We seem to have a slight problem in the modern church. Laymen in the church have developed an interesting, yet un-Biblical, idea that evangelism and discipleship are not their responsibilities. Those responsibilities, they appear to suggest, belong solely to the pastoral staff and those ďCalledĒ to the ministry. For all of Martin Lutherís achievements, the church as a whole has regressed in its purpose, passion, and ministerial structure. The layman, while being free to pray straight to God without a mediator and being free to interpret the Bible individually, has also seen fit to free himself of any ministerial responsibility, outside of the obligatory nursery or Sunday school position. And where does this false image of responsibility in ministry stem? Possibly, we could put the blame of the ineffectual layman on decades of stressing the free gift of salvation over the balance of free salvation and submission of our will to the will of God. Or, perhaps we could blame the modern church for not properly equipping its lay-workers for evangelization at home and at work. Regardless of the blame, it becomes evident, when researching scripture, that every believer has a purposed ministry. While believers may differ in makeup and in the way they affect the world for Christ, each believerís ministry is designed to further and help propagate the will of God.
Because the will of God encompasses all of creation and incorporates every manís life, whether saved or unsaved, individual ministries within that will may be extremely varied, but should all strive for the same purpose. Can we define or prescribe a set standard for ministry? I believe it would be impossible. There are too many factors involved, including spiritual gifts, spheres of influence, and our previous experience. In fact, standardizing ministry could be detrimental to a great majority of believers. Christians that are taught that ministry must be pigeon-holed into certain guidelines may feel isolated when they realize that their particular gifts or background do not lend themselves opportunity for future success. Jesus never stereotypes ministry and neither should believers. Jesusí ministry was His life. And, if we examine the concept of ministry, we find that ministryís goal is to glorify God, just as Jesusí life glorified His Father. When ministry is defined, the two main concepts brought up most often are the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. These two components should be factored into every believerí is that either disciplining or loving your neighbor as yourself should be birthed from a desire to bring glory to God.
All believers, therefore, share the same purpose, but a distinction must be made between church leadership and laity in the area of responsibility. While all believers are called to glorify God by sharing the gospel, discipling new believers, loving God as well as their fellow man, church leadership has the added responsibility of shepherding and guiding. Thus it is stated, ďFrom everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.Ē This verse illustrates the proliferation of admonition toward those in a position of responsibility. The leaderís additional duties are numerous and diverse. The main task of the leadership is to unify the local body, guiding the laity in discipleship with the goal being spiritual maturity as defined by Jesus. The leadership is also responsible to review the discipleship process regularly and suggest and implement changes congruent with their findings. The leadership has volunteered to be directly responsible for the growth of those under their care. They also have an indirect responsibility to care for their surrounding community, non-believers as well as believers. Obviously, the best way to care for the community as well as evangelize to it is through the direct actions of the laity. The leadershipís job, therefore, is to prepare the laity so that the people can find and meet the needs of those in the community as well as present the gospel. In addition, the leadership is also in charge of organizing. Several facets of a well-run church would not be performed half as smoothly without the assistance of a skilled organizer and director. Paul addressed other duties of church leadership in his letters to Timothy, including instructions on worship, qualifications of church leadership, and the trap of wealth. However, to get a decent grasp of the importance and responsibility that is laid upon the church leadership, one has to review the admonitions handed from Jesus and John the Baptist to the leaders of the church in their day. Suffice to say, the ministry of church leadership is the same as that of the laity except with added responsibility.
And what of the laity? Is the responsibility of the man not called to full-time ministry simply to sit and learn, soaking in the lessons handed to him? The answer to that question lies in James 3:13. Knowledge without application is useless. So, what is required of the layman? How is the laityís ministry defined? Every believerís ministry is outlined in general by the Great Commission and the Great Commandments. The base of all believersí ministries lies in the foundation of a love for God and man. Contrary to popular opinion, love has been commanded, indicating that love is not simply an emotion, for an emotion can not be commanded. Love is a commitment to obey the Masterís commandments. Jesus explains that definition of love when He states that those who love Him will obey His teachings. So the underlying factor of a believerís ministry is a love for God, proven by obedience to Godís Word. In order to obey something, we must know what is required. Therefore, all believers are obligated to study the word of God to understand His precepts so that we may obey them. The added benefit to studying Godís word is a greater understanding and familiarization of Godís ways. Followed hot on the heels of the commandment to love God is a command to love our neighbors as ourselves.
When pressed for a definition of a neighbor, Jesus presents the famous parable of the Good Samaritan to emphasize a neighborly and loving attitude compared to a worldly attitude. In this parable, we see that a neighbor goes out of his way to meet the needs of one that has been maltreated by the world. But the neighbor does not stop at the immediate concerns. The Good Samaritan extends his love by preparing and funding of future needs as well. That point is when the Great Commission enters into a discipleís ministry. Because a believer sees through Godís eyes, past the immediate needs to the eternal needs, the believer knows that the cure for hunger is relieved partially by bread but is relieved forever by the bread of life. However, our responsibility as believers does not stop at conveying the gospel message. When we look closely at the Great Commission outlined in Matthew 28:19-20, we see not only the command to make disciples, but also the commands to baptize those disciples and teach them to obey Godís commands and teachings. Thus we see that a believerís job extends to baptism and assisting in the new believerís spiritual growth.
As no believer is exempt from evangelism, no believer should be exempt from the other two ingredients of the Great Commission. The command to baptize could refer to several areas within the body of Christ. Baptism could refer to the realistic signifying act of baptism that is commanded of every believer to illustrate the new birth. Or baptism could also imply that believers are commanded to initiate a new believer into the body of Christ by making sure that the new believer joins in fellowship with other believers. I prefer to think that this command implies both actions: that of a physical illustration of new birth and joining into the fellowship of a local body of Christ. The last command is relevant to every believer, whether or not the believer possesses the spiritual gift of teaching. In the same way, every believer is expected to share the gospel, even if they do not have the gift of evangelism. This does not mean that every believer is supposed to teach a Sunday school class. However, all believers should contribute to the edification and education of new believers, whether by mentoring, teaching, or sharing experiences. Therefore, sharing the details of spiritual maturity is just as important as sharing the general concepts of salvation and faith.
The change and growth in a new believerís life affirms the glory of a God Who cares about His creation and is willing to travel great lengths to accomplish even the smallest act that can save even the smallest person. It is evident that every command and teaching that Jesus asks of us is designed to bring glory to the Father. By faithfully handling the responsibility set before it, the leadership of the church brings glory to God by discipling new believers and reaching out to the community. The laity, as well as the leadership, also bring glory to the Father when it obeys the commands set out by the Word of God. However, when one looks at the modern church, one can not help but ask where the system broke down. The modern church also seems determined not to learn from its mistakes. Instead of concentrating on discipleship and properly equipping the laymen, several churches have instead turned to secularizing the church service, turning the worship session into a carnival in the weak attempt to appeal to more followers.
Much is attempted and much is lost all in the name of relevance. These churches do still possess a semblance of discipleship, but tend to tack it on as an afterthought. Even though some of these modern churches thrive with attendance, are they truly achieving the success as defined by God? If the lost have to submit to Jesus being Lord in their lives, are they truly saved when the majority of them never take a leap of faith? Is a prayer enough to save or must that faith be tested in order to be proven? Relevance may be bringing in the masses, but if those masses are not taught how to obey Godís commands as well as Jesusí teachings, are these modern churches doing more harm than good?
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