The Five Key Positions of Christian Ministry

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I’m reading an excellent book: The House Church Book by Wolfgang Simson.  It goes through the Bible and history to show and critique the structure and progression of the church (how it was, is, and should be), and provides one of the best explanations I’ve seen of the five-fold ministry.

Here is my shortened version of what Simson describes:

Pastor: the pastor is the shepherd of the flock.  He’s right in the midst of his people, making sure that the flock functions as a family.  He is internally and relationally oriented (making sure the sheep connect with God and to each other).  It’s also his job to defend the flock against false prophets.  And since he is so intimate with the flock, he may have trouble seeing the big picture.

Prophet: the prophet is always so far ahead of the flock that few understand him.  He’s on the lookout, listening to God’s voice and seeing visions of the future.  He’s so radically different from the pastor that they usually don’t get along as well.  While the pastor defends the status quo, the prophet is always questioning everything and wanting immediate action.  His job is to provide spiritual intelligence, cast personal and corporate vision, and exhort people according to God’s calling.

Apostle: the apostle is like the ‘army commander’.  He’s away from the flock (but not so far as the prophet) so that he can see the big picture.  Most concerned with strategy and missions, he is the problem solver and talent spotter of the team.  He unites the group (working hand in hand with the prophet) but is constantly running around so much he has no time to stay one place very long.

Teacher: the teacher is most concerned with ‘truth and nothing but the truth’.  He is detail oriented and thorough, focusing intently on the parts of the whole rather than the big picture.  He sits right outside the flock so he can discern how they’re doing.  He is passionate that his students learn to understand, explain and defend their faith.

Evangelist: the evangelist circles the flock closely, but is far enough away that he won’t smell like the sheep pen.  He introduces a healthy outward focus to the church and disciples new believers.  He’s passionate about the depth of conversion and the retention rate of new disciples, and wants everyone to find Jesus.

These positions of the five-fold ministry come from Eph 4:11: “He [Jesus] gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers.”  All Christians are commissioned to evangelize (demonstrate the Christian lifestyle), prophecy (hear from God), disciple (strengthen and deepen the faith of other believers), et cetera, but the five-fold ministry describes ‘offices’ or ‘positions’ within the Christian community that are necessary for the church to function as the body of Christ.

Unfortunately, I’ve noticed that many churches have too many pastors (internal relational people), and even more sheep.  This makes many churches very family oriented, safe, and encouraging places to be (assuming the pastors are fully fulfilling their roles), but doesn’t show believers with other giftings how to naturally grow and enter non-pastoring roles.  Worse, those working in these roles (particularly, the apostolic and prophetic) aren’t usually encouraged to participate in the church.  Consequently, many sheep are either not interested or not prepared to take on an active role in the body of Christ.

If the body of Christ is going to walk in fullness–as is prophesied must happen before Christ’s return (Eph 4:13)–then every member has it’s part, both in office, and in gifting.  So, if you’re a Christian, which position most fits you?

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Emphasis on the First Commandment

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There are two commandments that stand out within the entire Bible and are particularly emphasized by Jesus in the New Testament.  The first commandment is to love God and the second is to love other people.  The first is first and the second is second–they aren’t equal.  If we forget to love God, it really doesn’t matter how much we love people (1 Cor 13).  The first commandment is a requirement for the second, and it is greater (Mat 22:37-38).

I’ve mentioned these commandments before, but it’s very important to recognize the difference between them.  They wouldn’t be highlighted separately if they were the same; thus, we do not love God BY loving other people, we love God THEN we love other people.  This is not a subtle difference.

So how do we love God?  Scripture says we love God by keeping His commandments–we completely submit ourselves to God in obedience of whatever He has for us (John 15:1-11).

This is why loving God has to happen before the loving of people: God has a specific design for how we should individually love those in our spheres of influence.  We aren’t called to random acts of kindness; we’re called to specific works which He prepared beforehand for us to do (Eph 2:10)!

