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Equiping for Next Steps

Ekklesia  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Good Morning Church, how are we?
I recently started reading this leadership book with a very intriguing title, it’s called Canoeing The Mountains by Tod Bolsinger. Many of you know that I like canoeing and I have done a fair share of it, but I had a hard time reconciling what I know of canoeing and what I know of mountains. And of course that is the point of the title, to intrigue us into questions like this.
Turns out that the book uses the historic account of the famous “Lewis and Clark” expedition as a metaphor for where we are right now in our culture and more specifically where the Western Church is as it strives to continue in our mission despite the significant changes in the landscape.
If you would humor me for a moment, let me read to you a few sections from this story...
Anyone else seeing this as a good metaphor for where we are now as a culture. So many things were not on the map we were given. This wasn’t what the “experts” told us. And we start to wonder if we will be able to navigate whats next with the tools, experiences and skills that we have depended on up to this point.
How are we going to Canoe the Mountains?
And of course we have always had change, right? “Change is the one constant that never changes” they say. But what seems so evident is that things seem to be changing so quickly. So many of the things that we are facing right now are things that less than 10 years ago would have laughable. Like, “That will never happen” or “No one would actually take that seriously.” and now not only are people taking those things very seriously, they are demanding that we take them seriously too.
How is the Christian Church going to Canoe these mountains?
This is one of the reasons that we have spent so much time learning about the early Church in our EKKLESIA series this past year. This is why we have been on this long journey. Because we have been able to see how what we experience as “Church” today is not exactly the same as it was 2,000 years ago. It has changed over time. It has adapted to different seasons, different cultures, different landscapes, but through it all the Christian Church is after the same mission.
To communicate the “life-giving message of Jesus Christ” despite the ever changing landscape of our world.
Last week we were in Ephesians Chapter 2, and so for today we will jump ahead two chapter to Ephesians 4. If you open your Bibles up there, it’s on page 977 in the Bibles in the chairs. I’ll pray and we will dive in after this question of how do we Canoe the Mountains, or more particularly how does God word instruct His Church to operate despite an ever-changing landscape.
Ephesians 4 opens up with Paul reminding the Church in Ephesus of the changes in ministry landscape for him. While they knew him as a traveling evangelist and church planter, he writes this letter from a different position… He says:
Ephesians 4:1 (ESV) 1 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord,...
That is a significant change in landscape. To go traveling freely throughout much of the Roman Empire declaring the good news of the Gospel to now being imprisoned in Rome. But this new landscape for Paul’s ministry does not mean an end to the Ekklesia, quite the opposite. Paul calls the Church to rise to their calling as a local Church. He says...
Ephesians 4:1–8 (ESV)
1 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
This was the thrust of the message last week. With any gathering of people you will find many differences, but as Christians we can find unity like no other group on earth. And Paul tells us why:
4 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
This is the call of the Christian Church, we are unified in our pasts, our salvation and our purpose. But even with all these declarations of being “one” as a gathering, every gathering is still made up of many individuals. So Paul says:
7 But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.
This miraculous “Oneness” in Christ is achieved by a variety of people operating in a variety of capacities. Unity is not the same thing as uniformity. We will never be the Church as Jesus intended if we all try to be the same. We need our differences. Jesus gave us different gifts because the body needs each one of the different members to work together. No one person can do everything that the Church needs.
Earlier, when Paul was living and serving in Ephesus, he wrote a very similar thing to the Church in Corinth. He said:
1 Corinthians 12:4–7 (ESV)
4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
So nobody can do everything, but everybody has to be doing their something. And this, maybe more than any other, is the perspective that we must recapture if we are going to be successful as the Church in this new landscape.
Because up to very recently, if we wanted to know about something our tendency was to seek out an “expert” in that field. Not just someone who knows about it, but someone in a paid professional position who knows the most about it. An “expert”. We were always looking for the “expert”.
So we all went from having a doctor’s appointment with our having to see 5 different “specialists” who we have never met. That is a lot of “experts”
We went from our child having a 5th grade teacher... to meeting with their educational cohort that included the homeroom teacher, the daily instructor, the science specialist, various teachers aids, the reading specialists, a speech therapist and a student mentor. “experts in every lane”
In the Church we grew these “Mega-Churches” with “mega-budgets” so that we could afford to hire a team of university trained staff to head up each area of ministry. Because when the people came to Church with their needs they didn’t want to talk to someone just like them, they all wanted to talk to an “expert.
And I am not saying that there is anything intrinsically wrong with these things, I am glad we have grown in our knowledge and understanding in so many areas.
I am just saying that our prolonged daily experiences with so many “experts” has developed in many of us... something of a distrust of “experts”! We have found that often times the “experts” don’t agree. Other times these paid professional “experts” were horribly wrong. So the “expert” label isn’t carrying the weight it used to.
That wasn’t the intended result, but that is a part of the landscape of our culture now. What this means is that the “listen to me, I am an expert” message just isn’t flying any more. That may have been the canoe that got us here, but it will not serve us well when facing the mountains in front of us.
But we don’t have to worry about this getting in the way of our mission. God has given us everything we need for whatever new landscape we face. This is Paul’s message to the Church in Ephesus and it begins by reminded them and us that..

