What did you want to be when you grew up? Or, perhaps it’s more appropriate to ask, what do you want to be when you grow up?
I remember looking out the back window of our home years ago and seeing my little brother Trav playing in the backyard by himself. After a few minutes, a group of highschoolers walked past the yard on their way home from school. Trav’s eyes lit up and he immediately ran to the fence to greet this collection icons.
“Hello!” he yelled excitedly.
They ignored him entirely – like annoyed rockstars at a concert.
“Hi there! My name is Travis!”
“My name is Travis! What’s yours?”
And silently, they walked out of sight.
And we saw little 6-year old Travis standing in the backyard all by himself, my heart just sunk. As he came running inside, I fully expected an outburst of uncontrollable tears. To my surprise, he ran up to my mother and I with a strange smile on his face and eagerness in his eyes.
“I know what I want to be when I grow up!” he stated authoritatively.
“Really? What’s that, buddy?” I asked.
“When I grow up, I want to be a teenager!” he replied.
When it comes to growth, I think many of us set our sights to some rather strange destinations. You know what I’m talking about. How many of you were certain that you’d be an astronaut, supermodel, scientist, or crochet aficionado when you became a contributing member of society? I remember another younger brother named Sam once proclaimed, “When I grow up, I want to be a football!” We thought what you’re probably thinking – “Not, a football player? Football star?” No, no – we asked. He wanted to be a football. He may have been dropped as a child. I think we all were.
At what point did we begin to compromise on those childhood dreams? What did it feel like to realize your grip on these ideas and ideals was slowly loosening? Was it a gradual drifting or did it hit you like a lightning bolt one day? Isn’t it strange how these passions tend to naturally often float away from us and not towards us? I myself wanted to be a rockstar in a band and swore for years that I would play any instrument but the drums. Drummers were boring to me. When I was a child, it seemed like everyone else in the band got to run and jump all over the stage like maniacs, but the poor sap of a drummer had to stay put. As I began highschool my opinion shifted slightly and my observations seemed to assert that drummers never got the girl. It was always the lead singer. Or guitarist. Or even the tuba player, for that matter. “Drummers get no love” I thought.
Despite all this undeniable evidence, however, what did I end up becoming? A drummer, of course.
We explored this notion of growth this weekend by examining a brilliant text in Ephesians:
11 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God’s 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.
14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. –Ephesians 4:1-16 (NIV)
The first half of this text is particularly intriguing to me for a number of reasons.
First of all, Paul is writing while under house arrest to a church (one he established on his second missionary journey) in this absolutely incredible 1st century city – the religious center of the entire province of Asia and the third largest city in the world.
Beyond being a massive stop for port trading, Ephesus was home to the colossal temple of Artimes. One of the seven wonders of the world, this temple drew tourists and worshippers from all over the world. It was 342 feet long, 164 feet wide, and featured 100 outside columns each over 55 feet high. An annual month-long festival to Artimes drew a half million pilgrims each year from all over the Mediterranean world. This temple also served as an enormous bank from which entire cities would apply for loans.
This is important because, amidst a culture and society of empty temple worship that was becoming more and more institutionalized every day, Paul was desperately trying to remind the church of it’s distinct difference as a living, breathing and growing organism – the very body of Christ.
So, verse 11 begins with an explanation of what God has given his church. Just before this in verse 8, Paul quotes Psalm 68:18 by speaking of the gifts God gives, similar to the ones a king grants to his people amidst a kingdom-wide celebration upon his return from a successful conquest or victory. The intensive pronoun “he” in the Greek text in verse 11 is also strongly emphatic, emphasizing for the reader who it is that gives these gifts and where they come from. It is a significant reminder both then and now.
