Remember bigger picture of God’s Kingdom

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Regents Acting Principal Peter Read (inset, above) recalls the day he learned a tough lesson as a church leader.

I get saddened and frustrated when people ask me, “When did God call you into the ministry?” I ‘gained credentials’ as a Pentecostal pastor almost 40 years ago (OK, ‘got ordained’, if you like!) and I know that’s usually what people mean when they ask the question. But I find this terminology and language unhelpful for two main reasons.

Firstly, it restricts ‘the ministry’ to what pastors, church leaders and preachers do, resulting in many Jesus-followers believing they are not involved in ministry.

So, despite the fact that Ephesians 4:12 says that all God’s people are to be equipped and involved in ministry, many people end up being spectators of ministry rather than participants.

Secondly, and perhaps even worse, is when people are involved in ministry and we just don’t recognise it.

Around ten years ago, I was leading Worcester Elim Church. On several Sundays I spotted that one of our ladies didn’t arrive until after 11am. I went to Julie and asked if she realised that our service started at 10.30am.

“Oh yes,” she said. “I was determined to get to church, but I didn’t get in from work until 4am this morning, which is why I was late.”

I have to tell you, I panicked! Not because it seemed a reasonable excuse, but because I suddenly realised that having known this lady for almost two years, I had absolutely no idea what she did at work.

Julie told me she was a senior nurse in the A&E department at the local hospital.

Her colleagues at work knew she was a Christian, and because she had several women on her team with young children, she often volunteered to work Saturday nights so they could have time with their families.

“After all,” she said, “that would be a good way of showing the love of Jesus to my team, wouldn’t it?”

PREOCCUPIED

Have you ever begun a conversation and wished you hadn’t? Boy, that’s how I felt at that moment! I had been so preoccupied making sure Julie rocked up to church at the right time that I had completely forgotten the mandate from God I had as a leader – to support, equip and encourage her to be the best nurse she possibly could be, and to faithfully represent Jesus in that tough environment.

Julie seemed to be doing this really well… but as her pastor, I’d been doing a terrible job of supporting and encouraging her in it! I had become so focused on church services that I had forgotten the bigger picture of the Kingdom.

In his book ‘Kingdom Come’ American church ministry consultant Reggie McNeal says: “In a church-centred paradigm, the laity are largely expected to cheer on the clergy, admire their gifts, and help them accomplish church programming.

In a Kingdom-centred paradigm, the clergy cheer on and support the laity, who are seen as the primary agents of the church’s work in the world.”

We need to redefine ‘ministry’ to mean all the things that all Jesus followers do every day in every area of their lives.

And we need to build churches that release people into their Kingdom-focused ministries, rather than just making sure that all the church rotas are full! When I studied physics many years ago, I learnt that rotating objects experience two equal and opposing forces.

The centrifugal force pushes an object outwards, whilst the centripetal force pulls it inwards (that’s why you don’t crash a car when you drive round a sharp bend!).

Sometimes our churches are only centripetal! We draw people in but forget to send them out! Mark 3:14 tells us Jesus gathered his disciples “that they might be with him and that he might send them out”.

And in John 17:18 Jesus prays for the disciples he has gathered, saying to his Father, “As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.” He has gathered them in and now he is sending them out.

At Regents we seek to help each person discover and fulfil the unique call Jesus has on their life, whether that is in gathered church or in scattered Kingdom-ministry.

For example, we are thrilled that two former students went on to establish a Christian theatre company which now has massive influence in schools, churches and festivals around the country.

Hebrews 12:1 tells each of us that we should “run the race marked out for us”.

Ephesians chapter 2 says we are not saved by good works (v.8) but we are saved for good works (v.10) – but it goes on to say these are “good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do”.

If you are a Jesus follower, do all you can to discover and fulfil the unique call of God on your life.

And if you are a church leader, do all you can to equip and support the people in your care to do so.

Please don’t wait for your ‘Julie moment’!

Peter Read grew up in South Manchester, where he trained and worked in architecture. Following a call to full-time church leadership ministry, he planted and pastored churches in Stockport and Warwickshire for over 20 years until he moved to Regents Theological College in 2009. He has been Vice Principal of Regents for eight years and he is now Acting Principal helping train emerging and developing church leaders.

From Direction Magazine

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