If we neglect to focus on a relationship with the Lord foremost (on truly and wholeheartedly loving Him), then instead of being led by His voice to pour out His love, we become recklessly attempting to earn or prove our salvation to God, ourselves and the world.  We may help people to feel good in the now, but aren’t able to offer them insight toward a stable relationship with the Lord because we don’t have it for ourselves; what is Christianity unless Christians can offer both?  This ‘being good’ wears us out, makes us feel constantly inadequate or in competition with others, and most importantly, it doesn’t work–God knows our heart.

The ‘goodness’ has to come from the inside out.  As we spend time with Him, we know Him and love Him.  He gives us a heart to love Him–more and more as we seek Him–because He knows how small we are.  And as we completely submit to Him in love, we can’t help but be stirred in our spirits to help His other loves.  It really does happen naturally.  And it brings with it a confidence of being a true heir and son or daughter to the Most High God.

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Is God Good? (Part Three: Why Did God Make Pharaoh’s Heart Hard?)

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Be sure to also read Part One and Part Two of this series.

God hardened Pharaoh’s heart to demonstrate His Glory among Egypt and Israel and the earth so that the people would know He is God.  But Pharaoh wasn’t chosen as a tragic casualty so that his people would see God’s power; there is more to the story.

The Biblical account in Exodus 3-15 shows us that Pharaoh wasn’t pursuing to know the Hebrew God, and in fact was consumed with his own gods and his own ways.  In other words, he was already hardening his own heart to God, God just allowed for this to happen more quickly.  We also see that God has full knowledge of Pharaoh’s thoughts and intentions, and is making a good and righteous judgment by hardening Pharaoh’s heart.

This is a pretty long account, so I’m going to highlight just a few areas; I’d encourage those who are interested in this story to read and dialog with God about it more thoroughly.

  1. Ex 3: 19: God is giving Moses instructions on how to present his case to Pharaoh and says He knows that king of Egypt will not permit the Hebrews to leave except under compulsion (or ‘unless a mighty hand compels him’).
  2. Ex 7:3: God will harden Pharaoh’s heart that He may put on a bigger show–that He may multiply the signs and wonders in the land.
  3. Ex 7:22: Pharaoh’s heart is hardened because he sees that his own magicians can do the same ‘magic’ as the Lord–he doesn’t care to know God, but to have power, and he isn’t impressed by God’s power so long as his magicians can imitate it.  If he were to seek the Lord, it would be for the wrong intentions: to have more power and control.
  4. Ex 8:15: here Pharaoh hardens his own heart and it is clear his desire was for relief from the plague rather than an awe at the power of God.
  5. Ex 8:18-19: even when his magicians cannot imitate God’s power and admit to Pharaoh that “This is the finger of God” he does not listen.  He really doesn’t want to know God.
  6. Ex 9:16: God could have just killed Egypt to free the Jews.  He went about freeing them in this creative way so that His power and name would be proclaimed in ALL the earth.  He may have picked the Jews, but He’s always wanted everyone to know of Him and be His people.
  7. Ex 9:34: at some moments Pharaoh hardens his own heart…
  8. Ex 11:9-10: other times, God hardens Pharaoh’s heart, giving Him the chance to do even more miracles.

God is very much about free will (letting us make our own choices).  As a result, He will help us get wherever we want to go faster.  If we earnestly desire Him, we will find Him.  If we want to engage our own desires and run our own lives, He will let us do that too–in some cases speeding up the process of hardening our hearts so that the ‘smashing of the clay’ can be done sooner than later, or so that we can be a demonstration of His might.

So, when God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, it wasn’t a violation of Pharaoh’s will, but a hastening of the choice Pharaoh had already made.  It also provided for Pharaoh to have a final season of mercy as God did extravagant signs and wonders right before his eyes–signs and wonders that also gave the Israelites confidence and awe in their God, and allowed for the name of the Lord to be known throughout the nations (Ex 15:1-3, Ex 15:14-16).

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Review of Veiled Freedom by J.M. Windle

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Recommended: An insightful and beautifully written piece of fiction.

This novel reveals modern day Afghanistan realistically and astutely.  Windle juxtaposes the perspectives of three characters: 1) a slightly naive Christian woman, in Afghanistan to start a relief project, 2) an intelligent but rough-on-the edges American security chief to the MOI, and 3) an Afghan native with a tragic past who only wants to please Allah.

