Seeking God (Part 1): First Thing

It was my first Sunday at the new church; my first message to the congregation. What would I say? I think most pastors struggle. I did. Not that I don’t have anything to say. If you are a fairly seasoned pastor, you have, in fact, too many things to say; so many issues to address; so many things to do. But what should be the first thing on the agenda?

As I spoke, I said to the church, “I don’t know what your expectations are. But, then again, maybe I do. In a crowd like this the expectations are many and varied. You may have gone along on the same journey, but perceptions are different, interpretation of events are different, internalisation of the experiences are different. And depending on what you feel is important you will also expect those things to be addressed as quickly as possible. They are all valid and good. We are all good Christians who want no less than the good of the church. But good must give way to…?”

I stopped for a dramatic pause.  Not expecting any kind of verbal response from this fairly conservative middle class medium-size congregation. But an extrovert shot out, “Better!” I hesitated. Seeing that was not quite what I was looking for, she shouted out again, “Best! Good must give way to best!

I said, “That’s good, but it’s not good enough. Good must give way to?… God! And it’s more than just dropping an “o”. There is a huge gap between good and God. It is God we want, not just good. It is God that we want to glorify, not to showcase how good our church is. That means, we must want to do the God-thing, not just good things.”

In order for us to do the God-thing, we need to hear from the Lord—to hear what His agenda is for the church or our ministry, our life and our vocation. Sometimes we run ahead of God, doing things He never meant for us to do. More often than not, we lag way behind, failing to do what He says we are to do. However, I think, the reality is that we haven’t a clue what God is up to, because we have not been listening to what He’s been saying. To do the God-thing, it is imperative that we hear from the Lord. And in order to hear from the Lord, we need to seek Him. That’s the first thing on our agenda—to seek God for His agenda, whether it’s for our life or for the church.

Lim Soon Hock Empowering Churches

(For Part 2 click here)

Rooting for the Small Church!

What is the place of the small church? Should we hypothesise that all churches are meant to grow, and therefore, we must do all we can to breakthrough the barriers that keep a small church from growing?

Or, should we say that the small church has its place and accept that, “My church is, and shall remain, a small church”?

Or, after having evaluated our church we come to the conclusion, “Although we may be a small church, we are nonetheless effective.” Now, (and please do not think that I am being insensitive or negative) if we are effective why then are we not growing? Are there valid and happy reasons?

I don’t have the statistics, but from my observation most of the churches in Malaysia are small. (I wish our national and denominational bodies will do more statistical studies so that we can have a better picture of the state of the Church in Malaysia). By definition a small church is numerically under 200 people; from babies to senior citizens (or as someone once said to me, “We count everything that moves!”). Using this metric, depending on who you quote, 80-90% of the churches in the US are small churches. My guess is that, it is probably the same in Malaysia. If we were to add all the churches in the small towns and villages in both Peninsula and East Malaysia they will certainly make up a very large  percentage of churches in the country. Even in the urban centres most of the churches are small.

There is no shame in being small.

All churches started small! Unless a large church decided to send out more than 200 people to start a new church plant; which has been done before, but it is not the norm. Hence, we are not to despise humble beginnings. However, note that it was never the intention of the parent church or the new church plant for it to remain small. It was planted to win more people to the Lord and to add them to the church. Churches that have lost its passion need to recapture the spirit and vision of those early pioneering days.

There is a huge difference between a small dynamic church that is making impact in its community and even beyond, and a small inward-looking church whose main focus are the needs of the members and trying to survive till Jesus returns.

