17 April 2008

the living church (4)

John Stott, The Living Church (Downers Grove: IVP, 2007).

Chapter Four: Ministry (The Twelve and the Seven):
When one reflects on the early church as described in Acts, there are usually many appeals to the modern church 'getting back' the way things were obviously meant to be.  And while there might be some merit in this approach, it is neither practical, possible or desirable.  Still, there seem to be lessons for us to learn by looking at the approach of the early believers and uncover where their heart was in the midst of it all.  John Stott is again good to keep a proper perspective and balance in his reflections on the church (both ancient and modern), and he approaches the topic of ministry in this way.  Indeed, one could probably get more from the highlighted text throughout this chapter than in the entirety of many leadership books.

As he reviews the situation in Acts, he notes that there are the disciples (the twelve) and there arise a need for others to be appointed to ministry (the seven). Great Highlighted Text #1: "Everybody cannot do everything" (73).  Acts 6 shows that the disciples face the risk of being overcome by administration that they would neglect their priority of ministry of the word.  This does not mean that they were 'above' certain tasks, nor that they completely ignored them.  This is to take the scene too far into physical laziness.  But it does demonstrate their proper place in the scheme of things and where they need to be positioned in order to be most effective.  A great lesson for many churches and church leadership today.

This chapter also recognizes the proper balance of everyone's calling to ministry, but also that ministry must be defined broadly. Great Highlighted Text #2: "All Christians are called to ministry" (74).  One of the lessons to be learned from Acts 6 is that the disciples did indeed delegate the needs of the community to those willing and able to take it, a form of servant leadership which does not happen frequently in many churches today (cf. 75).  This requires pastors willing to hand over the reigns of leadership and people who are willing to take them with a humble attitude.  Great Highlighted Text #3: "God calls different people to different ministries" (76).

This also ties into Stott's belief that: Great Highlighted Text #4: "Christian oversight is pastoral oversight" (77).  This is true on every level of ministry.  Further, he points out that Christian oversight is also "plural oversight" (77).  That is, Great Highlighted Text #5: "There is no biblical warrant for the so-called one-man band" (78).  Once he has put these statements forward, Stott then examines the leadership of the local church through the eyes of Paul's development(s) of the pastoral metaphor.  To review it briefly (go read the entirety on your own): there is the example of the apostle (the shepherd) which relies on Acts 20:18-27; there is the invasion of false teachers (the wolves) which reads Acts 20:28-31; 3) there is the value of the people (the sheep) which holds Acts 20:28 in view.  Admittedly, the third statement is one which I need reminded of often.

The whole of ministry and pastoral leadership is built upon Great Highlighted Text #8 (I skipped two of them): "It is not our church; it is God's" (83).  To quote his words more completely: "This is a splendid Trinitarian truth about the church, namely that it belongs to God the Father, has been redeemed by the blood of Christ his Son, and has overseers appointed by God the Holy Spirit.  This fact should humble us" (83).


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