are all, in reality, ministers of the gospel. There are about 20 spiritual gifts that each Christian has some combination of. That provides many, many ways, for every member of every local congregation to minister to those who are in the closest proximity to them. The use of Spiritual gifts is always ministry, and ministry is always an act of worship because worship is always the obedient response to the presence of God in a given situation. Our culture and our context supply the bulk of these "given situations" in which we are to respond. The ministry of the church is therefore specifically tied to a specific community or culture.
The Ministries of the Church
There are five specific ministries that every church should have. This does not mean that all of these ministries require paid staff positions nor does this mean that this list of five is exclusive or exhaustive. These are, in my opinion, the five ministries that every Empty Church must have. Tap to expand each section.
+ Ministry of Biblical Teaching
Yes, every Church must teach its people what the Bible says and how to adequately and accurately apply it to their lives. The primary method of delivery has always been the monologue-driven sermon or homily. The sermon is often supplemented by Bible studies, Sunday Schools, personal devotions, Scripture memorization, and the praying and reciting of specific Bible passages.
The sermon's primary position in the church service can tempt believers to conclude that Bible studies and personal devotions are not necessary. The attitude devolves into the idea that a sermon-per-week will make the devil bleak...or something like that. Homilies have short shelf lives. They are nothing more than a seed to be planted in the heart of the hearer. The fruit of the sermon, or the life-changing results, are brought forth from the nourishment of the Holy Spirit and the dedicated effort of the Christian to supply the seed with the correct natural environment for it to grow. What is the best environment for the seed of the Word to grow? A Christian life that studies, prays, ministers, and serves his neighbors in the highest attitude of worship. That is a 24/7 assignment.
Dr. David Powlison provides some insight as to why a Christian must not solely rely on the sermon for spiritual growth,
"Imagine if we asked a group of people, “Free-associate to the word rainbow,” and every person came up with “red, orange, and yellow.” Important things are obviously missing, like green, blue, and violet! Similarly, if in our thought experiment, we mainly mention preaching-oriented words, we also miss something very important. In the Bible itself, “ministry of the Word” and “proclamation of the gospel” are not exclusively (or even primarily) portrayed as what we think of as a sermon from the pulpit on Sunday morning. Sometimes the Bible portrays Word and gospel coming via one-way communication. But often it portrays two-way conversations. Grace and truth are ministered in the spontaneous give-and-take of talking, doing"
Powlison, David. Speaking Truth in Love: Counsel in Community (pp. 103-104). New Growth Press. Kindle Edition.
Sean often reminds us, if you are going to stake your life on the Christian message, you better know what it actually says. A church without Biblical teaching is like an arrow without a bow and without a target. There is nothing to propel the Christian forward and there is no destination to where the Christian should be traveling. Without the ministry of the Biblical Teaching there is little point to going to Church, but the ministry of Biblical teaching comes to us in more ways than just the sermon.
+ Ministry of Biblical Counseling
Another ministry that has been given over to the specialist is that of Biblical counseling. We are in an ever-increasing psychologized society. We used to turn to friends for advice and help, now we turn to specialist authors that write "self-help" books. We turn to others so we can help ourselves - let the irony of that sink in...
Good Biblical counseling is essential to positive Christian growth. Finding hope in difficulty, finding strength in weakness, grasping redemption in the midst of personal destruction, and the ails of frail humanity are just some of the reasons that we need the ministry of Biblical counseling. There will never be a single Christian alive that won't need counseling at one point or another. So, is this a call for all Christians to become professional licensed counselors?
I cannot overstate the importance of professionally educated and trained counselors. Without the help of these men and women, I would not be writing these words. Certainly there may be a call to devote some Christians to the vocational service of counseling and I pray that all who feel that call pursue with a worshipful passion. But the work of the licensed counselor is only a part of the rainbow. There is still more missing.
The counsel of a friend rejoices the heart. A professional counselor will never know you like your friends know you. Friends are friends simply because we have given them access to certain places in our hearts. The deeper the friendship the greater the ability of a friend to speak to the heart of the matter. It is for this reason that all Christians should pay close attention to how they offer counsel to one another. Not only should the counsel they offer be intentional it should also be biblical - reflecting the very heart of God. A friend may confess an affair to you. What do you do? The co-worker may reinforce the felt needs that led to the betrayal. "He wasn't meeting your needs anyway" or "She had it coming, bro" are just examples that justify the sinful action. The Christian friend approaches it very differently. She points to the devastation of the sinful act, but also refers you to the cross where forgiveness and reconciliation flows freely. Even if Bible verses are not quoted verbatim, the essence of the Christian worldview saturates the counsel of the Christian.