There are good reasons why a church should remain small, and there are wrong reasons for a church to remain small. Below are some valid reasons:

  1. The community where the church is located, serves and is trying to reach with the Gospel is small; such as a small town or village. Even if the church is located in a large urban centre, the particular ethnic group that it is attempting to reach may be small; such as a migrant community.
  1. The church leaders believe that a small church is stronger relationally, can attain a higher level of member-participation, and achieve greater effectiveness in outreach. In other words, remaining small is a philosophy of ministry where growth is an objective. An outcome of such a philosophy would be church planting. Instead of growing into a large church, the parent church keeps on training and sending its members out to plant new churches. This is called extension growth. Or, the main church starts new ethnic-language congregations. This has been termed bridging growth. An example is when a Malaysian English-speaking church spawns a Tamil- or a Myanmarese-speaking congregation.
  1. Most pastors (and church leaders) are not large church leaders. Fewer still are megachurch pastors. If that is the case then, it is better to have many small churches that have pastors who are able to lead with vision and passion for growth and multiplication, than to load them with guilt that they are not growing their church into a large church.
  1. Small churches are easier to manage and lead. And if most pastors don’t have the capacity to lead large churches, it is best to accept our God-given abilities and work with small churches. Some people think that pastoring a mega church has built-in advantages because it has mega resources. But as I once heard Daniel Ho (former Senior Pastor of DUMC) say, “…we also have mega problems!” And not every (read, “most”) pastors (or lay leaders) are able to handle mega challenges.
  1. Some people don’t want to go to a large church. They prefer the I-know-everyone-in-the-church kind of atmosphere and where the pastor is everyone’s personal shepherd. Should the church grow too big for them, they move out to a smaller church.

Small churches are here to stay—and for good reasons. The thing is, we need to ensure that our church is small for the right reasons, and never at the expense of fulfilling the Great Commission of Jesus Christ.

The Organised Church (Part 2): Critical Components of Church Organisation

In Part 1 I wrote about the need for pastors and church leaders to seriously look into the organisational aspect of the church. It is my observation that churches that fail to organise themselves well, despite the fact that they may be solidly founded on sound theology and/or pray a lot, disadvantage themselves,

The New Testament-mention of the spiritual gift of administration (1 Cor 12:28) underscores the importance for good organisation in the church. What’s the point of the gift if the Lord did not think that effective administration (organisation) of the church is necessary and important? The meaning of the root word in Greek for the gift of administration is connected to the work of a shipmaster or captain. The job then, of the person with this gift is to help steer or lead the church (or a ministry). If he is not the leader of the church, then his job is to assist the leader to develop strategies, organise the people and implement the process.

Broadly speaking, there are three critical components in the organisation of a church: structures, systems and processes.

  1. Structures

These refer to the organisational structures of the church, such as the leadership, departments, ministries, small groups and communications. (This list is not meant to be exhaustive. Similarly for the lists in “Systems” and “Processes” below.)

Let me flesh out a couple of examples to help you understand what I mean.

The leadership structure concerns matters like the lines of authority and communication; which is often presented in the form of an organisational chart. It also asks questions like: Who leads the leadership team? What is the role of the pastor and the chairman respectively? How is the pastor accountable to the church board? Is the church effectively led by one person or by a team?

In the broader context of the church it asks: What is the role of the congregation in making decisions? What kind of decisions does the congregation make?

With regards to the small groups structure: How is the ministry structured? Are the group leaders accountable to the pastor or to a small group ministry head? If there are a large number of small groups does the church divide them into areas (or zones)? Within each small group, are mature Christians assigned to care for younger believers?

  1. Systems

These refer to the working systems of the church, such as the financial, leadership, small group, worship service and assimilation of new people .

The first thing you probably noticed is that I have included leadership and small group here, even though I had already mentioned them under “structures”. That is because they (and others) are systems in the body of the church that must be properly structured.

Under “systems”, however, we ask a different set of questions. For the small group ministry the focus here is on the workings of the system. We want to know: What level of importance does the church place on the small group ministry? (Is everyone expected to be part of a small group? Is participation in a small group a pre-requisite for membership in the church?) Is the nature, purpose and programme of the small groups standardised or does each group have autonomy? Is attendance monitored? Are small group leaders expected to send in monthly or quarterly reports? Are small groups expected to multiply within a certain period? What is the church’s philosophy of small group ministry?

