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 even 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 is 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 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 in Acts, all these gifts were operating throughout the body, so everyone got involved in ministry. Christ was the head and under him leaders emerged to serve by equipping the body —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 so thrilled by the good news that transformed their lives went from house to house and to anyone who would listen making evangelism the privilege of all not the preserve of the few. The movement multiplied!
Over time though, the wild church was tamed. 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 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. 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 read, learn and experiment toward recalibrating the church biblically, 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. Instead I am coaching and raising up leaders every day. I do more good for more people through more good people.
I was asked to focus here on how to raise up evangelists in church. I set off writing about leadership selection, how we start people young at Ivy and see them flourish with responsibility. I had a list of various book recommendations on speaking techniques. 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!
Evangelists are for me often the optimists of the kingdom. We always believe revival is 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 Flamedepicted that however many types of church there are, there are only really two types. There are rescue boats, and there are 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 around in circles as I pondered ‘How do we raise up evangelists in church?’ was because the question is back to front.
The problem is not with the evangelists, the problem is 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 some 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 there is not with the shoes, it’s not with the salesmen, the problem is 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 make the best out of the old wineskin or present the Spirit with a new one. I want to go with the latter.
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.
Leader of the Ivy Network, Manchester
NewThing Church Planting Europe
Visit launcheurope.org for more.