Thinking back upon my former church life experience, I have to admit we had our fair share of struggles and frustrations. So much of our experience was like being stuck in traffic, never quite able to get out of second gear. For one reason or another it was just difficult to gain the critical mass we needed for things to really take off. Nevertheless, there were some moments of glory and seasons of real progress, one of which I would like to consider for this post. Probably the greatest impetus forward we ever received was when we came into contact with a brother who became a kind of “apostle” to us from the Lord.
From the beginning of our assembly when it was only four of us coming together we had sought outside help, being convinced from scripture and the advice of others that this is vital to the health of any church. Problem was we were never able to get anyone in for a visit. We chalked this up to the fact that we were a small group living in the middle of nowhere. Still we plodded on. Eventually we came into contact with some churches in other parts of our state who benefited from the ministry of a certain brother (among others) who gives his life to the work of travelling and building up the saints. So one Sunday we drove to a meeting in a city two hours north of us to meet this man. We hit it off and talked about the possibility of his visiting our fledgling little group.
He did come to visit us, and then again, and again, and again over the course of the next five or six months. These visits were an incredible strength to our gathering. I learned a lot during this time just by observing about the nature and function of the apostolic gift (or itinerant worker, or church planter, or whatever you might call it). In Ephesians 4:16 Paul refers to this in context of the Body’s overall function. Here he likens the gifted members whom God gives for the saints’ perfecting to “joints” which connect and hold the members of the Body together. It’s a very subtle yet remarkable illustration, one which I got to observe very keenly in the brief span of time we were receiving visits from this brother.
During his visits we would block off the entire day for fellowship. Anyone who was free could come and go in our home throughout the day as they pleased. We ate together and had coffee. We sang songs and laughed a lot. In the evening we would sometimes have an informal meeting with a time of ministry; other times the fellowship was so fluid we didn’t even find it necessary to change things up in such a way. Through it all, we partook of Christ. The brother shared his experiences of the Lord and the church with us; he encouraged us and affirmed what spiritual reality he saw in our lives. He exhorted us to stay simple and remain free, and cautioned us against becoming sectarian or thinking ourselves to be any different or more special than anyone else. He modeled practical ways to fellowship with the Lord and always seemed careful never to go beyond that which he felt was to our particular benefit at the time.
What’s more, I noticed he had a way of forming connections between believers. Not just locally but between churches and saints in different localities, too. There was something about his ministry that joined people together. I saw this to be in line with what Paul was referring to in Ephesians when he wrote about the apostles, prophets, evangelists, and shepherds who act as joints connecting one part of the Body to another. It really is very practical.
Perhaps this hardly needs to be pointed out, but what I saw here stands in stark contrast to what is common in most churches throughout Christendom today. More often than not those who are set up to be leaders build walls between believers rather than encourage them to come together. Churches are formed along this or that party line with very little concern given to other brothers and sisters who are doing their own thing maybe just a couple blocks down the street. Suffice it to say that real ministry joins saints together in their locality, it does not drive a wedge of doctrine or any other thing between them.
At any rate, I feel especially blessed to have been able enjoy such a ministry, if only for a season. In our case it was perhaps too little too late in the way of establishing a more lasting testimony in my city, but for better or worse it was what it was and now it is what it is. I’m content to walk away from the experience knowing I gained more of Christ.