Sunday, 2 June 2019

Community Ministers - Ephesians 2:1 - 10

On the Titanic you could sale in the most opulent luxury available. Or if you were short on money you could make the crossing in 'steerage' below deck! Yet when the ship struck an iceberg and was sinking, all found themselves in the same boat: in need of saving! Ephesians 2 conveys the same blunt message: we are all in the same boat. We have all messed up. For all of us we can ask why should God bother with us, why not simply give us over to our fate? Our status, income, job are of no consequence.

Yet verse 4 cuts in 'but because' - because of God's great love, because of His great mercy ... He acted to save. Not because we deserved it - it was pure grace. And it is out of this that we can serve God and live in His purposes for us. Verse 10 reminds us that God has good stuff for us to do. None of us deserves to get to do it, but the free gift of God enables us to be saved, and therefore to serve.

So because of God we can! There is nothing for us to boast about - we bring nothing to the party. It stems from God's action. The good works were 'prepared in advance' - recall previously how it was always God's desire for us (tracing to Genesis 1). Of course we blew it and went off course, but God rich in mercy restores and re-enables us to serve.

Here at the Countess Free Church we serve flowing out of who we are in Christ and what He has done. It is not us trying to please God or be 'good enough', but on the basis of who He has already made us. God freely gave, so we freely give. That is why we see volunteering as gold dust! On an economic level it is of course highly valuable - just take any activity and multiply the hours by even minimum wage and you quickly get a bill of £000s. The government understands the value of the voluntary sector, and yet we see in prevailing culture a lack of value for people volunteering. Instead the sense is that 'only paid work counts'. So here at Countess Free Church we counter that, affirming an alternative value system. Whether it is the incalculable value of stay-at-home parents or living more simply to have time/space available, we encourage people to select carefully flowing from who we are in Christ, flowing from the riches of God's grace.

All of us can therefore contribute our time/talent/abilities and thus be community ministers. Since we are all in the same boat, we can all be community ministers on the same basis - we don't have to be 'special' or have some 'special status', we just have to get stuck in. Yet it is also not about filling every moment with activity - remember our 4th habit of 'Margin for Jesus' - leave space for Jesus to fill!

Some of us therefore act as a community minister even if we don't realise it or call ourselves as such. Yet there are some who go deeper with the concept. Feeling a clear sense of call on their lives they deliberately re-arrange how they do they life to facilitate their ministry. At Countess Free Church we encourage, recognise and affirm people who do that by looking for 4 key characteristics in a Community Minister: being Jesus-rooted, intentional, attending to discipleship and showing accountability. We set a baseline of people who give the equivalent of more than one day of a normal working week to ministry activity (usually voluntary, although it can be paid).

Some do this and do not need 'the badge'. Others find the designation of 'community minister' helpful, even having a literal physical badge with this title on for certain scenarios and breaking the ice in conversation. Yet for all it is about 'given lives' - people who give themselves to God's purposes in Christ. In this way at Countess Free Church we 'ordain the ordinary'.

Note verse 6 says 'God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms'. Think how big that is! God has raised (past tense) and seated with him in the heavenly realms. It is like we have a sort of seat in a heavenly parliament! So why do we not take our seat? We therefore want people who do stuff in the ordinary, but connected to the spiritual. They operate in the spiritual by praying, interceding, worshipping in a heavenly place in tandem with their volunteering on the ground. Recall again that this is to live spiritually (as per Genesis 1), maintaining strong spiritual rhythms and diets in order to do so. So for us at Countess Free Church to be a community minister is also an intensely spiritual activity, operating among the spiritual powers in order to see more of God's grace, riches and order here on the ground.

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