The Gates Are Open

October 2014

Big Christians

big

Josh Baskin hated being twelve years old. The older girl he liked (she was 14) treated him like a younger brother, and the older guys at school picked on him. After getting told he was too small to go on a carnival ride with the girl he had a crush on, Josh wanders around the amusement park. He sees a “make-a-wish” Zoltar machine that promises to grant anything he wants.

He wished to be Big. The next morning, in answer to his wish, Josh is now a 12 year old in a grown man’s body.

This is the spine of the plot for the movie “Big”, starring Tom Hanks as a newly grown version of Josh Baskin. It has now been 25 years since the movie came out and it is worth a watch if you haven’t seen it for a decade. It was Penny Marshall’s first full-length movie and she scored a major hit.

But the sublime message of this movie is the universal human desire to be Big. That is, we all want to move past our current state and progress to bigger and better things. We want to accomplish our dreams. Oh, I admit some people have become content to be who they are and stay where they are. But God created us with the desire to grow, to mature, to become all God wants us and made us to be.

In Ephesians 4:11-13, we read:

11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

There are five gifts Christ gives the church by the power of the Holy Spirit. Each of these “gifts” are people whose skill set contains a particular ability that every Christian needs. After all, verse 12 reminds us that the calling of these leaders is to “equip his people for works of service”. The word “service” means “ministry”. It is the responsibility of the leaders in God’s church to train up the members of Christ’s body to be ready to serve. Each of these particular “gifted people” has a skill they pass on. Quickly, here they are:

Apostle: The missionaries and visionaries of the early church. They know how to garner vision from God and work at fulfilling it. Therefore, their job is to help all members of the church find a vision for their own ministry.

Prophet: The prophet hears God’s voice and speaks it out. They have this skill to hear God. Their job is to train God’s people to hear God accurately and often.

Evangelist:  Of course, this person’s role is to lead people to Christ. But, in doing so, they have learned how to effect spiritual change to the lost and dying. They pass on the ability to lead others to Christ.

Pastor: This word means “Shepherd”. This is the one who cares for the spiritual needs of the sheep. All new believers need to be cared for and nurtured. The Shepherds have this skill. But every Christian needs to know how to do this. The Pastor’s role is to show the Body of Christ how to disciple others.

Teacher: In context of Christianity, the teacher is one who knows the Scriptures and how to find meat and potatoes out of the study of the Bible. Therefore, they give individuals within the church tools to help each person study the Bible for themselves.

Here are the five basic skills that God wants every Christian to have:

1. The ability to find and live out vision from God for ministry

2. The ability to hear God

3. The ability to lead others to Christ

4. The ability to disciple those they lead to Christ

5. The ability to study the Bible accurately for oneself.

So, how does this relate to our desire to grow as people? Notice how verse 13 starts: “Until we all reach unity in the faith.” The word “reach” means to “stretch out” or “grow out”. The goal in equipping people so they will have more spiritual skills is that they would grow into maturity. It is so they will become Big Christians. Any leader who desires to have Christ’s heart for the church will make sure the Christians under their tutelage are as equipped as they can be in order to serve God effectively. And it is always through service that we see people grow the fastest.

A while ago, I was on a missions outreach with a group of young people. During one of the excursions of this trip, we got into a discussion in the van on the subject of Hearing God. Several of the teens wanted to know how you could be sure it was God. I covered some of my own experiences with hearing God and how I have learned to follow him when I am only 60% sure of what he’s saying.

After explaining that, we came to a garbage dump which was our destination for ministry.

At one point, a teen came to me and told me he believed God had showed him to go to a different part of the dump to minister quite a distance from where our main group was. I was worried about this (for good reason), but the Spirit of God pointed out to me that He was leading this young man to go there. So, I allowed them to go after praying for them.

After a good half hour of this team of five being gone and out of our sight, the adult leaders were getting worried. We sent out squads to go look for them. But every time I went out into this massive dump to find them, Holy Spirit kept telling me not to worry; they were safe.