With regards to finances we are concerned about the efficient and effective collection of the members’ tithes and offering, proper recording of the collection, accounting of income and expenditure, and not just the proper use of church funds but their purposeful use to advance the Kingdom.

We ask the questions: How is the money apportioned? Does the church have a budget? What’s the financial and accounting policy of the church? How is the money collected (physically at worship services and/or bank transfers and/or credit card payments)? What is the procedure to count and record the collection?  Who can authorise a payment and what is the quantum? What policies are in place to ensure the purposeful use of church funds?

  1. Processes

These refer to the steps taken to accomplish an objective, such as the assimilation of new people, discipleship, and ministry and leadership development.

For example, pastors tell me that they want to make disciples, but when I ask them how they are making disciples, they cannot articulate it—either they don’t have a process in place or it’s so vague they cannot tell you. Every church needs to have a discipleship process. If you don’t have one you may start with Rick Warren’s “baseball diamond” found in his book, The Purpose Driven Church.

Disciple making, leadership development (read, raising up next generation leaders for succession planning) cannot be left ad hoc! Neither can we leave the assimilation of new people to chance. That’s the reason many would-be-additions to the church fall through the cracks. Every church needs well thought-out and workable processes for things like these.

Every church needs to be well organised. This will happen when pastors and church leaders do what is necessary to ensure that their church’s structures, systems and processes are efficient and effective. There is no one size-fits all because of the differences in the make-up of our churches. Start with the Bible. Study your own church. Learn from other churches. Get the leadership team to read and discuss one or more relevant books on the matter, and implement what is helpful. This is the road to the administrative health of your church.

The Organised Church (Part 1)

There are three major areas that need attention for any church to be healthy: Doctrine, Spirituality and Organisation. The first two have traditionally been the focus. The New Testament letters deal primarily with these areas, for obvious reasons:

  1. At that time, the church was in its infancy and it was imperative that it got its doctrinal foundation right.
  2. Jesus’ teaching passed on by the apostles was being attacked and undermined by false teachings such as legalism and Gnosticism. The apostles had to correct them and defend the Gospel.
  3. The churches in the first century were generally small, and there were not many organisational issues to deal with (I will qualify this later).

Bible schools, since their inception, have also traditionally focussed on Bible knowledge. The main goal was to ensure that the students graduate with sound theology. That is perfectly valid, as they will be the primary teachers of the Word to their congregations. Hence, they should be empowered to espouse Scriptural truths accurately. But the intense focus on this has left training in spirituality and organisational skills on the back burner. I am happy to observe that training in spirituality has made a comeback in many seminaries. However, the same cannot be said for their training in understanding the church organisationally; its structure, values, culture, vision casting, and so on. This has to be corrected so that Bible seminaries don’t produce pastors who only know theology but do not know how to lead a corporate body.

It is incorrect to say that the New Testament letters do not deal with organisational issues at all. Among the first problems that the early church encountered concerned the care of widows (Acts 6). The Grecian-Jews complained against the Hebraic-Jews that their widows were being overlooked in the food distribution. Besides being a spirituality-social issue it was also a community-organisational issue.  And the solution was to appoint six Grecian-Jews to oversee the ministry so that no one was missed out, especially the widows among this group.

In some of his letters, Paul wrote about the leadership of the church. He instructed Titus to appoint elders for the church in Crete (Tit 1:5). He gave Timothy a list of criteria for those who may qualify as elders and deacons (1 Tim 3:1-13). This was necessary for two reasons. One, to provide pastoral care for the members, and two, to provide a leadership structure for the corporate body organisationally.

In the Old Testament, the often-quoted event that saw a paradigm shift in organisational structure concerned Moses’ leadership (Exo 18). Fortunately it happened in the early days of the Exodus, rather than later; or else, Moses would have died from overwork. He was personally handling every problem of this massive group of people until, Jethro, his father-in-law, gave wise counsel. He told Moses to appoint leaders over groups of thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens; in a pyramidal-like structure. In that way Moses was able to delegate his work to these sub-section leaders. He only needed to handle those cases that they could not manage.

