Meet Stanley the Baby Man. In his thirties, Stanley acts normally in the real world, but reverts to diapers and “jammies” when at home. He sleeps in a crib, sucks on a pacifier and has himself spoon-fed by a motherly woman as he sits in a man-sized highchair.
Most of us view this as bizarre behavior, an activity that is not suited for a grown man. Recently I came across one of my new year sermons that had me wondering if God thinks the same thing about His church.
I grew up in church. I have been a pastor for almost 30 years. In that long stretch of time, I have seen acts of kindness and service that have deeply touched me–but I’ve also seen my share of behavior that nursery schoolers might question as immature. I’ve been cussed out and had fingers shaken in my face–by church members. One woman told me that my role as a pastor was to “spoil her” and her friends by catering to their demands. I saw a churchman glare at a Sunday morning visitor before gruffly informing him, “You’re sitting in my spot.” Once, when I invited a friend to play some praise choruses at a worship service, I got hateful phone calls for the next two days. Someone scrawled on the registration pad, GET THAT GUITAR OUT OF OUR SANCTUARY!
With this kind of childish behavior, is it any wonder that people leave church and never come back? Laypeople aren’t the only ones who act this way, either. I’ve seen pastors act like big babies when they don’t get their way. A new year is always a natural time to reassess our habits and make resolutions. Perhaps you and I should ponder the words of Paul when he advises the church in Ephesus to “grow up.” In the fourth chapter, the apostle encourages them to “attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God – a mature person, attaining to the measure of Christ’s full stature” (Eph 4:13 NET). Paul suggests at least three ways we Christians can grow up.
Paul says that Christ gave the church apostles, prophets, evangelists, preachers and teachers to equip the church for works of service. One version says to “prepare” the church, another version to “perfect” the church. The original word meant to restore something to its original condition. In ancient literature, the word described the mending of a net so it could go back to catching fish or setting a broken bone so it could be useful again.
God wants us to be placed under mature spiritual leadership in order to be teachable. When we are teachable, we learn; when we learn, we want to apply; when we apply, we become useful; when we become useful, then we are fulfilling God’s purpose and growing in spiritual maturity.
My wife joined Weight Watchers a couple of years ago and eventually dropped over 60 pounds. She has slipped every once in a while, sneaking some chocolate or noshing on mashed taters, but quickly gets back on the treadmill or slips on her walking shoes. Our bodies are biomechanical machines designed for movement and exercise; once we stop, the body deteriorates.
The principle applies to our spirits, too. We are loved by God no matter what; but we will not grow and stay fit until we regularly put ourselves under the tutelage and training of Jesus, our Good Teacher. Are you feasting on the Word? Making time for prayer? Meditating on God’s goodness and giving thanks every day for your blessings? Regularly attending worship and receiving Communion? Fasting? Confessing your sins? If not, you will stay stuck in spiritual kindergarten and that is not God’s purpose for you. God wants to take you to graduate school and beyond.
BE A SERVANT
Paul writes that the reason God equips us is that we can do works of service. The biblical word for service originally meant a “table waiter,” a household slave. The English word for minister comes from a Latin word meaning a menial servant. As a matter of fact, the word originally meant to subtract or to make less. In the ancient Western world, servanthood was a dishonorable state of being. The Greek philosophers who valued wisdom and knowledge said, “How can one by happy if one has to serve?” Does this sound familiar? Today, we are told to be number one, fulfill yourself, climb the ladder, nab the brass ring. In the secular world, we are defined by the number of people under us, but in the Kingdom of God, we are defined by the number of people over us. If this sounds degrading, remember what Jesus said, “…the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mt 20:28)
You are not primarily a dentist, a businessperson or plumber. You are a servant of God disguised as a dentist or plumber to impact people who come across your path. God wants to reach schools and parents, so he takes a Christian servant and disguises her as a teacher. He takes a person with the spiritual gift of helping and puts him to work sacking groceries or cutting hair to reach other people with the love of Christ.
I have a friend named Mik who is a passionate, powerful minister disguised as a lawn sprinkler guy. He understands that his priority is Jesus, not replacing a broken sprinkler head. He owns his own company and has clothed and fed workers when he has found out that they were down-and-out. He has prayed with clients when he hears they are struggling. He shares the Gospel on the street when he has the opportunity. Mik isn’t college educated or seminary trained, but he has probably brought more people to Christ than many “professional” evangelists.
We are servants because Jesus was a servant. God intends for us to be ministers of grace, not just church members in a pew.
Finally, Paul tells the church the reason we grow is to become mature. The word for mature means to come to fulfillment, to be completed or finished, for something to reach its intended goal. I used to think the ultimate mission of the church was to evangelize the world and I still think that’s a very important task. But now I think, as a good Methodist, that God wants more than just to save people, he wants to sanctify people; he wants to make people holy and whole. Evangelization brings people into a relationship with God, but we are not mature believers the moment we are saved. We are saved so that so that God’s ultimate goal for us can be achieved in our lives and that is growing up to be like our Big Brother, Jesus Christ.
When Christians do not hunger to be taught by God or refuse to serve others as Christ did, an immature church results. When we demand to be ministered to without ministering, we are still in diapers. If a church expects the pastor to do 99.9% of the ministry, then the pastor is overseeing a day-care, not a fully-functioning body of believers.
Many years ago, when I was pastoring a church, a parishioner marched up to me after Sunday morning service like a drill instructor who was dissatisfied with a recruit.
“See this?” she growled, holding up a stubby pencil. “The points of these pew pencils are always broken off. I can’t write anything down!”
I took a deep breath and replied, “Do you think God is calling you to take care of that need?” Judging by the stunned look on her face…not so much.
Do you know what your pastor’s job is? Not to visit every prospect, attend every church meeting and sharpen every pencil in the pew. No, it’s to equip you to do the work of ministry. Pastor, do you know what your job is? Power up in the prayer closet so you can empower your people to get out on the field.
The Super Bowl is coming soon. If you saw the coaches go out on the field and start playing, you would laugh, scratch your head in confusion or throw popcorn at the screen. No one tunes into the Super Bowl to see coaches play; we want to see championship teams go helmet-to-helmet. Coaches train the team; the team plays. Pastors, evangelists and teachers equip the church; the church takes the field and uses their spiritual gifts to serve, witness and love.
Oh, I’m not gifted, you say. Yes, you are. The Bible says you are. You may not be called to be an ordained pastor or traveling evangelist, but that’s OK. As a matter of fact, we ordained clergy aren’t the most important people in the church.
Paul writes in I Corinthians 12:4-7: “Now there are different gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are different ministries, but the same Lord. And there are different results, but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. To each person the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the benefit of all.”
Everyone! If you are a Christian, you are gifted because the Giver of all Gifts, the Holy Spirit, lives in you, makes you able, brings you to maturity, gives you spiritual gifts to build up the church and outfits you for the work of ministry.
God does not want a church filled with ivory tower theologians or cultured clergymen. He wants a church brimming with ordinary people who put their minds and hearts under the authority of an extraordinary Lord and Savior.
Don’t be a spiritual Stanley. In this new year, resolve to be a mature Christian, and “in all things grow up into Christ, who is the head” (Eph 4:15).
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