Ephesians 4, Quarantine, and the Church

I started preaching through Ephesians a few weeks before the Coronavirus pandemic. In study, I was struck by the Ephesians 4 model of church leadership and spiritual gifting in a new way. Before the phrase “social distancing” entered our lexicon, I held my annual reviews with staff and began to lay the groundwork for how we as pastors would begin adjusting our portfolios to match the task of equipping the church in a more deliberate fashion.

Then church services became a casualty of the near-global quarantine. Like every other church staff, we scrambled to retool our website, our social media strategy and the week’s schedule. It did not take long to discover the ways our budget was going to change and find all the holes in our church directory.

But, in what I think is a more substantial shift, as the church became accustomed to a new schedule and technology, this may be a time in which our pastoral priorities are being clarified.

Whether we intend it or not, our large gatherings can easily become a collection of consumers rather than a spiritual family gathered to worship and minister. Very few pastors would openly say that Sundays are primarily about them and the worship team, but it is simply a factor of human nature – people will slip into their most comfortable behaviors unless they feel a compelling reason to do something else. A good church experience, a quality worship team, and a better than average pastor will collect people who simply enjoy the experience.

We preach the priesthood of all believers and that God empowers all of his children for his service. Many congregants will nod in agreement and maybe even take a few steps in that direction. But pastors know they would like more and more Christians to find daily meaning and direction in their faith. In fact, we often work very hard to get that to happen.

Then the rug is pulled out from underneath us. Linus’s blanket is taken away from him. We no longer have our regular “check points” to touch base with people face-to-face. We begin to rely on technology, but it just is not the same and plenty of people have not liked our Facebook page. On a normal weekend, Christians who have basically ignored their faith for six days (or a few weeks) show up to a service and try to download a little bit of worship and Scripture and be on their way. Now, even that has changed.

But God is always up to something. He does not slumber, his eyes are not blind, and his arm is not weak that he cannot act. Christians may feel more disconnection than ever from the larger body of Christ, but it is possible that a new form of physical isolation can be an open door for the presence of God. Maybe God is even clarifying the role of pastor, so we see again the vital importance of equipping people to be maturing and ministering children of God. After all, Paul says God gave the roles of pastor and teacher to the church, “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12).

But God is always up to something. He does not slumber, his eyes are not blind, and his arm is not weak that he cannot act.

What are Congregations For?

The vision of what congregations are for in Ephesians 4:11-16 is, frankly, stunning. A congregation, with appropriate spiritual leadership, is intended for ministry, maturity, unity of the faith, speaking truth in love, and joining the whole family of God together into a temple of the living God. This is a much greater vision than a congregation that grows in order to support the personal platform of a pastor or staff.

Pastors rarely intend to treat a congregation as their own platform, but have we taken steps to be deliberate about presenting a vision of “every believer ministry” from Scripture? And even if we have, does our congregation have the vision and means to get to work? The door for treating church as an equipping ground for encouragement and ministry has been flung wide open.

What are Pulpits For?

In his important work, “A Time To Build”, Yuval Levin argues that people are losing their trust, and thus their interest, in institutions in part because leaders treat their positions as performative rather than formative. In this dysfunction, the group exists for the good of the leader instead of the other way around.

Paul talks about Christian spiritual leadership in terms of forming the body of Christ so we all can fulfill God’s vision for his kingdom. In a passage of overwhelming scope Paul says God created the church, “so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 3:10). I simply don’t see how that can be done if a pulpit is just a personal platform.

A pulpit teaches: a church should learn how to discern truth from falsehood. A pulpit proclaims: a congregation should be reminded of the warp and woof of the gospel continually. A pulpit models love: Christians need learn the difference between a worldly love and Christ-like love. And a pulpit should equip: a church can be inspired by the heavenly vision of what is possible with life in Christ and be motivated by the presence of the Spirit to walk in this new life.

A pulpit should equip: a church can be inspired by the heavenly vision of what is possible with life in Christ and be motivated by the presence of the Spirit to walk in this new life.

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