August 16, 2014

Beyond pew-warming . . .

Tim Keller and other Christian leaders talk about “lay ministers.” This term needs an explanation. It does not mean someone in a congregation (laity) taking a turn in the pulpit. It is not about having a specific role or assignment in the church (ministry). It is about ordinary Christians giving their lives to make Christ known in both words and deeds. The words are not sermons, but winsome, comprehensible, and expressions of loving interest and care. The deeds are simply living as well as possible and being noticeably involved in the well-being of family, friends, and community.

The first of these lay ministers were seven men chosen by the others to take care of a ministry need. These were godly men, full of the Holy Spirit. In His leading, they went far beyond that initial task and became lay ministers. Stephen preached and was martyred for his joyful faith in Christ. Another of the seven was Philip.

The first mention of him is when Jesus found him and said, “Follow me.” Philip then invited Nathanael to “Come and see” Jesus. Later, some Greeks asked to see Jesus and “Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus.” (John 12:20–22) He was obviously already involved in lay ministry, pointing others to Jesus.

Later, after the church began and persecution followed, Philip proclaimed Christ in Samaria. The crowds were impressed with his words and his deeds. Unclean spirits left those possessed and “many who were paralyzed or lame were healed” which brought much joy in that city.

Philip was instrumental in the salvation of a magician called Simon (Acts 8:4–13) and an Ethiopian eunuch in charge of the treasure of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. He noticed this man in his chariot reading the prophet Isaiah. When the Holy Spirit said, “Go over and join this chariot” Philip ran and asked the man, “Do you understand what you are reading?” He replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” Philip helped him with the passage of Scripture he was reading and pointed him to Jesus. The man put his faith in Christ, was baptized, and “went on his way rejoicing.” (Acts 8:26–40)

This is the essence and example of lay ministry. Philip eventually became known as “Philip the evangelist” yet continued to be called “one of the seven.” Acts 21:8–9 notes this and also that he had four unmarried daughters who prophesied. His ministry was to his family and to anyone else God put in his path.

In our world, Christians often get the idea that only the “professionals” do the work of ministry. This is one of several false ideas that tends to make consumers out of believers. Instead of gathering with other Christians to be equipped and strengthened to point others to Christ, too many of us go to church to “get fed” and are upset if the worship service falls short of that selfish expectation.

This is encouraging stuff! I need to follow Philip’s example and become far better at being a lay minister. 

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