Chasing Out the Church Mice
By Frank A. DeCenso Jr.
CBN.com The members of many churches, for various reasons, do not minister to each other when they meet together. Consequently, the church or fellowship is usually quiet, except when the pastor delivers a sermon to the hungry flock. After the sermon, the pastor usually suggests that if anyone needs or wants prayer, he or she can come up to the front, and someone on the prayer team will pray for them (that’s if the church has a prayer team – in some cases, it may be the elders).
In Corinth, the practice that took place involved people ministering to each other with the spiritual gifts so much, Paul had to encourage them to minister “decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40). It is interesting that he didn’t tell them to stop their ministry activities.
Why is that interesting? There are a couple of reasons.
The church in Corinth was not a place of much spiritual maturity. In fact, a cursory glance at the opening chapters of 1 Corinthians reveals a church that Paul said
were babes in Christ, not capable of handling the meatier matters of the Christian life (1 Corinthians 3:1-2), were causing divisions among themselves by carnally following various leaders, such as Paul, Cephas (Peter), and Apollos (1 Corinthians 3:3-7),
and were putting up with sexual immorality in their midst (1 Corinthians 6:1-8).
In most fellowships today, only those who are considered leaders or spiritually mature “get to play” (a phrase coined by John Wimber). This is in stark contrast with what Paul allowed to occur in Corinth.
In 1 Corinthians 12-14, Paul adamantly encouraged all the folks in gatherings to minister. He even went so far as to address the issues of those who may have felt spiritually superior (1 Corinthians 12:21-23), and those who felt spiritually incapable (1 Corinthians 12:14-18).
So, contrary to modern ecclesiastical procedures, the Corinthian model of church ‘services’ envisions a place where every believer, mature or not, is allowed in some way to minister with God’s given gifts, even if there are deep issues that still need resolved.
But is this what is experienced in churches today? Do churches allow congregants the freedom to minister to one another at some point during a gathering? I hesitate to say it, but I believe the answer is no.
Perhaps if someone has a Ph.D, he or she can teach or preach. Maybe if someone has proven themself prophetically gifted in the past, the leadership will allow them to encourage the people with words or ideas given by the Holy Spirit. In some cases, if a person has done tasks such as clean the bathrooms or vacuum the carpeting, he or she will be allowed to usher.
I believe something is wrong with this model of church life. On any given Sunday, it is likely that more than just a few folks have something to share with the church to edify and encourage it.
Paul seemed to believe this when he said,
How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. (1 Corinthians 14:26)
I’m not a church planter or an administrator, but I think today’s churches need to find ways to give believers opportunities to minister “decently and in order” in their gatherings. This may be foreign and seem unmanageable to many leaders, so only the Holy Spirit can direct each individual church in the steps that can be taken to allow ‘body ministry’ to occur. And only the leadership can implement those steps.
Church members who cause a commotion by going against the church’s current fellowship model and try to minister outside of established parameters may believe that what they are doing is what Paul encouraged. The truth is however, that they are being disruptive to the current flow of the Spirit’s leading in that church. Until the Holy Spirit initiates change with the leadership’s cooperation, believers should follow the current practices of their church.
A Mouse Problem in the Church?
What about those churches whose leadership does not stifle body ministry? I’ve been in several of these churches, and even in those places where believers are allowed to minister, a lot of believers do not. It seems that most members and attendees of church gatherings are as quiet as church mice -- a malady I call “church-icus mice-icus”.
The cause of this malady may be as varied as the churches themselves. However, churches and fellowships should be places where ‘body ministry’ occurs. Church-goers who find those activities disruptive can voice their concerns to the leadership. At the same time, they should study 1 Corinthians 12-14 to see how Paul encouraged the Corinthian church to function “decently and in order” so everyone would be edified and encouraged.
The church’s leadership can address and cure this problem of having church mice in a congregation by employing a method I call SCREAM. Each of the points in this acronym can be greatly expanded upon biblically. I would encourage leaders to do so when they can, but for now, I will briefly comment on them.
S: Stir up the church members/attendees to want to be used by God in ministry.
Like a fire, sometimes the gift or calling in a believer’s life needs to be stoked. Paul admonished Timothy,
Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. (2 Timothy 1:6)
Paul told Timothy to stir up the gift himself, but didn’t elaborate on how Timothy was to do that. A clue may be found later when Paul told him,
But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. (2 Timothy 4:5)
It’s possible that the very use of a gift, no matter how insignificant that usage may appear at the time, can actually light a fire in one’s spirit to use his or her gifting or calling more often. Whatever the case, just as Paul encouraged Timothy to “stir up” God’s gifting in him, today’s leaders can stir up their congregants as well, maybe by simply reminding them to fulfill whatever ministry God has given them.
