Use the System!

In this lesson, Mike reviews the system of ministry established by the Apostles in the early church and how it can be adapted for modern church use.
Sermon by:
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Our daughter-in-law, Rachel, married to Paul, our eldest son, mother of Ali, Erin and Evan, came to me with a question a few weeks ago. She's the type of person who is the first one to volunteer if somebody needs help, bring food. They say, if you want to get something done ask somebody who's really busy, because really busy people tend to get things done. She's one of those people.

Now, keep in mind that Rachel grew up in the church, she married a preacher's son, she's been a member of this congregation since she and Paul moved here from Canada over five years ago. So here's her question. Her question was: How do I go about painting and redecorating my classroom area? It sounds simple enough. Her question was not about how to handle the paint brush or patch holes in walls. She wanted to know where do I get permission to carry out a project for the church? How do I access funds from the church for my project? Who do I see about volunteers and making sure that this project is not already being planned by somebody else? In other words, where do I start to get my project going? And I think a lot of our members have good ideas for various projects or new ministry initiatives, but they have no thought as to where to start or how to implement ideas.

The lesson this morning therefore, addresses this particular problem or issue. Believe it or not, we do have a system. A ministry system that is based on the Bible and that we use to organize our work and our budget. We do have a system, we've been using it for years. My hope is that if we understand what our ministry system is and how it works, we'll be a little more effective in not only getting things done but also allow some new ideas and some new innovations to come online. I know a lot of people they have an idea and they don't know where to start so they don't start, and the idea kind of dies within them.

Well, let me begin by saying that one of the unique features of the Churches of Christ, a feature that makes us different, say, than Roman Catholics or Protestants or all kinds or Evangelicals or Charismatic churches. One of the things that makes us unique is our approach to interpreting and implementing the teachings of Christ and His apostles. Like most of these other churches we also believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. Of course, many of these other groups are abandoning this position but we in the Churches of Christ continue in this core Bible teaching summarized by the Apostle Paul in II Timothy 3:16, where he says, "All scripture," not just some. Not just some Scripture, not just the New Testament, not just particular passages.

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.
- II Timothy 3:16

We are however, truly unique in the manner that we interpret and apply the Bible in the organization and function of the church. And let me explain briefly. We, the Churches of Christ, we believe that God has provided us with instructions in His Word concerning practical Christian living but also how to build and maintain the spiritual body of Christ, which is the church.

God-Given System for the Church

In other words, God has given us things to do (commands) as a church and He has also provided us with instructions through direct commands or examples of how things should be done as well as teachings that help us form conclusions about what His will is for various actions or beliefs.

A. Command

These commands, these examples and conclusions are all embedded in the Gospels and other writings contained in the New Testament. For example, Jesus has left us a command as to what we are to do in order to honor, remember and worship Him.

And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and He gave it to them saying, "This is my body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of me.
- Luke 22:19

"Do this." That's an imperative sentence. "Do this." That's a command. It's not a suggestion, "It would be nice if you could do this." No, it's, "Do this in remembrance of Me." So, Jesus gives a command that describes the action, the ritual, that we are to perform in a worship context.

B. Example

Now, the Lord also provides us with an example of how to actually carry out this ritual as well as its significance. I'm not going to read these passages because I think we're familiar with them.

22While they were eating, He took some bread, and after a blessing He broke it, and gave it to them, and said, "Take it; this is My body." 23And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, and they all drank from it. 24And He said to them, "This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many."
- Mark 14:22-24
18"For I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine from now on until the kingdom of God comes." 19And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, "This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me." 20And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, "This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood."
- Luke 22:18-20

We have examples of people actually taking the communion, we know how to do it.

C. Conclusion

In the book of Acts, for example, Luke describes the various times that the apostles and the early church participated in the communion which helps us to conclude that the early church followed Jesus's teachings.

Also provided, were the answers to the questions as to who could take the communion? Well, we see from Acts 2, that only baptized believers would take it. And when was it supposed to be done? Well, we learn from Acts 20:7, that it was done on the Lord's Day. Where was it done? With whom was it shared? With church members during worship and so on and so forth. So we have the instructions in the New Testament that teaches the where and the when and the how to do this thing that God commanded us.

