About a year and a half ago, I wrote a post called “Attendees or Ministers?” There is problem in the contemporary church (although the problem is not a recent church). In general, we consider some to be ministers while others are not considered ministers. Minister simply means servant. The two words are completely interchangeable. It is interesting reading through the NT and seeing where the translators decided to use “minister” and where they decided to use “servant.” This decision says more about our contemporary mis-understanding of “ministry” than it says about the underlying text.
Are you a child of God? If you are, then you are a minister.
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.