by Loren Gjesdal

The church has been my world. It has been my primary social circle, the highlight event of my week, and the most rewarding place to labor. Church has been my safe sanctuary from a declining culture. No longer.

Paul tells the Ephesian church that the leadership gifts of the Spirit are given by God for “the equipping of the saints for the work of service….” (Eph 4:12). The church is to be much more than a place of sanctuary, it is to be a place of training.

This means that as a church leader, I don’t come just to enjoy the fellowship of the saints or even to meet their needs, but rather I come to help each one be prepared to effectively engage the exterior world every day of the week. This requires not just a culture change within my heart but a change of perspective in the whole church, from leadership to laity, from the pulpit to the pew.

Transitioning from an Inward Focused Sanctuary to an Outward Focused Training Center

Greg Ogden describes in his book Unfinished Business: Returning the Ministry to the People of God, that transitioning a church from an inward focused sanctuary to an outward focused training center involves moving to small-group based, team ministry that is missional—dedicated to “compassionate service and evangelism.”[1]

This requires each church member to change their perspective about themselves. They are no longer to be passive recipients of the ministry of a chosen few but rather “vital channels through who God mediates His life to other members of the body of Christ and to the world.”[2]

In this everybody-in culture, the pastor and church leaders are no longer the ones who do all the ministry, but rather become “player-coaches” that equip each member to use the gifts God has given them effectively. In his book Shepherding the Church, Joseph Stowell puts the new attitude this way: “…as His body we all play a different part in the function. Scripture knows of no place for loners, wall-flowers, bench-sitters, or marginalized participants in the body of Christ.”[3]

Communicating to the Culture Outside the Church

To be an effective player-coach, I need to not just transform the cultural expectations within the church, but also understand and be able to communicate to the culture outside the church.  We live in a pluralistic culture “grounded in a deep-rooted relativism.”[4] The result is that within and without the church there is “pressure to treat religion as a hobby,”[5] to see all religions (or no religion) as roughly the same, and any claims to truth as matters of personal opinion.

To communicate absolute truth and exclusivity (i.e. John 14:6) in this environment requires apologetic tools, a willingness to endure rejection, and perseverance in living lives so well “that the culture can no longer ignore the truth claims of our belief system.”[6] I am training each member, as Jesus put it, to let their “…light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Mat 5:16).

Seeing Ourselves as Ministers and Living Out Transformed Lives

Thinking of the church as community and family is Biblical and essential. It should be a place of nurture and encouragement, but it is to be so much more. I have had to come to grips with the culture of the church ingrained in my own heart that inhibits member maturation as well as cultural impact. I need to leave the comforting cocoon of the church walls and engage the culture I have avoided, as does the rest of the church.

To engage effectively we will each need to see ourselves as ministers and live out transformed lives in full view of our friends, neighbors and co-workers. We will need to teach, train, support, and encourage each other along the way.  We will need to do it together—all of God’s children sharing their Father’s heart and joining Him in His work.