Growing in Authority

I’ve been thinking recently about some of the various levels of authority revealed for believers in the New Testament. I’ve found three: Servants, Friends and Sons.

· Servants beg favors from their masters. They have confidence that their master has the capacity to answer, but often have serious questions about whether the master has any inclination to answer.

· Friends make requests of their friends. They have confidence that their friend can meet the need, and they know that if properly encouraged (or nagged), the friend will stir themselves to meet the need.

· Sons issue commands from the family’s authority. They have confidence in their authority, and in their ability to back up that authority with power if necessary.

For years, most of the church has approached God from the perspective of servants begging favors from their master. We’ve begged God to answer our prayers, and like Dorcas’s friends, we try to justify our requests. “You need to do this for them [or me or us] because they [or I or we] have earned it.” We very seldom put it in that vocabulary, but that’s been the way we’ve prayed. “It would be so great if Suzie got saved because she could ….”

We know how to approach God as a servant. We’ve practiced servanthood, extolled servanthood, and prayed from a servant’s perspective for centuries. We’ve preached servanthood, and I think it’s been appropriate: we are not born as servants; we’re not born again with a servanthood instinct.

A servant’s life is pretty much without responsibility, doing whatever comes to the master’s mind. The servant is the guy that hides behind the curtain waiting for the master to snap his fingers and command him. Servants often love their masters, and certainly we’ve had a Master who is easy to love.

But servanthood is not where we belong today. It was a good revelation in times past, and it was necessary. But we learned that lesson. We need to move on.

We followers of Christ have talked about the fact that – theologically – we already are sons; we just need to exercise that authority. That’s true, but we don’t live in that revelation yet: I don’t know a single person who walks in the authority that our big brother and example Jesus did. Sonship is still a theory, albeit a good and true theory, and it really is where we’re headed.

But we’re not there yet. We’re on the road there, and we can see it around then next bend, and we’ll be there soon. We are right to look forward to it and to talk about it, provided that we don’t miss the place that we’re passing through now.

Right now, most of the church is just beginning to really walk in the friendship mode with God. A friend (where we are arriving) is not the same as a son (where we’re going ultimately), and it’s also substantially different than a servant (where we’ve been).

Jesus, of course established this friendship relationship: “14 You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.” (John 15)

The friend takes a measure of responsibility in the relationship; a servant does not. A friend takes personal initiative as well as responding to his friend’s wishes. Friends don’t always drop everything when their friend says, “jump” like a servant does for his master. A friend may help us do the things on our heart, or they may try to talk us out of it, though they care deeply for their friend’s needs.

As a friend, we might say things that a servant never would. Things like “Hey, let’s do this. David did that. So did Mary. Sometimes, our friend might say, “Nah, let’s do this instead.” He did that to Paul.

A brief rabbit trail: since God is not a single personality, but three, I believe that we’ll find that we’ll have three relationships: our relationship with Father will be different than with the Son and different still than our relationship with the Holy Spirit. Personally, I find that my relationship with Father is (surprise!) a fathering relationship: comforting, affirming. My relationship with my Big Brother Jesus is a challenging one, like relating to my Captain or to a mature apostle who knows and likes me. I rather enjoy my relationship with the Holy Spirit the most: perhaps because I can’t figure Him out I have the fewest limits on what I expect in that relationship. I don’t know. I do know I relate to them differently.

So how shall we respond to the friendship of God? I offer three suggestions:

1) Acknowledge the friendship. Talk with Him as a friend. Talk with each aspect/person of God. Share your hopes and disappointments with Him. Find ways to have fun together. (Yes, that’s allowed!) He loves your time together more than you do, you know!

2) Take initiative. Make suggestions. “Hey, Jesus, somebody ought to do this. Why don’t we do it?” “You know, Father, I’ve always wanted to try this. Do you think we could do it together?”

3) Listen to Him. Ask Him what’s on His heart? What are His hopes and disappointments? What would He like to do today? Does He have a better idea of how to do that thing you’re thinking about? Real listening usually involves asking a question and waiting for your friend to answer. Yeah, I know: it sounds “religious” or “fake”. But just because other folks do it wrong, doesn’t mean you have to be weird about it.

Now one final warning before I wrap this up: we are not leaving the place of servanthood behind as we move into the place of friendship. We take it with us. We are His friends, and we need to live like it, but we are still servants of the Most High King. And when we begin to inhabit the place of sonship, we still won’t give up the place of servanthood, nor the place of friendship.

But it’s time that we stop living as if we were only servants. Let’s build a friendship with Father, with Jesus our Brother, and with the Holy Spirit. And then let’s let our friend reveal to us what it means to be a Son.


Pastors and Other Consultants

I think by now we’ve figured out that it’s the saints (that’s us) who are responsible for doing “the work of ministry.” We all have the responsibility of continuing the work that Jesus started before He left.

Does that mean we’re all the same? Heck no. The Bible certainly recognizes different gifts and even different offices. Individuals with different gifts are instructed to use those gifts. Individuals with different offices have a different instructions. (Watch out: the apostle Paul is famous for run-on sentences, and this one’s a doozie!)

Ephesians 4:11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 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; 14 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, 15 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head — Christ — 16 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.

There are five offices: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers; sometimes they’re referred to as “the five-fold ministries” simply because there are five of them. Look at the job description of this group:

· Equipping the saints for the work of ministry.

· Edifying (building up) the body of Christ

· Bringing us all to unity in the knowledge of Christ

· Bringing us to maturity, etc.

