Alan Knox at The Assembling of the Church recently raised a good question concerning the place and function of itinerant ministers in the church. It got me to thinking about the benefits of having an outside worker. The saints I church with have recently been blessed to run across one such brother who has committed himself to help us in our going on with the Lord. At this point he is visiting us once a month. We spend the day together in fellowship, then have dinner together in the evening and a more formal meeting afterwards. Every time so far has been a great blessing and strength to the church.
As I see it this is the pattern of ministry shown in the New Testament. Men like Paul, Timothy, Gaius, and Peter were cleary itinerant, travelling often from place to place to raise up and strengthen the testimony of the Lord. None that I see ever settled down to become the resident priest or pastor over any assembly of believers.
I was convinced of both the scriptural-ness (is that a word?) of the travelling worker and the need for churches still today to benefit from this gift of the Lord long before I got to enjoy the actual experience of it. Now that we’ve been receiving visits from this brother I see more clearly the benefit of such a ministry.
First and foremost has been the opportunity to drink in the measure and experience of Christ from one who has not only enjoyed years in the church life himself but has also been called and sent by the Lord specifically to do His work (the Lord’s work is to raise up the church). This alone has been wonderful.
Second, the primary benefit of having an outside worker come in to minister to the church rather than a paid pastor (in the modern sense of the word) is that the saints are given help that does not make them overly dependent on the worker himself. It’s not like we’re gathering together every week to listen to a sermon from the same guy. No matter how great the message or how deep the revelation, this practice is simply unhealthy. The gifts of Ephesians 4 are given by the Lord to the church in order to equip the saints themselves to do the work of the ministry. As long as there is a professional minister standing in to do the job for them, most of the Lord’s people will never rise up to fulfill their God-given function in the local Body. That’s just how it is, unfortunately. Having a travelling worker who comes in from the outside to minister periodically accomplishes more of a practical equipping of the saints and safeguards against the fostering of an unhealthy dependence on himself. The brothers and sisters are conditioned to hold fast to the Head and not to one particularly gifted member of the Body. At least, this is what is proving itself true in my own experience. And I believe the scriptures show the same.