RELEASING LAY PEOPLE
By John Wimber
Every Christian is called to minister. God gives gifts to equip people and calls the church to demonstrate and live out the life of Jesus.
I believe we are living in a time of spiritual awakening. Worldwide church growth statistics are impressive, especially in the two thirds world [Chuck Kraft] countries. In the West there is great interest in church growth and power evangelism. But for this awakening to continue and grow, every Christian must be equipped and released to minister.
A key passage to understandin God’s purpose of every Christian being a minister is 1 Peter 2:9 “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” All Christians, not just professional ministers, are ‘chosen people’, just as Israel was in the Old Testament. As ‘royal priests’ we reflect the holiness of God and that of our High Priest, Jesus (Hebrews 7:24, 10:10), offer spiritual sacrifices, intercede for man before God, and represent God before man. As a ‘holy nation’ we are called ‘together’ to overcome Satan’s kingdom. As a ‘people belonging to God’ we no longer have personal rights – our lives belong wholly to God. Every believer has
been called upon to minister.
All too often Christians expect their pastors to emulate secular helping professions. We expect medical doctors to treat us, not to train us to treat others. We expect lawyers to advise us, not to train us to solve our legal problems. Hence we expect pastors to serve us and not train us to do the work of the ministry. But the biblical model of a pastor is more than of a player-coack, in which pastoral leaders are to reach people to minister over against doing the ministry for the people.
At the Vineyard we do not view the paid ‘professionsl’ staff as the ones who ‘do’ all the ministry. The staff’s job is to train other people to minister. As they are trained and released to minister, they in turn train others – and the progression is endless and very effective.
The best way for pastoral leaders to begin equipping and training others is to be accessible, visible, and vulnerable: to be one of the people. I have many people in my church who are ministering alongside of me. They lead small groups, pray for the sick, counsel, and so on. Yet many pastors are insecure about the effectiveness of their work and thus try to protect themselves by not releasing the church to minister.
At the Vineyard Anaheim we also try to avoid using titles and positions. That is why I have adapted phrases like “an elder is an elder to the degree that he elds.” This is a humorous way of communicating a truth that eldership is not a position to be attained but a function to be performed. Many people have the title without the reality. I want to focus ‘on the reality,’ which is learning to minister and serve others.
SPIRITUAL PRIESTHOOD AND MINISTRY
Spiritual priesthood means at least three things for effective ministry. FIRST, all believers have direct access to God (Hebrews 4:16). Each believer can speak to God and can hear from God. Overemphasizing our personal relationship with God, however, may lead to excessive individualism. There are those who believe that because they are priests themselves they don’t need the rest of the body of Christ. But the passage in 1 Peter 2:9 says that we are a “priesthood,” not priests. That is, as we individually enter into Christ’s priesthood, we function corporately as priests. So I don’t think it is possible t grow in our priesthood apart from our brothers and siters. We have been called to commit ourselves to a local body of believers and grow with them and in them, as one of them.
SECOND, all believers are priest to each other. We are a community of priests, therefore, we are to serve one another. Again and again in the New Testament we find the admonition to serve and care for one another. This is why the pathway to Christian maturity is marked by becoming more concerned for others than ourselves.
THIRD, all believers are priests to the world. The job of a priest is to represent God to the people and the people to God. We are ‘bridge builders.’ Too often the people who are to be a bridge between the community of the unsaved and the God we serve have instead become a barrier. Rather than being a simple organism of life in the world today, we have become an organization that is often impenetrable to non-Christians.
THE GIFTS OF THE SPIRIT
The release and practice of spiritual gifts is another important part of equipping everyone to minister. Many Christians believe in spiritual gifts but do not practice them. But if we do not use them, the gifts are of no value. There are several ways in which the church can help everyone minister in the gifts more effectively.
The FIRST was is by the laying on of hands for impartation. This is referenced by Paul in 2 Timothy 1:6 where he tells Timothy to “fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.” If this has happened to you, recognize the laying on of hands is where the process starts, and a number of years may go by while the gift is developed in you. This time of training is normal. If you are to give to others, you must first receive from God that which you are to give, and sometimes that takes time. Second Timothy 2:6 tells us, “The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops.”
Paul of Tarsus waited thirteen years after Ananias laid hands on him before he ministered significantly, and that was after receiving several confirmations of his ministry. Some of you have had false starts. Don’t become discouraged and quit. Wait. Get ratification from the leaders in your church of this calling. Walk with the Lord for awhile. Learn to be faithful in little things. You don’t want to go on your own zeal and beget an Ishmael. Wait for Isaac, your ministry of promise.
SECOND, the church needs to leave room for people to learn to do the works of the Father, a place where people can experiment. A place to succeed and fail. A safe place should be provided within a local church for the believer to learn to prophesy, to heal the sick, to minister in evangelism. The apostles had a safe place with Jesus. First they watched him minister. Then they assisted. Next they ministered while he watched. Finally they ministered on their own. it took time for them to learn.
Part of making room means taking people along with us and showing them, taking them by the hand and saying, “You’ve seen me pray for people, now you pray.” If your church is too large t accommodate this type of learning, you probably need to break it down into smaller units for equipping. New Christians need to be trained and cared for so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:12b,13).