Likewise, pastors and church leaders need to learn how to organise their church so that it is healthy and effective. It is not about copying the world or trying to be a sleek organisation. It’s about enhancing the life, ministry and missions of the Church of Jesus Christ.

The present-day church is much more complex than the church in the days of the apostles, or even just 60 years ago. The churches then were generally small and there were not a great deal of organisational issues to be concerned about. But not so today. And the truth is that it will get increasingly more complex. Because of this reality there is a serious need to look into the organisational health of the church, without neglecting the doctrinal and spirituality concerns.

What are the critical needs in your church to bring it to health or better health? How will you address them? Who do you have to walk with you as you think, pray, study your church, find solutions, implement them and evaluate their effectiveness?

(Taken from my booklet, Before ER: A Call for Church Health.)

Go to Part 2: Critical Components of Church Organisation

Staff Retreat (Part 3): Envisioning

In Parts 1 & 2 I wrote about two of the three priorities for a Staff Retreat; namely, Prayer and Team Building. (If you have not read them yet, go to links here for Part 1 and Part 2). This final part focuses on the primary purpose of the retreat where the pastoral staff huddle down together to look at what needs to be done to strengthen the church to be healthier and to do better.

This may include planning, but the retreat is more than just about planning programmes for the coming year. It is more about the big-picture; where the church is at, where it is going and what needs to be done to get there. It involves looking at everything and anything that will help the pastoral team accomplish that. I will simply call it Envisioning.

I am using the term rather loosely here. It is not limited to crafting a vision statement. Of course, if a church does not have one, then this is among the very first things the pastoral team should pray and work on. If it already has a vision but requires a serious relook or just a bit tweaking, then an appropriate amount of time should be given to do what is needed at the Retreat.

Areas of Focus

The area of focus at each retreat will understandably be different. It depends on what the Senior Pastor discerns to be the need of the church during this season of its journey. Below are examples of what some of these needs might be:

  1. Drafting Vision and/or Mission Statements
  2. Determining Core Values
  3. Setting 5-year Goals
  4. Establishing Discipleship and Leadership Development Processes
  5. How to Retain Visitors and Close the Back Door
  6. Removing Growth Obstacles and Establishing Growth Strategies
  7. Developing Church Health
  8. Developing Church Culture
  9. Carrying Out Change

From my experience there is time for the team to deal with only one or two areas at any one retreat. This is because we want to be thorough, and secondly, because of the method employed for this kind of an exercise.

Methodology

The SP is expected to lead in the sessions, but the outcome should be a team effort. That means, the sessions are to be conducted in a way that allows for every team member to participate. A lot of time is to be given to collective brainstorming, discussion and sharing of opinions.

Putting up the ideas and insights coming from the different members with the use of “post it”, white board, flip chart and/or LCD projection is indispensable to aid clarity and to avoid misunderstanding.

In order to maximise the time at the retreat the SP should clue-in the team with the agenda. Some of the staff may be assigned to do some pre-retreat research and questions may be given to the team to guide their personal pre-retreat reflection. This will give everyone time to think, be better prepared and have more useful contributions to make at the Retreat.

Action Steps

The last thing any pastoral team would want is to go away from a retreat not really knowing what they have done or accomplished.

The Staff Retreat must end with clear conclusions, deliberate action steps for those areas where there is agreement, and outstanding matters noted for further discussion back in the office (perhaps, at the weekly pastoral staff meeting).

Summary Report

Within a week, preferably before the next pastoral staff meeting, the SP should have sent out a summary report of the Staff Retreat encapsulating the conclusions, action steps and outstanding matters. This document is to be the basis for further deliberations at both the pastoral and church leadership (eg. Church Board) levels until agreement is achieved. Following this the decisions and strategies are then cascaded to the members of the church for united action.