So, this is a very brief example of what we in the Churches of Christ refer to as pattern theology. It is the belief that the Bible, specifically the New Testament, contains patterns or blueprints that guide us in the organization and the function of the New Testament church as God would have it to be.

Now, just as God provided Moses with a very specific plan and details on how to build a tabernacle in the wilderness and how the priests were to dress and conduct the worship that went on there- if you read from Exodus 25 all the way to Exodus 39, there are 14 chapters of instructions on how to build a tent, 14 chapters. There's nothing in the Bible that is so detailed, 14 chapters of details of how to do things, why to do them, who was to do them, when they were supposed to be done, and so on.

Well, in the same way, in the New Testament God provided through the Holy Spirit, the commands, the examples and the teachings that served as the pattern or the blueprint for the establishing and building, and the function and operation of the New Testament church.

Think for a second now, if He gave 14 chapters on how to just put together a tent in the Old Testament, which was only supposed to be a preview of what was to come, don't you think He would give instructions as to how to do the actual thing? As to what the actual thing was when it came? Of course. And we have those instructions in the New Testament. So, we are unique among groups professing to be Christian churches in that we are the only ones committed to the organization and operation of the church solely based on the instructions found in the New Testament for this.

Now, others claim that the Bible is inspired or that they are led or guided by God's Word, but I assure you that we are the only ones to use pattern theology for everything we do. I know this, I've studied it, I've read it, I've investigated other church groups, other denominations. It is the thing that is unique concerning the Churches of Christ. It is this feature that explains most of our differences with other religious groups who claim belief in Christ.

For example, it is why each Lord's Day, all the members in the church take the communion, the unleavened bread and the fruit of the vine. We see nothing there, we say, "Yeah, we do that every Sunday. That's part of our tradition." Well, it's not just part of our tradition. We do it because the Bible has given us a command, several examples and a lot of instructions concerning that thing and we're following that procedure.

Unlike our Protestant or Evangelical friends who may take the communion once per week or maybe once per month or once per year depending on what their pastors decide. Our communion observance is not based on the decision of the church leadership but on the instructions found in the New Testament about communion.

We don't say that our fellow believers are not sincere, I've never said that. I never say that other believers don't really believe, of course they really believe. Our point is that we try to carefully follow what the New Testament teaches us about how to organize and function as a New Testament church and this theological focus is either absent or not emphasized in other religious groups, period. That's just fact. That's not prejudice, that's just fact.

So, the question before us is the following: Is there a pattern or is there a blueprint in the New Testament concerning ministry? And if there is where is it located and what does it say? The rest of my lesson this morning will attempt to answer this question in a general sense and then apply the answer specifically to our work here at the Choctaw Church and even more specifically to Rachel's original question.

New Testament Plan for Ministry - Acts 2

The basic plan or blueprint for church ministry is located in chapter two of the book of Acts. This is not the only place in the New Testament where information about ministry is found but it is an excellent overview and summary about what ministries the church should be involved in, how they are connected, and of course their ultimate goal.

Let's review this passage and see what it teaches us about ministry in the church. This section in Acts describes what took place in Jerusalem on Pentecost Sunday after the apostles received the promised empowerment from the Holy Spirit. Luke describes the five essential ministries that the apostles began to practice once they were empowered by the Holy Spirit.

1. Evangelism

In this passage Peter and the other apostles begin preaching the gospel to the crowd and baptize those who responded. So Peter finishes his sermon, he summarizes his sermon and he says,

36Therefore, let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ- this Jesus whom you crucified." 37Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart,
- Acts 2:36-37a

They felt guilty. I mean, he just accused them of murdering their own Messiah.

and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brethren, what shall we do?" 38Peter said to them, "Repent and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself." 40And with many other words, he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, "Be saved from this perverse generation." 41So then, those who had received his word were baptized and that day there were added about 3,000 souls.
- Acts 2:37b-41

Note that by word and example, the New Testament teaches us the basics concerning the first and primary ministry of the church which is evangelism and what evangelism consists of is very simple:

  1. Preaching the gospel to the lost. This morning, I am not preaching the gospel. Most of you are saved and I'm not preaching the gospel to you, I'm preaching about the gospel, I'm preaching about the Bible. But the preaching of the gospel is the death, burial and resurrection of Christ and what people need to do in response to that, that's the gospel.
  2. And then part of the ministry of evangelism is encouraging those who hear the gospel to respond in faith by repentance and baptism. And then baptizing or immersing in water those who are repentant and believing.

