What is God’s will for the church? Maturity. That the people in it grow together as the body of Christ reaching out to the world around us. God wants all of our churches to grow up. But the church has developed a strange view of maturity. We’ve equated it with knowing more Bible verses than someone else, or going to more meetings. That’s not how God measures maturity.
Ephesians 4:15 says, ‘We must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.’ We’re meant to grow up, in every way, into Christ, the head. Head of what? His body. What’s his body? The church.
You can’t grow into the maturity God wants for you outside of the church of which he is the head. So how does that happen?
The answer is in the same chapter; the way that ‘all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ…’ is when we release all the gifts of Jesus.
You probably heard about the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but did you ever notice the Bible talks about the gifts of Jesus?
These gifts to the church are described for us when Paul writes, “The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.”
When the early church started out, all these gifts were operating throughout the body, so everyone got involved. Christ was the head and under him leaders emerged to serve by equipping the body to MOVE! Not to come to church, but to go as church.
Whatever happened to that?
At the start and for the first few centuries the church operated the way it was designed. Apostolic people broke new ground, going in new ways to new places and training new leaders as the word of God spread like wildfire. Prophetic people heard God and helped steer the new movements in ways that supernaturally impacted the world. Many were so thrilled by the good news that transformed their lives they went from house to house and to anyone who would listen making evangelism the privilege of all not the preserve of the few. No wonder the movement multiplied!
Over time though, the wild church was tamed. I recommend Alan Hirsch’s work on this to help you get to grips with this tragic situation and its remedy. She became acceptable, and to keep her that way she was led and increasingly controlled by those identified (and ordained) as shepherds and teachers. Both of these are vital functions, but an engine running on only two cylinders won’t go far or well. It’s not good for the leaders trying to ‘Pastor’ everyone, it’s terrible for the mission and only fit for maintenance and managed decline. As Alan says, the church we now have is perfectly designed to produce the results we are seeing.
Much of my own focus in ministry in the last decades has been to unlearn, to read, to relearn by experimentation what recalibrating the church biblically means, especially in its leadership operating system.
That’s why I am pulling together the LAUNCH event again in November, part of a growing movement to look at what we need to get back to, to go forward.
That’s why last Sunday and this at Ivy Church I won’t be leading or speaking anywhere on Sunday, even though I love preaching and teaching. Instead I am coaching and raising up leaders every day. I do more good for more people through more good people getting better.
My initial reason for writing today was that I was asked by a great new movement training evangelists to write on How to raise up evangelists in church.
I set off writing about leadership selection, how we spot people and start people young at Ivy – and see them flourish with responsibility. I had a list of various book recommendations and some tips on speaking techniques in order to encourage a response. I was going to round off by saying it helps to get similar people together to learn from and encourage one another like Advance is doing – all great stuff!
I love it because I am first and foremost an evangelist, and we are often the optimists of the kingdom. We always believe revival’s just around the corner. The story is told of two guys sent to sell shoes to a lost native tribe.
The first came back immediately saying, ‘It’s no good, they don’t wear shoes.’
The second guy sent a message; ‘Send more shoes! Nobody has got any!’ That’s an evangelist!
I wanted to encourage that spirit, and I love everything that helps us preach with more urgency and reach out with more conviction. But for some reason as I prayed, in my mind I kept returning to the night ten years ago here at Ivy when the church were going to vote as to whether I would come and lead them.
Before the vote I showed a dramatised short film from a Reinhard Bonnke video. Full Flame depicted that however many types of church there are, there are only really two types – rescue boats, and cruise ships.
I told the people if they voted for me then they had to realise they were making the choice that we would always be manning the life boats. That it was all hands on deck, and that if we had to make the choice we would always be about who we could reach – more than who we could keep. They voted yes, and have been good to that promise – over and over again.
As I thought about that, I realised the reason I kept going round in circles as I pondered ‘How do we raise up evangelists in church?’ was because the question’s back to front.
The problem is not with the evangelists, the problem’s with the church.
You need to raise up an evangelistic church, and when you do that – you’ll release more and more evangelists into the world.
If you don’t, well – that’s like trying to raise up more salesforce in a shoe shop where the manager says, ‘We only sell size 9 brown brogues.’ You might get some people who are really good at that, who sell a lot more size nines than other people, by great techniques and convincing persuasion. You may even train others to sell those shoes too by doing the same kind of things as the best guys do. But what about all the other people who need shoes? The problem’s not with the shoes, it’s not with the salesmen, the problem’s with the shop.
I believe we are living in the next great reformation. The last reformation was about our soteriology (how we are saved). This one will be about our ecclesiology (how we are church).
You are living in the time when everything will change. Either we’ll try to make the best out of the old cracked wineskin and wonder why it leaks and makes a mess everywhere, or present the Spirit with a new one. I’m going with the latter (and yes – that’s messy too).
If you aim at raising up evangelists without changing the church, you will just get more of what we have had for the last few decades – frustrated evangelists.
They end up either marginalised by the church, maligning it from within, or marching out to do their own thing. If instead we aim at being part of building a biblically mature church, where those gifts of Jesus called evangelists take their place and make their mark – a church like that will naturally release the evangelistic gifts and supernaturally empower all the people who most readily burn with that passion, for the glory of Jesus and the extension of his kingdom.