Last week Pastor Bruce preached a fantastic message on what it means for the Church to live out the gospel as believers. Today I want to continue unpacking that idea of the Church and the dynamics of a local context.
The Church is incredible and has a unique and powerful purpose, but the question is how do we contextualise it and then how does that look?
Have you ever seen a team sport at play?
Being here in Victoria, it is easy to picture an AFL Team. They play together, practice together, build relationships and dynamics together and sacrifice together.
- Can you imagine if there was a player who decided, I just love football, but I am part of the big football scene. I don’t feel restricted to one club?
- I just assume that ‘the global football community’ is more their thing especially because they don’t really like any coaches telling them what to do!
- So, I just drift around and rock up to any game randomly and then ask to be put on the field
- How do you think that will go with the team that has worked so hard to establish so much together?
- Do you think this would be putting their best foot forward in a game?
- Do you think it would be a good way of creating a team dynamic that works and would it be their best foot forward to let them just get out and run around the ground doing whatever they want?
I am going to guess people that who won’t work with a coach and local team where they grow stretch, learn, commit, work together, embrace the team culture, are not going to become effective players or on a team.
There is a name for them – they are called a “spectators” because no coach in their right mind would allow such a player to be on their team.
Let’s read something and see what this has to do with anything.
Ephesians 4:1 (NLT)
1 Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God.
The first thing I notice is that we are a prisoner for serving God, God does not owe us because we serve Him.
- Too many people think they can turn serving God on and off, up and down according to their social calendar and whether they feel like it or not.
- Those people that really follow the scriptures example are captured by their service to God. It arrests them, grabs them, they cannot just shake it off.
Then it says lead a life worthy of your calling!
Not your social status, your past, your income, your ethnicity, your culture, your friends, your own ideas, but your calling! We are all called! Choose to live for a calling not an income!
Choose to make your life centred around what God says about you and what He calls you to rather than all the other things that vie for your life and time.
We discover that all of us as believers have a calling!
Ephesians 4:2-6 (NLT)
2 Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. 3 Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. 4 For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future.
5 There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all, in all, and living through all.
If we looked at the last verse of Ephesians chapter 3:
21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
It gives us the context that Paul is writing chapter 4 about the unity of the church. Yes, we have chapters for our own ability to navigate large amounts of text, but these were letters written without chapters and the flow of this is clearly concerning the church he had just mentioned.
So we can understand we are all called by God and then He talks of how that works or looks like and the context it is to be applied in.
Then straight away it talks of the unity of the church. And we know and talked about the fact that the Church is a global move of God that goes beyond cultures, powers, times or any other thing. It is God’s eternal plan to rescue people.
However, the Scripture is clear that this happens in a local context. There are local expressions of God’s Church that create and participate in the global Church.
That is where this passage comes in because it talks of unity and the fact that we are called to make every effort to keep unity.
- The local Church is where this happens because it is filled with people that are different, that are called to join together and serve God together
- It wouldn’t make sense for this passage if it was referring to just drifting around to wherever we feel in the giant global church then does not require effort, let alone great effort.
- To drift around with no real local spiritual home requires no commitment or development of the fruits of the spirit and equally no effort
The reason the global church can change the world is because local groups of people join together and make every effort to be unified in:
- Culture, language, vision, spirit, effort and changing their world and together we all change the world
But how do we do this and what is the role then of the local church in this?
Because in order to commit to something we must have a clear understanding of:
- What it is
- How it functions
So, for that we continue down.
Ephesians 4:11-12 (NLT)
11 Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers.12 Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ.
So now we come to another key element – how does this local church work?
Well due to misunderstandings, cultural influences, even sadly some of the traditions the church has picked up on the journey, people have mistaken the church for ‘an organisation’ rather than a grouping of people.
The original term or word for church was Ecclesia – a calling out, a congregation, an assembly.
So, when we swap a group of people for ‘an organisation’ it is possible for people to read the scriptures about:
- Loving people
- Caring for people
- Providing for the poor and disadvantaged
- Sharing the gospel
- Ministering to people
- Praying with people
- Discipling people
And we think this is the Church, the organisations role!
But that is not what the Bible says! The Bible says these things are for every believer!
The passages we looked at two weeks ago (get the podcast if you haven’t heard it) containing the concrete mission of the Church – helping people find life and live it from: John 10:10, John 3:16 and Matt 28:18
- It is actually for every believer!
- We are all personally responsible for these things!
And what we just read explains that the Church (organisationally if you consider the leadership of it) has a responsibility not to do all those things, but to equip the whole Church – everybody is to do those things in their world!
This is brilliant because it means that we all:
- Carry the person of the Holy Spirit
- The power required
- The call to go
- Therefore we have an army of people going, not just a couple of limited people designated as ‘church leaders’.
