This world of ours is a mess.
This world of ours is a mess, but God has a plan.
The Christian Church is part and parcel of the grand, cosmic, eternal plan of God.
God’s plan is for the Church to be the means whereby the Spirit of Christ functions in this physical environment.
More specifically, God’s plan is for the members of St. Giles Kingsway to work together (see Eph. 4:1-6) in order to transform Central Etobicoke.
How then, shall we organize ourselves? What needs to be done in order for our congregation to be an effective means whereby the Spirit of Christ impacts this community of ours.
What does an effective congregation look like? I submit to you that evaluating a congregation’s effectiveness must go beyond counting programs; it must go beyond counting people in the pews, and it must go beyond responsible proclamation. As I read Paul's instructions to the Christians in Ephesus, I conclude that effectiveness in the church is born out of unity working through diversity.
Immediately following his exhortation to preserve Christian unity (4:3), Paul goes on to speak about the need for exercising our diversity. From this we discern that preserving unity does not exclude the need for diversity. As John Calvin has said, "out of this variety arises unity in the church, (just) as the various tones in music produce sweet melody."
Another analogy that I am fond of, which illustrates unity working through diversity, is examining how a football team is run.
In football, the offence is united by a common goal to score a touchdown, yet the individual responsibilities of the players are quite different. Some players are exceptionally large, but not very quick, and so they are charged with the responsibility of blocking. Some players are not very big, but are extremely quick runners and are skilled in catching the ball, and so they are made receivers or running backs. The quarterback might be fast or slow, tall or short, but will most certainly be able to throw the football a great distance, and with tremendous accuracy. The offense of the football team is united in their goal to score a touchdown, but each player has a different and unique role to play in accomplishing this goal.
I reckon that this is what Paul has in mind for the Church. We are to be united in our goal to see this world transformed by the power of Christ working through His body, and yet we advance towards this end by exercising our diversity in an organized, and united, manner.
Beginning at verse 7, we read, "But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift". Looking also, to Romans 12, "God has allotted to each a measure of faith . . . And since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let each exercise them accordingly"(Rom. 12:3, 6).
Notice that there are no exceptions here. "To each (Christian)" a spiritual gift is given by Christ. By gifting us all, we all have become useful for the kingdom of God. And by furnishing each of us with some gifts while withholding from us other gifts, a climate is created whereby the individual members of Christ’s body are compelled to depend upon one another in order to properly function.
If each Christian was given the exhaustive repertoire of gifts, it is conceivable that we could carry out our Divine mandate in isolation from one another. But because God has withheld some gifts from the individual Christian, and because God has withheld nothing from His Church, our context for doing Christian ministry becomes clear. We must do the work together.
Thinking again of our football analogy, if we all have a position to play, there can be no such thing as a Christian spectator. Every Christian is to be a player on the field, and has a unique role to fulfill. And every Christian is going to be held responsible by God for the employment of his or her gifts for the benefit of the Church.
Admittedly, our stage in life and our physical health will play large roles in determining the nature and quantity of our contributions to the life of the church. Nonetheless, there will always be something for you to do. No ministry is too small. For example, a commitment to pray daily for congregational ministries and the leaders of congregational ministries is one of the most vital contributions any church member could make. If life circumstances draw you away from everything else, forsake not the ministry of prayer.
In Romans chapter 12, the apostle Paul provides us with a short, but helpful, list of some of the gifts that Christ furnishes members of His body with.
Paul tells us that some are uniquely gifted for service—that is, some are gifted to look after the practical needs of those within the church (Rom. 12:7).
Paul says that some are gifted to teach—that is, some are gifted to provide biblical instruction for the benefit of other church members (Rom. 12:7).
Paul explains that some have the gift of exhortation—that is, some are gifted in motivating others to conform their lives to the will of Christ (Rom. 12:8).
Some have the gift of giving—that is, some are especially gifted in providing their material resources to the support the work of the church (Rom. 12:8).