1. Jesus has gifted the Church family with various functions to equip each of us for ministry (Eph 4:1-12).

We see this stated plainly in Ephesians 4:11 where is says:
Ephesians 4:11-12 (ESV)
11 And he (that is Jesus) gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,
Sometimes its easy to miss the word “gift” in the word “gave” but that is what is there. These varied functions were gifts that Jesus gave the Church through particular people so that it would operate as He designed. That design was to “equip the saints for the work”.
And I don’t think this is a list of “experts”. Elsewhere in the Bible it talks about particular offices in the Church, which also have these kinds of titles, but I don’t think that is what Paul is talking about here. Certainly we would hope that if someone holds an office of pastor or teacher or evangelist they also have been given the corresponding gifts, but I think this is about more than just those who hold official “titles”. I believe that there are people who function in the Church in these ways... even if they don’t have the official title to go along with it.
So let’s take a moment and look at these 5 functions that Jesus has given to the Church for it to thrive.
First of all we have apostles. from the Greek Word ἀπόστολος (apostalos)
The word apostle literally means “One who is sent with a comission” or “messenger”. Of course, whenever we talk about an apostle there is a distinction that must be made between the office of Apostle which was limited to the 12 and those who continue to extend their message into our world today. No one today carries the authority of one of the 12 apostles, but in a broad sense every Christian has a part in the continuation of the apostolic ministry through the great commission. So all of us are messengers to some degree, but some of us have a special gifting in this area.
Next is the prophets. from the Greek Word προφήτης (prophetes)
A prophet is simply one who proclaims the Word of God. They often call people to repentance because of what God’s Word says or instruct the people to focus on one aspect of God’s Word at a fitting time in a fitting place. The function of a prophet has to do with understanding spiritual truths and being willing and able to declare them at opportune times as led by the Spirit.
I like how Warren Wiersbe describes how this function works today. He says,
“Christians today do not get their spiritual knowledge immediately from the Holy Spirit, but mediately through the Spirit teaching the Word” -Warren Wiersbe
God’s Word mediates between a person and what they are sharing about God’s will. This is how we can identify false prophets, if they say they speak for God but don’t align with God’s Word they are not prophets of God. Still, some of us may be specially gifted to take God’s Word and speak it at just the right time that the Church needs to hear it.
Thirdly, Jesus has given us evangelists. from the Greek Word εὐαγγελιστής (evangelistes)
These are the people who share the “good news” the Gospel with a special gift. Every believe is called to give an answer for the hope that we have, but God has gifted some among us have special ability to see how to turn most conversations into a conversation about the saving work of Jesus. You don’t have to hold an office of evangelist, in face most people are leary of those with a title “evangelist” from their experience with TV evagelists and the like, but you may still have a gift that Jesus wants to use for the Church.
Lastly he mentions Shepherds and Teachers. Since there is not an article in front of Teachers, as in “the Teachers” most theologians believe that Paul meant for this to be two descriptions of the same function. Shepherd, from the Greek word ποιμήν (poimen) was quite literally a sheep herder or herdsman and this is appropriate language since the Bible often calls the gathered believers “sheep”. Where as Teacher was from the Greek word διδάσκαλος which meant an instructor or one who teaches. So this is someone who cares for and instructs the sheep, or the body of Christ.
So my understanding of the meaning of this verse is that these are not so much positions of leadership or offices within the Church, but functions that many different believers in the Church operate with.
Take a look at this list again…can you see yourself in any of these? You may not have the official title, office or role to go with it but that doesn’t mean that God hasn’t given this to you for the benefit of the Church. You may not be the recognized “expert” but that doesn’t mean that God isn’t looking to work through you to help establish His Church.
Now that might scare some of you. You might think, I don’t know if I am ready to function like this…but remember that these functions were given to equip us all for ministry. We are all called to be ministers in some way, the question is are you walking in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.
Which brings us to our second theme for the week: .

2. Our ministry is the catalyst that matures us into the likeness of Christ.(Eph 4:12–15).

So Jesus gave these 5 fold functions of the Church...
Ephesians 4:12–13 (ESV)
12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 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,
Too often we think that there is some sort of plateau that we need to hit before we can serve in the Church. We have to become some sort of super-Christian or “expert” and then we will be ready to serve. And we are very comfortable with this arrangement because we have set the bar so high that we don’t ever expect to be ready.
The problem with this is that the Bible clearly says here that your participation in “the work of ministry” is what grows you into a greater measure of the Christ-likeness that you say that you need in order to do “the work of ministry”. Do you see how this is circular thinking? Circular thinking that moves right past the will of God for your life!
It is this very thinking that has caused so many Christians to come to Church each week, listen to the person in the paid position of “expert” (me) and then go home again wondering when you will have grown enough in your faith to start doing what was said. Guys that is a weekly exercise in completely missing the point, especially as the landscape of our culture changes more and more into a place that has little respect or even room for our Biblical World View.
2. Our ministry is the catalyst that matures us into the likeness of Christ.(Eph 4:12–15) and we are going to need this, because