Veiled Freedom mixes Western and Middle Eastern culture, politics, and Christian and Islamic spirituality; it has action and mystery while still being a lighthearted, easy read.

The novel’s strongest theme is quite relevant: change has to happen from the inside out.  No country can force freedom or lifestyle on another country, nor can anyone spiritually ‘convert’ those who are content as they are–our personal and corporate freedoms must be taken from the inside out.

The only downside was the superficial way in which Christian character, Amy’s, faith was portrayed.  I felt the novel worked much harder to reveal Islam than Christianity, yet, in this day where not all ‘Christianities’ are alike, I would have liked to feel that Amy was deeply and desperately connected to God–especially as she’s made to be the story’s ‘model’ Christian.

Overall, this was an enjoyable and educational read, deepening my understanding of Afghanistan and its people.

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The Turning Point: Jeremiah, the potter, and the clay

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The word of the Lord spoke to Jeremiah and led him to a potter’s house where the potter was working clay into a vessel.  The Lord uses this physical demonstration to show Jeremiah how, like the potter, He wants to mold us into beautiful vessels, but sometimes we (the clay) aren’t malleable in His hands.  (Jer 18)

With each piece of clay there’s a turning point where the clay just can’t be reworked any longer.  The clay is so stubborn that it becomes hard and the potter can’t physically mold it.  This clay becomes a ‘vessel of wrath’ and is thrown into the valley where it shatters into pieces.  (Jer 19)

It is always God’s intention to make beautiful vessels. When we don’t listen to His purposes or incline our hearts to know His ways, we become spoiled in His hands–He can remold us again and again, but there is always a point where we, like the clay, can’t be reworked.  It isn’t God’s fault when we don’t cooperate, it’s ours; just as the potter wanted to make lovely vessels but couldn’t if the clay wouldn’t cooperate.

God’s exhortation to Jeremiah through the physical demonstration of the clay is to warn the people to turn away from evil, and to reform their ways and their deeds (Jer 18:11).  He wants them to turn back to Him so adamantly that He is willing to use severe measures to get their attention that perhaps they will be shaken by the extremity of what their stubbornness is doing to them.

There is a physical choice, in other words, to soften our hearts to the Lord (the circumcision of the heart) and be malleable in His hands.  This requires complete surrender (submissiveness) on our part, but allows that we would be created into a beautiful vessel of the Lord–and once we understand that He is good as He says He is, we can trust that whatever He wants to make us into really is the most fulfilling thing.

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Is God Good? (Part Two: The Flood)

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Be sure to also read: Is God Good? (Part One).

In the Old Testament there were times when God killed nations of people at once–even all but eight people in the day of Noah and the flood–but He was still good.

The Lord gave me a metaphor to describe the steadfastness of His love and goodness within the destruction of the flood.  He asked me:

If you had a farm and all the animals caught a really painful, harmful disease that was definitely incurable what would you do?  Surely, you wouldn’t want them to have to go on living like that and to have babies who would also live tragically painful lives.  So, wouldn’t it be more merciful for you to kill (as quickly and painlessly as possible) the infected animals before they got worse, multiplied, and infected others on the farm?

God’s goodness means He is concerned not just with the here-and-now of our lives, but with the eternal–with the whole big picture.

Something had happened in the days of Noah which caused God to take action by destroying life on the earth: there was ungodly sexuality, violence, and evil reigned continually in the hearts and thoughts of men (Gen 6).  In fact, it’s so bad that God not only kills the large majority of the earth, but lowers the lifespan to 120 years so that future generations would have less time to cultivate evil (Gen 6:3).

The people were so corrupt that God in His infinite knowledge knew there was no hope for them turning to Him without His violating free will, which He chooses not to do; their hatred was too deep.  They were infected with the disease of wickedness, because they choose to cultivate the wickedness of their hearts.  In order that they would not multiply and produce more kids (who would be raised in wickedness and endure eternal punishment), and so they would not create for themselves even more sin (which would ensue even more judgment), God, being full of mercy and justice, chose to kill them.

