As I write this, I’m sitting on a 19 passenger airplane flying from Denver, Colorado on my way to North Platte, Nebraska. I could have driven the trip in four hours, and at this moment, I wish I had. The plane appears to be as old as I am. The air is very bumpy, and we’re flying directly into dark clouds. I realize we’re all placing our lives into the hands of the two young men flying the plane. I’ve often wondered where young men learned to fly if it was not in the military. I think I just discovered their training ground. This is a particularly good training ground because if someone can fly a plane in these conditions they can probably fly anywhere. We ended up staying one extra night in Nebraska since all evening flights, both of them, were canceled because of high winds. While I wanted to go home, I was thrilled the airline was as uncomfortable as I was about flying that small plane in the fierce winds. The plane would have been tossed around like a kite in a storm.
Of the fourteen people on board the plane on the way to North Platte, the pilot and copilot are the only ones working. The rest of us are passengers. I could be thinking of many other things, but I’m seeing an interesting comparison between this little plane and the church in affluent cultures. There is a life and death need at hand, but only a few people are working while everyone else is a passenger.
On this plane today, we’re supposed to sit still while the pilot takes care of flying. This is not the Lord’s model for the church for either the leaders or members. The burden to correct this situation does not lie with just the leaders or general Christian population, but everyone of us. The apostle Paul goes so far as to tell us that together we are the body of Christ, and every Christian has a vital role to play in the body. That is, every one of us is a part of the body with an equally important role. Take a few moments and read Romans 12:4 – 8 and 1 Corinthians 12:12 – 31.
He also tells us in Ephesians 4:11 – 16 that one of the primary jobs for Christians leaders is to help us understand our place in the body, teach us how to love God in this place, and how to work in loving unison with the rest of the body. When each one of us does our part in this way, Paul says, we grow up in Christ. Christian leaders are frequently trapped doing so many other things that are insignificant in comparison.
Getting more people involved is not, in and of itself, the answer. The answer is in the combination of leaders fulfilling their place in the body, guiding the rest of the body in theirs, and then the entire body living their faith together as the Lord leads and gifts his church.
In Ephesians 4:11 – 16 Paul also tells us;
- That every Christian should make progress toward maturity in Christ.
* Leaders prepare all of God’s people for acts of service, and not just some. (4:11 – 12)
* The entire church, and not simply a portion of it, should become mature. (4:12 – 13, 16)
- That if we do not grow, we will remain infants, susceptible to manipulation by people with evil intent. Paul compares people who do not pursue maturity in Christ to small boats tossed around by the wind and waves. (4:14) Dangerous winds buffet our lives, just like the winds in Nebraska threatened our flight. Growing to maturity in Christ is how we protect ourselves in the face of the difficulties of life.
From my observation of churches, especially in affluent societies, many Christians do not understand or see this desperate need for the entire body to mature in Christ. Far too many individuals who name Jesus as their Lord live as though a commitment to service and the pursuit of maturity in Christ were optional. This desperate situation needs to be corrected, and it will only be addressed when the church embraces passages like Ephesians 4:11 – 16. In this passage Paul tells us Christian maturity is our primary goal.
Make a concerted effort to pray for Christian maturity to be established in your own life, in the life of friends and family, in your own local church, and in the church globally. Take time to pray specifically for individuals and churches you know personally.
In addition to praying, make a determined effort to do everything you know to serve and grow in Christ. I recently purchased a new lawn mower. It came in a box with a set of instructions informing me how to put it together. Many of our purchases come with lists like this. Growing to maturity in Christ is not the same as following such a list with columns titled “do this,” and “don’t do that.” While it is true scripture does have many lists, the lists from Jesus and the authors of the New Testament are not lists of laws, but they describe the life of a disciple. The life of a disciple is a life transformed by and into the image of Jesus.
Paul’s descriptions in Ephesians 4:11 – 16 are broad brush strokes covering every aspect of life. Every moment of every day in every place we are the Lord’s disciples. The concrete guidance we need grows out of the overarching guidance Paul provides in this passage and the other similar passages you find throughout the New Testament.
The bullet points below are the instructions Paul gives the Ephesians about growing in Christ. Read Ephesians 4:11 – 16 again. Paul says every one of us should
* we are called to maturity and unity in faith (4:13)
* we are gifted in a special way by God to assist the entire church (4:7, 16)
* our goal is to “become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (4:13)
- find a leader within the church who can prepare you to serve, especially one similarly gifted (4:12)
- serve according to your gifting as often as possible (4:12)
- do the truth in love (4:15)
- continue growing, as growth is progressive and requires commitment and persistence (4:12 – 13, 16)
- bring others along. That is, assist others in growing in their gifting as you received help from someone.
- study scripture relating to your gifting
- continue praying as mentioned above
Notice as you read the passage that one of the keys to growth is every individual doing their part. We all work together under the Lord’s leading and according to his gifting. Paul’s counsel seems fairly simple, but this is our path to stability and maturity. If we devote ourselves to this following this passage, we and the church will grow. If we do not, then we and the church will not grow.