(If your church does not a team of pastoral staff, my recommendations for a Staff Retreat may be applied for a Church Leaders Retreat such as the Eldership team or Church Board.)

Staff Retreat (Part 2): Team Building

In Part 1 I wrote about the need of having an annual pastoral staff retreat, with envisioning, prayer and team building as priority on the agenda. If you missed this and my pointers on prayer you can read my post here.  

The second objective of a staff retreat is Team Building.

All pastoral staff are usually given a specific ministry for which he (or she) is personally responsible. While he may be the man in-charge of that ministry he is not, however, to function in a silo. It is very unfortunate that the latter is a common problem in many churches. This is true of both paid staff and unpaid volunteers. Too many church workers are focussed only on their ministry, they fight for the church’s resources for their ministry, they even pray just for their ministry—oblivious of the bigger picture.

It is critical that everyone works as a team, including the leaders across the various ministries of the church (and, leaders need to lead the way and show the way). The greater the unity the greater the effectiveness. The greater the bond between the workers the greater the unity. The better the understanding of one another’s ministry and how each adds to the health of the church the stronger the shared vision to advance the church.

The pastoral staff retreat is a wonderful opportunity to foster this very much needed team spirit. They set the tone and the example for the rest of the church.

How is this done?

Informal Chats

At a staff retreat bonding between staff can happen informally over meals or over a cup of tea during the “free hours”. In such an atmosphere it is natural to catch up on family, share about personal aspirations or even air personal ministry struggles. At a right moment with the right person, colleagues often easily open up to one another on deeper personal issues, which might otherwise be hidden away.

Programmed Exercises

While connections between staff members may happen spontaneously in the conducive atmosphere of a retreat, still, it is extremely helpful to schedule into the programme exercises for team building. The lead pastor or someone in the group may facilitate the exercises, but that may mean that that person will not be able to participate. At one retreat we invited a professional team builder to join us, and it proved to be very useful as all the staff could participate in the exercises.

In some of the staff retreats I had led, I had some time carved out in the programme to evaluate how we had done as a team. We asked questions like, What have we accomplished as a team? How would we rate the support we received from each other? How much do we know of each other’s personal and ministry challenges? What are some things we can do to strengthen our team spirit? The sharing helped us to understand and appreciate one another more.

Forging Together

The ultimate purpose of building team spirit among a group of colleagues is to enable them to work together effectively. Hence, it isn’t enough just to have social camaraderie over a cup of coffee or to bond during team building exercises. As the saying goes, “The proof of the pudding is in the eating,”—so, the test of the team is during those times when the team members work together.

The Staff Retreat is one such platform when this happens. This “planning” time calls for as much team work as when the team is carrying out a project for the church. Regardless of what’s up for discussion, each is to bring his (or her) contribution to the table, and together the team forge a united way forward for the common good of the church. This is part of the envisioning process which I hope to write about in Part 3 next week.

Staff Retreat (Part 1)

If I were to pick one event in the church calendar that had been a consistent highlight in the churches I pastored it would be the annual pastoral staff retreat. It was one of the most useful, time-well-spent, cost-beneficial, and I hasten to add, necessary, events to be scheduled into the calendar.

Where?  A quiet place like the Cameron Highlands or Fraser’s Hill, because I like the cool weather and great food served up by the resident caretakers. (Picture on the right is the OMF Bungalow in Cameron Highlands.)

How long?  Usually a few days.

When?  Normally, in October. With three-quarters of the year done, enough have happened for some serious evaluation. With only a few months left before the new year, October is also a good time to start working on the big picture for the following year. In most church settings, a reasonable lead time is also needed because the “plans” coming from the pastoral team have to be cascaded to the Church Board for their agreement.

Who? Obviously, the pastoral/ministry staff. But I have sometimes included the elders (or senior members of the church leadership) to let them see what we do at such pastoral staff retreats and also to benefit from their input. (There is certainly a place for a larger church leaders retreat, but a pastoral staff retreat is irreplaceable. I believe that the pastoral team should be at the cutting-edge of the church’s advancement.)

