Healthy and Fruitful Leadership – The Household of God
(This is Part 4 of a 4-part series)
In 1 Timothy 3:15, Paul introduces us to the final household, the household of God. The household of God is at the same time the church of the living God and the pillar and foundation of truth. (v15) As evangelicals, we would be much more comfortable with Paul describing the gospel in such exalted terms rather than the church, but Paul sees the church not only as the means of continuing the proclamation of the Gospel but as the handiwork of Christ’s new creation word – the Gospel.
The idea of both pillar and foundation is that of strengthening, that is the pillar buttresses and the foundation, underpins. If we consider this with regards to the Gospel, then while the church is the creation of the Gospel, the church by its living communal witness upholds and strengthens God’s gospel of truth.
In this paper on the Household of God I will use the schema of the ‘4Cs’ to explore the Church as God’s household. This is not a matter of exegeting 1 Timothy 3 but rather a broad-brush-outline of Paul’s model of ministry in the churches he planted.
The 4Cs represent:
I have put strategy last and given it a lowercase initial letter ‘s’. This is, in a sense, the intentional application of the biblical principle the ‘first will be last’. After biblical preaching, we cast around for a strategy to make the church grow. Much strategy, that makes promises of growth, has for too long, subverted the ministry of pastor, session and church, by promising a short-cut to fulfilling God’s calling, building a community of character, the development of life competencies (equipping) and thus forming a truly Christian culture. Invert the order of this list and you keep looking for the next ‘silver bullet strategy’ and postpone the Spirit-inspired, hard work of ministry and church, that God calls us to.
The 4Cs is both an attempt to describe Paul’s ministry method and to put strategy in its place. I believe that if we commit to the former, having established a strong Christian Culture, we can adopt almost any strategy and it will be shaped to a gospel end, rather than deforming God’s creation.
This is not about a call to the ministry. While I’m not disturbed by such an idea, I want to be clear that that’s not what I mean here. This is about God’s call to the church; what God calls the church into existence to be. Everyone in the church or in a church, is called by the Lord of heaven and earth, to live for him, through him and to him. He is the ‘only Head and Ruler of the church’, as we Presbyterians like saying at ordinations and at Assemblies. The priesthood of all believers only makes sense in the light of the call of the Lord; a people set apart to embody God’s purposes in Christ in the world.
Below I have a list of passages from Paul’s letters, that describe God’s purposes in calling people into the church. These have further been grouped under different headings. Of course, there will be overlapping, but there is a particular shape to God’s idea of calling a people in Christ through the gospel. This can be summarised, as we have been called in Christ to belong to him, and not to ourselves. This calling is corporate and is one of fellowship with Christ and one another. This fellowship is fuelled by grace with the purpose of growing a community of Christ-likeness; this will entail holiness, peace and hope, which is freedom. This calling is from the gracious holy God and so our lives together should reflect his nature and purposes.
Belonging to, being in Christ
6 And you also are among those Gentiles who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.7 To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be his holy people: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
1 Corinthians 1:9
6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – 7 which is really no gospel at all.
To be like Christ
28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
13 But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because God chose you as firstfruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. 14 He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ
To be holy
To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ – their Lord and ours:
1 Corinthians 1:2
18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe.
For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.
But if the unbeliever leaves, let it be so. The brother or the sister is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace.
1 Corinthians 7:15
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.
You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.
A life worthy of the Calling
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the called you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his called, and that by his power he may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith.
11 For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, 12 encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.
4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
We need to be recaptured by the truth that church is not an optional extra. We are called to be and do, by the true God of reality, and that is to shape our life as people who minister and that is to shape the lives of those we minister to; these characteristics (holiness, peace, grace, in Christ, a life worthy of the calling and more) are non-negotiables for our church communities, because they come from our Lord and they describe his purpose for us.
Out of this flow two reflections in particular:
A Love Culture vs A Loyalty Culture of Church and the
Obliteration of the term ‘Volunteer’.
A Love Culture vs A Loyalty Culture
It is a dangerous thing for a pastor to develop, even unintentionally, a strong loyalty to their ministry and person. Instead, as leaders, they need to be developing and promoting a love culture. What do I mean?
Paul Tripp correctly described leadership in the Church as ‘A Dangerous Calling’ and this is nowhere more the case than in developing a love culture as opposed to a loyalty culture; that is, a culture where all are equally living under the call and authority of Christ and where no one is above correction or too low for praise and encouragement. When living under the call and Lordship of Christ there is a clarity about who is calling the shots.
Here are some questions to help discern whether you have a loyalty or a love culture.
When you’re dealing with a difficult issue, do you do a ‘head count’ of who is for you or against you?
When implementing a new strategy, do you also determine how you can get it through with the least opposition and avoid legitimate reflection and criticism?
When you are thinking about saying hard things, do you avoid offending people who are your ‘supporters’?
Do you encourage people to say what they believe is right or do you instead, indicate what you would prefer them to say?