This touches upon the next step.
C: Connect with the members to help them discover the giftings in which each should function with God’s leading.
Leaders can help facilitate the ministry of each believer by providing methods, classes, or ways to help each person find his or her particular calling and gifting. Once someone is stirred up to be used in ministry, it is of the utmost importance to help that individual find out exactly what God has gifted them to do for the benefit of the church.
Some churches encourage folks to become part of a small group where they can experiment in ministry to see what ‘works’ for them. Some churches have spiritual gift tests or classes to help people discover their gifts. The challenge is for church leadership to implement some method within their church’s ministry model to help congregants find their gifts and callings.
R: Ratify (approve) a culture of acceptance in the church fellowship for body ministry.
Next, a church needs to provide an atmosphere of approval for believers to be used in their gifts, whether during the church service, or after the church service, or in small groups. This atmosphere must radiate the mood that believers ministering to believers is normative. Somehow, the leadership should make it perfectly clear that the church is a place where, again as John Wimber said, “everyone gets to play.”
When it comes to ministry, no one is above another in practical importance, and no one is unneeded. Every part of the body needs to function in its role for a church to grow: from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love. (Ephesians 4:16)
When this is taking place, the church members will mature and consequently function as God’s ‘kingdom bringers’, not only to their own hurting brethren, but also to the lost and dying world in which they live.
E: Equip/Educate the members of the church to function in their individual roles, gifts, and callings.
This is an offshoot of Connect, since in this step, the person is mentored along in the usage of their discovered gifting or calling. This might entail the leadership pairing them up with someone who has the same gifting or calling, but who has been operating in it for a longer time. It could involve one-on-one instruction in some sort of hands-on training.
However the church decides to equip and educate folks in their roles, it needs to be done persistently, and preferably with new believers also.
A: Activate the church members and their ministries by giving them opportunities to function in the context of a church fellowship, where taking risks is not too risky.
Activation naturally follows education. Believers need to have opportunities to explore their gift’s unique qualities by using them. And the best and safest place to do this is in a church whose culture allows for ‘practice’. Gifts are most likely not given in a totally mature state. As believers grow in Christ, their giftings also grow and mature over time, and this growth is greatly accelerated when those gifts are being continuously used. So church leaders somehow need to provide outlets for believers to exercise their individual gifts and callings in the safety net of a loving community.
Can the leadership make time during the church service for folks to experiment? That is up to the leaders, but I would advise them to make that decision while in counsel with the Holy Spirit and God’s word. A church that has never allowed open ministry would be taking a very provocative step, and so it should only be attempted through the guidance of God’s Spirit and diligent adherence to Scriptural guidelines.
M: Motivate the members of the church to move out of their comfort zones to minister wherever they go.
Perhaps the most intimidating step, but also the most important one, is to encourage believers to use their gifts outside of the four walls of the church fellowship. The gifts are for the church’s edification, but they can also be used in evangelism, healing, prophetic ministry, and the like.
Jesus used the gift of miracles to multiply fish and loaves for those just following Him around. Although at one point He accused them of only following Him because He fed them, He miraculously fed them at least twice. Why? To show the Father’s love and bring folks to a place of decision – “do I want to be a disciple of Jesus the Messiah, or not?”
Likewise, giftings used in public can also bring unbelievers to a place of decision. They may not all come to embrace our Savior, but they should not leave our presence untouched and unloved. The decision to follow Jesus is then up to them. But we can be catalysts of change in this world by using what God has supernaturally entrusted us with – His gifts and callings.
If leaders allow “church-icus mice-icus” to live and multiply like a virus, and not cure those who have contracted it, nor inoculate those who haven’t, the members of those churches will never mature to become open portals for God’s dynamically powerful love, which is what His Kingdom is all about.
Copyright © 2007 by Frank A. DeCenso Jr. All Scripture references
are NKJV unless otherwise noted.
Frank is the author of Presence Powered Living: Building a Life of Intimacy and Partnership with God, published by Vineyard International Publishers. His website is http://presencepowered.com. He lives in Virginia Beach, Virginia with his wife of 15 years.
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