It is the responsibility of all Christians to be prepared to give wise, Godly counsel - not therapy sessions. What we mean by the ministry of Biblical counseling is that every Christian in the congregation is prepared to offer wise counsel to their friends and family that finds its foundation in the Bible. "Wisdom is a verbal virtue," says Dr. Powlison. It is passed between people through the conveyance of words. Biblical Counseling is a natural extension of ministry of Biblical teaching. The latter informs the former and both biblical teaching and counseling are sensibly expressed in the ministry of Art.
+ Ministry of Art
"The arts' responsibility is always the same thing, It's to witness and to testify." - Bruce Springsteen
A Christian worldview is explained in the ministry of teaching, personally applied in the ministry of counseling, and is expressed in the ministry of art. Any era of history can be explained through its art. The 21st century artist are the YouTubers, SnapChatters, Television producers, Instagrammers, and Musicians who portray a specific worldview with every click captured or rhyme spitted. Perhaps the easiest example to share comes from the late 90's and West Coast Rap. Tupac Shakur shared a part of his worldview of "Money over B------" and the rap culture, through music and video, depicted a life of extravagant wealth and degrading the humanity of women. The story arcs of TV shows reflect the worldview of the show runners and the writers. Even how we choose to portray ourselves reflects something about our worldview. Art is always a sensory expression of the artist's way of looking at life. Art outlives the artists and reaches to the generations that have not yet arrived. The Church must minister through its art. Its ministry is one of witnessing and testifying.
I am happy to say that current trends are elevating the arts to a place of prominence in the global Church. Many local congregations and denominations are producing musical records that are proclaiming the current church culture. Most sermon series are accompanied by fantastic digital graphics. Videos are being produced that tell the stories of the Christian faith. As long as we don't divorce the method from the message, I pray that this trend continues to grow - especially with increased access to easy-to-use digital tools provided to the masses through various smartphone apps.
While there will always be tension in the interpretation of art, we must resist the temptation to view art solely as a means of attraction or ego-centricity. The Christian that creates to garner views, clicks, and likes is not worshipping, teaching, nor evangelizing. It can be an attempt to co-opt the Christian life for a modicum of celebrity. We must resist this temptation at all costs! How do we do this? We remember that art is as much worship as it is message.
"A Christian should use these arts to the glory of God, not just as tracts, mind you, but as things of beauty to the praise of God. An art work can be a doxology in itself." - Francis Scheaffer, Arts & The Bible
The very act of creating is a praise to the ultimate Creator. The Christian worldview holds that the breath of the Creator is the essence of life itself. Therefore, why would creativity not a be an aspect of humanity and why would we not creatively worship God with this given capacity? The arts are not just a means of communicating a message - though they are very effective at doing so - they are a response to the presence of God in the artist's life. We call this response worship. When we create we should create as an act of worship. Creative acts involve music, painting, graphic design, podcasting, video production, writing, photography, landscaping, and any manipulation of a canvas to to the glory of God.
The ministry of art is informed by teaching and is birthed out of the personal application of a Christian worldview to the artist's soul. But for what purpose? Certainly the primary purpose is the worship and praise of God the Creator, but there are ancillary purposes to the ministry of art. One of these ancillary purposes is the communication of the gospel and the ministry to those who are lost causes.
+ Ministry of Lost Causes
For all the progress of society there is a constant overcast of hopelessness. News of mass shootings fill every conceivable news feed. Diagnosis of Terminal illnesses are handed out to our loved ones. Sudden deaths leave families in bewildered tatters. Widows and orphans struggle to find their place and the hungry remain that way. Depression rates rocket skyward despite having access to every earthly "pleasure." While every culture that has every lived has dealt with similar scenarios, the magnitude of all the lost causes of my generation is weighing very heavily on me.
St. Jude is known as the patron saint of lost causes. Tradition says that because he shared the name with the traitor Judas Iscariot, few Christians prayed for his intervention because they didn't want to accidentally be praying to Judas Iscariot. As a result, St. Jude felt neglected, and so became eager to assist any who asked him. He became known intervening in the most dire of circumstances, for the ones no one else would help.
