Equipping the Saints: Leaders, Doers, and Community

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This will be my final post in the Equipping the Saints series. I could probably write on Christian Education issues forever, but I have other things to say, so I’m going to wrap this up for now.

Strangely, one of the things I’ve been accused of during this series is failing to talk about educating Christians outside of mere Bible knowledge. Obviously, that accusation must come from people who don’t regularly read this blog. As I see it, I mostly write about Church issues that have little to do with teaching the Bible and everything to do with the practice of the faith. Cerulean Sanctum exists to talk about how we Christians can more effectively live out the faith in a practical way.

And that’s what today’s post is about.

I find this to be one of the most telling verses in the Bible:

In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
—Judges 17:6

What makes this verse even more intriguing is that it is duplicated later in Judges 21:25. You don’t see that too often in the Scriptures. The writer of Judges certainly has a point to make!

I’ve heard the latter portion of that verse quoted slightly out of context by teachers attempting to make a point about sin. Well, I can see that a little, but the modifier for that second sentence comes from the one that precedes it.

Israel, in the era of the judges, lacked consistent leadership. The nation had no direction. We see why here:

Now the young man Samuel was ministering to the LORD under Eli. And the word of the LORD was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision.
—1 Samuel 3:1

And we see the outcome of that lack here:

Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law.
—Proverbs 29:18

Without visionary leadership plugged into what God is doing, a church simply cannot grow its people deeper in Christ. The success or failure of most churches rests on their leadership.

This is not to say that an anointed leader can’t be done in by external forces, such as church squabbles and other leaders seeking glory for themselves. But whether or not a church makes genuinely deep disciples who know Christ and minister Him through the power of the Gospel and the gifts of the Spirit rests largely on the leadership and its vision.

It worked for Jesus:

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.
—John 5:19

Jesus connected with the Father and grabbed the vision. So if Jesus is our model, how then can we excuse ourselves from imitating His lead of only doing what He sees the Father doing??

Yet how many leaders know the doings of God? They might know what they are doing, but if that doesn’t align with God’s direction, forget it; the whole enterprise will fail. (Or it might succeed ever so slightly in the flesh so that it becomes a norm that people equate with success, which results in a lowest common denominator measure of future successes that bears no resemblance to what God can make happen.)

This lack of leadership clued into God’s intent defines the state of Evangelicalism in the 21st century. But without God-directed leadership, making disciples will forever be a hit or miss proposition.

It simply doesn’t have to be that way.

As for the people in the seats, their role is doing. We assume leaders are doers, but are their charges?

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.
—James 1:22

We can teach the Bible until we drop dead of exhaustion, but it will be for naught if the people who receive it do nothing with it. The Bible isn’t meant to exist in a vacuum, but some people make it so. I know in some parts of Evangelicalism, people treat the Bible like a Bible Bowl contest and even award kids for how much they know. Honestly, that’s worthless unless it’s paired with actually living what the Bible says.

One of the most abused verses in the Bible:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.
—2 Timothy 3:16-17

I think it’s abused because many Christians will go on and on about how Scripture is God’s word and we should know it, but they then neglect the purpose of God for knowing it: good works.

Folks, that’s the end goal of knowledge of the Bible. Everything you and I read in the Bible is intended to equip us to be doers. That’s why James’ admonition is so powerful. Absorbing Bible teaching after Bible teaching yet doing nothing with that teaching is wicked! It’s a lie we tell ourselves about our maturity, because we base that maturity solely on what we know, not on what we do because of what we know.

I am perpetually amazed by the martyr Stephen. Here he was whip smart in the Scriptures and filled with the Holy Spirit, yet his job ensured the people forgotten by the rest of his culture were waited on at table. And he didn’t discharge that waiting to some lesser; he did it himself.

In our day, we would call that a waste. But Stephen didn’t think so. Nor did the apostles who chose him for that role. All had caught the greater vision of knowing the Scriptures. And when time came for Stephen to die by the hands of those who hated him for what he practiced, what he knew came out in full force. So that even as he was dying, he was doing the work of an apologist and evangelist.

Doing ensures learning. Tell me something and I might retain some general knowledge. But let me do based on what I have learned, and I will grow deeper. That’s how it works. God intends for us to do what we know so that we put down spiritual roots and can take on even more responsibility in learning and doing.

Do we want revelation by the Holy Spirit in our lives? Rather than trying to snatch mystical revelations out of thin air, why not just do what the revelation of the Scriptures has already told us to do? How can anyone expect to hear the Holy Spirit speaks some charismatic revelation if that person fails to do what the in-hand revelation of the Holy Bible has already said to do?

Feed the poor. Visit the sick and dying. Minister grace to the prisoner. Share Christ with others. I can guarantee that if we do those things the Lord commanded in the Scriptures we will understand what the Bible means in a greater way. Doing is its own learning. It’s the on-the-job training that takes everything we know already from the Bible and sets the Spirit’s fire to it, making it real in the life of the believer. You and I simply cannot grow to understand the Bible, grow in grace, grow in knowledge of the voice of the Lord, and grow in spiritual giftings unless we do the things God has already taught us to do.

Leaders must lead based on the vision they have received from God. The congregation must know the Bible and do what it says to do.

The last piece of this is to blend it together in community. The more mature folks work alongside the less mature, helping them to see through service what it means to put the word of God into practice. Mentoring isn’t then reduced to a 1:1 relationship that only comes about through much wrangling, but it defines how the community lifeblood of the church flows, as it should always occur on a community scale. When the community of the local church then catches the vision of God given through the leadership, Christian Education finds its fulfillment. Great things happen. People grow deep in Christ. The local church blooms and prospers, as does the greater Church Universal.

So many times this ideal fails because we fail to understand that it must and always be a process that depends on everyone doing his or her part. Leaders must draw close to God enough to see what He is doing. The congregants must be willing to put what they learn in the Bible into practice. And the greater community, both leaders and nonleaders, must be working together toward a common goal.

We can have such a practice in our churches if we wished to. But I believe that too few of us do. Satisfied with a snack, we miss the feast. And worse, we come to believe that the snack is all there is.

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