the weblog of Alan Knox

Attendees or Ministers?

Posted by on Mar 25, 2008 in edification, gathering, service, spiritual gifts | 10 comments

Recently, a friend of Jeremy’s (my son) used a word that I had not heard before: Chreaster. Apparently, a Chreaster is someone who attends church meetings on special holidays like Christmas and Easter, thus “Chreaster”. In a recent article about Chreasters, a reporter comments:

The usual response of church leaders is, “Oh, well, at least they get it right twice a year.”

I understand his comment, and I agree that this is probably the usual response of many church leaders. Many are excited to have extra attendees on special holidays, and most would admit that its better for people to attend twice a year than never attend at all.

However, I think this response reveals a mistaken understanding of the church meeting – assigning a sacramental value to merely attending a church meeting. In fact, I would suggest that there is very little value in merely attending any and every church meeting, even if someone attending every church meeting held during the year.

Yes, I realize that this is a broad and general statement. But, if our goal is for people to merely gather together, to listen and sing along to some songs and to listen to a sermon, then Chreasters and even regular attendees meet our goal.

But, if our purpose in meeting together is edification, then attendance at a meeting does not accomplish that goal. Instead of attenders, we should desire to see our meetings filled with servants (ministers) who use their spiritual gifts in order to build up one another and help one another grow in maturity toward Jesus Christ – whether there are two servants present or more. Attendance is not our purpose. Edification must be our purpose. (See my post “But I have perfect attendance…“.)

As I was thinking about the difference between attendance and mutual ministry, I remembered this passage from Peter O’Brien’s commentary The Letter to the Ephesians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999) in the Pillar New Testament Commentary series. In this passage, O’Brien is discussing Ephesians 4:7-16, specifically vs 12-13, and the difference between the “special ministers” of 4:11 (apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors and teachers) and other “ministers”:

[T]he letter as a whole has emphasized Christ’s riches being received by all the saints (1:3; 3:20), while the immediate context of vv. 7-16 is framed by an insistence at the beginning of the paragraph that each believer was given ‘grace’ (v. 7), and at its conclusion that the whole body is growing from the head as each part (v. 16) does its work. If it is only the leaders of v. 11 who perfect the saints, do the work of ministry, and edify the body of Christ, then this is a departure from Paul’s usual insistence that every member is equipped for ministry. It is better, therefore, to regard those enumerated in v. 11 as helping and directing other members of the church so that all may carry out their several ministries for the good of the whole. (pg. 301, emphasis in original)

Thus, we can have as many attenders as we like, but they do nothing to edify the body. What we need, instead, are those who are willing to spend the time, energy, and preparation necessary to know others, to serve others, to help others, to teach others, to guide others, to speak to others, etc.

There are certainly times when I gather with the church in which I have nothing to say and nothing to do to serve others. This happens occasionally. There are times when God brings me together with other believers because I need to be served. However, if this happens week after week, month after month, year after year… there is something wrong. God brings me together with other believers to benefit them, not only for my own benefit and certainly not to simply attend a meeting.

Helping Chreasters become regular attenders may be good, but it is not the goal. Instead, we should help all believers use their gifts and give all believers opportunity to use their gifts to build up others during the meeting of the church. God does not call together attendees; he calls together ministers.


10 Comments

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  1. 3-25-2008

    Wonderfully put Alan!
    I really enjoyed this post.
    I believe we as ministers should strive to make commited disciples of Christ.
    Keep up the great post and challenging us to think about how to reach out those who need Jesus.
    I pray that God will bless you, your family and ministry as you do His will.
    I hope you have a wonderful week!
    In Him,
    Kinney Mabry
    Aka,
    Preacherman! :-)

  2. 3-25-2008

    At the rate you’re going, Alan, I don’t think you’ll be able to remain southern baptist for very long ;) hehe

    Great post, brother!

  3. 3-26-2008

    Amen, Alan.

    How do cessationists look at spiritual gifts in this context?

  4. 3-26-2008

    Kinney,

    I agree. In fact, I think that part of discipling people is teaching them, encouraging them, and helping them to use their gifts to serve others. I don’t think this part of discipleship is done nearly enough.

    Steve,

    So far, baptists have been content spelling out their beliefs, without getting into practice too much. I’m safely within those boundaries. Of course, some baptists want to spell out baptist practices too. If that happens, I may be in trouble.

    Bryan,

    I think cessationists believe that some spiritual gifts remain. So, this should still apply to them… I guess.

    Ruth,

    I agree that believers should go out into the world in order to reach the lost. This post was primarily about what happens when church – that is, believers – meet together.

