I remember visiting a church years ago and thinking to myself, When is this pastor going to finish his introduction and get to the text? Before I knew it, the pastor closed in prayer. His "introduction" was the entire sermon, sharing entertaining stories and therapeutic applications, only lightly (and vaguely)...
Have you ever wanted things to happen faster than they are occurring? Wouldn’t it be great to have a “microwave-accessible” process to speed up relationships, savings accounts, and personal growth?
Sometimes I dream of such a reality. But in those moments, I can be misled. I wrongly believe that completing a task or fast internal growth will somehow solve the anxiety in my heart. This belief carries over into my ministry life as well.
I am knee deep, maybe even neck deep, in the work of revitalization at my church. God is trying to move a great core of people forward for the gospel while building a church that will outlive the current bodies who make up its congregation. Change is inevitable, but navigating how to move forward has been the big challenge. I would prefer the microwave solution—30 seconds and BOOM!—ready-to-eat, life-and-church change.
A Slow, Steady Gospel-Heat
What I’m finding is that God has our church in a crockpot, not a microwave. There’s a slow, steady heat developing around the gospel, and it’s taking more time than I would like. I see a similar idea worked out in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians: He calls it “the building up of the body of Christ.”
And [God] gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ… (Ephesians 4:11-13, emphasis mine)
God has gifted believers with different roles and gifts, assembling those believers into a church, and the church exists to equip the saints for the work of ministry. The aim of the church would be to “grow up in every way into him who the head, into Christ…and see itself built up in love” (v. 16).
“Growing up” and “being built up” take time for the individual and the church. There are no microwave solutions for these. A slow, steady heat is needed over time to see progress.
Making Progress in Your Local Church
How can you help Ephesians 4 work itself out in your local church? I see three primary ways this text can help us all.
1. Identify the gifts and roles God has given you in Christ.
God has uniquely made you. He didn’t want someone else, or he wouldn’t have made you. He knows “you are more flawed and sinful than you dare to believe” (Tim Keller), but he loves you, and he sent the greatest gift in his son to prove this.
When you see Jesus for who he is and what he has done for you, faith and repentance are Spirit-led responses. When you respond by faith in Jesus, the Bible says the Spirit gives you spiritual gifts. Understanding those gifts will be crucial for your growth and ministry in your local church.
There are a number of tools that are readily accessible to help you discover what your gifts may be. Make sure those tools are biblically-based and reflect the gifts you see in Scripture:
- Do you have the gift of teaching? Use that gift to help clarify God’s Word for the hearer and proclaim it with Spirit-led power.
- What about the gift of mercy? Show compassion and heartfelt attention to those who are hurting.
- Christians with the gift of giving can focus freely on stewarding their time, talents, and financial treasures to carry on the work and worship of God.
Meet with a pastor or work through proven tools when trying to discern your gifts. These processes always work out better in community because they are reinforced by others. To understand your gifts, you must first have an internal compulsion. That compulsion must then be met with external confirmation in God’s Word and from other people. Finally, God will open doors for you to use that gift to build up the body of Christ.
“Building up” means to bring something closer to completion or fullness. Think of a construction project that gets completed when the workers build up that which was missing—similarly, the church is a work in progress. God uses his people to build up one another and build up the work of the church. We need every Christian operating out of their gifts for the glory of God or the church will lack necessary growth. It’s a beautiful picture to watch God put his purposes into action through his people sacrificing and loving one another.
2. Remember that maturity is more of a process than a destination.
Maturity develops in us and in our churches over time as God uses our circumstances and relationships. It’s through those vehicles, and our successes and failures, that maturity grows. Finishing is not the goal for Christians; finishing like Christ is. How our bodies grew physically didn’t happen overnight, and growing up in Christ won’t either. So we’re patient with what God is doing and with his timeframe.
If the church is a work in process, then we need to know “building up” will take time:
- The small group without true vulnerability during the meeting time will not be transformed overnight.
- The women who constantly battle gossip and slander need other women with the gifts of prophecy and encouragement to push them forward in speaking the truth to one another. This will take time.
- The children in your Sunday School are not always going to be well-behaved, or provide feedback when you ask. But they will eventually remember the teacher who used leadership to guide them and exhortation to correct them.
Be patient; maturity in Christ is a process. Remember Job, whose patience over time moved him from being a man who had everything and had heard of God with the hearing of his ear, to a man who knew God face to face, even after losing so much.
3. Christ is the means to change.
The text calls Christ our head. That means he is in charge of his people. He delegates the gifts. He providentially channels our experiences. And his heartbeat is to work through it all in love through the presence of his Holy Spirit.
When you trust Christ, you give him everything. You turn over your mind, your will, your body, your emotions—all of it. You trust him to know what he’s doing. You humble yourself to let him work out those things in the right way at the right time.
God Will Finish What He Started
The gospel is multi-faceted. Yes, it’s good news of salvation to those who believe. But it doesn’t end there…
The message that Christ died, was buried, and rose again for sinners like you and me brings a continual hope. Hope that we don’t have to stay trapped in the old ways of our former life. Hope that we can, in Christ, break free from addictions and coping mechanisms. Hope for change. We are struggling, messed up, inconsistent, ungodly, and habitual sinners. Yet Paul reminds us “that God shows his love for us that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
This process cannot be nuked for 30-seconds. There is no spiritual setting to get the “complete, mature, and finished you” in two-minutes. God intends to work in you and in your local church like a master chef intends to use a crockpot—slowly, but surely. It will take your whole life, until you reach eternity, for God to complete the work in you he started.
Isn’t it “good news” that he promises to do so?