From my perspective, it’s vital that the New Testament is indeed our ‘rule’ or ‘standard’ (what the word canon means) of faith. Primarily because we so easily get our thinking – and thus practice – off from that vision.
One of the biggest distractions from a New Testament vision is the idea that ‘leaders’ are what really ‘count’ (qualitatively) while the rest of the church counts more in numbers – attendance, financial giving, small group participation…
There are several New Testament passages that speak to these things, but one that I find extremely helpful is Romans 12:3-8
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.Romans 12:3-8
There are many things in this passage worth noting. Let me mention just a couple.
This teaching, written to the whole church at Rome clearly assumes that EVERYONE in the body has a part in what God is doing. This is the essence of total participation and must be the clear teaching and practice in our congregations. Nobody is more important than anyone else and the warning that Paul gives here is not to think about your gift or role as being any better than anyone else’s.
There is nobody in our body who is a spectator or consumer. This should be both communicated regularly and practiced . A believer who wants only for their preferences to be served should find another place to be, because they won’t fit in in the Church of God. Because in God’s church, everyone has a vital part to play.
The second observation is that Paul lists several gifts/roles/functions in an interestingly seeming non-order.
In other passages that speak about functions in the establishment and spread of the Jesus movement, particular functions are listed differently (The foundation of the apostles and prophets for example), but here as Paul writes to local gatherings of God’s people, we all fit in together on equally necessary grounds. To ‘lead’ is noticeably toward the end of Paul’s list. Prophesying and teaching are peppered in amongst serving, encouraging and showing mercy. Because of other lists of gifts in different places, we should not assume that this list (or any other probably) is exhaustive.
The point is: discern what God has called you to do and do it.
There is NEVER a question, are you called?
Instead the question is, how has God called you? What has God put in you for the common good of the community?
Let’s be honest: we rank these functions differently most of the time. Leaders, preachers and teachers come first. They are the important ones. Encouragement, showing mercy and serving are optional ‘support’ roles for ‘leadership’ functions. The preachers and teachers and maybe leaders are the people who are ‘called to ministry.’
This practice – whether intentional or not – is a HUGE HINDRANCE to the value of total participation.
The Church of God must never primarily be a body in search of leaders, but rather one who believes that every single person who gathers in with us is an equally essential and valuable part of what God is doing.
The irony is, the more we search for leaders the fewer we seem to find, while if we will encourage and EXPECT the entire body to mutually discern their gifts and function, those people with the gifts and functions we are particularly seeking will show themselves.
It baffles me that we don’t get this…
We say, everything rises and falls on our leadership.
Everything rises and falls on TOTAL PARTICIPATION.
We think, if we just get our pastors healthy, our churches will be healthy.
Our congregations will be healthy ONLY when we have TOTAL PARTICIPATION. When everyone understands that they are the ministers, the disciples, the ambassadors to their workplace, family, etc…
Because Jesus, our authority, has arranged it that way.
Every one of us (equally!) belongs to one another.
None of us should think about ourselves as being more important, but rather in humility, recognize that whatever you are, it’s only because of God’s grace.
On the flip side, there are some in our bodies who should be encouraged not to think that they are less important.
I believe it is vital, however, that those who have the most influence lead the way. The preachers and teachers and elders and councils and committee chairs must believe this wholeheartedly and communicate it regularly.
Why? Because it’s the way of Jesus. The way his Spirit works.
Anything else will be an exercise in futility.