    -Alan

  5. 3-26-2008

    Alan,

    I am new to your blog. Found it through the SBC Blog Madness. I really liked this post. Especially this quote: God does not call together attendees; he calls together ministers.

    I have a question for you. Are all of the gifts (whether a cessationist or not) meant to be used when the church gathers? Meaning, how would someone with a gift of “utterance of wisdom” be used in our typical services? Perhaps, that is what you are suggesting, that our typical services should become atypical so that there is room for the exercising of all these gifts to edify.

  6. 3-26-2008

    Mike,

    Welcome to my blog! If Scripture teaches that believers should exercise their gifts with the goal of edifying one another when the church meets, and if the format of our church meetings do not allow for this, then yes, I think the format of our church meetings should change so that we can obey what we are taught in Scripture.

    By the way, I don’t usually spend alot of time on SBC related blogs, so I’m completely at a loss: What is “SBC Blog Madness”?

    -Alan

  7. 3-27-2008

    Alan,

    Let me rephrase my question just a little…do you think that all of the gifts mentioned in Scripture are meant to be exercised during the gathering of believers?

    You can check out the SBC Blog Madness, here.

  8. 3-27-2008

    Mike,

    Thanks for the link. I had not heard of the SBC Blog Madness.

    You asked, “Do you think that all of the gifts mentioned in Scripture are meant to be exercised during the gathering of believers?” I believe that when believers gather together, all believers should be given opportunity to speak and to serve one another – using the broadest categories of gifts from 1 Peter 4. I believe that it is up to the direction of the Spirit to prompt each person as to how and when they should speak/serve, to determine how to speaking/serving benefits others (teaching, encouragement, admonishment, etc), and also to guide others in discerning what is said/done.

    Unfortunately, I think the normal church meetings today do not allow for the working of each part (Eph 4:15-16) and lead believers to assume that only specially trained people can speak to and serve the church in order to build up one another. Therefore, we teach people to rely on leaders instead of teaching them to rely on God.

    That’s as short of an answer as I can give for now. You may be interested in reading some of my past posts on this subject, especially under the labels “gathering” and “edification”. Thanks for the question!

    -Alan

  9. 5-25-2011

    Hi Alan:
    Thanks for this post. It made me think, which is more and more difficult for this old man. Having said that, I’m not sure, but I think I may take some issue with one of your thoughts. I too am new to your work, and knowing myself as I do, I may be seeing your post through my own stilted grid, but it seems preaching, the sacraments (ordinances), and in general the Sunday meeting may be getting short-changed a bit.

    You write:

    “However, I think this response reveals a mistaken understanding of the church meeting – assigning a sacramental value to merely attending a church meeting. In fact, I would suggest that there is very little value in merely attending any and every church meeting, even if someone attending every church meeting held during the year.

    Yes, I realize that this is a broad and general statement. But, if our goal is for people to merely gather together, to listen and sing along to some songs and to listen to a sermon, then Chreasters and even regular attendees meet our goal.”

    Hmmm, I’m not sure I know any pastor who thinks that Sunday is just a ho-hum gathering meant to sing along and listen to a sermon. As pastors, we invest too much in prayer and preparation for this view. For myself, I am truly attempting (not always successfully) to lead my heart and those hearts who congregate to a focused meeting with the Almighty.

    Let me offer an example of what I mean. I recently came across this Bonhoeffer quote on preaching:

    “Christ is not only present in the word of the church but also as the word of the church, i.e. as the spoken word of preaching. ‘In the word’ might say to little, if it made it possible to separate Christ from his word. The whole Christ is present in preaching, Christ humiliated and Christ exalted. His presence is not that power of the community or its objective spirit from which preaching is made, but his existence as preaching. Were that not so, preaching could not have the prominent place accorded to it by the Reformation. This place belongs to even the simplest preaching. Preaching is the riches and poverty of the church. It is the form of the presence of Christ to which we are found and to which we keep.” (emphasis his)

    Elsewhere he wrote this: “The word of the sermon has, and is, the presence of Christ.”

    If our meetings are not in some way sacramental (and I mean this in the broadest sense of the word), what in the world are we doing?

  10. 5-25-2011

    Mark,

    Thanks for the comment. This post was intended to help people think about our purpose in meeting together as a church. I think Scripture shows that that purpose is to build up one another toward maturity in Jesus Christ. There is nothing gained by simply attending a meeting, even if others in the meeting intend for something else to occur. The purpose of my blog is to examine what Scripture says about the gathered church. So far, I’ve found that the modern church looks and acts much differently than the church we find in Scripture.

    -Alan

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