Saturday, August 4, 2018

Equipping the Saints for the Work of Ministry

Ephesians 4:11-16 In the Christian church, pastors and people go together.  Shepherds and sheep are part of the same flock.  Teachers and their students are there too, learning God’s Word.  This is not an accident.  It is the way that Christ himself has ordered the Church. 
            From the very beginning, it is the way that God himself has ordered the life of his people.  It is not optional, it is not one choice among many.  Pastor and people go together and it is Christ himself who wants it that way.
            And so then, when I heard that Pastor Cofer had accepted our call to serve as associate pastor of outreach and evangelism here at Trinity, I was profoundly thankful to the Lord of the Church that he heard and answered our prayers. 
            I firmly believe that Jesus guided and directed the whole process so that his saving will is done in this place—not only in the lives of us who are already members-- but also in the lives who will come to faith in the days to come and take their place among the people of God.
            That’s what we are going to be talking about today in our meditation on God’s Word:  the gift that Jesus gives in church workers who labor in the Word of God; the purpose of that gift in equipping the saints so that the work of ministry is multiplied far beyond a few workers; and the goal of that gift in building up and growing the Body of Christ. 
            The Bible says that:  Jesus gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers…
            We can only imagine what the early church must have been thinking after they saw Jesus ascend into heaven—what a lonely feeling that must have been!  For three years they followed him.  They saw his miracles.  They heard his words.  There were incredible lows as they saw him die a terrible death on the cross.  There were glorious highs as they saw their resurrected Savior and knew that death had been defeated. 
            Then, after all that, to witness his departure—to know that he would no longer be with them in the same way—it must have been an incredibly empty, lonely feeling! 
            But Jesus would not, and did not, leave them discouraged and downcast.  He told them that it was actually for their own good that he return to his Father and that he would give them gifts to help them in their mission to make disciples of all nations.  And that is what he did! 
            Jesus gave each of them the gift of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost—men and women, young and old-- and he gave them the gift of workers who would devote themselves to full time ministry in the Word so that Christ’s people would continue to be taught and led and shepherded and cared for-- just as they had been during Jesus’ earthly ministry. 
            The gifts of the ascended Savior continue down to this day and these people.  You too have the gift of the Holy Spirit.  And Christ has given us the gift of a new pastor.  It is a blessing to receive these gifts—to know that our ascended Savior King is still caring for his church. 
            But you also need to understand that Jesus has a purpose in these gifts that moves you from the passive role of a recipient of his gift to an active role as a worker in his kingdom so that others can receive these same gift of salvation. 
            The Bible says that Jesus gave these gifts:  to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ...
            Over the last two years there has been an incredible amount of work done by the call committee:  working on a ministry description; going through information forms, interviewing pastors, working on budget issues and more-- to say nothing of the prayers.  I am thankful beyond measure for the work of the call committee and the support of the congregation. 
            But it is right now at this moment that we face a temptation that can undermine everything we have done this far and that is to wipe our brow, pat ourselves on the back, and tell ourselves that we are done and now it is all up to Pastor Cover.
            It is simply not so!  Jesus is sending Pastor Cofer here to equip you for the work of the ministry so that the Body of Christ would be built up in this place.  Let me say that again:  Jesus is sending Pastor Cofer here to equip you for service in his kingdom—the work of building up the Body of Christ in this place. 
            One the great teachings of the Reformation (that is close to being lost in the modern Lutheran Church) is what the Bible has to say about the Priesthood of All Believers—that each of you by virtue of your baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection are priests before God, servants in his kingdom, workers in his vineyard.
            In the medieval church, the ordained priest was seen as the one who did really did God’s work along with monks and nuns.  They were the ones who were really close to God—they were the ones really about God’s work in the world.
            But that is not what the Bible teaches and Luther knew it.  God says about you and all his children that you are
a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that YOU may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
            Each and every one of you is a priest before God.  Each and every one of you has a ministry, a service that you are to render to God on earth for the purpose of building up the Body of Christ.  And so Jesus is sending Pastor Cofer here, not to do your work, but to equip you to do the ministry God desires in this church and school and community.  Please understand…
            We have not fulfilled that sacred obligation of proclaiming Christ by merely calling a pastor and checking that off our list of things to do and waiting for him to get busy.  No!  The real work begins as YOU take your place and do your part in building up the Body of Christ in this place.  And so how does that happen?
            The Body of Christ is built up in two ways:  as those who are already Christians mature in their faith and grow up in their faith and more and more resemble Jesus Christ –AND- as more and more people are added to the Body of Christ I this place and take their place in the kingdom of God.  The Bible says that this work of ministry that he equips for goes on:
until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.
            The point of parenting (from beginning to end) is to help our children grow up into the men and women that God has created and redeemed them to be. 
            When they are babies we expect them to act like babies.  When they are toddlers to act like toddlers.  When teens to act like teens.  But nowhere along the way are we content to let them go backward.  Toddlers carrying around a bottle and blankie are adorable—twenty year olds carrying around a bottle and a blankie, not so much!
            So it is for us as children of God and our relationship with our heavenly Father.  He wants each of us to grow up—to become mature—to no longer be children in our thinking—to measure up to the stature of Jesus Christ who came to serve others and always had their best interests at heart.
            Much, much too often churches themselves can undermine the growth and maturity of the children of God.  Members come expecting to be served rather than to serve.  They expect things to go their way rather than putting others first.  They expect to be praised for their mere presence.
            And like an indulgent parents, the church and her leaders go along with this- and foter immaturity-- and institutionalize helplessness.
            What happens in those congregations is that God’s children remain childish and the growth and maturity and stature of Christ is never manifested in the lives of God’s people.  Our flesh may love and long for a church that is nothing but a nursery for infants-- but that is not the will of our Father for his children who wants us to grow up.
            And so then, Christ gives gifts like Pastor Cofer, not so that OUR selfish needs will be met, but so that our real need for growth and maturity and Christ-likeness would be met as we are challenged to step out in faith and begin to think about those around us—especially those who don’t know Jesus.  The Bible says that
…speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 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.
            We have called Pastor Cofer to be the associate pastor of outreach and evangelism and the Lord is sending him to be the associate pastor of outreach and evangelism.  The language in that call is important.              He and I will not be splitting the pastoral duties down the middle.  I have zero interest in doing half as much work as I am doing right now.
            Instead, his exclusive focus will be on helping ALL OF US do those things that reach out to people who don’t know Jesus; helping ALL OF US understand how we can take our place in the saving ministry of Christ in the world; and equipping ALL OF US for that service.
            That was a strategic ministry decision because we know that what one person can do is nothing compared to what 500 people can do.  It was a biblical decision because we believe that the Body of Christ is made up of many members who are all working together to accomplish the saving mission of Christ in the world so that his church grows as he adds to it those who are being saved.  It was a loving decision in your best interest so that you can be built up into the Christian that God wants you to be. Amen.

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