Now, I don't believe in praying to the Saints, but I'd be foolish to miss the incredible lesson that St. Jude offers to all Christians. He was so eager to help that the circumstances did not matter. His service did not need to fit a certain criteria or have the appropriate number of boxes checked. He helped the ones that desperately needed help! Why did they so desperately need help? Because no one else would help them.
If you offended by the term "Lost Cause" then please go check your theology and get back to me. Every true Christian was once the very definition of a lost cause: zero hope, heading toward hell, and living in direct rebellion against God. But someone helped...
Jesus is the real St. Jude. He knew why he came and gratefully shared it with all people: "I came to seek out and rescue those who are lost (Luke 19:10, my paraphrase)." Upon the finished work of the cross and the resurrection, Jesus then passed the baton to us - Go, share the gospel, teach people what following me is all about. Help them join the family. Don't let people be lost causes any more. (Matthew 28:19, my paraphrase).
We as Christians forget our "Lost Cause-ness" and it affects how we interact with the people around us. Our salvation must never become a source of earthly pride and arrogance. Our salvation, through Jesus, is our ultimate source of humility. Salvation should be the constant reminder that we were unable to help ourselves and we needed rescuing. This humility, empowered by the Holy Spirit, prompts us to reach out to ALL who are hurting and in all the various ways in which they are harmed. The Bible specifically mentions widows and orphans, so if you are looking for a place to start, that is a good one.
+ Ministry of Togetherness
Part of the reason Americans are so lost is their increasing sense of self-reliance. We tell ourselves that we do not need each other. In fact, each of the previous ministries that we have talked about can be done on solo missions. I can study by myself, offer counsel, create art, and help the lost causes, all without much help from others. Our self-reliance, though, has a close partner. It is called isolation.
Isolation is the breeding ground of sin and despair. The most evident struggle we all face is the one that creeps into our minds and hearts when we are by ourselves looking into the mirror of our souls. Our addiction to self-reliance declares that we can handle our problems without anyone else. So we proceed to self-medicate with our chains of choice.
We desperately need to be taught what it means to be together. One of the greatest ministries of the church is based in the simple fact the we come together to worship God. Being in the same room, doesn't automatically mean we individuals have left an isolated state of mind, but it is at least a start. It is possible to be with other people without being with other people. Our life remains quite hollow without others.
From the beginning at the Creation story and through all of Scripture, God's people were together. Isolation was the first thing deemed "not good" in the history of humanity. God gave man his perfect counterpart in woman. When Jesus came to earth he was born into a family, he didn't show up as the self-reliant King. His ministry included dedicated relationships with his disciples. And when the end of time comes ALL of God's saints will be together in heaven for eternity.
Going to church helps us to be prepared to become the Church for eternity. This requires us to learn how to be together with each in fulfilling relationships. This is a grand ministry that ties all ministry together and simply cannot be overlooked!
All Ministry is Worship!
We must break this thought pattern that singing songs is the primary way a Christian worships. Worship is simply the response to the presence of God in any given situation. The correct response is being obedient to what the Holy Spirit is telling you to do. All ministry is worship because all ministry is (or should be) founded upon the Spirit's prompting to minister to another person.
Whether you create sharable graphics, preach the Gospel, lift up the down-trodden, help facilitate authentic spiritual communities, or speak Godly wisdom into the lives of your neighbors, you are worshipping! Even if you are singing songs to Jesus you are worshipping, but don't get boxed into a singular expression of worship. The Christian life offers a true and beautiful depth that many people willingly sacrifice by choosing to engage in a single form of worship. Doing all to the glory of God is our aim. Don't settle for less!
The Point of Going to Church
The primary reason for going to church is to meet Christ. Sure, there are ancillary benefits such as finding purpose, community, and you could even consider the Eucharist a mid-morning snack, but the only real reason to go to church is to find Jesus. And whether we like it or not, even long-term saints lose sight of Him from time to time. CH Spurgeon offers this prescription to those suffering from temporary blindness,
"If we would find Christ, we must get into communion with his people, we must come to the ordinances with his saints."
While many hassle with the semantics of "going" and "being" we must never lose sight of our need to meet as a community with Jesus. If we are to be ministers then we must learn from the Master of all ministry. Being the church means ministering to those who need ministered to. To be the church, we must become the church, and the only way to become the church is to go to church. And the only way to effectively go to church is to actively participate in the corporate gathering which meets on Sunday's (or any other day of the week).