Written by Marcus Honeysett
You can download the PDF of this resource here.
The following is the text of an address given to the All Souls Langham Place School of Evangelists in November 2011. The talks weren't recorded to allow for more personal interaction.
The main audience was evangelists but the talk is equally applicable to other leaders in local churches.
In his story of the recent development of Kings Church in Catford, Good to Grow (highly recommended), Steve Tibbert says:
An essential truth is that the church exists to grow. The Great Commission and the record of NT church experience lead me to the deep conviction that normal church life includes gospel breakthroughs. Such knowledge fuels my belief that mission is at the heart of all the church does and is.
I truly believe that mission must take centre stage in the life of a local church, and am convinced that we must build mission-focused communities and avoid any separation between normal church life and our mission agenda. This historical separation has led to an increasingly pastoral church and a growing number of parachurch organisations and agencies that have arisen to fill a gap…Let’s not settle for second best. Let’s build mission-focussed churches so that together we can reach the nations…To build [such] mission focussed communities requires sustained, focussed leadership in the local church…I find that churches have a tendency to drift towards a pastoral mode, taking their agenda from believers rather than the lost
Maybe you relate to that. Here are a couple of diagrams of two different kinds of churches:
The Pastoral model exists to serve the needs of Christians. One leader provides "ministry" which is passively consumed exclusively, or nearly exclusively, by the faithful. This is essentially a service provider-client model of church.
The Missionary model (or biblical model!) understands that every believer is an active gospel minister and that their ministry is aimed primarily outside the church in the work of making more and more disciples of Jesus. This church has one or more leaders set aside not to do all the ministry, but to equip all the believers as gospel ministers.
Eph. 4 says that God has given apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers to equip the saints for works of ministry. I.e. this second model. In my experience, however, lots of evangelists operate in ways that are semi-detached such that their ministry is not foundationally rooted in the local church. The negative consequence is that we may have extremely fruitful personal ministries, but we lose the effectiveness of whole congregations being equipped as witnesses. We find it easier to do evangelism that to equip the saints.
Why is that? I think it is because so many churches operate as model 1. The pastoral church that doesn’t have the equipping of all believers for witness and service on its agenda. Just as parachurches arise to fill the gap – often very well and needfully, let me add – so evangelists can get so fed up with lack of progress in this kind of church that we detach ourselves and divorce what we do from the life of the local church.
Is the local church the chief context of your witness and ministry? If not, you are not currently fulfilling the breadth of the promise Ephesians 4 holds out both for your ministry and the overall effectiveness of the wider community of believers.
What is a local church?
A biblical local church is a stunningly supernatural thing.
The father has put all things under the feet of the Son and given him as
head over all things to the Church, which is his body, the fullness of him who
fills all in all.
Christ is reigning now in Heaven, exercising his almighty, sovereign power for His church. We are a people called out of darkness into his marvellous light, a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a people for his own possession, in order to proclaim his excellencies to the world. As churches as a whole.
The priesthood of all believers means that we no longer have mediating leaders like Old Testament priests, but it also means that all the people of God have priestly ministry. Did you know that there is priestly ministry in the New Testament? Romans 15:15 Paul says that by God’s grace he is called to priestly service of the gospel of God, bringing to God the offering of the gentiles, made acceptable by the sanctification of the Holy Spirit. New Testament priestly ministry is the proclamation of the wonder and excellencies of God to the world that will be used by the Spirit to bring people everywhere under the rule of God. Here is how he continues that passage in 15:18:
For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience – by word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God – so that from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ
That is what gospel ministry is, that is what it means to be a kingdom of priests declaring his praises. Churches saying to the world “come and see the wonders God has wrought and turn to him from your rebellion.” And so the manifold wisdom of God is made known through the church and authorities in the Heavenly places. And according to Eph 3:11 this was the eternal purpose of God that he has realised in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access through our faith in him. Therefore, concludes the apostle, I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory.
As I said [in talk 1 - The Leader's Heart] the goal of all gospel ministry is making missional disciples. Go into all the world and make disciples, by preaching repentance for sins and forgiveness in Jesus name according to Luke, baptising them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything Jesus commanded. Most simply put, that is the purpose of the church and therefore it is the purpose of leadership ministries to equip and release the church for this end. Including evangelists.
