Tuesday, 23 August 2011

of Ministry Tools, Community and Dinner Guests

On my recent blog post What If We Did Church Differently Than We Do Now? an anonymous commentator said, "Our pastor talks about these same things but gives us no tools to take Jesus out of a building and into our homes and our neighbor's homes and our community." 

I was thinking about that a bit. Are people really not being equipped to "take Jesus out of a building and into our homes and our neighbor's homes and our community?" Can that be possible? Then, practically as quickly as I asked myself that question, it occurred to me that we may be looking at this question all wrong. 

Institutional Christianity has for years taught us that they are "equipping" us for ministry. Unfortunately, the ministry they're equipping their parishioners for is ministry "within" their institution. While that ministry may have elements outside the building, it is inevitably tied to the building and will never receive clergy support apart from its tie to the institutional church. More often than not, ministry outside the church in such cases is normally considered a ministry of that particular church and not independent of it.

So having said that, my commentator is quite right in suggesting that his/her pastor does not give him or her the necessary tools to "take Jesus out of a building and into our homes and our neighbor's homes and our community." Forgive me if this sounds critical, but from an institutional perspective, as well as from my own personal experience, giving such tools relinquishes the pastor's control of the believer. Ouch. If the pastor were to give such tools, then perhaps the parishioner might even realize that he or she really no longer needs the attachment to that institutional church but is free to come or go as the Spirit leads, not as the pastor leads. Perhaps, dare I even say, he or she might even become liberated like many others today who have left institutional Christianity for the simple and organic church experience. This really must unnerve many an institutional church leader as they see many leaving their churches, not because they no longer believe, but rather as someone has said, "to preserve their faith." How ironic.

But I've digressed . The truth of the matter is, I believe, that the ministry tools that we're talking about cannot rightly even be dispensed by the pastor. Before you call me a heretic, let's ask ourselves a question: what are these ministry tools? I would argue that they are rightly called the "gifts of the Holy Spirit" and we all have an important part to play with our particular gift (see: Romans 12:3-8 and 1 Corinthians 14:26).  Anything else that someone might want to sell us as ministry tools is counterfeit, unnecessary and maybe even of the devil himself. 

If you and I are born again sons and daughters of God, if we are real Christians (as opposed to what I've often called pseudo-Christians), if we have made the commitment to follow the Lord Jesus Christ, then we already have all the tools that we will ever need to "take Jesus out of a building and into our homes and our neighbor's homes and our community." There is but one "tool" that any of us need, and that is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The one day old born again believer has the same ability to "take Jesus out of a building and into our homes and our neighbor's homes and our community" as does the seminary trained biblical scholar. In some ways, perhaps even more so in that the passion and fire of the new believer's faith is still alive and well, as opposed to the unfortunate lethargy that often comes from a long time stale Christian. 

Jesus had an interesting thing to say to a man by the name of Nicodemus. Jesus said, "You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You must be born again.' The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit" (John 3:7-8; NIV). Nicodemus was a religious leader who had trouble understanding this. It is interesting that many religious leaders today seem to have the same difficulty with this teaching of Jesus as Nicodemus had.

I like to think that genuinely born again Christians will never be tied to a particular place, be that a place of worship or any other place. Just as the wind doesn't stay put in one place, why would a Christian be content to do so? Just as water left standing in a pond or cistern can quickly become stale, so would a Christian left standing in one place also quickly become stale. On the other hand, water running in a river is alive and healthy just like a Christian on the move is also healthy.

Back to our ministry tools. If the Spirit in you moves you or places a burden on you for someone or something, then that is all the "tool" you will need. Listen to the Holy Spirit within you. We may not know where He comes from or where He will lead us next, but wherever it is, GO with Him. The Great Commission (Matthew 28: 19-20) calls on us to GO, not simply to COME to some church building.

If Sunday morning comes along and you sense the Spirit leading you to such and such institutional church, then you had better obey and GO. If the Spirit leads you instead to a nursing home to sit for a while with a dear old lady, then you had better obey and GO. Perhaps the Spirit may lead you instead to some park because He has arranged to have you cross paths with someone else who really needs a blessing from God, and that blessing is you. In that case, you had better obey and GO. "So it is with everyone born of the Spirit."

Are you a genuinely born again Christian, filled with the Spirit of God? If so, you need no special tools or equipping; you're already fully qualified. GO, "take Jesus out of a building and into our homes and our neighbor's homes and our community." What are you waiting for? When asked what was the Greatest Commandment, Jesus answered, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and the greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments" (Matthew 22: 37-40; NIV). Do you know how to love? Have you ever loved your child, your spouse, your parents? Have you ever loved a dear friend? If so, you need no special tools or equipping; you're already fully qualified. GO.

As an aside, there is an interesting thing about that previous verse. Jesus said, "All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." What are the Law and the Prophets? I believe that it represents everything that has ever been said about God, everything that is being said about God, and everything that ever will be said about God. It represents all of our doctrines and teachings; everything. All that hangs on love; first toward God, and second towards everyone else. 