This wasn’t God’s ‘plan’–He never delights in killing anyone.  Scripture says that He was “sorry” and “grieved in His heart” by man’s actions (Gen 6:6-7).  These aren’t the emotions of an uncaring God, but of one who is so intimately involved with His creations that their apostasy deeply saddens Him.

It made God sad that the people would choose wickedness over Him, but He could not let them dictate and infect the decisions of future generation, nor could He let them continue to destroy themselves in their wickedness.  So it was in His goodness and perfect love that God destroyed and cleansed the earth with water, saving only Noah, his family, and the animals that were left with them in the ark.

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Spring Cleaning and Spiritual Cleaning

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I’m on an extended vacation visiting family and have been helping with some ‘Spring’ cleaning now that my youngest brother is off to college and my parents will have a large home to themselves.  It has certainly been interesting to sort through old linens and old memories.

So much of what I’d personally collected and designed over the years is so out of character with who God has re-created me to be.  I was throwing things out left and right, and even chose to destroy a couple pieces of art I’d made while being influenced by the wrong spirits.

I’ve learned that physical cleaning and spiritual cleaning often go hand in hand.  It is not within God’s nature to be cluttered, dirty, and deteriorating, but rather to demonstrate His glory: we are to be good stewards of what He’s given us (whether small or large).  There’s a reason why physically cleaning can be more relaxing and make things look newer and more valuable.  Simply: cleanliness is part of God’s nature, and the other is not.

Of course, both the physical and spiritual realms are important.  If you’ve never spiritually cleaned your home, it’s just as essential.  You keep your home spiritually clean by regularly inviting the presence of the Lord (spending time worshiping God through prayer, song, reading the Bible, talking admiringly about Him, et cetera), and by keeping out that which is detestable to Him.

That second part is especially important: getting rid of the detestable stuff.  If you own anything that isn’t pleasing to Jesus, especially if it’s been involved in a religious ceremony for other ‘gods’, it can be like a beacon to attract spirits who think they can make a home in those who are using the ‘demonically sacred’ item.  This can plateau your spiritual growth (and, in my experience, even invite tormenting demons–in my case, I wasn’t aware of the affect until I was advised to get rid of some things and the torment decreased).

You do this kind of spiritual cleansing by walking through your home and praying that if there is anything you need to get rid of that Jesus would make it clear.  Then be obedient to what you think you’re hearing–even if it’s your favorite book, or a great CD, or the token you bought abroad, or the necklace that’s been in your family for generations.   Nothing in this life can compare to knowing Jesus on a personal level.

There is a promise that if we draw near to Him, He will draw near to us (James 4:8), and one of the ways we do this is to chose to honor Him over every other thing by (as the verse says) “cleansing our hands”.  We physically and spiritually clean the best we can, and thus, invite His Spirit to come in to renew and strengthen the rest of us.

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Is God Good? (Part One)

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I’ve met so many people–both Christians and not–who struggle to believe in, connect with, or admire God because it’s hard for them to see Him as ‘good’; so this is post one in a series on God’s goodness.

I want to begin by showing that the Bible testifies that He is good.  In later posts I will focus specifically on how we can see God’s goodness within the Bible stories that seem mostly negative (and perhaps this can move into discussion of how God is working in our day-to-day lives).  If a specific Bible account has particularly bothered you or a friend in terms of God’s goodness, please comment about it below and perhaps I will address it specifically.

Here is one of my favorite psalms in which David testifies of the Lord’s goodness:

Men shall speak of the power of Your awesome acts / And I will tell of Your greatness. / They shall eagerly utter the memory of Your abundant goodness / And will shout joyfully of Your righteousness.

The Lord is gracious and merciful; / Slow to anger and great in lovingkindness. / The Lord is good to all, / And His mercies are over all His works. / All Your works shall give thanks to You, O Lord, / And Your godly ones shall bless You. / They shall speak of the glory of Your kingdom / And talk of Your power; / To make known to the sons of men Your mighty acts / And the glory of the majesty of Your kingdom. / Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, / And Your dominion endures throughout all generations.

