One of my children is a notoriously fast talker. Add a little sugar or caffeine and she’s really something else! Now if Heather and I are concentrating, we can track with her most times. But sometimes we have to “translate” if my parents are trying to follow her or other non-teenagers are listening. And to her credit, she knows how to slow it down if she needs to.
I thought of her when I read Ephesians 4. Verses 11-13 are one 76-word sentence that is like drinking from a fire hydrant. Verses 14-16 are even worse, a 94-word sentence that is even more overwhelming.
I want to try to “translate” for you today as we look at this key passage that grounds the things Mark talked about last week and the vision we believe God has given to our church for the coming year.
EPHESIANS: Grow and Care
One of the earlies Christian churches was in the city of Ephesus. The Apostle Paul was instrumental in founding that church and even pastored it for a period of several years. The book of Ephesians is a letter written to that church, but then meant to be circulated among the early Christians churches. It speaks to themes of unity, truth, and love. And in chapter four, in the verses we’ve heard today, it speaks to the themes Mark named for you last week: GROW and CARE. After hearing back from elders, staff, and the congregation, the direction we believe God is leading us is in these key areas of GROWING and CARING. Let’s look!
I said I would simplify and “translate” Paul’s two long sentences. Here’s the first one, boiled down to the key points, and then how I got there:
God gives leaders to the church to equip all the church to CARE and GROW.
Let’s look at Paul’s detail. I said “God gave leaders.” Paul breaks that out into five (or four) categories of leaders: apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers. Some scholars thing pastors and teachers are two distinct things; others think it’s a combination description since there is no “some as” before teachers. Some scholars think that apostles and prophets were a distinctive of the early church; others think we still have those roles today. I think we do have all of them in some form. Regardless, this is not the main point of this sentence; Paul is naming different types of leaders God has called and gifted, but it’s the next part that says WHY God has done that. And that is the main point, and that involves YOU.
God gave leaders “for the equipping of the saints.” You may not immediately recognize that you have been implicated and involved, but YOU are the saints he’s talking about there. The “saints” are the believers, the congregation, the ones set apart by Jesus as his Church. And the purpose of God giving the leaders is to EQUIP you for something.
There are two things listed for which you are to be equipped: the “work of service” and “the building up of the body of Christ.” It is these two things that I have labeled CARE (work of service) and GROW (building up the body). In this context, care is serving. It is not specified, but we can reasonably understand that from the Great Commandment to mean serving (that is, love in action) God and neighbors. God has given you leaders to equip you to love God and love others, that is, to CARE. And God has also given you leaders to equip you to build up the body of Christ. That is reasonably understood to mean both to grow deep and grow wide, to grow deeper in faith and to grow numerically so that more are included in the Body of Christ.
The rest of the long sentence describes how long we are to carry on this mission of caring and growing… it is until we grow up! It is until we attain to unity, knowledge, maturity, and the “full measure” of Christ. I don’t know exactly when that is, but we’re not there yet! I’m not there yet!
So all that is to say that God has called together leaders in this church and every church for the purpose of equipping you for the work God wants you to do: caring for God and others, and growing deeper and wider. Here’s my one sentence summary again, with a little extra definition.
God gives leaders to the church to equip all the church
to CARE (work of service and building up each other)
and GROW (unity and maturity).
Here’s the second even longer sentence:
SO, we are to GROW UP for the purpose of CARING.
As is his style, Paul says the same thing again in a slightly different way (it’s only his second sentence, after all!). This is the “if that is true, then here are the implications” sentence. That’s way he begins with “as a result.”
As a result, we are “no longer to be children.” How is that, Paul? Didn’t Jesus say we should be childlike? Why yes, but Jesus was talking about a simple faith, not an immature or simplistic one. And Paul defines what he means here: we are no longer to be “tossed here are there and carried about” by trickery, deceit, and scheming.
Rather, he says again that we are to GROW UP in every way, in “all aspects” into Christ. And he has two sub-definitions of how we do that. Again, it’s through GROWING and CARING. First, the caring: we are to “speak the truth in love.” What we say matters; and how we say it matters. This is part of Christian maturity, but it’s also part of our Christian responsibility. Speaking and acting that way will help guard us and others against being deceived and it will help us grow up in faith.