I won’t expound on the offices of apostles, prophets, or evangelists here, but the role of pastor (poime = shepherd) is one that I find infinitely captivating. As a child, and teenager, I would never in a million years have imagined that I would ever be in a position to be given the honor of a title like “pastor”, and yet, strangely and by the grace of God, here I am – Grossly under qualified and sometimes still feeling quite like a child who is wearing his father’s suit coats, pretending to be an adult
The notion of “shepherd” here is one that, for me, implies a much greater investment than merely “instructing”, but carries with it the notions of both guiding and governing as well. But compare God’s job description for this controversial role to the stereotyped role of “pastor” in our culture. Today, most pastors are expected to preach, lead, administrate, visit, marry, bury, care, counsel, write, develop, implement, mobilize, orchestrate, motivate, construct, teach, organize, publicize, innovate, sing, sew, dance, paint, and juggle. But what does verse 12 say?
11 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up
It appears that, for Paul, the main role of the pastor is to equip and prepare God’s people to do the work of ministry in the church and world.
Now, this word “prepare” is a pretty fascinating word. The original Greek word is kataritzo, which carries with it the notions of both preparation and repair. For instance, in Matthew 4:21, the word is used to describe James and John preparing and repairing their nets for fishing, cleaning the nets of seaweed and sticks, mending parts that were damaged, and untangling the ropes. These nets were being prepared for service, not for storage.
In ancient literature, the same word is used to describe when a physician realigns a dislocated limb in its socket or sets a broken bone – putting it back into proper relationship with the rest of the body.
I don’t mean to overreach here, but this to me provides so much clarity as to why people often get so upset with pastors. I’m not talking about the (unfortunately frequent) occasions where a pastor is caught in moral failure or is simply rude in his/her conduct. That’s not the kind of tension I’m talking about. What I’m referring to is the hard truth, the difficult charge, and the “bone-setting” kind of instruction that some pastors have the boldness to both teach and live. Now, I’ve had stitches before, I’ve had bones reset – it hurts like hell. I’ve probably even been upset with the one inflicting said pain on me in that moment as well. Maybe even had some choice words to share. But eventually I calm down and realize that this pain is necessary and the one inflicting it on me has a bigger picture in mind – one of healing and recovery.
So again, for Paul, the role of ministry is for all who are Christ’s, not just the pastors. Not just the elders. Not even just the “grown-ups.” In 1 Peter 2 believers are called a “royal priesthood” (a phrase that appears 45 times in the New Testament), which to me implies that the work of carrying out Gospel truth is quite literally on the shoulders of Christians of every stage, age, and proximity. If you are in Christ, you are in full time ministry. Period. There are no second-class Christians. You are a minister.
Which then begs the question:
“How is your ministry going?”
It is here that we have often missed the implications of the body portrait and developed congregational patterns that deny rather than express what the church is. Far too often leaders are hired by a congregation or a board to “do the work of ministry”, but how differently Scripture portrays our roles! In a living organism, every cell contributes – the church should be no different.
I love what John Piper says about this particular concept:
Most of us are able to keep clear in our minds the origin and goal of Christian ministry: its origin is in Christ, who gives spiritual gifts and gifted people to the church; and its goal is the upbuilding of the body of Christ in knowledge, faith, and love. But what we don’t keep as clear is the living, dynamic, God-appointed process that moves from origin to goal. Notice very carefully what it is in these two verses. God gives to a church spiritual leaders whose role is to equip the saints for the work of the ministry. And from the work of the ministry by the saints, the body is built up. God’s pattern for producing people with powerful faith and genuine love is not to have the pastor-teachers do all the work of the ministry. They are to equip the saints to do the ministry. And the saints are not a class of Christians. They are you, all of you, who have set yourselves apart for God through faith in Christ. According to God’s pattern, the upbuilding of the body in faith and love is the immediate result of the ministry of the laity, not the ministry of the clergy. – John Piper
Frankly, some men are perfectly content with allowing the women of their congregation to take on all the responsibility. Similarly, some women have been told that women can’t truly serve in ministry. These are both incredibly treacherous lies.
If you are in Christ you are ministers of the Gospel. Service is an integral part of the believer’s DNA.
Some of you may be asking, “Great, so how long do I actually have to serve? What is the level f commitment expected of me?” Interestingly enough, vs. 13 has something to say on the matter:
12 to prepare God’s 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.
