Replanting a Church: Equipping the Members, Part 3

We are working through an article by Scott Thomas on replanting an existing church, that is, renewing a church so that it grows and matures as a church plant does.

Equip how?

So what is the nature of preparing people for service? What is the preparation that we need?

What I’m going to write defies common sense. But this is my real life experience in watch how God works in his people. And I figure that if God wants to work this way, who am I criticize?

You see, when I read “equip” I think “practical application,” such as how to care for the poor or do mission work. But as important as such things are, they are not where we have to start.

First, we need to understand the grace we’ve received. The implication of Eph 2:8-10 and 4:29 is that we are gracious because we’ve received grace (compare 4:32). We are generous to others because God has been generous to us.

Those congregations that teach a dried out, narrow-minded, stingy grace tend to produce Christians who treat each other the same way. If God is unwilling to be generous to all but the nearly perfect, we should be the same, right?

Second, we need to understand the Spirit we’ve received. Paul says,

(Eph 1:13-14)  And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession–to the praise of his glory.

The Spirit somehow shows the world that we belong to God. This was the purpose of seals in the First Century. The Spirit’s presence in us should therefore be obvious to those outside the church.

(Eph 2:21-22)  In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

Notice the passive voice in 22. We “are being built” into a temple. God does the building, through his Spirit. A temple is not only a place where God is worshipped, it’s a massive, monumental structure designed to show the glory of the god worshipped in it. Thus, the congregation is built not only into a worshipping community but a community that prominently displays the glory of the God it worships.

(Eph 3:16-19)  I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

It’s through the Spirit that we are enabled to understand the unspeakable love of God — which allows us to be filled with the “fullness of God.” You see, the Spirit helps us become like God. Oh, wow!

The “fullness of God” surely means that we take on the nature of God — that we love the unloveable and that we serve the undeserving and ungrateful. Indeed, we become like Jesus in self-sacrifice, because that’s who God is.

(Eph 4:3)  Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

Notice that Paul tells us to “keep” the unity of the Spirit. All who have the Spirit, that is, all who believe (1:13), are united. God gives us unity. We don’t have to work to get there. We just have to keep it by not creating disunity by wrongly removing saved people from God’s community.

We turn to the ESV translation of 5:18-21, because it preserves the original sentence structure —

18And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Grammatically, Paul’s contrast is not instrumental music versus a cappella music. It’s drunkenness versus being filled with the Spirit. And what does it mean to be “filled with the Spirit”? Paul gives three consequences: singing Christian songs to one another, being thankful, and submitting to one another.

Notice that Paul next spends the rest of chapter 5 and much of chapter 6 explaining how mutual submission works itself out between spouses, parents and children, and masters and slaves. All this is commentary on “be filled with the Spirit.”

(Eph 6:18)  And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.

Finally, Paul urges us to “pray in the Spirit” for “all the saints.” He wants our prayer life to reflect and build our unity.

I really wasn’t meaning to write a study on the Spirit. Here’s the point. You cannot equip your membership to be like God without helping them understand the workings of the Spirit in them. No one can be the person God wants without God’s help — and God’s Spirit is the Helper we need.

If you read the Spirit out of scriptures by skipping over the hard parts, you destroy much of the power of the scriptures.

(Eph 6:17)  Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

The word of God is not the Spirit. It’s the Spirit’s sword. It’s a weapon the Spirit uses to do battle with the forces of evil. But it’s the Spirit who wields the sword.

The word truly becomes a sword when it’s in our mouths and we are filled with the fullness of God by his Spirit, so that we know how to wield the sword in battle against Satan.

So where was I? Oh, yes, talking about equipping our members. A sword is essential equipment, and we start with the Spirit and work from there to the word of God.

You see, we typically pound the word and maybe, eventually get to the Spirit. Paul says that we need to understand by the Spirit. And so we need our members to appreciate the work of the Spirit and get away from our Western, humanistic notion that we do it. We need our members to feel God’s power at work in them and be willing to pray to God and expect that God will make it happen.

We have to flee the notion that God no longer works among us, open our eyes, and see God at work everywhere we look.

And if we can get just an inkling of how God works through his Spirit, and if we get a taste of God’s grace, then (and only then) can we have an equipping ministry that changes people — because ultimately it’s God who changes people. We leaders just need to open our members’ hearts to the work of God in them.

Third, you can’t read Ephesians and not see unity of all Christians as part of God’s plan from before the beginning of the world. It’s futile to train your members in evangelism when they have divisive, contentious hearts. Unity is the essential next step.

Unity allows us to be more like God because God is one. And unity allows us to build the body up because unity allows us to be the body — not just a bunch of body parts.

Unity requires that a congregation be internally unified and that all congregations be united with each other — which only grace permits. Unity is God’s work, and all we have to do is stop working against God’s Spirit to make it happen.

And unity gives us the strength (God’s strength) to do good works. Rather than trying to bring glory to our congregation or the “Churches of Christ,” we bring glory to God. We cease being tribal and begin being like God.

One congregation in one city can’t do that much for the poor, defenseless, and oppressed. But the community of all believers worldwide can change the world in ways we can’t even conceive.

Satan’s greatest victory is the division of God’s people. We need to decide whose side we want to be on.

Fourth, we need to pour God’s word into our peopleall of God’s word, from Genesis to Revelation. We need to tell God’s story and ask our members to join in God’s redemptive work in the world.

