Of the Christians in Thessalonica the religious leaders of Paul's day said, “These who have turned the world upside down have come here too.” (Acts 17:6)
Some of us believe that he was actually turning the world rightside up, but that people are so used to seeing the world as it is that changes for the better look foolish.
This happens in the church too, and it has even happened with a passage in one of Paul’s Epistles. If we listen to what Paul says and apply it, many churches will be turned upside down, and I will bet you right now that much of the religious establishment won’t like it.
The passage in question is in Ephesians 4. In this chapter Paul begins by pointing out that we all have a calling, and that we all have gifts. He talks about using them in humility, and that we are all one body, and that we should use those gifts for the benefit of others. And then in verse 11 he mentions the gift of congregational leadership: “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers.”
It’s at this point where the world gets turned upside down. I can cite many instances where pastors and others in ministry have told me, and I have even heard them lamenting from the pulpit, that people these days are disengaged from the work of their ministry. People do not want to get behind the latest initiative, whether it be a dream of a food pantry, a church radio broadcast, a monthly publication, or other often worthy projects. “They don’t want to get involved. Their faith has turned into a spectator sport. I suspect they are all Laodicean.”
It’s an understandable frustration. But it’s here where the world has been turned upside down.
In verse 11 Paul tells us that God has given gifts of leadership, which if looked at in function are really various teaching gifts. It’s in verse 12 where he tells us why he gives these gifts. Is it so others can get behind the leadership and do a great work? Before you answer that, read verse 12. From the New American Standard Version, but most modern translations give the same sense: God gave these gifts of leadership, or better said, teaching, “for the equipping of the saints for the work of service.”
That looks upside down for much of the world of Christianity. Leadership is supposed to equip the saints for works of service! Often this plain teaching is reversed: “You, my parishoners, are to equip me with your finances and with your labor for my works of service.”
May I submit that maybe many church leaders sense disengagement in their congregations because the projects are the leaders’ projects and not the people’s projects. The way I read it, these gifts of leadership, these teaching gifts, are to equip the people with the tools, and the people are required to use them in ways consistent with their own gifts, talents, and abilities. Then the leadership is to support them, advise them, and encourage them along those paths. Put differently, the church gets engaged in ministry through grassroots projects.
Read it in context, from verses 11 – 13, this time from the New International Version: “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach 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.”
Do you want to engage people? Let them take ownership, and let them do it voluntarily.
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