Some preachers point to their sermons as the fulfillment of this passage, and indeed a good sermon can both equip and edify a congregation. But wait just a doggone minute: who’s supposed to do the “work of ministry”? It’s the saints! That’s you and me! The job of the pastor (and the rest of that team) is to equip you and me to do the ministry. Think of the Fivefold (pastors and prophets and the rest) as consultants, not as the “ministers.”

Some years ago, I worked for a medical company. We were growing pretty quickly, and the medical field was changing fast, so we invited a consultant in to help us develop the business in light of the changing circumstances. The consultant never did do any of our work for us, but he did help us to prepare for the work that we needed to do: he taught how to do it better and more efficiently, he showed us how to make sure that what we were providing was what the community needed and the insurance companies were willing to pay for.

The five-fold ministries are like that consultant: they don’t do the ministry, they equip us to do it. It’s not the pastor’s job to do the ministry, it’s his job (or her job: we’re not sexist here) to equip you and me to do that work. His job is consulting. Our job is ministering.

(By the way, some groups have been teaching that apostles and prophets went away ‘way back then, with the canonization of scripture or something. Get over it. First, they’re here until “we all come … to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” I don’t see that happening just yet. And if apostles were supposed to be gone, then so are pastors and teachers.)

I don’t care if the person with the title is on the payroll of the church organization or is just (“just?” as if this were less??) the leader of the home group. His job is to equip and edify you and me. It’s our job to do the work.

That means it’s our job to visit the sick and imprisoned. It’s our job to teach the young believers and to discipline the rebellious ones. It’s our job to collect the offerings from the saints and distribute it to the needy. It’s our job to discover, develop and deploy our gifts.

This might be “preaching to the choir” given the radical nature of those who read this blog, but it’s still worth reminding ourselves of. If we have a title, an office, then our job is to train others. And whether we have a title or not, it’s our job to do the work of the ministry.

So let’s be careful to stop looking to leaders to do our work for us. Let’s look around and pick up the work that He’s put before us!


A Season of Grace

Many times recently, I have seen people in ministry (and “in ministry” may mean senior pastors, or it may mean believers who encourage other believers) who are motivated in ministry by serious character flaws. I’ve seen people wounded in the realm of rejection and fear of failure take leadership positions. I’ve seen people wounded in insecurities ministering in intercession and resentment manifesting in worship and “hands on ministry” applications.

Often there’s been this flavor of “I’m going to make up for these feelings of insufficiency by taking a leadership role where I can be in control!” Or “I want to make sure I keep my position because when I have the position, I’m a somebody.”

That’s never (well, hardly ever) the whole story. Usually, there’s a sincere “let’s expand the kingdom” motivation in there with the misguided stuff.

And yeah, those are wrong motivations. However, I believe that this is a season where God is emphasizing grace. I see His grace showing in leadership issues, in holiness or purity issues, and in relationships.

In leadership: I have seen this pattern over and over recently: His leaders, His servants have flaws showing, and yet He tenderly covers them, cuddles them, and still uses them to the degree that they (we) are able to be used. So it’s not like He’s rejecting the wounded, He’s covering them and using them and inviting them to be healed.

In some ways, this reminds me of Noah, after the adventure of the Flood.

Genesis 9:20 And Noah began to be a farmer, and he planted a vineyard. 21 Then he drank of the wine and was drunk, and became uncovered in his tent. 22 And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside. 23 But Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and went backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned away, and they did not see their father's nakedness.

We have a complicated role here. On the one hand, we are to act as Shem and Japheth and cover the nakedness of our leaders: it is not our job to point out their failings, but to fill in where they’re weak. At the same time, it’s not appropriate to excuse sin, or to be content with immaturity. We need to call each other to a higher level of …, well, of God-likeness. We need to encourage ourselves and each others to be more like God, more like Jesus, than we have before.

In purity and holiness: I believe that right now, God is extending a grace to see His people healed. There are believers – both long-time and new believers – who have had wounds in their soul or their spirit, and God is healing those.

There are people who have wrestled with sin – whether pride, control, pornography, gossip, or addictions – and I believe that right now, God is open for business right now to heal those besetting sins, to free us from those bondages. It’s not like He’s unwilling to do that in other seasons; He’s just emphasizing freedom right now.

One of the key areas where He’s setting people free in this season is in the realm of freedom from religious bondages. There are a lot of people who are deciding that “enough is enough!” and are moving out of “churchianity” into a real relationship with Jesus; some are having to leave their churches to do it.

In relationships: I believe this is a season when God is offering healing in relationships as well. It will require as much humility as any thing else (which is to say, a lot), but if we are willing to pursue Him in this, we’ll find healing in our marriages, in our working relationships, between church leaders and the flock being led.

That last one is worth emphasizing: too often, we’ve settled for inadequate or inferior relationships in the church. Too long, we’ve been willing to tolerate manipulation, or leaders who need to control, or who need constant affirmation that they’re valuable. It’s a season where God is granting a greater grace on healing those relationships.

This “greater grace” is not about, “God’s going to fix it while I sit here like a bump on a log.” The grace He’s giving is to approach the “unapproachable topics.” It’s the grace to “speak the truth in love” as we go to people and offer to help them through the tough things that they think they’re hiding, but the whole rest of the world can see. It’s the grace to receive gracefully those who come to us about the plank in our own eye that we’ve never recognized.

My encouragement is to take advantage of this season: firstly, as we examine our own lives. What is there in my life that I need the grace of God to heal? Then, after we’ve examined our own lives, we can go to our brothers and sisters, and ask, “can I help you with this?”