That is the first point. Evangelists should be firmly established in local churches, for the health of the church and it mission. There might advance all kinds of reasons why not but they are not biblical reasons and therefore are inadequate. That is the same as the ridiculous image in 1 Cor. 12 of various body parts saying “I would rather not belong to the body so I’ll be off.” Nonsense. God has joined the body and appointed each part as he wants. There is to be no ministry that is detached. For sure there were evangelistic mission teams in the New Testament but they were sent out and received back by churches to whom they gave account.
The local church is critical for spiritual growth
The second point I want to make is that being rooted in a local church is critical for the spiritual growth of all disciples, and no less evangelists. If we think that our spiritual growth most regularly happens outside of the church, at conferences or on our own, it may be highlighting that the church doesn’t currently have a biblical DNA. Most church problems are DNA problems. They usually come back to ecclesiology in the end. Either it isn’t orthodox, or it is orthodox doctrinally but in the words of Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones churches can be both orthodox and dead. That happens when people give attention to the truth of the Lord but not the ways of the Lord, so they can say the right things but aren’t much interested in doing what the church is called to do. Not zealous for good deeds. Ephesians 2:10 says the church is God’s handiwork for good deeds.
At the risk of being controversial I think there are all kinds of organisations that call themselves churches that are nowhere near a biblical, God-centred, gospel-purpose-centred, community-of-disciples understanding of the church. We shouldn’t buy into anything less than a full-blooded, biblical vision of the local church being God’s hope for the world as it reaches the world with the good news.
In Ephesians 4 the ministry of word-oriented leaders is equipping the fellowship so that growth occurs.
V13 so that we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God, becoming mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ, no longer being infants but speaking the truth in love.
V15 we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is Christ. 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.
The church is the context for exhorting and urging each other. Speaking the truth in love so that we are built up in love. But it isn’t just interpersonal, one disciple to another. Because you could do that with other isolated individuals without being rooted in a local church. V16 says that the whole body grows and builds itself up in love as it is connected to the head, that is Christ. There is supernatural growth happening in the body, in God’s family, that is unique to that context, because of the corporate connection to the Head. Christ is ministering in his churches. He is walking among the lampstands. Christ is causing spiritual growth in maturity for the disciples in biblical churches. We have no right to expect guarantees otherwise.
The growth of the disciples is coming from Christ, but because of that it is also coming from the body that is connected to the Head. V16 The body grows and builds itself up in love. Union with Christ is the ultimate cause of spiritual growth, the immediate cause is the whole Spirit-filled body, with each part functioning properly in the gifts Christ has given by his grace (- that is verse 7).
That is normal church life according to the New Testament. Normal church life isn’t services, meetings and nice activities for the faithful. Romans 14:17 the kingdom of God is a matter of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
So when I ask you how goes it with your church, it is an invitation to us to consider first whether the church’s DNA is right, and it is living normal New Testament church life and second whether we are one of those properly functioning parts, not only for the growth of the whole body, but with the conviction that that is the way we grow up into Christ as well?
Delightful or desolate?
It is possible that some of us here are in churches that are desolate rather than delightful. And the temptation is therefore to make church marginal even though we know that won’t ever improve the situation. We should be very careful about leaving churches, though if you are in a church that has settled into what I call a corporate death wish scenario then you probably will eventually. But not before we confess our own sin, like Daniel and Isaiah, appeal urgently to God to remember his mighty acts and revive and try to captivate people again with the glory of God and the wonder of the biblical gospel, the beauty of the cross.
Local church as apologetic
The third point is that the biblical local church, in itself, is an extremely powerful, God-given apologetic for the gospel. See how these Christians love each other. Why are these disparate people loving each other in this supernatural way that you don’t see anywhere else? Because they are connected to Jesus. How come they seem to exhibit a wisdom that is greater than that in the world. 1 Cor. 14 because they are edifying each other, speaking wisdom from God to each other, so 1 Cor. 14:24 when an unbeliever comes in while everybody is prophesying edifyingly to each other he will be convinced by all he is a sinner, and will be judged and the secrets of his heart laid bare and eh will fall down and worship God because he has experienced God being among us.
