After yesterday’s message, some felt I was bashing Seminaries and Bible Schools too much, and I apologize if it seemed that way. I just want to see our churches “come to maturity” in the faith, because when they do, we won’t need all of those para-church institutions. Now people often ask me about my training. Wondering which Seminary or Bible School I had attended and after a polite chuckle, I explain that I attended the same school as the Apostle Paul: the School of the Holy Ghost.
Well, that is my usual response (which will often irritate people), but like I just said, I have nothing against Seminaries or Bible Training Centers, they indeed fill a need in the Church; it is just not the direction the Lord has led me. I also do not believe the Lord has intended it for His Church. Although, we have to be careful not to take away the crutches from weak people. There is no reason to oppose the seminaries, the youth organizations, and the others; they are helping to hold us up. But when the Church finds healing, the crutches will drop away.
But be that as it may, take a look at Hebrews (and, like you, I have read this so many times I can’t remember), but I was reading this recently and something jumped out at me. It is from the eighth chapter of Hebrews (this one from The Message):
“But Jesus’ priestly work far surpasses what these other priests do, since he is working from a far better plan. If the first plan-the old covenant-had worked out, a second would not have been needed. But we know the first was found wanting, because God said, Heads up! The days are coming when I will set up a new plan for dealing with Israel and Judah. I will throw out the old plan I set up with their ancestors when I led them by the hand out of Egypt. They didn’t keep their part of the bargain, so I looked away and let it go. This new plan I’m making with Israel isn’t going to be written on paper, isn’t going to be chiseled in stone; This time I’m writing out the plan in them, carving it on the lining of their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.
[Now here’s the part that hit me . . .]
“They won’t go to school to learn about me, or buy a book called ‘God in Five Easy Lessons.’ They will all get to know me firsthand, the little and the big, the small and the great. They will get to know me by being kindly forgiven, with the slate of their sins forever wiped clean.”
Isn’t that cool? That same Holy Spirit is in YOU! One of His roles in your life is as a teacher–and His responsibility is to lead you into all the truth. Yippee! Start letting him teach you . . . then as Paul wrote in another letter, “You can teach others about God’s care and love for them”!
The Church will be able to heal itself once its leadership takes hold of this message. Paul explains a progression in I Corinthians 12:28: “God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues.”
It is easy to ignore the “first . . . second . . . third . . . then . . . then” until we begin thinking about growth. In fact, most people consider their ministry to be quite mature if it includes healing, administration, and tongues. But those are actually on the lowest rung of the ladder.
Think of it as a pyramid. The apostle was a man who also prophesied, taught, worked miracles and healings, helped, administrated, and spoke in tongues. Now maybe you can see why the family of God doesn’t always run very smoothly. In most families, the first child is two or three years old when the second child comes along (unless you have the first two at the same time, like we did). When the third child comes, the second is a toddler and the first is almost ready for school. (Sure, sure, I am being general here, okay?) My point is that in the church, when the second child comes along, the first child is still a baby. The more children born into the church, the more diapers we have to change all at once.
However, if everyone is growing, shepherds and sheep alike, there is harmony. Look at Paul. He wasn’t an apostle from the beginning. He was just a disciple who witnessed in the churches. He apparently first spoke in tongues when Ananias laid his hands on him (Acts 9). He kept growing. By Acts 11 and 12, he was a helper to Barnabas. Then came healing and miracles, and in Acts 13:1 he is listed among the prophets and teachers in Antioch.— Then he was sent out as an apostle.
Every Christian’s ministry develops along this channel. But do you know what happens in the modern church? The Pastor stops somewhere along the way; they know how to speak in tongues, to administrate, to help, to have some healings, or even to teach—but then they stop moving. They become corks. The sheep grow and grow and start jamming up behind him, unable to grow further until he grows some more. They keep listening to his sermons, soon they know everything he knows, the people fill their notebooks and their heads, and the ones with fat notebooks and full heads are the spiritual winners. (No, I did not say what you thought I said!). They have nothing but a pressure chamber.
The pastor isn’t a cork intentionally; he is a victim of the structure like everyone else. It has always been done that way. All of this is avoided, of course, if the pastor keeps on growing to apostleship and the sheep keep growing right behind him.
If a pastor is truly a father to his congregation, he can’t be changed every two or three years. What family changes fathers every two years? Okay sure, maybe some of you wish you could have changed your father every two years, but that is not the way the Church is to function. Maybe our churches are more like clubs that elect presidents for a certain term and then elect someone else. But if we are a family, we stay together. The father keeps turning over responsibilities to his sons as they grow.
Eventually, the minister is ready to be sent out as an apostle, which is what happened to Paul and Barnabas in Acts 13. They had become master builders of the church; they had been through all the stages. Now they were ready to plant new churches.
In the modern upside-down church, who is sent out to plant new churches? The young men fresh out of seminary! They don’t know what they are doing. They are supposed to be planting growing orchards, but they end up being more like fruit stands on the corner. It has to be supplied continually from the outside. It couldn’t produce any life of its own. Every time they have to go somewhere, they have to call another pastor and say, “Please come and preach in my fruit stand because I am going on vacation.”
Paul and Barnabas were equipped to plant growing, living orchards. They stayed a few months in each place and then moved on. After a couple of years, Paul said, “Let’s return and visit the brethren in every city we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are” (Acts 15:36). They went back—and the orchards were still there and growing.
After Paul had been in Thessalonica, he wrote back to say, “Not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith toward God has gone forth, so that we have no need to say anything. For they themselves report about us what kind of a reception we had with you” (I Thessalonians 1:8, 9).
It’s obvious, isn’t it? Why, back in Antioch the Holy Spirit didn’t say, “Set apart that nice young fellow who plays the organ.” He said, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul”—two of the principal ministers—”for the work to which I have called them” —Acts 13:2.
Today we are all upside down. The successful pastor is the one who stays in one place every Sunday of the year for the longest number of years. In the primitive church, the successful pastor was the one who could cause his disciples to grow faster and better which would then allow him to move on to a new task. Not because he was kicked out, but because he could now leave that church in the hands of his sons and get out to other regions. He could always come home, as Paul came home to Antioch.
We must all grow up. We must leave our permanent childhood and absorb solid food until we are equipped ourselves and are equipping others to spread the Kingdom of God.
With these Morning Messages, I take you on guided tours to, as Bunyan described, the Celestial City. At times we linger at corners familiar and unseen. And explore the depths of our faith along the way.
The trail is long, but there’s no hurry. Though we do need to stock up on supplies for the way, and that’s where I need your help. If you enjoy these messages, please consider becoming a contributing member of this tour group. It will be very much appreciated.