Having seen that disciples will only grow as they follow Jesus where he is leading them. In Ephesians 4 we see how God helps us grow from immaturity to maturity.
So how do we grow up as disciples? How do we become mature? There’s a danger that we misread v11-13. We live in a world that thinks education is the answer to everything. Drug problem – more education. High teenage pregnancy rates – more education. Crime – re-education. There’s a danger that as we read v11 we think maturity will come through being taught the bible. And so we resolve to redeem lockdown by making it the greenhouse for our growth as disciples by watching 5 livestreams on Sunday and loading our podcast feeds with audio bibles and sermons from great preachers. We go home and order books by theological heavyweights and actually read them. None of those things are bad. But notice how individualistic they are.
But here’s the surprise; that’s not what Paul says! Look at what Paul actually writes(11-13). The risen and ascended Christ gives the church Apostles and prophets who are foundational in writing the scriptures we have, and evangelists, pastors and teachers who open up the Bible for us, helping us know Jesus. But that isn’t what makes us mature. That’s just the first step to maturity, that provides the framework and foundationon which maturity flourishes. Those teachers “equip God’s people for works of service.” Bible teaching matters because it equips us, it shapes and trains us and prepares us to serve those in the church with us.
Those works of service can look like any number of things, it can be giving lifts, providing meals, walking with someone, talking to them, doing someones shopping, providing a listening ear. Equipped by the Bible, shaped by it and all it teaches, compelled to serve by awed wonder and devotion to our Saviour, we serve one another in the church and build each other up until we reach maturity.
Do you see the steps: Bible teaching equips all of us for ministry to one another. And those works of service build up the church and lead to maturity.
There are a few things that tells us. Firstly we can’t become mature disciples outside or on the fringes of church. You can learn more on your own but you can’t apply that learning in service of others. Maturity isn’t just about what I know but about how we apply what we know in having a heart to serve others and receive the service of others.
Secondly, ministry isn’t the ministers job. We live in a society that hands responsibility for things over to professionals. Teachers teach our children, speech therapists correct speech patterns, dog trainers train our dogs. Do we bring that into the church, thinking ministry is the ministers job? We need to change our terminology – ministry isn’t what happens up here on a Sunday it’s what should happen as a result of the Bible being preached and taught. As we see more of Jesus, as we grasp more of the depths of his love for us, his compassion for us, his grace lavished on us our eyes and hearts are opened to those around us and we serve others as Jesus calls us to.
That’s harder to do at the moment with the restrictions we’re living under but it’s not impossible. Lots of our brothers and sisters round the world always live with far harsher restrictions on their faith than we currently have and still serve one another. The pandemic doesn’t excuse us from serving others, it’s not the spiritual equivalent of the note you gave to your PE teacher to get out of cross-country. If we think it does the church will exit lockdown and the pandemic far weaker than we entered it and possibly never recover previously healthy patterns.
We can still hear God’s word together as we gather in the hall and online. But it’s only stage one; equipping us to serve one another. Will we? We may have to be a bit more imaginative, it may take more effort but there are still works of service to do if we all want to grow up in our following of Jesus.
It’s been encouraging to see some of that happening as people send cards and letters and post books to encourage others. As people steward, read and pray for us on a Sunday, as PA and livestream is run faithfully week by week, as music was organised and played at Christmas so we could sing. As people meet up in their local areas to walk together. As people meet on zoom to read a book together or simply chat and pray. It’s been encouraging to see others gather to pray, to study the Bible together, to help with childcare. But we should always be hungry to see more of it because we long for one another to grow up in our faith.
Our gathering together to hear and study God’s word matters but that isn’t ministry, it’s equipping for ministry, preparing us to serve as Jesus served in gratitude for his service and love. It’s vital but not total.
Growing up as disciples begins as we gather and continues as we minister to one another trained by the word of God. But what does that look like?