Too often the Christian community, the church, is like being at a football game. Nine exhausted people who are badly in need of a rest, being watched by 10,000 people badly in need of exercise.
But this isn’t God’s vision for the church. It is one where we all have a part to play in God’s work…we all have a life of ministry to live. Whenever something is not working well within a Christian community, it is often because one part of the body is not functioning properly.
But this Christian community that we are all invited to play our part in must not become focused on itself. By its very nature and calling its focus must be on the wider world. Followers of Jesus are also learning that their homes, their neighbourhoods and their places of employment are all areas where God is at work and where there are opportunities to serve other people.
There is a story about a pastor of a big church in downtown Atlanta who was approached one Sunday by a young woman who was very upset. This woman explained how she had come across a person really down on their luck and looking for a place to stay to get back on his feet until he could get another job.
The woman had called the church office several times trying to see if the church could do something for this man, but she had had no success with the office.
Eventually she took the man into her own home and helped him get a new job.
That Sunday, she stomped up to the pastor and said, “Don’t you think that the church should have done something for this guy?”
The pastor looked at her and said, “It sounds like the church did.”
There is work to be done both within the Christian community and in the wider world and of course you can’t separate them. When the church, the body of Christ, is functioning properly, then the wider world will be served as well.
To grasp the length and breadth and height and depth of this work is the goal of a lifetime. We are a community of learners…learning the full extent of God’s love for us, learning the full extent of our sinfulness, learning the full extent of our gifts, and learning the full extent of the ministry that God is calling us to. Ministry is living a life using our God given gifts to do God’s work both within the Christian community and in the wider world.
Christians in whom this learning is taking place are excited, inspired and highly motivated. A church made up of such people is filled with excitement and power—it is magnetic and compelling. It is far removed from a church of passive recipients of religious services. A church where every person is living a life of ministry is dynamic growing community.
Most of us feel totally inadequate in the face of such a call to a life of ministry. However in God’s plan there is something significant for every one of us to do. This church will not flourish and continue to grow unless each and every one of us is playing our God designed part. I don’t know all of you all that well, but I am absolutely convinced that each and every one of you has gifts to offer not only the Christian community but also God’s work in the wider world. In the NT passages that talk about ministry we discover that God has given every one of us a personal gift or gifts to be used in ministry. God invites us to help and gives us the tools we will need in order to help.
There are a few passages in the NT that speak specifically of gifts for ministry and name some of them.
We’ll read each of these passages, identify the different gifts listed, and talk about what they mean:
- Romans 12:1-8
- Note how he has to start by making sure they know their place in the body
- Explain Exhortation – a firm challenge
- Explain Prophecy – speaking for God, saying what God would say, consistent with what God has always said in scripture
- Eph 4:1-6
- Again, note how he has to start by making sure they know their place in the body
- Explain apostle – in the bible, those who knew Jesus and taught his word. In practice, those who develop structures for Christian community and teaching.
- Explain evangelism – telling the story of good news
- Explain pastor – someone who cares for, or shepherds, believers
- 1 Peter 4:10-11 (Look up in Bibles)
- There is nothing in any of these other passages, or other gifts lists in the Bible, to indicate that these lists of gifts are to be considered complete – this one shows us that all of a Christian’s life is meant to be dedicated to God’s service – every word and action.
God has showered a marvelous array of gifts upon the church in order that we will be able to join in God’s work. But how do we discover which gift is ours? This is of course more of an art than a science but here are some indicators….
We are all invited to share in God’s work and finding our place in God’s work and doing it is the key to the fulfilment in life that all of us long for. One of the most important questions we can ask is where is God inviting me to help?
Question: What part has God prepared you to play in the church, the body of Christ?