The language, the location, the method of communication may change from place and time but the essence of the ministry of evangelism remains the same: preach to the lost, baptize those who believe and who repent. This therefore, is the first ministry of the church as seen in the plan or the pattern that we have in Acts chapter two.

2. Education

In Acts 2:42 it says, "They were," they meaning the people who had just been baptized.

They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching.
- Acts 2:42a

So Jesus had given this instruction to the apostles at an earlier date in Matthew. Jesus said to the apostles,

19Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, of the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all that I commanded you and lo, I am with you always even to the end of the age.
- Matthew 28:19-20

It's pretty logical that new disciples need instruction on how to live and grow spiritually as Christians. This instruction would naturally come from Jesus's teachings and so in Acts 2:42a, we see the apostles following Jesus's command to teach new disciples the teachings of Christ and how to obey or put these into practice.

In this we see the second ministry of the church, which is the ministry of education: teaching the church; whether it's babies in the Cradle Roll class or seniors in the auditorium class, using various methods designed for various age groups or life situations. Teaching everyone in the church to know and obey the words of Christ, that is the ministry of education. We're in the process of hiring a Youth and Family Minister. What ministry do you think he falls under? He will fall under the education ministry. Why? Because he will be teaching the youth about ministry, he'll be teaching the youth about the gospel, he'll be teaching the youth about how to be Christians and how to live faithfully as Christians.

3. Fellowship

They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
- Acts 2:42

And so Luke describes in a few words, the third and fourth ministries of the church which are explained in more detail later on in his book and of course in the epistles of Paul. The ministry of fellowship is the effort to integrate members into the body of Christ.

Paul talks about this process whenever he teaches about the functioning of the body.

14For the body is not one member, but many. 15If the foot says, "Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body," it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. 16And if the ear says, "Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body," it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. 17If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. 19If they were all one member, where would the body be? 20But now there are many members, but one body.
- I Corinthians 12:14-21

or how we should treat one another in the body.

25Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. 26Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger,27and do not give the devil an opportunity. 28He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need. 29Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.30Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.
- Ephesians 4:25-32

It says, "Speak the truth in love." Well, that's how we treat each other, that's how we grow in fellowship. Every effort to promote unity and harmony and love in the body, whether it is by organizing a social or a service event, this is the work of the fellowship ministry.

4. Worship

Then Luke mentions worship. He mentions the breaking of bread and prayer which refers to Christian worship, which is the fourth main area of ministry, whether it was the original 3,000 in Jerusalem or the 300 in Choctaw. Organizing and training the church in public worship requires planning and it requires effort, that's work, that's ministry.

Paul describes in more detail the various elements contained in worship in his epistles. For example, he talks about communion and how it should be done in First Corinthians 11. Talks about preaching and the preachers in First Timothy 4. Prayer, First Timothy 2; singing, Colossians 3; giving, First Corinthians 16.

He talks about the details of Christian worship in other areas, but in Acts 2, Luke simply establishes that worship is one of the five basic ministries of the church.

5. Service

43Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. 44And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; 45and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. 46Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, 47praising God and having favor with all the people.
- Acts 2:43-47a

And so with that many people added to the body in a single day the nascent church had great needs to fill. And here Luke sketches a brief description of how these initial needs were met: Christians serving other Christians. And the service ministry was established to round out the five basic ministries of the church.

And so there you have the New Testament pattern or the plan or the blueprint for the ministry of the church.

There are five areas of ministry, not four areas, not two areas, not seven or twelve areas, there are five specific areas given in the Bible: evangelism, education, fellowship, worship and service. Everything done in the context of the church fits into one of these areas of ministry.

Okay, now I want you to see how these five areas of ministry work together to produce the growth and the development of the church. So you have the apostles preaching the gospel to the lost, encouraging them to respond and then baptizing those who believed and repented, there was evangelism.