Purpose? Like the Staff Meeting (read the blogpost here) many things can be brought to the table for a Staff Retreat, but the following should be topmost on the agenda: 1. Envisioning, 2. Prayer and 3. Team Building.

I’ll deal with prayer in this post and leave team building and envisioning to subsequent posts.

PRAYER

I am certain that you believe that prayer is not something we simply pay lip-service to—we need to get down to seriously praying. And if the pastoral team cannot do that then we might as well hand in our resignation letters. Time away for a staff retreat must also mean setting aside time for prayer at the retreat.

Prayer Priority

Prayer should be the first thing on the programme when everyone has arrived (though I have to confess that afternoon tea with scones, cream and strawberry jam often come first!). There is such a great temptation to jump right into business—talking and strategising—without first seeking the face of the Lord and listening to Him. Each new day should begin with corporate worship and prayer, and a good part of the evenings should be dedicated to prayer.

Prayer Agenda

  1. Praying for the Retreat. We don’t want to be led by human understanding, we want to be led by the Spirit of Lord. We don’t just want good ideas, we want to be divinely inspired. We shouldn’t be satisfied with doing good things, we must want to do the God-thing. Hence, we must pray and seek the face of the Lord.
  2. Praying for One Another. Only those who are in the full-time pastoral ministry know how tough the job is. It follows that we are the best people to pray for each other.

The retreat is a good time to pray into one another’s life. The setting lends itself to it. From my experience I know this can be so powerful. As the staff minister to one another inner hurts are healed, spirits are lifted up, a fresh anointing of the Spirit falls on one or more people, and maybe, even on the whole group!

At one retreat we invited a spiritual director to lead us for the first one and a-half days in a silent retreat. It was a short but significant time—evidenced by the sharing at the conclusion of our personal and quiet waiting upon the Lord.

  1. Praying for the Church. The chief reason why the pastoral staff are at the retreat is because of the church. We are there to seek the Lord for the church. Hence, it is only natural and right for the staff to seize the time to make strong intercession on behalf of the church.

The Staff Retreat is not a prayer retreat, but you can’t do without serious prayer if you want to accomplish something significant at the Staff Retreat.

Next blog post: Staff Retreat (Part 2) on “Team Building”.

Church Facilities and First Impression

I have visited churches that don’t take pride in their buildings. After all, a church is not the building, but the people. As a result, the building is allowed to deteriorate into disrepair; the paintwork peeling off; entrances, ministry rooms and the main worship hall cluttered with all kinds of stuff (wanted and unwanted); and the grounds left unkempt.

This is particularly evident of churches that use rented shop lots (and in Malaysia, they make up a good majority). As the premises don’t belong to them there may be little ownership and motivation to keep the place in good condition. There is even less sense of responsibility for the common areas, such as the corridors; and public areas, like the five-foot way. I have been to churches where throwaways (by other tenants) were stuffed under the staircase leading to the church in the upper floors, unsightly debris along the five-foot way, and the only-to-be-found-in-Malaysia heinous Ah Long stickers plastered all over the external walls of the buildings.

I am not suggesting that church buildings have to be lavishly done up, but they must at least be smart and the facilities be in good-working condition. The surroundings do not have to be in manicured-condition but it must at least be clean and neat.

Why is it so important to keep church premises presentable? Because it shapes a  visitor’s first impression of the church. Consciously or unconsciously the following questions will be swirling around in his mind, and what he sees will inevitably lead him to make certain deductions about the church.

1. Are the people proud of their church?

A poorly-kept facility is an indicator that the members have an indifferent attitude towards their church.

A well-kept facility tells a visitor that the people are proud of their church and that they like their church.

2. Is the church serious about drawing in new people?

A poorly-kept facility is an indicator that the church couldn’t-care-less what outsiders think about the church.

A well-kept facility says that the church is concerned about providing an environment that is welcoming to visitors. They want, at the very least, to give their visitors a good first impression of their church.

