“I love going to a church that has many programs. Children’s programs. Youth programs. Music programs.”
This is the common statement made by many who are looking for a church. To them it’s all about programs. The more, the better. After all, the world offers so many programs, so in order to compete with what the world has to offer, the church, AT LEAST, must offer enough programs to keep our attention and interest.
“This is a good church. They have many programs.”
This is yet another statement made by those who have determined they know how to discern a good church from a bad church. This is one I heard growing up.
The idea behind the programs of the church is nothing less than the market-driven church offering what the consumer wants. Can you imagine reading the events of the day of Pentecost as recorded by Luke in Acts 2 culminating in this statement, “So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand consumers. And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ programs“(Acts 2:41-42, emphasis added)?
While visiting a particular church, a friend of mine recently told me that it was like being in a theatre for the sake of entertainment. Yeah, I mused, but it was a good program.
“It is now common practice in most evangelical churches to offer the people, especially the young people, a maximum of entertainment and a minimum of serious instruction. It is scarcely possible in most places to get anyone to attend a meeting where the only attraction is God. One can only conclude that God’s professed children are bored with Him, for they must be wooed to meeting with a stick of striped candy in the form of religious movies, games and refreshments.”
A.W. Tozer, Man: The Dwelling Place of God
Well, believe it or not, the Head of the Church, the One who loved the Church and gave Himself up for her, has His own program for the church. It is Christ’s Bodybuilding Program.
After poignantly asking His disciples “Who do people say that I am?” and then turning it around and asking them directly, “Who do you say that I am?”, Jesus made the following pronouncement that still echoes today through the corridors of church history.
“I will build My Church.”
Note the personal pronoun “I”. It is Jesus talking. The One Peter just confessed as the Christ, the Son of the living God.”(Matthew 16:18).
Furthermore, notice the term “will”. Christ did not say He “hopes” to build His Church. Nor did He say He “may” build His Church. He left no ambiguity. There was no doubt in the disciples’ minds when they heard Him. It was a sure guarantee, simply for no other reason than that Christ was talking and as the Head of the Church, as Her Savior(Ephesians 5:23), as the God-Man, what He said would always come to pass. It was so certain that even “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”(Matthew 16:18).
And last but not least please take note of the term “My”. Whose Church is it? It’s not the pastor’s. It’s Christ’s. He bought the Church with His own blood. The Church is His own possession. As the classic hymn The Church’s One Foundation puts it so well, “From heaven He came and sought Her, to be His Holy Bride. With His own blood He bought Her, and for Her life He died.”
One of my seminary professors and mentors, Howie Hendricks, affectionately known by his students as “Prof”, used to say that when he visited churches to preach or teach or speak at a conference and in conversation with that church’s pastor he heard the pastor say that it was his church, Prof was ready to wring their neck.(For those of the Facebook generation, this was an old school expression that means to put him in his place).
Now the question naturally arises as to how Christ will build His church. And for that we turn to Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians.
“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,
Ephesians 4:11-12(emphasis added)
From the context we see that the pronoun “he” is a direct reference to Christ(Ephesians 4:7-10). And Christ gave something to His Church to build her up. What was it? A group of men, namely apostles, prophets, evangelists, and shepherd-teachers. The sentence structure in the Greek only allows for the last one to be one and the same, pastor-teachers, not two separate, pastors AND teachers.
The apostles and prophets were only for the foundation of the Church(Ephesians 2:20), which has already been laid. But today we have the 2 offices of evangelists and shepherd-teachers. And for what purpose did Christ, who is the “head over all things to the church, which is His body”(Ephesians 1:22-23), give them? If you answered “for the work of the ministry”, you are as wrong as the rest of those reading this who answered that way. Christ gave the evangelists and pastor-teachers…to equip the saints…for the work of the ministry. In other words, the work of the ministry is for the saints to do, not for the evangelists and pastor-teachers. Their role is an equipping role. And the tool they are to use to equip the saints for the work of the ministry is…wait for it…All Scripture because it is breathed out by God and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness(2 Timothy 3:16).
You are now thinking to yourself, “Well, I’m not a pastor-teacher, so what role do I have in the church?” Answer: Read my previous paragraph again, nice and SLOOOOOOWLY. The work of the ministry is for the saints. Note how this is further emphasised through a literary device known as inclusio, which takes a section and brackets it with the same theme.
“But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.”
“…from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”
“Each one” and “each part” refers to the “saints” who are to be equipped for the work of the ministry. The ministry is not the pastor’s. The ministry belongs to each and every believer who is an integral member of Christ’s Bodybuilding Program. And what is that ministry? It is the ministry of evangelism, proclaiming the Evangel, the Gospel, the good news of salvation in Christ. It is the ministry of discipleship, teaching others who will in turn be able to teach others as well in a ministry of multiplication. It is the ministry of serving to help meet the needs of your fellow members in the Body.
So, there you have it.
Christ building His Church…
…by gifting her with evangelists and shepherd-teachers…
…who use the Scripture to equip each and every believer…
…to do the work of the ministry.
Christ will build His Church and will continue to do so until He comes again to receive His Bride to Himself!