THE CHURCH: not an Agency to be served,
but a Workforce to be deployed
Continuing with the theme of God’s calling, from the previous two Sundays, I want to speak today about our Theology of involvement in the Mission and life of the Church. I want to talk about the nature and function of an evangelistic church, and about the driving force behind the daily life of a Christian.
I believe that a word about God’s call is appropriate as we reflect back on the experiences of our congregation in the past week that relate to discerning the call of God in our midst.
There are times in the life of the church when certain individuals perceive a very clear vocational calling from the Lord, and the community of faith stands in discernment with the individual concerning that calling. In this process of discerning the Holy Spirit plays a central role. And we need to ask, “How do we perceive the voice of God’s Spirit? How do we know that the voice we are hearing is from the Holy Spirit of God?” A number of clues help us to be certain that this is the Spirit of the living God speaking:
1. To speak of the Holy Spirit in Christian theology is to speak not just of any spirit but of the Spirit of the Triune God. We must speak of the One Spirit that is present from the beginning in the work of Creation, who guides the work of salvation through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and remains a faithful companion in God’s continued work of restoration in the world through the life of the Church. Is the voice that we hear in harmony with God’s eternal work of creation, restoration, and continued guidance?
2. The work of the Holy Spirit in the world is about the transformation of human life. The New Testament gives us many dimensions of the work of the Holy Spirit.
1. The Spirit re-presents Christ, that is the Spirit makes Christ present to the people. Through the life of the HS we come to enjoy the life in Christ.
2. The HS is the agent of New Life in Jesus Christ. The Gospel of John states that we must be born of the Spirit to a new life in Christ. The HS is the power of transformation from the old to the new, from enslavement to the powers of sin and death to a new life in communion with God and others. As recipients of new life from the Spirit, Christians are enabled to speak of God’s mercy and righteousness, and to act as co-workers with God in the renewal of creation. Acts 2 gives a graphic picture of the Spirit-empowered apostles, who become partners in the creative and redemptive work of God.
3. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Cor. 3:17). “For freedom Christ has set us free” (Gal. 5:1). The Spirit brings freedom for new and abundant life in communion with God and others.
4. The Spirit unites us to Christ as like-minded people and as strangers – even with former enemies. It is a power of new community. “There is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). In Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit we are one community; we are members of one body and mutually dependent on one another. (I will return to this point later).
5. The Spirit at work in the church is also the promise, the firstfruits, (Rom. 8:23) the first installment, and guarantee (2Cor. 1:22; 5:5) of the future that God is bringing. As the power of God’s promised future, the HS awakens hope, yearning and restlessness for the completion of God’s redemptive work of justice and peace in all of Creation.
6. As we heard earlier in the Scripture reading, there are many diverse gifts of the Spirit, and each gift has a vital function in the life and mission of the Church. Not everyone has the same gift nor the same interpretation of how to use his or her gift. And it is in celebrating the diversity of spiritual gifts that we recognize our mutual dependence and encourage mutual support. Paul teaches in 1 Cor. 13-14 that the most important gifts are Not the sensational ones, such as speaking in tongues, but the gifts of faith, hope and love.
The primary criterion of life in the Spirit is an unconditional love of God and others, motivated by God’s love for us in Jesus. The Bible also encourages us to Test the spirits. The biblical criteria for the authenticity of any spiritual gift is whether it serves the common good of the community, or whether it produces division. A true gift of the Spirit builds up the community and contributes to the common good rather than serving a selfish purpose.
While the Spirit of God is the source and renewer of all life, it is also the energy that drives the new life of the faith community as it strives to be faithful to its calling. The Christian life is a dynamic process of transformation into the likeness of Christ.
When God’s love takes a hold of us and we accept Christ’s work of salvation we are made right with God by his grace. That is called justification. Justification is God’s forgiveness of sins that is received by faith alone (Rom. 3:23-28).
The next step in the Christian life is called sanctification. Sanctification is the process of growth in Christian love and service. The word sanctification means ‘to make holy’ ‘to become set apart’. The word ‘holy’ here does not mean ‘moral flawlessness’, but rather growth in the Christian faith. Becoming holy is the process of imitating Christ and becoming ever more like him.
What are some of the marks of growth?
1. We mature as hearers of the Word of God. God’s Word proclaims to us his grace and judgment and calls hearers to repentance, conversion and new life. It is by hearing what God desires from us that we learn to live in faithful obedience.
2. A second mark of maturity comes in the area of prayer. Prayer is a concrete expression of our relationship with God. This chief exercise of faith includes adoration, thanksgiving and bold petition.
3. In the process of sanctification we also mature in breaking free from our past sins; and grow in our freedom for Christian service.
4. Growth in the Christian life also includes a commitment to solidarity with those who are less fortunate; the poor, the oppressed, the destitute, etc. Growth in solidarity is rooted in the biblical teaching on hospitality – reaching out to those who are in some kind of need.
5. Sanctification also produces an attitude of thankfulness. Every time we meet as a body of believers to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we do so in anticipation of the great messianic banquet that will take place at the end of time.
Christian life is a movement toward a goal. God not only justifies us and sanctifies us, but he also gives our lives meaning by calling us into service. When we neglect this aspect of the work of the Holy Spirit, a certain narrowness and even narcissism (love of ourselves) creeps in. What results is a self-centered view of the life of the church.
The themes of election and vocation are deeply embedded in the biblical witness. God calls Abraham, chooses the people of Israel, speaks to the prophets, sends Jesus of Nazareth, and commissions the followers of Jesus for service in the world. God freely elects you and me to be partners in his work of reconciliation. Election is a call to service not to be served.
In that sense the church is not an agency/ corporation/ organization to be served but a workforce to be deployed.
At our congregational meeting yesterday many volunteers were affirmed for service and ministry within the walls of the church. These ministries are crucial for the equipping of the saints and the growth and orderly function of the church. We need ushers and greeters, deacons and committee members, Children’s program leaders, and so forth.
However, as essential as these services are, they are only the tip of the iceberg. The ministry that goes on in church on Sundays and during the week, when we meet as the gathered church are but a small portion of our vocation/ calling as Christ’s people.
We all have different gifts. We have been created, called and equipped with holy imagination to be God’s agents in the world. Each one of us has a mission in the world no one else can perform for him or her. Ministry is the work of the priesthood of all believers and it happens in the workplace, at family and social functions, in our recreational activities, and occasionally also at 570 Sharron Bay.
As people of God some of us are very early in the process of accepting the grace of God for our lives. Others are further along in the process of growing into the full likeness of Christ. And still others are faithfully acting out their Christian vocation – be it as a manager at work or as a stay-at-home mom – and training others to identify and use their God-given gifts.
The fellowship of weak and unworthy men, women, young people and children, can be a world-shaking workforce empowered by the Holy Spirit – provided it is centered in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
There is much work to be done in Christ’s service. As followers of Christ we make up the greatest and most exciting workforce on the planet. The amazing thing is, that for the most part this workforce is made up of volunteers. Not only do these people work for free, but they in fact pay for the privilege of giving their time, talents and energy in the service of Christ. The only explanation that I have for such an irrational attitude of service and dedication is the eternal love and grace of God.
We are all at a different stage in our walk with the triune God. We are all in process – an unfinished project if you will. But, in some way or another, each one of us seeks direction from God. And so, let us encourage one another. Let us carry one another in prayer. Let us walk with one another in the Spirit when we are not together. May God find plenty of room in our lives to work in us and through us – not only when we’re gathered, but much more also when we’re out in the field.
The power, wisdom and courage of God be with you!