Secondly, when we grow up in Christ we will work together like a body, with each member of the body working and functioning to make a healthy whole. Paul overlaps concepts of growing and caring here to talk about the body “building up itself in love.”
Here’s how I put it again, with a little extra definition as a reminder of what Paul means:
SO, we are to GROW UP (no longer children, easily deceived)
for the purpose of CARING (building up each other in love)
VISION 2020: Grow and Care
So with those two sentences before us, let me revisit some of what Mark named last week. The session and staff, building on congregational feedback, identified four areas of vision for the coming year. Two had to do with GROWING and two had to do with CARING. I hope you will be energized for this vision. My role, and even the elder’s roles, are to equip you for this vision and join you along the way.
Grow in Christ: DEEP
God wants His church to grow deep, to grow up and attain maturity. There are a number of ways to do this: Sunday school, Bible studies, discipleship opportunities, youth group, Kids’ club, and more. My challenge to you is to prioritize growing deep and find one or more places your own faith can be challenged, stretched, and grown.
Grow our church family: WIDE
God wants His church to grow wide. This doesn’t mean going from 150 to a mega-church. But it does mean being faithful to reach out, connect, and multiply as God gives us opportunity. We are a neighborhood church. To do that faithfully means we need to be good neighbors. We must open our doors, talk to those who use our facilities (there are so many!), invite folks in, and carry the light and hope of Christ out. Good Shepherd should not be the best kept secret in South Charlotte; we should be the worst! We have so much to offer that we should find ourselves goofily unable to stop talking about it.
Did you know that the number one way people join churches – by a factor of 10x – is through personal invitation: “Hey, will you come to church with me this Sunday?” By a factor of 10! Tell people about our fantastic preschool; tell people about our wonderful music; find ways to support our great youth and children’s ministry. Of course it is not about getting the name of Good Shepherd out there, but about Jesus. But I believe God is so faithful to show up here and move among us; what better reason to grow wide than with the message, “Hey, come with me to church; God shows up there!”
Care for our members: IN
God wants us to care for those inside our walls. And we love to do that. We continue to have a wealth of opportunities to connect and care for one another. You don’t have to do it all. Let me say that again: you don’t have to do it all! But by all means do some. Fellowship and community are defining characteristics of the Body of Christ. You only get a small taste of that in worship. Come to social events; find a small group; embrace the call from your deacon. Help us know when something is going on in your life so that we can pray and connect and care.
Care for our community: OUT
God also wants us to care for those outside our walls. I know there are only so many of us, so we try to be selective about how many outreach activities we have. And we’ve had a lot in the last six weeks. But we were also trying some new things. Again, you don’t have to do it all! But by all means do some. We are trying to move to a more project-based approach to outreach (and other) endeavors. We know most people don’t want to attend monthly meetings, but are willing to support a one-time effort like the Christmas Shoppe or Kids Movie Night. Thank you! That is the work of the church and you are the church!
Care is not only collective; it is also one-on-one. It’s your conversations at the grocery store, at school, at work, at play. It’s not only sharing the Good News about Jesus, but showing the love of Christ. We’ve talked this summer and fall about putting ourselves in others’ shoes as part of being a good neighbor. That’s compassion, which is another word for care. Paul talks about mature faith in Ephesians. Mature caring is both inward and outward and that kind of maturity is part of our vision for Good Shepherd.
Over the next two weeks we are going to ask you to consider your financial commitment to the church. To that and as a foundation for that I’d ask you to reflect, challenge, and commit personally to these themes of GROW and CARE in the coming year. They are marks of a lively and maturing faith. They are the reason God calls people like me to be a pastor and teacher. They are God’s vision for the Body of Christ in the world.
Where and how do you need to grow in the coming year?
Where and how will God use you to care in the coming year?
And how can we combine that together to be the church God wants us to be?
It is my joy and privilege to be your equipment manager, your coach, your pastor-teacher. I really do think you are pretty fantastic! Amen!
- HYMN: O God, in Whom All Life Begins
- These Hands (Deyo)
- CHOIR: God’s Mercy is Wide (arr. Choplin)
- Build Your Kingdom Here (Rend Collective)