3. Our changing landscape demands that every Christian be able to speak God’s truth in love. (Ephesians 4:14-16).

We have great leaders here at Friendship Church. I am proud to serve alongside the Overseers and Ministry Team Leaders here, but the time is coming and is now here when just knowing people who know how to respond to the challenges of Christianity will not be enough. We are ALL to attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God..
Ephesians 4:14–16 (ESV)
14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftinss in deceitful schemes.
Guys, this is what we are dealing with right now in our world. Our ultimate enemy the devil is a liar, deceiver and trickster. He isn’t coming at us in a frontal attack with the name of a different God or different “religion”. People who claim to be “Christians” are coming at us with doctrines that are easily rejected by the teachings of the Bible, and that is why they don’t want you to “mature” and to “attain the knowledge of the Son of God”. They strip the Bible of it’s authority by claiming it is an out-dated book, you can’t really believe what it says, and Jesus replaced “the law” with “love” so we don’t want to talk about things like sin and death and hell. Let’s just talk about God’s Love!
And I am all for talking about the Love of God, but only as it relates to the rest of what God has said is true in His Word. That is why Paul goes on to say:
15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
When we are really growing in the love of Jesus, then we too will love others enough to tell them the truth. The kind of love that Jesus showed was one that was willing to risk telling the truth, without that you are not really loving at all.
We cannot truly love people without giving them the whole truth. The hard truth. That truth that includes the realities of sin, death and hell. Talking about those things is loving, ignoring them anything but love. Jesus did not ignore them. He came and died on the cross to save us from their terrible effects. How could we not lovingly share that message with those who don’t yet know it?
And as we all speak this truth in love we will grow individually, but we will also grow as a local expression of the Church that Jesus is building.
1. Jesus has gifted the Church family with various functions to equip us for ministry (Eph 4-12).
2. Our ministry is the catalyst that matures us into the likeness of Christ. (Eph 4:12–13)
3. Our changing landscape demands that every Christian be able to speak God’s truth in love. (Eph 4:14-16).
So how are we here at Friendship Church going to get after this new landscape that we have been given. How are we going to not just rely on just the paid position of “expert”. Well we need to do something to uncover some of the hidden gifts and functions that we have here at Friendship Church from people who currently are not using them. To do this we are going to offer some new opportunities this fall and challenge you all as a Church to step up to them.
To be clear, none of these are opportunities that we reserve for those who have made Friendship Church your home Church through partnership. We already have all the Bible teaching positions filled for this fall, so these opportunities are for any and all of you. I will start with the lowest level of commitment and then move up from there.
Each week I have the text for the following week in the notes page of the bulletin, the easiest challenge to be successful in is to just come into this place each Sunday having already read the text. One of the ways that we show God how much we love Him is to read His love letter to us. Even If you are not a reader, there are so many apps that you can download to listen to the text being read at least once during the week - but you won’t regret doing it more than once. This doesn’t take an expert.
Having read the text for the week, I would challenge you to come prepared to stay and participate in the Table talk groups in order to share your insights, thoughts and questions about the text... so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine We don’t need you stay to pad our Sunday School numbers - we need to come learn with us, and grow us. No “expertise” needed.
And having read and interacted with the text, I want to challenge you to consider volunteering as a monthly mentor for our youngest Sunday School class. We already have teachers for the class, but you will be there to help mentor the kids, not as “experts” but as fellow “equipers” who are helping the youngest among us to participate in the classroom activities that will help them to know and follow Jesus. At most this would be one Sunday a month, because we still want you to be able to serve and grow in the adult table talk groups.
Lastly, having read the text on your own and came in prepared to speak up during Table Talk group, I challenge you to volunteer to take one week this next year and read the text for us from up here in front of the Church.... I told you they would get harder! And not all of you may be ready for this one but some of you are. This would be a great next step for some of you. Every Sunday before the message someone will be up here reading the text for the week. Again, you don’t need to be some “expert” to do this. It’s just coming up to the podium. Reading the text and sitting down again. And I believe we will be blessed by hearing the Word of God read through our different voices each week.
I am going to be coming back to these over the next several weeks and do my best to keep these and any new opportunities in front of you throughout the next year. If you have any questions or you already know that you want to take one these new steps then please let myself or one of the other Overseers know and we will get you plugged in.
Our mission has not changed. We are still working together to “Communicate the life-giving message of Jesus Christ”, but the landscape that we are facing now is changing. It is changing quickly and dramatically. We don’t know what the Church in the western world will look like 20 years from now, but we can trust that God has given us everything we need to face it.
Jesus said that if we have faith like a grain of mustard seed we can move mountains, I guess canoeing them wouldn’t take much more than that.
Will you pray into that with me?
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