As it turned out, they were safe. When they returned, they had a short little man with them. They told me God led them right to him. He was a pastor and this was his congregation. He came out to that dump four times a week and spent the day with the people who worked there. As we talked with him, the teens were blown away by his commitment and passion. And, they were thankful that I had allowed them to go where the voice of God was leading them.

In listening to God and then in ministering to the garbage dump pastor, they got big that day. Really big. None of them have been the same since.

Release God’s People

Denver radioIn 1995, I was asked to promote my book on parenting by appearing on Denver’s radio station KRKS. My publicist booked me for a 20 minute interview, pushing my book and inviting people to call in with questions about the content. I answered the questions on parenting from about a half dozen callers when the host asked me an intriguing question.

“Mike, are you working on any other book ideas?”

It just so happened that I was putting together an outline of a book. So I decided on the spot to trial-market that idea with his audience. “Yes, I have an idea about a book concerning God’s church. I believe we have totally messed up God’s plan for his Body. God always intended that all of God’s people have vision, have calling and purpose and that every believer is supposed to be a minister. But we have relegated ministry to a select few professionals and the rest become spectators.”

“What do you want to call the book?” the host asked.

At that moment, the title came to my head: “Releasing God’s People.” I then went on to explain my personal experience with seeing members of my church trained and equipped to serve in literally dozens of different approaches to ministry. The concept must have hit a nerve with the listening audience. From that moment in the broadcast, the switchboard lit up. We had over 100 people wanting to talk to me on this subject. The host asked if I could stay longer than the agreed-upon 20 minutes. So I kept answering questions on the topic of church members and ministry. When we were all done, we had covered almost 90 minutes of air time. They asked me to return when I finished the book and they would do a program devoted to the content.

I did write the book about two years later. However, I never did find a publisher for it. Several of my friends–including my writing mentor who had become a book editor by that point–gave me the same assessment: No publishing company would touch that concept with a hazmat suit on. It is not a safe subject. They feared that many local church and denominational leaders would boycott the publishing firms if they published the book. I found this to be true. Because I had published three books before, I had enough cachet to be heard by editors. But when they were honest, they told me they didn’t believe the book would sell in the markets which mattered the most to them: Christian leadership circles.

This surprised me, because my informal poll on the radio station told me this subject would be of interest to the average Christian. Twenty years later though,  I can see why Christian leaders would not want this subject broached: They perceive it as a threat to their jobs and their domain. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth.

In Matthew chapter 10, Jesus came to his twelve closest friends–the Apostles–and sent them out in twos to announce in towns of that area that Jesus was coming to visit. But, even more importantly, he gave them personal authority to cast out demons, heal the sick and raise the dead. He gave them authority! I believe this is the model that he wanted them to follow. Their job as leaders would be to mimic his example: Release others and give them your authority to minister. When they come back to check in with you, instruct them, train them and encourage them.

In today’s church, those in leadership are often seen and treated as ministry superstars. Even those who abuse God’s people and treat the Body of Christ like a bully would treat a small kid in school are still afforded star status. But the Bible clearly teaches that apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers are there to “equip God’s people for ministry” (Ephesians 4:11-13). The most effective churches are those whose leaders don’t have time to make a name for themselves. They are too busy training and equipping members of the church body to have vision, hear God, share the Gospel, disciple new believers and read their own bibles for themselves.

In reality, a church leader does not need to be threatened by this unless their goal is to make a name for themselves. If a pastor follows Ephesians 4, then they will never be out of work. There is always someone more to train, to encourage and to stand beside.

When my book did not get published, God showed me that my role was to just live out this truth, even if no one ever read about it. But having this blog as a forum gives me an opportunity to show what this can look like. it can look like Jesus. In the weeks to come, I will highlight examples of what releasing God’s people can do in this broken world.

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