In the past I have had people ask:
- Can you spend some time with my dad then he will get saved??? No that is not the God solution – you are!!
- What is the Church going to do about this or that or some situation? Whoever is asking is the Church and so what we as the organisation will do is continue to equip people, teach on faith steps, generosity, excellence of effort, servant heart etc and the question is what will they do as the Church the people – since they are the Church?
For someone to ask me or any of our team, what will the Church do about this problem is not biblical!
- They think they have done a service in bringing it to our attention, and then pat themselves on the back as if they have done a good deed
- No, what is needed is for them to step out and do something then bring a good report on how God has brought a miracle via their faith steps in the situation
The scripture is clear there is a leadership and an organisation required for the local Church and we see it clearly in the book of Acts as soon as the Church grows, in some of the earliest chapters. This gives accountability and stability – without it, things can’t grow properly!
But its role is to equip the people of the Church to do the work of the ministry, not the people outsource the work of the ministry to a paid few or some called few.
That’s where our western, consumeristic culture has crept in, we subcontract people to do all sorts of things in life.
I can subcontract someone to:
- Mow my lawn
- Build my house
- Run my accounts and finances
- Cook food
But we can’t subcontract out our Christianity, or our role in the local Church!
If we were to go back to the sport analogue:
To subcontract out your playing is what a spectator does, not a participator. No room for spectating in these commands of God.
- A spectator pays for a ticket, watches and comments
- A team member, an actual player commits, trains, sacrifices, works together, has the same vision, supports the culture, is on the team, plays on game day
And the scriptures talk clearly that Christianity and following Jesus is no spectator sport… John 10:10, John 3:16, Matthew 28:18
What we find is:
- Christianity is inescapably corporate, and we are part of a body the Church and in a local context.
- But it is also personal where we are to personally called, and expected by God, to contribute and not think that the corporate association covers our own personal responsibilities.
The Church is global but outworked in a local context.
Then the outworking of the Church locally is with the Church organisationally equipping every believer (the Church as a people) to do the work of the ministry in their world and spheres of influence.
Let’s just unpack this a little further.
Ephesians 4:13-16 (NLT)
13 This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. 14 Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. 15 Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. 16 He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.
Note: “This will continue until…”!
I like this because it is clear. This is the pattern and it leads to maturity!
I feel sorry for people who have not had this taught and so drift around, never commit and miss out on God’s best for their like because they never mature!
Relationship and commitment cause us to grow and God knows this!
It is not reading a book that makes us grow up, but doing life in committed relationships with others! I didn’t even realise I was selfish until I got married and then had children!
That is why God’s plan of the local Church is what brings us to maturity and without it, we will lack maturity.
It talks about:
Ephesians 4:14-15 (NLT)
14 Then we will no longer be immature like children. (Children are immature because they live for themselves and haven’t learnt to work with and accommodate others – be in a team…) We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. 15 Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ,
The result of not understanding the local Church context and our responsibility within it, produces stunted, ineffective and immature believers who sadly are open to all sorts of things that are far from Gods’ best for their lives.
We must remember God is not interested in our comfort, but our growth.
The local Church where we:
- Rub shoulders
- Do life
- See the good, the bad and the ugly of each other
- Work and sweat together
- Be in the trenches together
- Give and sacrifice together
- Commit to one another!
- Fail, forgive, have patience, extend kindness and long suffering
It is exactly these things that produce growth and maturity! A unified group of believers is a mature group of believers and immaturity will always struggle with unity.
Let’s come back to the team:
- You can be the best in the world at football, but if you can’t do the team thing – you will never win a championship
- You can be a great musician, but it is something different altogether to play in a band and make incredible music together!
Two weeks ago, we looked at the power, the eternal purpose and the victory for the global church. But the way to be part of it is through a local context and without that, there is an inability to grow, mature and become part of that powerful, victorious Church.
We might watch it and we might comment on social media and have opinions
but unless we join the team, we can’t truly enjoy the victory like the people in the game!
From here we gain some key points of understanding:
- We are all called personally to a calling and that should be what we live for
- Our calling is worked out in a local Church context
- In that context we find the people of the Church and every believer to go and do the work of taking Jesus to our world
- Helping people, caring for them, witnessing, discipling
- Organisation and leadership of a Church that equips the people for the doing all of the above
- In this context, we have the opportunity to grow and mature into what God wants us to be and do
Suggestions for discussion
- Discuss the statement: The Church is incredible and has a unique and powerful purpose. How does this make you feel?
- Do you choose to make your life centred around what God says about you? How do you do this?
- Relationship and commitment cause us to grow. Discuss how this works with you.