THIRD, contemporary churches are often built on a present-day corporation-style model of leadership rather than a Spirit-led model. The Spirit-led church chooses its leaders according to gifts, character, and ministries, recognizing the work of the Spirit in the individual’s life. The institutionalized church too often chooses its leaders according to the position they have in the secular community. That’s not entirely wrong, because in the church there are certain kinds of administrative work for which one needs technical skills, but most of the work of ministry needs to be done according to a spiritual model. If I need computer work done, it is not necessary that the worker be proficient at praying for the sick; it is better for the job if he or she had computer training. But if the worker is going to work closely with the rest of the office staff, it is very helpful for him or her not only to be a believer, but to have the same basic philosophy and values as the rest of the
MINISTRY AS SERVANTS
Other key passages for equipping and releasing lay ministers are Ephesians 4:7-16 and 1 Peter 4:10-11.
I have discovered three truths for effective ministry in these passages. FIRST, all ministry is by God’s grace. It is the grace of God, his love expressed through his word and personal interaction with us, that motivates us.
SECOND, God gives a wide variety of ministries. Two of these are mentioned in the Peter passage – speaking gifts and serving gifts. Among charismatic Christians the speaking gifts (like tongues, teaching, and prophecy) are frequently emphasized to such an extend that the serving gifts are ignored. I believe it is essential that all gifts be encouraged and honored in the church, especially the serving gifts like hospitality, helps, and administration.
To minister means to be a servant. The Greek word ‘doulos’ is often used by Paul in the New Testament to describe his relationship to his converts and his relationship to Jesus. The word means ‘bondslave’ and has an interesting history. The Roman slave in the first century belonged to his master. He has not rights. His time, money, marriage, family, and future were at the disposal of his master. That is the image of Christian servanthood that the New Testament writers used. Ministry as a servant means doing the bidding of the master.
We too are not our own; we have been bought with a price. We are coins in the Lord’s pocket. He can spend us for bubblegum or whatever else he wants. Many of us want to dictate how we are spent by God. But he makes the choices; we do not. Success in the Kingdom of God, then, is measured by faithful service. Each one of us is to do the bidding of God.
It is redemptive for use to serve one another in physical ways. often after becoming a believer, a person will gravitate toward speaking gifts, inner healing, or deliverance ministry, because he feels those ministries give validation and assurance that he can function. Now, if these folks could minister to other people’s physical needs, like scrubbing floors, changing babies’ diapers, in addition to growing in the spiritual gifts, it would be productive in their lives. it is redemptive to mow our neighbor’s lawn, to cook dinner for someone and take it to their house, to help someone pack and move. We have been called to interact with humankind at every level.
THIRD, every believer has some ministry. This is the area that is most difficult for pastors to risk. Fear is often the culprit that keeps them from releasing the church to minister. The degree to wich pastors contain their fear and turn it into faith is the degree to which we can see the church released and watch it bloom.
It is difficult to take risks with people who do not look like they are ready or mature enough to minister, but if we do not do it, they will not get whole. What we frequently have today are wounded healers and wounded soldiers. Rehabilitation takes place in the trenches. The process of getting whole often is directly related to the activity of ministering to others. We are ministered to as we minister to others. Whatever we want to keep, we have to give away.
Taking care of people in real-life situations is not always clean and tidy. Many times people are not grateful for what we do for them. Sometimes they even turn on us. But ministering to others is the only way to live. If we do it as unto God, it is not all that significant whether the recipient is grateful to us. That is one way we can measure for whom we minister, by how upset we are by their reaction later.
LIBERATING WOMEN TO MINISTER
Another key for releasing many to ministry is giving particular attention to releasing women to ministry. There are some foundational truths that serve as a plumbline for answering the question concerning women’s ministry in the church. Genesis 1:26-27 tells us that men and women were created in the image of God.
For God’s glory to be expressed in humanity, both the partnership of male and female and their community together are needed. God intended a complementary relationship between man and women, one marked by equality or personhood and mutual submission. Keep in mind that since the fall of humankind there has always been the problem of people enslaving one another. Today when we deal with the biblical perspective of releasing and freeing people, we need to recognize that all men and women are enslaved at various levels of life, and we all need to be freed from the
things that hold us back from being all that we can be.
Remember, God created Eve as a suitable helper, one corresponding to Adam. The relationship implied is best expressed by the word complementarity. But their harmonious relationship was undercut by the fall in which man became a ‘rule’ over the woman. Jesus’ victory at the cross has overcome the results of the fall. As a result, the principle for all relationships in the body of Christ is mutual submission and service, that is, to show preference toward one another.
The clearest proclamation of the position of women is given by Paul in Galatians 3:28 “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” The context of this passage is that both men and women have free access to eternal life and the Kingdom of God. With the coming of Christ, we see women being related to in a whole new way. They no longer were treated as property, as chattel. Jesus elevated their positions. Women should be operating shoulder to shoulder with men, not with female dominance, nor male dominance, but Christ dominance. Because of the position of priesthood that God gives each and every believer, whether male or female, young or old, smart or not, every Christian is called to minister. God gives good
gifts to equip his ministers. He calls for the church to be a place where ministry can happen, where non-Christians can see the works and life of Jesus being lived out. Let’s be about God’s business!
This article was published in the July/August 1986 edition of “First Fruits”, a magazine published by Vineyard Ministries International, and since renamed to: “Equipping The Saints”. The purpose of the magazine is to encourage spiritual renewal and unity among all Christians. The intention is to help Christians by communicating vision, principles, and practical wisdom so they may be more equipped to serve God effectively in and through their churches.
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