I can’t close this series without getting a little bit more into the theology. You see, this is what Ephesians 4 is all about. The following is the short version (the long version may be found at this post).
(Eph 4:11-12) It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God’s people for works of service …
The task of church leaders, from the elders to the Bible class teachers to the ministers, is to “prepare God’s people for works of service.” Now, do we seriously think he’s talking about leading communion meditations? Leading public prayers? No, Paul has in mind doing what Jesus told us to do —
(Mat 5:16) In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.
The “good deeds” Jesus refers to are the sorts of deeds that even the pagans see as good. Evangelism doesn’t fit this category. Rather, this has to be serving the poor, the needy, and hurting. Indeed, Matthew begins his account of Jesus’ ministry with Jesus doing good deeds, and then preaching on doing good deeds, and then ends his ministry by telling us in Matthew 25 that we’ll be judged based on our helping the poor, the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, and those in prison. I think he means it.
… so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
Surprisingly (at least it was to me), Paul says that if we leaders will equip our members to do good works, our congregation will be united and mature. We normally try to get there through sound doctrine, but Paul says if you’ll focus your flock on serving others, unity will arise.
Why is that? Well, because people who live lives committed to serving the needy will be gracious people. And gracious people — generous, tender-hearted people — have no interest in splitting over relatively unimportant matters — all the more so if they think a church split will hurt the work they’ve dedicated their lives to.
Imagine a church member who is committed to providing job training for the unemployed. She’s developed a facility, a faculty, and great program. She’s having success, and the people she helps are getting jobs and — more importantly — having their lives touched by the grace of God. Many are being converted. What will her attitude be when someone suggests that the church should fall out fighting over instrumental music or evolution or such like? She’ll be angry because petty people are getting in the way of God’s own mission. Getting involved in service unites and matures a church.
14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.
You see, Paul agrees. Get your priorities and heart right, and sound doctrine will follow.
15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
“Truth” in the New Testament vocabulary normally means the gospel — the truth about Jesus. We speak the gospel in love — that is, love in action … love in service … which paves the way for the teaching of the gospel. This passage isn’t about church bulletins that condemn other churches for having the wrong doctrine. It’s about how to do evangelism.
And if we’ll focus on service and speaking the gospel, well, we’ll grow up. By working side by side in the gospel, our love will no longer mere theological love. We’ll care about each other deeply because we’ve shared experiences, struggled together, and prayed together. As we each do our part of the work — with each other — our love for each other will bind us together just as ligaments hold a body together. And we won’t let some petty preacher split us to feed his ego. Rather, we’ll weather whatever struggles come our way together.
This is missional Christianity. And I think, done strategically and thoughtfully, it will be highly attractive.