And we need to teach God’s mission as part of his character and work in the world, the church, and each of us. Over and over and over.

Finally, if we do that, we’ll figure out the methods that work. And because we’re united and on mission, we’ll share with each other and the other churches in town and across the globe the victories being won by God and where God is changing the world — and we’ll invite others to join in God’s work.

We’ll sharing the experiences and learning of the Christian community so others don’t have to repeat our mistakes. Our periodicals will be filled with “how to” lessons that celebrate victories given by God and point the readers to people with the experience and heart to help the readers emulate their examples.

You see, Paul told the leaders “to prepare God’s people for works of service” (Eph 4:12). We leaders do the preparing. We get them ready. And while that may well require teaching the members how to visit the sick or feed the hungry, I think Paul’s point in Ephesians is that it’s mainly about the basics —

(Eph 4:2-6)  Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit — just as you were called to one hope when you were called — 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Get this right and the rest will follow.

It wasn’t that many years ago (two actually) that I was looking for sources on how to do local service projects among the poor. I asked questions in forums and posted material here — and received precious little guidance. And yet today the answer is that there are several people at the University Church of Christ (my home church) who would be glad to share their experience and expertise. Oh, wow.

The expertise didn’t come from a classroom or the internet or a book. It came because good Christians caught God’s vision of mission and began to minister where their passions led them. I never imagined such a thing to be possible.

And here’s the really cool thing. When just a few church members get it and act on it, others soon follow. The congregation changes and changes dramatically.


9 Responses

  1. It’s futile to train your members in evangelism when they have divisive, contentious hearts.

    Yet, so much of our “evangelism” over the past century has not been gospel based, but rooted in a sectarian desire to exalt ourselves by putting others down.

    I remember a young man in a campaign group who knocked on a door and said, “We’re not the Mormons and we’re not the Jehovah’s Witnesses! We’re the Church of Christ!” I remember a friends and family day where the preacher talked almost exclusively about what is wrong with all of the “denominations.” And do you remember the church history lesson in the Jule Miller filmstrip?

    All of these things were designed to exalt the Church of Christ over others. Nothing was there to exalt Jesus and Him crucified.

    Of course our people are uncomfortable “evangelizing” like that! Unless, of course, they are among those who are fully sectarian themselves.

  2. It’s interesting also that #3, the unity of believers, is fully a result of #2, the Spirit we’ve been given. In Ephesians 4:4, Paul encourages his readers to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit.” A little later in the chapter, he explains that it was this very same Spirit who “gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets… so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith…”

    But now that I look at the first part of chapter 4, I think each of the ideas you mentioned are shown in their relation to one another in this text. It’s worth a look at least.

  3. Jay,
    Thank you for this series of lessons. Good to work up into a series for class or pulpit. We are working on a ‘new beginning’ here in our church family, and I am thinking this will be very helpful.
    I like the way you stay right with the context and ‘flow’ of these verses…
    Thanks again.
    Jack Exum Jr.

  4. I entirely agree re the seven ones in Eph 4. Paul brilliantly ties it all together right there.

  5. Jerry,

    I entirely agree. It takes time to understand why we’ve been so wrong and just what it means to “exalt Jesus and Him crucified.” But we’re getting there.

  6. “you can’t read Ephesians and not see unity of all Christians”

    Perhaps this is beyond the scope of this post, but this phrase caught my attention. Who is included in “all Christians?” Do we include the Baptists, Methodists, Mormons, Catholics, and so on? Let’s toss out the names of large groups of people and look at individuals.

    What does it mean to be a Christian? These questions can become sticky when we discuss them seriously for more than five minutes.

    We can make a lot of people angry in less than five minutes. Or we can forget about the labels, unite in Christ Jesus, and serve.

  7. Dwayne,

    Heartily agreed.

  8. These thoughts/insights strike me as true to what the kingdom of God should be about and what the Spirit of God is leading us to think and do, if we would accept the Spirit as in us and listen. I am certainly indebted to the “Church of Christ” as my introduction to God and my entry-point to uniting with Christ in baptism. Our “go to verse” always seemed to be Acts 2:38, which clearly revealed what we needed to do to be with Jesus and no longer against him. But it seems to me that we stopped short of finding the “prize egg” in that passage, i.e. the Holy Spirit. Isn’t THIS what Jesus coming, dying and rising again was to make possible, i.e. the very Spirit of the God who made us, and was separated from us because of our sin, now able to enter us, transform us, intercede for us, comfort us, guide us, fill us and prompt us to do the good that reflects the image of God? Open our eyes, Lord. Thank you, Jay.

  9. Perhaps this is beyond the scope of this post, but this phrase caught my attention. Who is included in “all Christians?” Do we include the Baptists, Methodists, Mormons, Catholics, and so on? Let’s toss out the names of large groups of people and look at individuals.
    What does it mean to be a Christian? These questions can become sticky when we discuss them seriously for more than five minutes.
    We can make a lot of people angry in less than five minutes. Or we can forget about the labels, unite in Christ Jesus, and serve.

    Isn’t this the brilliant lesson of the Parable of Samaritan and the Religious Men? I think it can be safely transposed?

    “Who is my neighbor?” Whoever I choose to be a neighbor to.

    “Who can serve the mission of God with me?” Whoever I choose to invite.

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