Attaining the Full Measure of Christ ...
11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 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 (Eph. 4:11-13, NIV).
I have reached the point in my ministry that I have now preached more years as an itinerant preacher than as a local church pastor. Sermons … those probably have been preached more as a local church pastor, but it’s getting close!
Thing is, as an itinerant pastor, one never knows what to expect when you first preach at a church. Oh, usually the pastor will have made arrangements for a lay leader to handle certain tasks … but not always.
Early in my ministry, before Deb and I were married, I was doing pulpit supply at a little Southern Baptist Church in SW Missouri. Now, most churches are pretty set in their order of worship and this church had a lead deacon who handled everything a visiting pastor wouldn’t know such as the announcements, prayer concerns … that kind of thing. So, we were going over the order of service and he asked if Debbie wanted to bless them with the “Special Music.”
Now, God has gifted my wife with many talents and abilities, and she has never been afraid to use them in the church. She has spent many hours loving on kids, preparing meals for the congregation and helping congregations design their worship space and buildings to be beautiful, functional, and useable.
But singing the special music … is not her thing. This deacon’s expectation, however, was that surely someone who was soon to be a Pastor’s Wife should be able to sing or to play special music.
Well, we navigated that battle of the wills. Debbie really is a red-head and wouldn’t allow herself to be forced into this area where she is not gifted. But what a pleasure it is to see someone serving in the church in areas of their own comfort and gifting.
When I was pastor of a congregation in Wood River, Illinois, we had a man, Bill Hawkins, who had served as head usher and greeter in the church for generations. At the time he was in his nineties and was still the first person everyone saw on Sunday morning as he greeted them by name … even if they didn’t regularly attend there.
Bill had been the main-gate security officer at the Shell Refinery and knew many people from there. He was one of those individuals who genuinely enjoyed meeting new people and making them feel welcomed. I can’t tell you the number of adults today who attended that church as children and still remember receiving a mint from Bill or being asked to ring the bell or to light the candles for the service. This was his gift, and he used it to help us to grow in greater unity through our faith.
One of the concerns I have today with many of our churches is their movement to a performance-based type of service that only involves a few people in the congregation. Seminary students are taught that “liturgy” – the word used to describe the elements of worship -- literally means the “work of the people.” What the congregants do to praise and to worship God (and to serve as His ambassadors of reconciliation (as Paul puts it)) is indeed worship. We have paraphrased this as being the hands, feet, heart and voice of Christ in this world.
I was called to be a pastor by Ephesians 4:11, but I also have never forgotten the rest of that passage … that my purpose is to equip others in the church to do what they are called and gifted to do. Maybe, if we all learn to serve as we are gifted, we will attain the Unity in the Spirit and the full measure of Christ about which Paul speaks.
Lord, help us to see the part and role we are called to serve as a member of your Body in this world. Help us to make this body whole and complete that we might truly know unity and love. Amen.
Steve Van Ostran
American Baptist Churches of the Rocky Mountains