You might be reading that and saying, “Geeze, that sounds kind of like a lifetime of commitment to me – especially considering how far away unity (or maturity, for that matter) seems from me.” And I would agree with you. I think that’s the point, actually.
The word “reach” in this passage is the word katanteoenused (good luck pronouncing that one), which is the same word used in the book of Acts that speaks of a traveler arriving at their destination, and I would argue that, in this context, our destination is Christ. It always is.
But the word that I find most fascinating in this verse is the word “knowledge.” It is the word epignois, which carries with it a much stronger idea than merely knowing or understanding facts and data. It conveys a sense of “knowledge through participation” – a far more experiential understanding of knowledge than many of us attribute to “churchy types of things.”
And this is how I thought of it. Laugh if you must.
If I showed you this picture how many of you would know what it is? How many of you would know how to answer beyond simply saying “a guitar?”
Well, in case you were wondering, this is a 1975 Gibson SG – in my opinion, one of the most beautiful guitars ever made. I’d go on about the specifics, but I’m afraid the drool might damage my laptop and significantly hinder the resale value.
Now if I were to show you this picture, how many of you would know exactly what it is?
It looks very similar to a real guitar. It has a similar shape, many of the same markings and features – volume knobs, whammy bar, headstock, etc. A part from the colorful buttons on the neck, it looks remarkably similar to the real deal.
The funny thing about Guitar Hero is that some people commit hours upon hours playing this game. I’m convinced that if some of those people spent half as much time learning to actually play guitar instead of playing a game, they could very well become a guitar hero some day.
So for you musicians out there, if a 12 year-old kid who plays Guitar Hero three hours a day approached you and said, “Oh yea, I know guitar” what would you say?
After you finished laughing, you’d probably say (or think) something similar to, “Kid, you don’t know guitar. You know what a guitar looks like. You sort of know how to hold it and some of the noises it can make. You may be familiar with guitar, but you don’t really know it.”
And this is exactly what Paul is talking about here. He’s challenging God’s people to not simply fill their heads with information, to observe from a distance, or even play the part well. It’s a call to participation, to physicality, to both knowledge and experience. It’s why Christ’s simple call to “follow me” was an is so profound. It’s why this church in Revelation 2 is exhorted for there doctrinal and pragmatic success, but rebuked for leaving their first love.
God doesn’t want you to simply do things for Him or even with Him – he wants you to deeply know Him. Stop and think about the implications of that reality. Let it sink in. Insane, right?
In light of this reality, one commentator translates verse 13 this way:
Until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the experiential, full, and precise knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of the Christ.
So what does maturity look like? It looks like Christ.
Paul continues with this idea of maturity versus immaturity – fullness versus void.
14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.
Now, I love babies. I’d venture to guess that you probably do too. They’re adorable! Even the ugly babies (you know they exist) are cute in their own way and absolutely beautiful in the eyes of their mother. Jesus praises little children in Matthew 18. There are numerous references to the beauty of innocence and the childlike nature we should always be nurturing.
Every night there are millions of beaming parents smilingly lovingly into a crib as their precious newborn sleeps. They gush with oohs and ahhs at every small twitch and sound (as long as it’s moderately quiet). Their adored baby looks so precious sleeping in the cradle.
Now imagine that same scene but instead there is a 34 year old man stuffed into this cradle, sleeping quietly and sucking his thumb. It’s not quite as adorable anymore, is it? You’d likely be wondering what you missed as a parent – and understandably so.
Which reminds me of something the Japanese have recently begun doing. Have you seen these incredible watermelons that they grow in there?
They charge twice as much for these cubed melons because they’re far more convenient than regular watermelons. They’re easier to stack, easier to carry, and easier to serve. They’re far more agreeable.
The way they grow these melons is simple – they merely plant each seed in a clear cube and the melon fills the space that it is given to grow in.
Truthfully, I think this is how many people choose to live out their faith. They are afraid to step out, to take risk, to do the work, or to climb out the crib. “It’s safe here” I imagine them saying. Eventually atrophy sets in and we merely take on the shape of whatever or whoever is nearest. We become what is convenient.