3. Is “good quality” a value of the church?

A poorly-kept facility is an indicator that “good quality” is not a value of the church. If it cannot be seen in the care of its premises, it is unlikely that quality will be valued in other areas of the church’s life and ministry.

A well-kept facility is a sign that the church values “good quality”—in everything; with everything they have and in everything they do. I believe you will be hard-pressed to find a church with good quality ministries but whose building and facilities are out of whack through indifference.

4. Can I happily engage in worship in this church environment?

A poorly-kept facility, especially in the main worship hall, will put most visitors off from worship. The environment matters! If it is not conducive for worship because of clutter and peeling paint (and maybe odour) it is not going to encourage a visitor to return.

On the other hand, walking through a pleasant environment and into an equally or even more pleasant worship hall will enhance a visitor’s engagement in worship. This will certainly give him positive vibes.

5. If I am looking for a church, do I want to come back for a second look?

A well-kept facility may not be the deciding factor for a visitor, whether he would come back for a second visit or, for that matter, to join the church. However, a poorly-kept facility will guarantee that a visitor will not come back for second look!

If you are a pastor or church leader, let me encourage you to take some time this week to do a church facility audit.

 

The Misunderstood Ephesians 4:11-12 (Part 2)

In Part 1 I wrote about how the church has continually misunderstood the role of God’s gifted-persons such as the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers (or, pastor-teachers). The wrong understanding is: Since they are gifted by the Lord then they should be the ones to do ministry, while the rest of the church just sit back and soak. Ephesians 4:11-12, however, teaches to the contrary. The right understanding is: The primary job of the gifted-persons is to empower; it is the job of all in the church, who have been thus empowered, to do ministry. In this way the body of Christ is built up.

Alright, so we now know what the gifted-persons are to empower God’s people for. The follow-up question is: What is the former to empower the latter with? A misunderstanding of the former usually leads to a misunderstanding of the latter.

It’s apparent that we can only empower another person in the area that we ourselves have the ability or talent. A non-musician can’t teach someone to play the piano. A drummer can’t teach someone to play the saxophone. To state the obvious, only a bassist can teach a guitarist how to play the bass.

As it is in the natural; so it is with the spiritual. We can only empower others to do what we ourselves have been gifted to do. The apostle, among other things, pioneers ministries. Correspondingly, when raising up leaders in the body of Christ, his job is to empower others, for example, to plant churches or to start new Christian ventures.

As for the prophet, he is to train believers to hear and to speak a now word from the Lord. The evangelist is to raise up the people in the church to effectively share the Gospel with unbelievers. The pastor is to train the members in the body to provide pastoral and spiritual care for one another (and also for those outside the church). And the teacher is to teach others how to teach the Word of God.

It doesn’t mean that these gifted-persons don’t do ministry with their giftings. If they had not, they would not have gotten to know their gifts and ministry, and to develop them to the extent that they are now able to pass them on to others.

In fact, they rightly never stop exercising their gifts. The evangelist still evangelises the lost and the pastor still nurtures people in the faith. They still have to walk their talk; and not just talk about how they used to walk! More than what they had done, it is what they are doing that gives them credibility as they train others. It is from their current experiences of ministry that they can best illustrate and inspire others to do what they are doing.

I like what John Maxwell says in his Leadership Bible. I think it might be appropriately called “Multiplication Maxims”. They are stated in the first line of each point, and I follow-up with a bit of my own commentary.

  1. It takes one to know one. We tend to see what we possess ourselves.

It is not that we can never see what others have if we don’t have it ourselves. But it would be true to say that we can more easily recognise something in someone because we know what it looks like in us. Furthermore, we are able to evaluate the degree of the gifting and its potential for development.

  1. It takes one to show one. We cannot model for someone what we haven’t done.

I am stating the obvious: Nobody can teach what he doesn’t know. He won’t be able to explain it nor show how something is done when he has never done it himself. We can only model for others how to operate in a certain spiritual gift or ministry when we have experience in doing it ourselves. Besides the issue of ability it is also about credibility.