They then carefully taught the new disciples the words of Christ, they helped them to be firmly embedded into the body of Christ and organized the body for praise and Christian spiritual life, there you have education fellowship and worship.

This experience led the believers to acts of love and ministry towards those in need in the church and in the community as a witness that their faith was genuine. The last part of verse 47 brings the entire passage together:

And the Lord was adding to the number day by day, those who were being saved.
- Acts 2:47b

So, when the church is active in the five biblical ministries: evangelism, education, fellowship, worship and service. When the church is active in those ministries, the Lord adds to His body. In other words, ministry equals growth. We minister and God provides the growth. This is the New Testament pattern for church ministry, organization and growth, a very short explanation of it.

So, how do we use this information about biblical ministry in a practical way for the church today? There are many applications but here in Choctaw we have used Acts 2 to create a ministry system that guides our work in our church life.

We begin with a diagram or a flowchart, if you wish, that helps us visualize the entire system at a glance.

So the five areas of ministry are listed: evangelism, education, worship, fellowship and service. And under each one, we have those elders who are responsible as leaders in those areas of ministry. Note we've divided the service ministry into three subgroups: administration, benevolence and maintenance. Those are three subgroups under service.

Next, we add all the individual ministries into their proper ministry areas along with the names of members or ministers or deacons who are responsible for that area of work. Now it didn't start like this, it started with just a few things under each one but as the years went by and people said, "I have a great idea for a fellowship thing, Why don't we start as such and such?" All of a sudden a new ministry started under the heading of a fellowship ministry.

We bought a couple of vans because our youth group was growing and the Golden Travelers used the van to travel around and so on and so forth. Well, we need is somebody to take care of those vans. All of a sudden the vehicle ministry started. Where would you think that would be? Well, that would be under service, under maintenance. We've got to have somebody take care of the vans, another ministry that started.

So let me just show you how it works. Under the evangelism ministry, we have two elders that oversee the work. All the elders are responsible but they divide the work up to make it a little more manageable. Brother Harold, brother Steve are in charge of that. And evangelism is subdivided into: local, domestic and international evangelism. In other words, we have evangelism projects locally, domestically, meaning, in the state and in the country, and then on an international scale.

And you'll notice, next to every ministry, there's a name. Somebody is responsible for every single ministry, so we know who to go see if we have a question about something. If someone needs to find out about Geoffrey Kirima in Kenya, to send him a Christmas card or a birthday card, who do you see? Well, you see this individual, it's our son Paul, he's responsible for international missions, he's the one that communicates with them. So you go see him, "Could I get the address for Geoffrey Kirima in Kenya? I want to send him a goodie package or something." All right.

Education, Bob Chilton is the elder over education. Again, there's somebody next to every name. And our education is divided by age: adult, teen education, junior, preschool, time travelers, teachers' workroom and then the youth ministry all by itself. But the youth ministry is under the education ministry.

Again, I stress the idea, there's a name underneath or next to every single ministry so we know who's responsible for what.

Fellowship ministry is brother Johnny. This includes the ministry flow chart, to keep that up to date, the event calendar. Have you ever been to the office to see the event calendar? For 2020? I mean, it's full! We're in February and it's full already.

So you want a project? You want a fellowship thing? You want to have a banquet of some kind? Well, you have to go to the office and look at the calendar to make sure that nothing is booked on the day that you're doing your particular project and so on and so forth- weddings, showers, small groups.

Now here's a good example, small groups, Mike Coghill used to be in charge of managing the small groups. Well, he's gone. It now reads, "TBD," which means, "to be determined." We haven't got somebody for that. Whenever you see TBD, we have a ministry but we need a volunteer for that. Maybe it'd be a good thing as you're looking at the sheets that you all have, to think, maybe my name should be next to one of those TBDs.

Again worship ministry, preaching, the worship service itself and everything that goes into the worship service, there are a lot of moving parts to make sure that it all works smoothly- visitor services. So we have deacons in charge of perhaps two or three areas, we have individuals who are specifically responsible for one thing.

The service ministry, as I said, it is broken down: administration, which includes the office, the secretary, the bookkeeping and custodian, all of that office staff, brother Marty is the office manager and oversees that.

