Monday, April 12, 2010

Complementary Spheres of Ministry and Authority

By Ben Zemmer

The ministry of the church cannot be biblically separated from exercise of authority (Matt. 28:18-20). This statement might fall uncomfortably on the ears of many typical Americans. For many, the word authority resonates with domineering pride and dictatorial control. This could not be farther from the biblical use of authority in the church (1 Peter 5:1-5). Authority and ministry are not two competing entities, but rather complementary aspects of the leadership Christ has established in His church.

God has lovingly given the gift of servant leaders to the church for the growth of the body into the fullness of Christ (Eph. 4:11-13). The offices of Elder and Deacon compose the leadership structure through which the ministry of the church is to be directed and guided for the glory of His name (1 Tim. 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9; 1 Peter 5:1-5). Paul appealed to the Ephesian elders that they follow his example leadership in his tireless service (Acts 20:17-38). Peter exhorted elders including himself among them to serve the flock under their care with all humility and eagerness (1 Peter 5:3-5). In both these situations neither Peter nor Paul appeal for better care of the body by removing hierarchy, but rather calling for a Christ-like exercise of the authority that God has instituted for the good of the church. It is clear from many examples in Acts that the elership provided significant ministry oversight and direction (Acts 6:1-6; 11:30: 15:2-6,22-23; 16:4; 21:18).

In addition to functioning in humble service of local congregations as elders and overseers, the leadership also formed and maintained significant and substantial ties with other churches of like mind. When the young believers in Antioch need leadership, the church in Jerusalem sent Barnabas (Acts 11:22). When the believers in Jerusalem were suffering from a widespread famine, the church in Antioch sent help by the hands of their two most experienced leaders Barnabas and Paul (Acts 11:29-30). This pattern of relationship further extended from Antioch to the churches that Paul and Barnabas later planted (Acts 14:24-28). It also manifested itself in the generosity of the Macedonian believers for the sake of the suffering believers in Judea (Rom. 15:26, 2 Cor. 8:1-5). Financial relief and physical help were not the only results of this interdependent concern. These churches encouraged and spurred each other on by their example (Phil. 4:15, 1 Thess. 1:7).

What a joy it is to serve under the leadership of elders committed to steward well the authority given them by Christ and oversee and guide ministry according to commission Jesus gave. Just as true church grows increasingly into conformity to the fullness of Christ (Eph. 4:13), so Clearcreek has grown noticibly in recent years. Certainly it has grown in number, but its outlook and mission passion have grown as well. Clearcreek has increasingly awakened to its glorious priviledge and call to partake in Christ’s expanding work through the proclamation of the gospel and the planting of new churches. This awakening has been a prime example of the relationship that biblical authority has to ministry. The elders are leading the body in ministry as they contemplate more closely the relationship this church has with other like-minded churches in the area, the possibilities of a new church plant, and the vital sending role it must have to the missionaries and evangelists that are commissioned by the church. If there is an aspect of ministry and authority that Clearcreek lacks in it is this one: a corporate comissional outlook.

Both the leadership and the body desperately need to hold fast to the captivating vision of God’s work locally and among the nations through the proclamation of the word and the planting of churches. There are many practical and specific ways that Clearcreek can demonstrate its interdependence with other likeminded churches. One example would be the inclusion of other pastors in important leadership formation activities such as training in the Biblical Theology Studies Center, and in the ordination of new elders. Another might be the interaction with other likeminded churches by means of informal hospitality at the flock and family levels. Such nurturing of relationships would then grant greater visibility into other ways that the church body can individually or corporately serve one another. It would also open doors for Clearcreek’s receiving of wisdom, insight, and admonishment from other believers on the basis of the Gospel. Even the planning for a future church plant could benefit from the understanding that Clearcreek is not an island. Many solid gospel embracing churches have progressed in many ways that Clearcreek has not. It would be good for Clercreek to nurture relationships with churches that are strong where Clearcreek is week and not just borrow their materials and implement our church plant on our own in isolation.

All the above suggestions with some effort could certainly be accomplished, yet with a legalistic determination and superficial sterility that is foreign to the gospel. Such a work in the congregation and among the leadership is only accomplished by the overflow of a passion for the supremacy of Christ in all things and an awe of the gospel. This is only a work of God through the Holy Spirit. Let us all pray to this end even as we trust that He is working in us to do it because Christ has done it.

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