  1. It takes one to grow one. We cannot train someone until we’ve done it ourselves.

This kind-of-follows Maxim No. 2 about modelling. This is about training. And the more we have developed the gift and ministry the more we will be able to grow others in these areas.

Clearly, when a church puts into practise Ephesians 4:11-12 it will have many more people with an apostolic, prophetic, evangelistic, pastoral and teaching giftings and ministry (though, in varying degrees). Imagine how more effective the church would be when that happens.

The Misunderstood Ephesians 4:11-12 (Part 1)

Ephesians 4:11-12 is about one of the most misunderstood Scripture. Misunderstanding and misapplying it do not muddy-up our doctrinal beliefs but they certainly impede our effectiveness in building the church.

11 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, so that the body of Christ may be built up.”

Whether there are four or five gifted-persons (I am being gender-sensitive) is not the concern of this post. Whatever your interpretation, you still have God’s gifted servants functioning as pastors and teachers; as a combo or separately.

The first misunderstanding I want to raise concerns their role. What do they do? What are they supposed to be doing according to this Scripture?

Many would say, the job of the apostle is to plant, organise and oversee churches. It includes laying a Biblical-strong foundation for these churches, and also to raise, train and appoint leaders who will eventually take leadership of these churches.

As for the prophet, his (or her) job is to bring a now word of the Lord to the church and to the world. The evangelist is to preach the Gospel and win the lost to Christ. And the pastor-teacher, is to provide spiritual nurture to the converted, which includes teaching them the Word of God.

It is simply logical to expect a particular spiritual gift to naturally lend itself to a corresponding ministry. However, to say that the above descriptions are then their jobs is to miss the point of Ephesians 4:11-12. If we asked the second question, “What are they supposed to be doing according to this Scripture?”, we will get a totally different answer.

Verse 12 states that the job of these gifted-persons are “to prepare God’s people”. To put it succinctly, in the context of your local church: The job of the pastor-teacher is to equip and empower the members. Does the pastor provide spiritual nurture and teach the Word of God? Of course, he does. But that is not his primary role. His primary role is to equip and empower the members.

To what end? “…for works of service.” The gifted-person’s primary job (or ministry) is not to do ministry but to prepare God’s people to do ministry. Unfortunately in too many churches they expect the pastor or the hired-hand to do all the work! From preaching, counselling and visitation to driving the van, printing the bulletin and being the key-man (literally).

If that is the culture of a church then what we have is just one man serving the rest of the body. Or, a bunch of paid staff serving the church. This is certainly not the body-ministry envisaged by the New Testament, where all the members of body builds up the whole body. Furthermore, 2 Timothy 2:2, “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of witnesses, entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others also”, is not going to happen. Multiplication is not going to take place.

Now, part of the problem is the gifted-persons themselves. Unfortunately, many among them also have a misunderstanding of their own role. They believe, like so many others in the church, that they are the ones to do the ministry. “That’s my job!” “I’m the one with the spiritual gift; so, I’m to do the ministry!” In fact, for many, their identity is so tied up with their ministry that they cannot give it away—by empowering others to do “their ministry”.  They can’t see themselves doing “less” by empowering others to do “more”.

The awesome truth is that the body of Christ, the church, is only going to be built up when every member does ministry. It’s the kind of ministry ethos that says, ministry is not to be left to just the specially gifted-persons, but to be expected of all. The former is to focus on empowering the members—so that the latter can do ministry. In turn, the gifted-person is freed up to from having to do a lot of hands-on service and give more time to equipping, guiding and mentoring their mentees. Hence, effectively, multiplying themselves. That’s the import and genius of Ephesians 4:11-12 which both the pastor and members must heed if we are ever to see the church built up.

We now know what these gifted-persons are to empower God’s people for. But what are they to empower them with? The answer will surprise you. That’s the other misunderstood item about Ephesians 4:11-12. Click here for Part 2.