Still don't know where to start? Might I make a suggestion? Start with a meal. Invite someone you don't know very well to your table. Preferably, make it someone who really cannot repay you with a return invitation. Bless them with a meal. 

When you look through the Gospels, where do we often see Jesus? We see Him around a table "communing" with people. This was the real and original Lord's Supper (or Communion or Eucharist) as opposed to that wafer cracker and thimble of juice we've turned it into. Jesus was known for eating with people. The religious folks often criticized Him for doing so, but they didn't understand the Greatest Commandment any more than many religious folks today also don't really understand it.

What else happens when you share a meal with someone? Real fellowship happens. You get to know people in a way that simply isn't possible in a church building where your "fellowship" is confined to a few moments of chit-chat about the weather. Even when we were still in the institutional church, we almost always put a pot roast in the oven on a timer before church and very regularly invited strangers home after service for a meal. That was awesome! We got to know people; they got to know us. Perhaps most importantly, they went home knowing that someone truly cared about them and that they made new friends that day. I wonder how many new friends Jesus made while eating in someone else's home? Hmm.

This doesn't require any special ministry tools. It only requires that we try and look at others through the eyes of Jesus. You and I are now His eyes. Do you see the ministry opportunities around you? They're everywhere. GO and "take Jesus out of a building and into our homes and our neighbor's homes and our community." Where is the wind of the Spirit leading you next? Learn to listen for His leading and then GO.

Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me." (Matthew 25:40). Special tools? No, just a heart filled by the Holy Spirit with the love of God for others. That is ministry that counts. GO.


  1. "What do the first to letters of the word GOD spell? What do the first two letters of the word SATAN spell?"
    -- Mike Warnke

  2. Thanks much, lead on Holy Spirit, lead on! But...now I wonder about my kids. It's easy in a traditional setting to throw them in and say,"find God" and don't get me wrong I try to show them God every day- I see God in them but how do I bring my children with me on this untraditional journey? Is it as easy as finding my tools within me? And what about the 8 other people in our small congregation, how do I bring them along?

  3. Waldo, if I said "Go" and "Stay," would I win the prize? ;)

  4. Dear Janet,

    First let me say that, unless you clearly sense the Holy Spirit telling you to leave the “8 other people in our small congregation,” I would advise NOT leaving simply for the sake of leaving. No one can hear the Holy Spirit for you on matters such as this but you alone. For all of us, faith must be and has always been a personal walk. What God instructs one person to do, He does not necessarily tell the next person to do. It may in fact be that you are exactly where God wants you to be at the moment. He may one day call you out of that place, and if He does, it’s best to cross that bridge when you come to it. Crossing the river before you get to the bridge only makes you all wet, and may even lead to drowning.

    As for the children, contrary to what many institutional churches teach, their spiritual upbringing has always been the responsibility of their parents, not the local church. Nowhere in the Bible do we read of things such as Sunday School programs or Youth Pastors or Children’s Ministries. Don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting dumping all those things either; they are simply tools of the local church. If they are available in such a small congregation, then by all means use them. However, if they are not there, or if God were to call you away from there, all is not lost as raising them has always been your responsibility and that of your husband’s anyways. It may be that, were the little church to close one day, a weekly trip into the nearest larger town for a youth program and for fellowship for the children might also be an option, but again, the main responsibility is yours and not that of a local institutional church.

    As for those other 8 people, no matter what God has in mind for you and for that little church, your relationship with them need not change. Even if one day the congregation were to close the doors permanently due to its inability to afford to stay open, there is nothing saying that you cannot continue to meet for fellowship in each other’s homes and around each other’s tables. Even now, regular potlucks in homes might create a wonderful way to “bring them along” in whatever way God leads next.

    I hope that helps to answer some questions. God bless.

  5. (from Gary on Facebook) "WOW, WOW, WOW! ...... The Lord lead me out of the institutional church two years ago. I've struggle for the past year and a half. There were many times I questioned my decision. At one point I thought I was loosing my mind because no Christians I attempted to share with could understand where I was coming from. It was as if I was from another planet and speaking a foreign language. After reading your post all I can say is, "WOW!" It's as if you were writing this post about what the Holy Spirit has been teaching me for the past 6 months. WOW, WOW, WOW!"

    1. (Ian's reply to Gary on Facebook) "Gary, you are not alone. I left the institution three years ago. I have never looked back; more revelation, more openness and freedom of expression in my relationship with Jesus... I could go on. The internet has made it possible for Christians to express their faith independently of centralised controlled and micro management. I found the need to detox spiritually became an essential element of my renewal and revival. The net also introduces you to other Christians out here and provides support and sustenence as you grow and re-aquaint yourself with your saviour. You and the Holy Spirit is how it all begins and how we all grow in Jesus. Blessings"