The church in Corinth apparently needed some instruction in this area:
“Brothers, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults” -1 Corinthians 14:20
And the writer of Hebrews saw this is a much needed topic of discussion as well:
“You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” –Hebrews 5:12-14
And the result of this infantile state of being, is the likelihood of being tossed back and forth by the many different doctrines and teaching that we encounter every day. Like being ambushed by a co-worker or cornered by a malicious family member who’s only goal is to trip you up – so many of us cower under the pressure. The flipside to cowering is not a verbal retaliation. That’s not maturity either. But how would it change things if we had the willingness to simply respond with, “You know, I don’t have an answer to that question, but give me a week or two and I’ll do some research and find out.” Or even “Do you think we could grab coffee later and talk about it more once I’ve had a chance to examine this a bit further.” What a radical shift that would be.
I remember being that kid “tossed back and forth” by every opportunity and possibility placed before me. This is exactly why my mom stopped taking me to Basin Robins as a child. She said that I would literally sample every flavor at least once and still not be able to make a decision. I truly “reasoned like a child” during those years.
I also remember tricking my younger brother Zach to trade me all of his dimes for my nickels because “Nickels are bigger and obviously worth more money.” Not a bad argument, right? He didn’t know better and lost out on nearly $5 of fortune that weekend.
This doesn’t mean that in our “growing up” we don’t still struggle, waiver, and fall. Perseverance is not a trait that emerges fully developed in the new Christian, and that’s okay. Have you ever watched a toddler try to run in a straight line before? It can’t be done. They swerve and veer like a drunk driver all over the room. As you grow, you’ll likely struggle with doubt, confusion and uncertainty. Which is why what Gary Parker says in Lee Strobel’s “A Case for Faith” is so important for us to remember. He said:
“If faith never encounters doubt, if truth never struggles with error, if good never battles with evil, how can faith know its own power? In my own pilgrimage, if I have to choose between a faith that has stared doubt in the eye and made it blink, or a naïve faith that has never known the firing line of doubt, I will choose the former every time”
If you’re like me at all, I’m on board with this notion of “growing to become in every respect the mature body of Christ” (a topic I’ll explore more deeply in another post), but in the past I often allowed my insecurities, defects and shortcomings to anesthetize my passions, leaving my paralyzed and seemingly unable to dive in with all that I have. I loved adventures and risk as long as it didn’t pose a threat to my reputation or challenge my abilities. I was plagued with a constant feeling of inadequacy.
And that same fear often afflicts my conscience now – but my perspective is slowly changing. Perhaps your feeling of inadequacy is crippling you as well and I assure you, you are in good company. Consider:
1. Moses stuttered.
2. David’s armor didn’t fit.
3. John Mark was rejected by Paul.
4. Timothy had ulcers.
5. Hosea’s wife was a prostitute.
6. Amos’ only training was in the school of fig-tree pruning.
7. Jacob was a liar.
8. David had an affair.
9. Solomon was too rich.
10. Abraham was too old.
11. David was too young.
12. Peter was afraid of death.
13. Lazarus was actually dead.
14. John was self-righteous.
15. Naomi was a widow.
16. Paul was a murderer – so was Moses.
17. Jonah ran from God.
18. Miriam was a gossip.
19. Gideon and Thomas both doubted.
20. Jeremiah was depressed and suicidal.
21. Elijah was burned out.
22. John the Baptist was a loudmouth.
23. Martha was a worry-wart.
24. Mary was lazy.
25. Samson had long hair.
26. Noah got drunk.
27. Did I mention that Moses had a short fuse?
28. So did Peter and Paul
If you are in Christ, I believe that you are a gift that God has given to the church, that your participation is needed urgently, and that the part you play is vital. I don’t know what that is, but my prayer is that you seek God fervently in the context of community to determine what that role is.
The church is a caravan. We haven’t arrived yet. We’re going someplace. And you have a role to fulfill. May it be so!