And how come these people are filled with delight that is utterly unlike anything else in the world? How come when they are persecuted and go through painful fiery trials they are nevertheless filled with inexpressible and glorious joy? Because they are receiving the goal of their faith, the salvation of their souls.
Let me pause on that subject of joy a minute. (I know I go on about it!) If you have no joy in Christ you aren’t a believer. If a church is not thrilled with God in such a way as it ever comes out in rejoicing, in whatever cultural form they do it, it isn’t a biblical church. Joy is not a passive thing. It leads without exception to rejoicing.
When churches are abounding in joy in Jesus, delighting in grace, bowled over by being declared righteous for ever, frankly you don’t have to do much evangelism training. They witness automatically. When the believers were scattered from Jerusalem by the persecution and went talking to Greeks in Antioch, it wasn’t the result of some amazing Greek evangelisation strategy or training course. They were compelled by the love of Christ and the Spirit-empowered message of the cross, and the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. On the other hand when people aren’t being propelled and empowered by knowing the Lord, you can do all the evangelism training you like and it won’t make much difference. People will have a go out of guilt, peer pressure or because it is the thing to do, but there is no sustaining power.
In the first of the two pictures I gave at the start, you haven’t got a church that is going to be sustained in witness, because they aren’t empowered by the compelling love of Christ. They may know facts about the cross and resurrection, but they have no sense of the message coming with deep conviction and the demonstration of the Spirit’s power. We have to sort that first if we want any lasting fruit. Otherwise we simply bolt on faux-evangelism as a slightly unwelcome extra for a people who aren’t actually witnessing disciples.
The second of the two pictures is very different. Not everyone in the church is an evangelist, but everyone is a witness. (That is an easy mistake for evangelists – to assume that everyone should have our gifting and to be frustrated when they won’t do what we do. I have a friend who gets massively frustrated that lots of people won’t initiate first contact evangelism with him, but that’s because he assumes that everyone has his spiritual gift. That’s not true, not everyone is a spiritually gifted evangelist. But every Spirit-filled believer has the potential to be a potent witness).
I put it to you that when Eph 4 says that evangelists are one of the ministries given by God to equip the saints, the implication of that is that we are key people for producing whole churches full of well-nurtured and equipped witnesses. The difference between one evangelist doing it on their own, and one evangelist doing the work of an evangelist who along with them is equipping all the believers in the church in their witness, is immense.
And that is the danger for the witness of the local church of the evangelist being semi-detached. We know all the reasons that happens. Evangelists who are in fact in model 1 churches who can’t see any way to get others involved because they don’t want to be. And you can’t see how to change it to a model 2 church. Evangelists who just have such a sense of the urgency of the task that it seems quicker and more effective for the gospel to simply get on an do it ourselves than to put in the long-term effort of training, nurturing, taking others with us and building a whole culture of it in our churches. Or we simply don’t know how to do it. Or, in fact we are in churches that simply don’t know how to encourage, resource, release and support the evangelists to be evangelists in the local church. And letting us do it at a distance allows them to feel they have a connection to evangelism, but not one that is too uncomfortably close to home.
I had been in evangelistic ministry for 13 years and UCCF team leader for 4 when a dear saint in our church said “I have no idea what you do all round the place but I think it is great whatever it is. Do you think you will be a minister some day when you grow up?” A very benign “ignorance-is-bliss”. And I had a context for doing satisfying and demanding ministry outside of the local church, couldn’t see how to shift that mind-set, so the line of least resistance was just to keep letting it go. Evangelistic ministry over here, unequipped church over here and never the twain shall meet.
If we are going to grow and plant more and more truly missional, disciple-making churches in the UK, then evangelists and their unique ministry of both testifying and equipping the saints have to be firmly rooted in the heart of them. The goal of our evangelistic ministries is not, finally, to make converts, it is to make disciples who in turn make disciples who make disciples.
How goes it with your church?
© Marcus Honeysett