Jesus has called us to share his good news to the people of this 21st century. It’s a task that apparently needs further defining, given Christianity’s varied and mixed history.
To initiate this mission some 2000 years ago, Jesus chose twelve young men, probably not much older than twenty years of age, nurtured and mentored them, before commissioning and empowering them with, “Go, and make disciples of all nations!” They then healed the sick, preached the gospel, cast out demons, and baptised in Jesus’ name. Thus they were instrumental in perpetuating and deploying more disciples in Jesus’ image.
Since then, the followers of Jesus have both survived and thrived. Christianity across the Western world steadily grew. Its significance was felt to the “ends of the earth”. That is, until now, because followers of Jesus largely in the West find themselves living in what is now called the “post-Christian era”. How times have changed.
For hundreds of years, Christianity significantly influenced the thinking and ethos throughout the rise of the Western world. Great cathedrals dominated its skyline. The clergy were held in high esteem. Churches yielded power and influence, often consisting of two classes – priests and laity. But, now, the demographics are rapidly changing. The previous model of ministry doesn’t any longer seem to be working. In fact, our focus will require rethinking and recalibrating if we’ve any chance of continuing past momentum, as the fruits of our current marginalisation is increasingly evident – at least here in the largely secularised West. (It is worth noting that Christianity’s redemptive message, however, is still taking root in other parts of the world, such as in Africa and Asia).
Thus, given the challenges we face in a generally suspicious if not hostile environment, we must explore being part of a new, second Reformation, a journey initiated by the first but which largely remained unfinished. We must follow Christ’s leadership through what portends to be absolutely unprecedented times. The bygone age of grand cathedrals, of Christianised ethos and law, of the “Lord’s Prayer” recited in schools and government, and of respected clergy, can and will never be revisited in this age. From high esteem, many clergy are now, for example, under cross-examination by Royal Commissions for institutionalised paedophilia! Modern Christianity seems irretrievably tarnished!
Nonetheless, Jesus is still building his church. And, we need to embrace and align our energies with his vision of the future. It seems we need a different paradigm to what was manifest in previous centuries – one that was, of course, that Jesus himself modelled.
Today, however, old practices die hard. Still too many pastors are operating under an outdated paradigm, acting as chaplains and care-givers, and often rushing off to meet the needs of the bleating sheep. Thus, they inadvertently perpetuate a model of dependency. God, however, has called us not to remain infants in the faith, but as his followers become empowered by Jesus to be equipping leaders of other leaders. We are not called to passivity, but to an active faith!
The dynamic of the second Reformation is emerging and evident not only throughout parts of Christendom, but also in greater clarity in the Church of God Sabbatarian community. Twenty or so years ago, at least in my personal journey, the prevailing church paradigm I was accustomed to began to crumble. Its exclusivity and significant awkwardness with the person of Jesus had reached the end of its course. Did Jesus step in and “remove the lampstand”? It certainly sounds like it. But that’s another story.
Today, we increasingly see different parts of the Body of Christ, albeit under different administrations, but sharing a common faith and heritage, working and worshipping together in unity and grace, extending to each other the right-hand of fellowship. Thus, we’re experiencing a revived model of Jesus leading the church. This is manifesting in some refreshing changes. Pastoral care is changing from “one size fits all” exclusively doing corporate ministry, to equipping and empowering others for ministry, utilising their spiritual God-given gifts.
The momentum for this “new” ministry model finds its roots and authenticity in the first century. The old Pharisaically-driven paradigms would never allow the equipping of all to discipleship and ministry according to their spiritual gifts. Pastors must continue to shift from fostering dependency to an equipping model.
The old covenant with the hierarchal Levitical priesthood ceased when Jesus was crucified, evidenced with the tearing of the temple veil of separation. Access to the Holy of Holies, symbolic of our direct access to our heavenly Father, became freely available. Jesus is now our High Priest. The new covenant accordingly ushered with it the priesthood of all believers, something that must be understood and embraced in the new reformation!
Pastors begin “teaching” the word of God, and then continue equipping and coaching all believers to ministry. While Jesus said “Feed my sheep”, he also expanded it with, “Make disciples”. This is the model Jesus commissioned his disciples.
The church no longer consists of two classes, ministers and members. We’re all saints. We’re all brothers. We’re all children of God. All are called to ministry. And we’re all encouraged to develop and utilise those spiritual gifts.
Jesus reminded his disciples, against the model backdrop of the Pharisees, “Don’t be called Rabbi, for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren.” (Matthew 23:8) We are called to grow up in Christ’s fullness and stature, and less dependent on human leaders.
Paul further developed this in his letter to those at Ephesus, when he said, “Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service [ministry], so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach the 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.” (Ephesians 4:11-13)
The dependence model doesn’t any longer work under the terms of the new covenant! The lament in letter to the Hebrews bears this out: “By now you ought to be teachers, but you’re still in infancy, dependent on the milk of the word”. (Hebrews 5:11-14)
A baby is dependent on his or her mother’s milk. Given that’s where we all started, it’s not a state we want to stay with. We’re called to spiritually grow beyond infancy.
That’s where Jesus’ gentle and humble words beckon us to empowerment, if we’re only willing to listen. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened [from the Pharisaical-modelled version of old covenant ministry], and I will give you rest,” says Jesus. (Matthew 11:28-30) Jesus wants us to take his yoke upon us – something that fits us right, matches our spiritual gifts, and is really as we’re meant to be.
Someone once said that, “A man makes the dream, and then the dream makes the man.” Therein lies a powerful truism. Love and passion can drive us to great heights. The seeds of God’s kingdom have been sewn in our hearts. “Seek first His kingdom,” says Jesus.
So you have a passion, a gift, a skill? Follow that dream. Develop your gifts. Grow your ministry – to the glory of God and in the name of Jesus. Remember the wisdom from an old proverb: “A man’s heart [his God-given gifts] plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9)
God bless you in your service in the body of Christ.