The finances, of course, we have a committee. Our treasurer is Sarah Kriwanek and she works with Robert Young. Computer maintenance, Hal takes care of that.

The service ministry, Bob Aldridge actually takes care of the building. He's responsible for that, and the deacons that work there answer to him as far as that's concerned. And then we go back to Rachel's project.

Now I may have missed some here some names of people but the point here is that on the flow chart you have in your hands every ministry that we do and who is responsible for it is on this chart or should be.

I may have missed one, you may catch me after services and say, "Hey, you forgot this one." Okay, well, we'll add it and make sure that it's up-to-date. That flow chart has to be updated all the time, why? Because some ministries go, and other ministries come, we have new things that we are doing.

So this brings us back to Rachel's project. With this information in hand she knows exactly who to see for a green light for her project. She'd go see Donnie Deatherage, who's the deacon responsible for interior maintenance. She might go see Robert Young and Sarah to see if there's any money in the budget to do the project. Bob Aldridge, he's the elder over building and grounds. He would know if there are other things coming down the pike that would be in conflict with her project. And of course Tina Punneo, to put a note in the bulletin and in an announcement slide, looking for volunteers. She could see any one of these people, at least to get the thing off the ground.

The point of my sermon is that we do have a system here, it's a biblical ministry system and it works. Let's use it in order to get things done. Let's use the system, it works very well, it has worked for many, many years.

Everything in this congregation is keyed off of the system represented in this flowchart: our work, our ministers, our budget, everything. So if you want to get something done, then use the system.

Now I mentioned before that the early church in Acts chapter 2 grew because it was busy serving in these five areas of ministry. In the same way, if we devote ourselves to serving in all five areas of the Lord's church's ministry, the Lord will add to our number. Some people say, "How do we make the church grow?" You make the church grow by working the five ministries. Don't worry about growth. If we work the ministries, the Lord will add to us in His own way: somebody will be baptized, somebody will place membership, somebody will be restored, somebody will move in, whatever. The Lord adds in His own ways. Don't even spend a moment lying awake wondering, how is the church going to grow? Our task is to minister, if we do that, He'll grow it. The equation should be: if all five ministries are working simultaneously then the Lord is adding simultaneously.

The reason churches don't grow is that one or more ministries are not working at all. I've done seminars on church growth and I've analyzed a church's ministry system. And a lot of times they're very busy in fellowship and they've got a great worship ministry, but they've got zero projects in evangelism. They don't preach the gospel at all in any way, they don't do it to their community, they have no missionaries they support. How you're going to grow the church if you don't plant any seed?

So this system is really good because it exposes where we're strong, where we're weak, where our money is, where we're putting the emphasis.

I think here in Choctaw it's pretty well-balanced. We've got work going in all the areas of ministry. Our problem is to keep them going, make sure everybody is active. The problem is there are some ministries that have no names next to them and there are some members whose name is never attached to any ministry.

I remind you, coming to church is not a ministry. Attending worship is not your service to the Lord. Yeah, attending services is a command, we're obeying the Lord when we come to the service. When He said, "Do this in remembrance of me." And later on we find out, "do this every Lord's Day." When we come to the Lord's Day, were obeying the Lord, we're praising the Lord, we're offering worship to the Lord but that's not our ministry. If you're here an hour ahead of time and filling the communion cups and getting stuff ready, okay, that's a ministry. If you're here early opening the doors, vacuuming- if you're here on Saturday vacuuming, cleaning up, okay, that's a ministry.

So my invitation therefore is two-fold this morning. If you've not yet obeyed the gospel in repentance and baptism, do so today. Don't put off the salvation of your soul to another day for which there is no guarantee. Some of us in this church live to be 90 plus years, but a lot of us don't. And nobody knows who is who. So if you haven't responded in repentance and baptism, know for sure you have not responded to the gospel. Do that today.

And secondly, please learn and use our system, learn and use the ministry system that we have in place in order to do God's work. I encourage anyone here who needs to respond in any way whatsoever, that this is the time that we have set aside for that. If you need to respond in any way please come forward now as we stand and sing.

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