The Lord sustains all who fall / And raises up all who are bowed down. / The eyes of all look to You, / And You give them their food in due time. / You open Your hand / And satisfy the desire of every living thing.

The Lord is righteous in all His ways / And kind in all His deeds. / The Lord is near to all who call upon Him. / To all who call upon Him in truth. / He will fulfill the desire of those who fear Him; / He will also hear their cry and will save them. / The Lord keeps all who love Him. / But all the wicked He will destroy. / My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord, / And all flesh will bless His holy name forever and ever.  (Psalm 145:6-21)

I love David’s account here of God’s character.  If God is who David says He is, than He’s not just good but abundantly good in a way we can physically remember!  He’s not just righteous, but righteous in a way that will cause us to shout for joy if we truly experience it!  He is enough to satisfy every living thing, near to all who call on Him in truth, and protecting all who love Him.  Perhaps what catches me the most is that He is “good to all”, which means that even as He is destroying the wicked He is good!  This can be a bit mind-boggling, so is worth breaking down.  We will spend many more posts on this (though perhaps not consecutively–especially as I am currently out-of-state visiting family). :)

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Have you noticed the changes in the church?

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Some of you may have heard about or noticed a transition in the church–a “new breed” of Christians that are arising (especially out of the pentecostal type churches).  Well, there are actually two transitions: some of the church is beginning to adopt New Age doctrine (the emergent church), others of the church are moving into a greater move of the Holy Spirit (we’ll need this outpouring in order to fight the spiritual battle at hand; Acts 2:17-21).

The two transitions seem alike without prudent discernment of the spirits.  Many in the fundamentalist churches are confused or mad about the changes.  The high percentage of Christians throughout the denominations, I think, haven’t even noticed.

I want to make it clear that the Lord freed me FROM New Age thinking.  As a result, I recognize it seeping into the church more clearly than most, and I’m not about to fall back into that movement.  That said, God has power (much more power than the enemy!) and He wants to work through His people as a demonstration of His glory.  I’m sure I’ll discuss both sides in more detail in the future.

What the church needs is to be fully opened to the Holy Spirit, and fully closed to the multiple deceptive spirits.

Fortunately we know that when we ask God the Father to reveal Himself to us that we may know and love Him more, He will not give us deceptive spirits but His Holy Spirit in abundance (Mat 7:11, Luke 11:13).  As long as we’re plugged into the right God, we’ll have the right Spirit.  If you love the Lord, there is no reason to fear what He has for you–He loves you too!

On the other hand, some personalities are so good at being open to new things, that they willingly trust and want whatever friends, family, pastors, etc advertise as being excellent ways to connect to God.  When it comes to spiritual matters, we should never trust anything but the Word of God (Psalm 146:3, Jer 9:4-6, Mic 7:5, Acts 17:11, Prov 3:5).  There are already many false prophets in the world, so it’s very necessary that we test every spirit to know whether or not it’s from God (1 John 4:1-6 and 2 Cor 11:3-4, 13-15).

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Review of Real Church: Does it Exist? Can I find it? by Larry Crabb

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I don’t recommend Real Church, although the title certainly caught my attention.  While Crabb asks very relevant questions with interesting discussion and surprising vulnerability, his vision of the ideal church misses the mark.  Despite all the struggling variations of churches, it seems he wants to create yet another one–a better model, perhaps, but still another man-made plan of action.

What it comes down to for me is that church isn’t ‘working’ because the Presence of God (the Holy Spirit) isn’t truly invited.  We’ve reduced Jesus and His gospel to what is humanly possible.  It isn’t possible for us to walk the way Jesus commissioned us to walk–that’s why we need Him to lead the church.  We’ve got to give up our control, stop complaining things aren’t right, and start giving our hearts to the Lord that we may know Him, hear Him and follow Him.

I admire Crabb’s honesty and his fervor to want a desire for the things of God, but his writing doesn’t reflect the leading of the Spirit.  Crabb has excellent insights into many of the church’s problems, he just doesn’t connect that the full invitation of the Holy Spirit is the bridge to us walking as Christ intended.

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