In our Wednesday Bible study we are studying Acts and I find it inspiring to look at the amazing growth in the early church-both within and without. It is exciting to see how the Holy Spirit worked in the people of the church and how they lived in community. We see the wonderful and the absurd, the beautiful and the ugly, miraculous healings and petty infighting. We see early persecution and the boldness of the apostles.
Today I would like to look at Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus and help to turn our thoughts to who and how we will continue our ministry here at St. Mark’s. Just before this passage from Ephesians, Paul says this: (according to The Message) “My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit-not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength-that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all Christians the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God. God can do anything, you know… He does not do it by pushing us around [this from the guy who was knocked off his horse] but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us….” I hear echoes of what we have studied in Acts-the emphasis of the indwelling Holy Spirit, the love between Christians and the idea that each person is a free agent.
Then we get today’s passage. “In light of all this, here’s what I want you to do. … I want you to get out there and walk-better yet, run!-on the road God called you to travel. I don’t want any of you sitting around on your hands. I don’t want anyone strolling off down some path that goes nowhere. And mark that you do this with humility and discipline-not in fits and starts, but steadily, pouring yourselves out for each other in acts of love, alert at noticing the differences and quick at mending fences.”
So, what is the road that we are to travel? How can we exhibit God’s love? What are the gifts we have available to use? Who will we train to lead us into the future? Where is God calling us?
We could spend hours discussing any one of these questions. What we need is time for discernment so we can think and pray about these questions. This is the gift of Total Common Ministry-we cannot stop discerning the gifts in our church so we also have the opportunity on a regular basis to discern what our ministry is to our larger community. Then we can determine who should be called to lead us into the next decade of ministry here in Montesano.
Paul continues, “You were all called to travel on the same road and in the same direction, to stay together, both outwardly and inwardly. You have one Master, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who rules over all, works through all, and is present in all. Everything you are and think and do is permeated with oneness.
But that doesn’t mean you should all look and speak and act the same. Out of the generosity of Christ, each of us is given his own gift. … He handed out gifts above and below, filled heaven with his gifts, filled earth with his gifts. He handed out gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teacher to train Christians in skilled servant work, working within Christ’s body, the church, until we’re all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God’s son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ.”
I can’t think of any better argument for total common ministry. That as many people as possible within the body of Christ should be educated and trained in leading ministry, in pastoral care, in theology, church polity, and the Holy Scriptures. I can’t think of any better argument for the church to continue to discern needs and ministries in our community so we can determine the gifts needed to fulfill those needs and to work those ministries. Then we can determine if we are the ones called to do the work and if we have people within our body who have the gifts to lead us into them.
We don’t all have to be the same nor do we want to cover up or ignore dissent-we need to acknowledge differences and mend our fences. We need to recognize the God-given gifts each of us brings to the body of Christ and how we can help one another in love to develop those gifts to God’s glory. We can continue to travel this path together but it is time to begin a new journey-a renewed journey. None of us can sit on our hands-we have said that many times-that no one gets to do nothing in our church. From time to time we need to evaluate if we are using our gifts to the best advantage. If the ministries we are doing are still the ministries to which we are called.
So, who is ready to run, not walk down this road, and see where God will take us? We can do this as a unified body each of us using the gifts we possess.
When I read the lines, “…train Christians in skilled servant work, working within Christ’s body, the church, until we’re all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God’s son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ.” I think of the experience of the circle. As we study together we not only learn the material we also learn about one another, we learn to love and trust one another, and we discern so much about our gifts and the gifts of others and our call to live as one body of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
It is time to think of ourselves like the early church we are studying in Acts. We have the indwelling Holy Spirit, we have God-given gifts, we love one another, and if we can discern our vision of the next decade, we can run down the road together and do wonderful and marvelous things.