God has showered us with benefits and blessings. Jesus paid for them all on the cross and we received them by faith, the very moment we believed in Jesus as Saviour and Lord. Gospel blessings come from pure grace and we receive them by simple faith, without ever having to do anything to earn them or to prove ourselves worthy of having them.
We received all God’s blessings the moment we accepted Jesus as Saviour and Lord.
But what does God want us to do with what he has given to us? God’s blessings are not meant just for our own enjoyment. Jesus wants us to rise up and be who we are called to be and to do all we are called to do – to become his hands and feet. That way we bring glory to the Father and shine for him in the brightness of his grace and love. The apostle Paul explained this to the church in Ephesus, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen” (Ephesians 3:20-21).
In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul begins by stressing our position in Christ, and then goes on to speak of how we are to live as Christians in our practical, day-to-day lives. Beginning in Ephesians chapter four, Paul talks about life in the Spirit in marriage, home and work, and explains how to stand against the enemy at work in society.
But he begins by teaching about the church. He does this because he knows God’s ultimate concern is the church (which, of course, he wants to be full of strong marriages and healthy families and to have a vibrant influence in society). God’s supreme purpose is to bring glory to his own holy name through his redeemed people – the church of Jesus Christ.
The church is a community set apart from the world, shining as a lighthouse in a dark and dangerous world.
The contrast between the church and the world is stark and absolute. The church is to be like a city set on a hill, a model community, an example held out to the world and an attractive demonstration of the life of Christ. That way we can guide and lead a lost and dying humanity to Christ.
One of the greatest decisions a believer can make in the Christian life is to accept God’s call to the ministry of Christ.
God wants the glory of Christ to be seen in the body of Christ. Church life should not be characterised by superficial relationships, but godly commitment to one another’s welfare. We must become a caring community which welcomes, nurtures and heals. It was often said of the early church, “See how they love one another!” Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).
The cell group structure gives every believer the opportunity, not only to hear about God’s plan for the church, but also to take an active part in it. Thismeans every member serving Jesus, doing the work of the church out in the world. The cells enable every person to become both a real disciple of Jesus and a disciple-maker in his name.
We must make it our goal to grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord. We must be trained and equipped to win new believers, consolidate them in the faith and disciple them to become effective ministers for Christ. This is the only true call of Christ and the ultimate goal of everything we do.
The cell groups are where all this takes place. They are where the real work of the church is done. Here, we encourage one another, build one another up and reach out to the lost. The cells are where we develop the quality relationships necessary for our spiritual growth and effective outreach. It is where real Christian character is forged.
The New Testament Pattern of Ministry
One of the most urgent needs of the church today is to return to the New Testament model of ministry. Looking back to the 16th Century we see that it was a time of reformation for the church. God helped his people rediscover the true heart of the gospel: we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.
The Reformers, led by such giants of the faith as Martin Luther and John Calvin, rediscovered the biblical teaching of ‘the priesthood of all believers’. This means that every believer has equal access to the presence of God. We come to God through faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross, “…[being] justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement through faith in his blood” (Romans 3:24-25).
By the grace of God, we are all sacred and holy before the Lord. We have no need of a special class of ministers or priests to mediate God’s blessing to us, or to prepare us for his presence. We come boldly to the throne of grace through the blood of Jesus. He is the Great High Priest of our profession of faith (Hebrews 10:19-22). We have the same direct access to God that Jesus has. In other words, he has made us a royal priesthood, a holy nation.
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.
1 Peter 2:9
God has chosen us to become his ministers, his priests, and we have a sacred duty to serve him. We come before him in worship and adoration. We intercede for others before his throne knowing we are called to the presence of God. But, there is more to it than that. As priests, we are also called to the ministry of Christ in the world. Our sacred duty is to represent him in the world. Wherever he calls us, whatever our job or profession, we are called to spread the fragrance of Christ. It also means that we are commissioned to preach the gospel, teach the word of God, to heal the sick, to cast out demons – in other words, to do the work of Christ.
Commissioned to the Work of Christ
The legacy of the Reformation is with us today, but the truth of the priesthood of all believers has somehow been buried under centuries of church tradition. Today, most Christians do not think of themselves as ministers. For them, that is the job of the full-time, paid employees of the church. We still have this unbiblical distinction between the so-called ‘laity’ and the ‘clergy’. This perpetuates a false and damaging distinction between them: the ‘holy ones’, the ‘anointed ones’, the ‘gifted’ ones, and us: the ‘ordinary’ Christians.
We need a new reformation, springing from a change of heart and a fresh revelation about the body of Christ. We are all called, chosen and anointed to serve God. Christ gives his gifts to his body and calls us all to the ministry of Jesus. We will not succeed in our corporate mission as the church until we hold this truth deeply and put it into practice.
And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head – Christ – from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love. (Ephesians 4:11-16)
There are differing gifts and different levels of ministry. Ephesians 4:11 makes it clear that Christ has given leadership gifts to his church. These are the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. These men and women are anointed to lead and direct the church’s ministry. But, their main work is to train, equip and release every believer into the ministry of Christ. They prepare us to do the work of Christ. Ephesians 4:12-16 makes this abundantly clear.
