I find myself in this unique place in pastoral ministry.
I don’t want to lead. Or better said, I don’t want to overstep my bounds. I’m daunted by the temptation to turn church into more a reflection of my personality than the Kingdom of God. Then I acknowledge to some extent any church can, and almost has to be, a part of that reflection. The Kingdom of God is made of and reflected by people and their personalities.But how easy it can be about my reflection over others. This concerns me as I think and pray through church growth.
But, I take comfort in the same truth I’ve come back to now many times: Ours is an Incarnational faith. What I mean is at the core of our faith is the reconciling of irreconcilable tensions: the convergence of fundamentally opposing truths into one grander truth than we can conceive. At the core of our faith is God in the flesh, infinite in the finite, eternity and death brought together in Christ, but the transcendence of all this through the cross and the empty tomb. And having this at the core of our faith applies to everything. So much of what and how we think is governed by what is and what is not, one category versus another, one pro versus another con. Our thinking lives are defined by weighing things against one another. Put another way, it’s the old adage “everything in moderation.” Anything can be abused. Wisdom is found in the balance.
And so it is with church growth. So it is with pastoring, leadership, and ultimately, the tension of our personality and God’s kingdom. We can abuse either side of the equation. The wisdom is somewhere in the middle. The struggle, though, as they say, “is real.” That is, this brings us to the issue of diversity in the church.God’s Kingdom should be diverse. He created all people and invites all people back into communion with Him. The Church, then, has understandably come under fire for monolithic congregations, composed of peoples of same incomes, same races, and ultimately, same prejudices. There’s reason to be frustrated with mega churches with multiple screens that feel more about one person’s ability than everyone else’s. I get it. I myself struggle with it. And it’s in reaction to it that my doubts and fears come to the surface: Am I going to broaden my personality or God’s Kingdom? Is it about me or about Him and other people? Fear, though, is never grounds for framing a godly decision. His perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18). And He hasn’t given us a spirit of fear but of love, power, and a sound mind. (2 Tim 1:7).
So much of our sound mind is peace. Not tossed to and fro by the draining tugs of fear and uncertainty. The beauty of faith is a confidence beyond circumstance. “The certainty of things hoped for – “ believing in hope – not the hopelessness fear can bring.With that lens I come back to the fears of church ministry and church growth. And I come back to the peace that comes with seeing through an Incarnational lens – that there is a natural and supernatural component to this. And we are to equally embrace both. We embrace that personality, distinctives, uniqueness, this is a crucial part of God’s creation. And that starts with who we are. The person God made us to be.Starting here is crucial to reaching out to others because you can’t embrace diversity unless you first embrace yourself. You can’t understand what makes others unique and different if you don’t understand what makes you different. Otherwise, you’ll try and replicate the uniqueness and difference of others. The problem, of course, is that this is embracing uniformity – the very antithesis of diversity. You’re conforming to someone else instead of who God wants you to be.But God never called anyone to conform to someone else’s image. He calls us to conform to His.
We also understand that through embracing our own diversity the hand of God is at work. My uniqueness and difference is not meaningless happenstance but divinely orchestrated. It’s something God can supernaturally use and work through if I allow Him. In the church it means whatever gifts I have, preaching, teaching, serving, cartwheeling… whatever it is, God can touch that human gift and help it reap heavenly fruits.
This can look like a lot of different things. This is where it can be difficult because what we mean by “church” has really nothing to do with buildings, sermons, worship, or other ministries. These are all acts of worship. The “church” is really the people who make up these ministries. The question we seek to answer is, as believers, how do we embrace who we are within the wider scope of who the Body of Christ is? How do I fit in the Body? How do I fit in the Kingdom’s work?
Fortunately, God gives us some concrete indicators for this. He tells us He has given gifts for apostles, prophets, pastors, evangelists, and teachers. These manifestations of His Spirit help ‘to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, to help the whole body grow.” We have indications of different gifts to help us grow inwardly and outwardly. Of course, there are other gifts, and some argue about how these different lists work with each other. Some say there are primary and secondary gifts. Some say they’re all equal. I say, frankly, I don’t know how much it matters for this discussion. What matters is there are gifts for the growth of the body of Christ. God meets us in our natural diversity with supernatural empowerment for the wider Body. So two things come to the surface:1 – Inherent to the Church’s freedom to flow in the fullness of God’s Spiritual activity is embracing the individual gifts He’s given us.
So often in the church we fall into the trap of over spiritualizing (a great many things probably), especially the idea of “spiritual gifts.” Yes God can supernaturally work through us in ways outside our natural capacities. The charismatic gifts (prophecy, interpretation of tongues) are often like that (though even then I’d say God often meets us in our natural gift of wisdom or discernment, but anyway). But more at the core of the gifts is God creating you the way He did. I know countless people who say the miracle of life may be the greatest miracle of all. Why discount that when we think about the supernatural working of the Spirit in our lives?
Again, in keeping with an Incarnational lens, this makes perfect sense. God makes us with natural gifts. But they’re also supernatural, crafted by God’s hand in the womb. Again it’s both and. Natural and supernatural. And it’s the embracing of both that most fully helps us know who we are to God and who God is in us. We embrace the natural gifts He’s given us while believing in His supernatural hand working through us: both in our creation and our adult actions.2 –It means we have a distinct imprint to make, while also acknowledging we are one amongst a great many imprints. But we have to embrace the former to embrace the latter. It’s in knowing who we are and how we fit, that we help aid the body, and often that help is going to be helping others find where they fit as well. It’s the practical piece of what that “fitting” looks like that I want to wrap up with.
As a pastor there are lots of places where God calls me to “fit” within the wider kingdom of God. Loving, caring, shepherding, teaching, preaching. I embrace these things, and need to spend more time embracing them. On a deeper level there are lots of personal distinctives I need to embrace more. These will also affect how I operate within the Church and the church moving forward. But that’s on me to do. What matters for the church is I embrace the natural gifts in the “natural” place I’ve been placed (Evergreen) and believe in God’s supernatural hand to move through that. It also means, though, a prayer for everyone else to find that as much as they can as well.
So what are your distinctives? Where do you “fit” in the wider context of God’s kingdom? Ultimately, have you fully embraced what makes you unique and different? Your answer to that will help you answer your place in His kingdom and build His Church with confidence, freedom, and a sound mind.