I wrote in “Participation” on February 17, 2014, that God’s work is not intended to be done by paid professionals. The wall in Nehemiah’s day wasn’t built by gifted wall-builders but by ordinary people from many other walks of life. Therefore, what is the mission of the church?
One answer is that since the church is composed of its people, then the church’s mission is the people’s mission: “make disciples.” Note, however, that when Jesus gave the “Great Commission,” he didn’t give it to an organized church. And when he told them in Matthew 28, “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you…” the disciples’ understanding of how to do that wasn’t an organized church model. Jesus had chosen 12 that they might be “with him and that he might send them out…” (Mark 3.13).
I propose that the mission of the church is in Ephesians 4.11, 12: “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,…” To say that the church’s mission is to make disciples is like saying that the mission of a trade school is to build houses. Instead, the mission of the trade school is to train, equip and empower plumbers, electricians, carpenters, roofers, etc. so that they can build houses.
When pastors misunderstand their mission, they try to do all the work themselves or mistakenly feel that they are the only ones who can do the work. When the people in the congregation misunderstand, thinking it’s the “church’s” job to make disciples in some magical way, they don’t actively participate other than to invite people to meetings. The result is that Jesus must still be saying, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.“
One of the great success stories in the Bible is Nehemiah building the wall around Jerusalem after the Babylonian captivity. There are many lessons, but a primary one is Participation.
Nehemiah succeeded in building the wall because he managed to get nearly full participation. Read Nehemiah chapter 3 and note the number and kinds of people that were busy working on the wall: priests (verse 1), goldsmiths and perfume-makers (verse 8), government officials and women (verse 9). Note that these were not necessarily “gifted” wall-builders. But they were all on the wall!
In the same way, the job of making disciples will not get done unless everyone is engaged in the spiritual multiplication process. Paul articulated the plan to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:2:
And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.
The coach’s job (Timothy) is to train teachers (“reliable men”) who will learn to teach others, thus multiplying their efforts. I can’t think of a job at any level where people who do the job aren’t expected to teach others.
I was at a car wash a few years ago, and I noticed a young man slowly wiping down my wheels. I thought to myself, he looks like a trainee. Sure enough, as I watched another man came around to watch. “Get that spot over there! Treat it like it was your car!” The trainer told me, “This is his first day. He’ll get better. It will take him 20 minutes to finish this car. I could do it in 5. It took me 20 minutes when I first started, too.” Here was a man who took pride in his work and pride in teaching the new guy how to take pride in his work. This was a car wash! He expected growth and competence from the new guy.
It should not be different in the church. Nehemiah’s wall was not built by a few paid professionals. Disciples won’t be made in large numbers by paid professionals either. It is their job to train everyone else to “Get on the wall.”