Yet very few churches actually function like that. Often, the leadership ministries are exalted above the people. They are placed on a pedestal. Proof of this is that public ministry is often placed above personal spirituality. Charisma replaces character as the highest ideal. Ministry becomes a means of glorifying self rather than glorifying Christ and serving others. The result is that leadership ministry is elevated while congregational ministry is neglected.
There is no place in New Testament Christianity for a church of part-time Christians led by professional clergy. We are all in the ministry together. The people do not exist for the leaders. Rather, the leaders exist for the people. The leaders should never take over the role of the people and the people should never opt out of their role as ministers of Christ.
That is why we often feel so inadequate and ill-equipped, as ‘ordinary’ believers to do the work of Christ. We do not know how to witness, lead people to faith in Christ or answer their questions. We do not know how to heal the sick or to disciple our neighbours and work colleagues.
Those in leadership in the church must release the whole body to do the work of Christ. As believers, we are his hands, his feet, and the anointed expression of his grace to a hurting world. Determine right away that you will not be a ‘sleeping partner’ in the body of Christ. Be active and fulfil your role. The cell vision is one sure and practical way of making this a reality in the life of the church today.
To grasp all this fully, we need to understand more about the exact role of the leaders God has given to the church.
Equipped to face the challenge of serving Christ
As we have seen, the real role of leaders is to prepare God’s people for their ministry. Ephesians 4:12 says that the leadership ministries are given, ‘to prepare God’s people for works of the body of Christ may be built up…’ The New Testament Greek word translated as ‘prepare’, or ‘equip’ is katartidzo, and it is rich in meaning. When we examine this word closely, we begin to understand how God uses leadership to equip us to be ready to face the challenge of serving Christ and representing him to the world. At every point Christ helps us overcome our weakness by giving us the ability to function as his body.
The preparation is life-long but ministry begins right away
The work of preparation is ongoing. In fact, it lasts all our lives. However, ministry begins right away. If we waited until we thought we were ready, we would never begin. God uses willing vessels as long as they are also willing to learn along the way. One of the ways God develops our Christian character is through our Christian service. So don’t wait until you’re perfect – begin now!
When the ministry gifts of Christ function properly and are received by the church, the result is that God’s people are prepared for the work of Christ in the world. The body of Christ can then be released for the ministry of Christ. The leaders and members work in partnership to get the job done.
The cells nourish the Body
Church fellowship happened on many different levels in the New Testament, ranging from small groups to large gatherings. These did not do everything that they were called to do on any one occasion. The smaller groups meeting in homes were ideal for table fellowship and more personal pastoral care. Strong relationships were developed as people reached out to one another in love and fellowship. Others were drawn to such groups and many people found the Lord. In this context, ministries were developed and people were nurtured in their faith. This is the body of Christ functioning as God intended.
The cells release you into your ministry
The whole church often came together for large celebration meetings. These were great times for praise and worship and public preaching, teaching and evangelism. These too were vitally significant as they gave a real sense of belonging and an opportunity to receive from stronger, more developed ministries in the church, but the small groups were where the real life of the body was to be found.
In the same way today, small groups are a particularly helpful part of church life. These are called cell groups because, just as in the human body, where cells sustain the life of the whole body, so in the body of Christ, small groups give vital expression to the life of Christ. They are the real context for you to grow in Christ and to express your ministry as a member of the body. Just as a human cell contains all the genetic information of the whole body, so cell groups are called to be microcosms of the body. They do everything the church is called to do. In cell groups, we pray, we nurture, we encourage, we evangelise and we make disciples.
It’s your time to get active!
There can be only one response from those who belong to Jesus Christ, and that is to become involved, and be fully part of local church fellowship. It will mean a committed relationship in which you come under the care and discipline of a local church leadership. It will mean that as well as receiving blessing from the ministry you will also serve the vision of that church with your spiritual gifting, as God releases you. It will mean getting involved in different levels of fellowship, including the cells, where your ministry can encourage others.
WHAT IT MEANS TO BE EQUIPPED (KATARTZO)
Being restored: katartidzo means ‘to restore something to its former condition’ or ‘to make something right again’ (See Galatians 6:1). A bone that has been broken needs to be set and to mend again before it can be used. In the same way, Christian leaders are called by God to restore you and make you a useful member in the body of Christ.
Made compete: katartidzo also means ‘to fully equip’ – like a ship ready to sail, or a fully trained army totally kitted out and ready for battle. It also means ‘to furnish completely’. A house is not complete until it is furnished. Only then, can we live in it and fully enjoy it. This is how God is working in your life. He uses the fivefold ministry to make you complete as a Christian so that you will be ready to take up God’s plan for your life and ministry (See Hebrews 13:20-21).
Fully trained: katartidzo was also used in the context of ‘training apprentices’ or ‘disciplining children’. God is training us so that we will be skilled and disciplined in his work. A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher. (Luke 6:40).
Prepared and made ready: Finally, katartidzo means ‘to prepare in advance’ so that when the moment comes, everything is in place. God’s will is for you to be ready and equipped, with your life in order, so that you can do the work of Christ.