The glory of developing a love culture is that it frees you from these dilemmas to speak the truth in love (Eph.4), and others can do the same to you. How else can we become mature as Paul beautifully describes it?
14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
To want anything else is to want less than God in Christ has called us to be.
The Obliteration of the Term ‘Volunteer’
If every single member of the Body of Christ is called by God then there are no volunteers; all are called equally by the sovereign Lord. The word ‘volunteer’ has two primary ideas associated with it. Firstly, a free offer on their part to do something that is not forced, and then the idea of doing it without pay. While the second idea, work without pay, was something that Paul himself fought to have recognised for himself in Corinth, the first idea is not descriptive of church membership, according to the New Testament. The free offer of service is descriptive of how membership of the people of God has been deformed in a consumer culture. Serving in the body of Christ should be willing (to other members including the leadership) but toward God in Christ there is an obligation to use all means to be like Christ. The demise of the volunteer isn’t an excuse for abuse or neglect of other responsibilities, it should be the dignifying of every person who uses their gifts, time and abilities to serve Christ’s Bride, the church.
Transformation of character is a fundamental outworking of the Gospel which is variously described as: a new creation, born from above, the crucifying of self. It is the outworking of the Spirit within us and our determination to be a people or person of character. Paul’s ministry was not only shaped by the ‘preaching of the Gospel’. The first half of his letters are proclamations and explanations of God’s work in Christ but the second half are full of urgings and details of how to live in the light of what God has done in Christ. These often deal with becoming a new person in Christ and together, becoming a new community – a colony of Christ in the world who demonstrates in their relationships and choices, the very character of the God of the Gospel.
I think we are afraid to talk too much about character because we are afraid that it will sound too much like preaching works not grace – but that is to short change the gospel we preach. Instead of urging change and describing how change takes place; of how we might die to self and live to Christ, we find ourselves preaching the Gospel and hoping that the Spirit will do his work of creation without us. God may heal a paralysed man but once able to walk, that man must take up his mat and work out his salvation with fear and trembling. Paul urged his hearers, with tears; he was explicit; at times he named names, because the God of the gospel uses us to bring maturity in each other.
The way that you do this, without becoming a parody of a puritan church, is that you the minister and you the elders, show God’s gospel in your own life. 1 Timothy 3 – the characteristics of an overseer, is primarily about character. Character change is easier said than done but we begin by embracing holiness and change and dying and rising, because that is what we are called to be.
3. COMPETENCY (EQUIP)
Competency or equipping are too easily identified with the ‘How tos…’ eg How to Welcome or How to Run a Growth Group etc.
As important as these are, they tend to be skill based, that is, they are task oriented but not life oriented. I believe we have more than enough material on skills that can make church on Sunday run smoothly, but the competencies I’m speaking of are deeper and wider; they are discipling competencies rather than ministry competencies.
Here is a sample of the competencies I mean:
Growing deeper in our love of Christ and our neighbour.
How to be single and holy.
How to be married and holy.
How to be a Godly Parent.
How to be a God honouring worker.
How to do conflict well.
How to ask for and give forgiveness.
Church is the ‘school of Christ’. It is to disciple, teach us how to live in Christ the other six days of the week. The competencies we need are about how to live as God’s people in Christ.
Offering The Parenting Course and The Marriage Course are a beginning. Dealing with Everyday Conflict, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality or Emotionally Healthy Relationships, are all courses that are easy to access and helpful in developing a deeper understanding of Christian living.
When we add Call and Character to this sort of Competency, we get a ‘thick’ culture. And that’s what we need…
Call, Character and Competency build a Culture – a thick lumpy sticky Christ-shaped culture that can counter the ubiquitous consumer culture that we inhabit – a consumerism that extends to identity and beyond; where what is at stake is what it means to be human. Our churches unfortunately are too ‘thin’ to train us to reject consumerism and at times our churches are shaped by the same forces. The evangelical church might be doing better than those around us but many churches are built on a foundation of a mixture of clay and iron; consumerism and Christ and are vulnerable to someone doing a better job. If we are consumers and not brothers and sisters in Christ learning to live to be the colony of Christ here, then we are inherently vulnerable. If we build a culture of community however, then we can not only stand against the deforming power of our culture, we can find renewal and life in Christ despite it.
Last of all comes strategy. Now strategy isn’t a ‘dirty’ word, Paul had a strategy, ‘first to the Jew then to the Gentile’, major cities rather than country areas and Christ-likeness in everything . The important thing about strategy is where it is in the pecking order of a church’s life and all too often it is up the top after preaching. This makes some sense when you’re in a church that has a few years to grow or the minister needs to move on but strategy is required to do heavy lifting that is way beyond it’s ability. Strategy is a program or a course that promises much but requires little in attention, time, repentance and prayer, it is a proverbial silver bullet. When a strategy is put after Call, Character, Competency and Culture as long as it does subvert any of these it will only then be of use.
Ministry and church is to be a crucible of transformation and that can’t be done quickly or efficiently.