“I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God. Therefore take heed to yourselves and all the flock, among which the holy spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the Church of God which He purchased with his blood.” (Acts 20 verses 27-28)
“And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.” (Eph 4: 11-16)
“God is pressing the reset button.” We’ve all heard it in the wider context of the impact of Covid on the world, but it is also a strong theme in many prophetic messages that the Holy Spirit is bringing to the church in the UK, the USA, and elsewhere in the world. A recurring message that is coming through many people in various ways is that God is going to change the model of leadership in the church. There is a great harvest to bring in, and at the moment many of His people are not being equipped for the harvest field in the way that He originally intended. Although none of us, in our earthly life, can be perfect like Jesus, scripture repeatedly encourages us to become “complete” (see 2 Cor 13: 9; 2 Cor 13:11; Col 4:12; Phil 1:6; 2 Tim 3:17). So how do we grow into “the perfect man,” and what does the Holy Spirit want us to understand by this? I think some of the answer can be found in how the flock is shepherded.
To Shepherd is not to pastor. If this is a surprise, consider this: Jesus is the good Shepherd, and He gave us what He knows we need to carry on His work, which is surely the package of gifts listed in Ephesians 4:11 quoted above: “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” If this is true, it must the responsibility of eldership to shepherd the flock using the gifts of shepherding that are provided. Arguably two of these gifts, pastor and teacher, can be seen as one ministry, but whether pastor and teacher are one minister or two, the principal of plurality remains the same.
In a prophetic word given to my own fellowship but with a general application, the church was likened to a four-wheel-drive vehicle. It has just been driving on the roads, but while the road has been closed by lockdown God has been getting our attention and telling us that we are an off-road vehicle designed for the mountain, not for the main road at all. In a four-wheel-drive vehicle, each wheel is driven independently, which is what gives it its grip on an off-road surface. Four wheels: apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor/teacher.
Because Jesus has commanded us to love one another he has created a model of leadership that combines independence with interdependence. According to scripture it is the different parts of the body working together that cause the body to grow in love. The word translated as “effective working” is the Greek energia. In it we recognise the word energy. But what is important is that in the new Testament the word energia is only used of superhuman power, whether of God or of the devil. It does not refer to human ability or effort. We mature in Christ through the supernatural operation of all the ministries that Jesus gave to the body as each part “does its share” of His work. The stated purpose of the Ephesians 4 ministries is to “equip the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying (ie building up) of the body of Christ.” As the different ministries “do their share“ of the work of the Good Shepherd the body of Christ grows in love and unity, and, instead of being children, we grow up “in all things into him who is the head.” Working together, the four wheels take the vehicle up the mountain.
As a rule this is not what we see in many churches today. Although it is not true in every case, church leadership has often rested on the shoulders of a salaried minister who has been to Bible college and is therefore “qualified” to lead. But the purpose of a Bible school is to teach. The ministry gift in operation is primarily that of the teacher. The product of the Bible school will tend to carry the anointing that produced him or her – the anointing of the pastor/teacher. Therefore many churches are led by a pastor/teacher, who received at Bible School an implicit message that it is the pastor/teacher who leads church, and who therefore appoints more pastor/teachers to share the work of leadership as the church grows (if indeed it does grow.) Of course there are many other reasons – going back centuries, even millennia – why the teacher has been put on leadership pedestal that Jesus never intended (“Do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ.” – Matt 23:10), but the fact remains that the pastor-teacher is just one of four wheels. If only one wheel is driving the vehicle it will probably cope, for a while, on a smooth road; and many churches today have done just that. But they won’t travel very far up the mountain.
Discipleship is supernatural.
The mission of the Church is to go and make disciples. The goal of the disciple is to become like the master, and the more clearly the image of the master is replicated in the disciple, the better equipped is that disciple to carry on with the process and disciple others. If it had been left to the ability of the human brain to interpret the original teachings and copy the examples of Christ and the first apostles, today’s disciples would be poor matchstick figures by comparison to the original master. But Jesus thought of that, so He told the disciples that “the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you” (John 16:15). Jesus is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, but by the power of the Holy Spirit His reality can be fresh in the heart of every believer in every generation. Without the power of the Spirit illuminating us, we only have our own understanding to lean on – which Proverbs 3:5 instructs us expressly not to do. So the work of making disciples has to be done supernaturally, through that energia – “the effective working by which every part does its share” – which flows as a life-force through the body when it is operating in the fulness of the Holy Spirit.
To build and equip the “perfect man” who will make effective disciples all the ministries are needed. As each part does its share the believer is equipped in different aspects of the effective Christian life. Through the evangelist, the believer is equipped to preach the gospel. Not all are evangelists, be we are all called to share our faith. Through the prophet, he is equipped to hear God and speak His words. “All can prophesy,” but many need training and encouragement. The pastor heart brings an emphasis on growing loving relationships, in tandem with the teacher who brings clarity on doctrine and the written word of God. All of these are essential for Christian growth. The apostle – the “sent one” – imparts faith and carries an anointing to build, and nurtures the leadership skills of those who have the gifting to be church planters themselves. Although most of us aren’t called to plant churches (or are we??), we are all involved in building the Church of Jesus. Of course there is only one Lord, and one Spirit, in whom all of these streams flow together, and whose thoughts are not our thoughts anyway; and this is very much a thumbnail sketch of a far more complex picture. However the message remains that five different leadership anointings, carried by four or five different ministers, are referred to in Ephesians four, and each of them is necessary to edify and equip the “perfect man.” The ultimate goal of the “work of ministry” is that we go out and make more disciples. The qualification for the work is not a Bible College degree, but the measure to which the Christian ”graduate” has received from all of the fivefold ministries and is able, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to build, prophesy, preach the gospel, care for others, and know the Word of God. All of this is achieved through the power of the Holy Spirit, not through leaning on human understanding.
Those of us who have children long for them to become all that they can be and fulfil all the potential that we see in them. We want to see them use their abilities and achieve their dreams. How much more does our heavenly Father want the same for His children? The Good Shepherd longs for all of His lambs to grow and multiply, and has put in place the “parenting” system by which “we should no longer be children” but instead “grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—” . As we mature in the spirit and come into all that God has put into us, His glory will be reflected in the Earth in as many ways as there are individuals in the church. Surely this is part of “the manifold wisdom of God” that He intends “might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places.” (Eph 3:10) However at the moment there are many churches that are full of overgrown lambs who just expect to be fed and kept safe in the sheepfold, and who reflect very little of God’s glory. They have not grown up in all things, and since they are not mature they are not multiplying, because the flock is not being shepherded according to the shepherding plan that we have been given.
If God is pressing the reset button I think this is what He is working on now. And now that we are starting to move again, are we going to carry on along the road as we were, or will we turn off and head up the mountain that we were meant for?