Some have the gift of leadership—that is, some are gifted at helping others to identify and to employ their gifts within the body of Christ (Rom. 12:8).
And finally, Paul says that some have the gift of mercy—that is, some are particularly gifted in showing compassion—in word or deed—to those in need (Rom. 12:8).
Let me ask you this morning, which part of the body of Christ are you? And, assuming that you know what part you are, is your part "working properly" to promote growth within the body of Christ?
Or, to put it another way, are you playing your position on the field, or are you out of step with the rest of the team? Or worse, are there some who have positioned themselves as spectators?
How we answer these questions affects how we move forward as a congregation. Because, again, Church is not someplace you go; Church is something you are.
Every Christian must fulfill a role within the local congregation because God has furnished every Christian with spiritual gifts. And, as we see in Ephesians 4:11, not only has God given gifts to every Christian, but He has also appointed officers for every congregation. Paul writes, "He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers".
We could spend considerable time delineating the nature of each of these offices, but I would like us to skip ahead to the purposes for which these offices are ordained. Paul explains, in verse 12, that these offices are in place “for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ.”
We have already said that every Christian is going to be held accountable by God for the employment of his or her gifts for the benefit of the church. And now, we discern that pastors are doubly accountable (see also Jas. 3:1). We are accountable not only for ourselves, but we are also responsible for mobilizing the members of the body under our care.
This brings me back to my football analogy. Christ is the Head of this team—He is the owner, and as such, He has set the direction for the team. The role of the pastor then, like any head coach, is to carry out the owner’s will.
With our mandate before us, and with the resources of Christ at our disposal, why do you think so many congregations are struggling? Could it be that a great many pastors are setting aside their role as coach and are attempting to occupy every position on the field? I submit to you that when this happens, congregations begin to be marked by organizational dysfunction.
Here, I must confess my own tendency to want to be on the field; I confess to you an eagerness to occupy different positions on the field. If I do not keep this tendency in check, I contribute to this organizational dysfunction.
One explanation then, for organizational dysfunction, is when a minister covets the role of playing too many positions and is not sufficiently diligent in equipping others to take a position.
Another explanation for organizational dysfunction is that, within a congregation, too many members take up the position of a spectator. What often drives this pattern is a view that the minister, or ministers, are provided with a stipend and so the bulk of the work should rest with them. I submit to you that this is a dreadful response to an undeniable truth.
What is true is that the burden of doing the every day work of ministry lies most heavily upon the minister. What is dreadful is to think that this releases members of the congregation from engaging in significant ministry.
What we have so far are two scenarios. In the first scenario we have ministers running wildly onto the field in order to occupy multiple positions because they can’t help themselves. In the second scenario, however, we have ministers running wildly onto the field occupying multiple positions because they have been compelled to by a group of screaming spectators.
A third possibility for organizational dysfunction is that well-meaning members, in the absence of being adequately equipped to take their position, run onto the ministry field with little or no idea about the work that is to be done. These well-meaning, under-equipped members, lack insight into how their efforts correspond with, and depend on, the efforts of the other members on the field.
A fourth possibility would be an imprudent mixture of the first three scenarios.
Friends, this is not God's design for the Church. God’s plan is for the members of St. Giles Kingsway to fulfill their unique position within this local representation of the body of Christ.
That is to say, not only must we take our position on the field, but we must also be mindful of how our position relates to the other positions, and we must be ever mindful of how our position on the field relates to a common goal.
We can make a profound difference in this community we reside in, but we all need to take a part. We cannot afford to have anyone on the sidelines.
We can make a profound difference in this community of ours, but we will need to employ our unique gifts in an organized manner.
There is no shortage of entry points onto the field: Church School, Adventure Camp, Friendship Club, Prayer Team—just to name a few.
Together, we are the means whereby the Spirit of Christ functions in Central Etobicoke. Together, in Christ, we can make a difference for Christ and for His kingdom. Amen.