Everybody Gets to Play

I preached this morning on this basic Vineyard concept, both what it means and what it should mean. You can listen to it here.

Ephesians 4.1-16    

 [4:1] I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, [2] with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, [3] eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. [4] There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—[5] one Lord, one faith, one baptism, [6] one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. [7] But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. [8] Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.”

[9] (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? [10] He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) [11] And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, [12] to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, [13] until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, [14] so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. [15] Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, [16] from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

Think about what happened in the Gospels when Jesus encountered a person. Peter. Matthew. Mary Magdalene. The naked, homeless man living out in the graveyard with a legion of demons in him. Jesus encounters them and what happens? They are never the same again. They go from quietly going about their own business to going about the business of building Jesus’ kingdom. They engage in the work of ministry. To enter into relationship with Jesus is to enter into ministry. I want to talk to you this morning about what it has meant in the Vineyard when we use this phrase, “everybody gets to play.” I also want to talk to you about what it has not meant, but needs to, if we are really going to consistently live this way and not live out a self-contradiction.

Like we talked about and practiced a bit last week, Vineyard churches focus on hearing God speak specific things to us relating to needs people have in their lives. These words of knowledge or prophetic words direct our prayers and afford us opportunities to see God come in power and do stuff in people’s lives. Those answers to prayer do immediate and long range work in the lives of those God touches, meeting the need they have at the moment and also deepening their relationship with God. Those moments, those power points, become pivot points, launching points, moments that propel people into living closer with God. There is no substitute for when God shows up in power and does real work in someone’s life. We want to be continually creating space and opportunity for God to work in these ways. We believe God speaks to us through each other, that God chooses to do His work through us. We also recognize that we can and often do get in God’s way, preventing and hindering what God wants to do. We want to get out of the way and let the Spirit do what the Spirit wants to do. And we want to be part of what the Spirit is doing.

So everybody gets to play. That leads to the first thing I want us to note about this passage, this phrase “grace was given… according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” By talking about ascension after this, Paul lets us know that what he has in mind here is the Holy Spirit, the gift Jesus promised to leave with us when he ascended. We can also see this because Paul uses the word “grace” here. There was a problem in the early church with spiritual gifts – note that term “spiritual” – which in the Greek, just as in English has “spirit” in its root. In his first letter to Corinth, Paul quotes a number of erroneous things they were teaching (a report had gotten back to him) and then builds his letter around refuting those teachings. In one of them, some of the Corinthians were regarding themselves as more “spiritual” because they demonstrated certain expressions, like tongues. In explaining to them that no expressions are greater than others, Paul replaced “spiritual” with the word “charisma” which means grace. He did this to emphasize that these expressions are not the result of any natural ability, they are not a cause for any pride or preferential treatment. They don’t make one more spiritual, they’re gifts not achievements. “Gift” became Paul’s terminology for all the various ways the Spirit enables us for ministry, as we see here in Eph. These days we call them “spiritual gifts” which sort of keeps Paul’s correction in our minds, but also sort of opens us up to Corinth’s error.

We began talking about this last week, how you don’t need any special personal traits or skills for God to use you, for the Spirit to minister through you to others. Everything you need is given to you when Jesus equips you for ministry. That’s right – for ministry. I want each of you to begin thinking and talking in terms of your ministry and in terms of our ministry. You have been called to a personal ministry. Let me repeat that. You have been called to a personal ministry. We have also been called to do ministry together. This involves both an intersection of our personal ministries and a corporate ministry that is not identical with any one of us. This is not the way it has been for most of the history of the church, but it is not supposed to be the case that I am the minister and you are laity, or whatever. The NT makes a couple things clear on this. One is that Jesus was the last priest, the last one to make atonement for sins, the last one to stand between God and man representing each for the other. At the same time, we – all of us who follow Jesus – are priests. The priesthood of all believers means, not that we take Jesus’ place in this role (which He alone can fill!), but that we lift Jesus up and glorify Him in his role as The Last Priest. But as I said, the church throughout history has done its dead level best to ignore this essential teaching. Clergy have too often seen it as a threat to their own power. But this can only be an issue when a priest/pastor/minister is interested in building his own little kingdom, instead of the kingdom of God. Everybody gets to play means that all of us engage in the work of ministry. That all we do should be and should be regarded as ministry. This includes how we pray for people, which is what it has meant to be Vineyard. It also extends beyond our prayer model to everything else we do, which is what it should also mean to be Vineyard. 

Everybody gets to play. Let’s talk about what we want to mean by play. I think this word was chosen to acknowledge that getting to be part of what God is doing is pretty cool. Like we talked about last week, who wouldn’t want the chance to walk on water? (Other than the 11 who passed it up.) It is some kind of awesome when the Spirit touches someone’s life through the words you speak, through the prayer you pray. When you feel heat pulsing through your hand like energy going through you to someone else, that’s pretty neat. It’s okay to say that. It’s okay to enjoy it. And I like the word play here – but I want us to be clear on this, this is play that is serious business. Don’t think of play like playing in a sandbox. Thinking of it like playing pro sports. It is play, but there is also something at stake.

Note the word “measure” here and specifically what/who the basis for measure is: Christ’s gift and the stature of Christ. In the first sentence, this means a portioned amount. Like all of us walking through the buffet line and getting the same scoop of mashed potatoes. The measure is not conditioned by us, but by Christ’s gift. And how does Christ give? He gives freely, completely, sufficiently, lavishly. He pours out His Spirit on all of us without prejudice or limitation. This goes back to what I was talking about before. Each of us has been given the ability to play. We have been given the Spirit and all the gifts that go with that and thus are able to ‘play’ this ‘game’ at the highest level.

The second measure is also significant. We are not measured against each other or even against our own potential. Again, the measure is not conditioned by us, but here by Christ’s stature. He determines both the abundance of the grace we receive and the standard by which we are measured. This is what I meant by pro sports. We aren’t just invited to play, we’re invited to play at the highest level and are measured by the highest standard. Like playing basketball and always being compared to Michael Jordan. Remember, Jesus said we would do the same things He did and even greater things. Professional athletes are naturally physically gifted. And they also train relentlessly. There are some who scoot by mostly on talent and others who make up for a lack of talent with extra hard work. But the best players are the ones who combine superior gifting and rigorous training, practicing their game all the time. We already have the superior gifting – all of us have the full measure of the Spirit’s empowerment. What remains is to train, to get equipped, to practice, practicepractice. So while the Spirit gives us the gifts we need to do the work of the kingdom, there is still equipping to be done. We still have to learn to grow into these gifts, to hone what the Spirit has given us, become skilled in the ministries we have been called and gifted for.

We can think of all this more easily as it relates to how we pray for people in the Vineyard, how we participate in those moments when God draws close to touch someone. That is certainly part of what I want you to take away this morning, a deeper sense of the value and importance of your ministry as it relates to the life of our community. That has been a main part of what it has meant to be a Vineyard church from the movement’s inception. But that is not all I mean. This also needs to inform how we grow together as one body. Notice that in our passage. “we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, [16] from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

Everybody gets to play needs to mean more than what happens during prayer time on Sunday morning. It also needs to be central to how we are put together as a body. I was talking to an author this past week, a man I respect, but also a man who has been highly critical of the Vineyard. We were talking about this very concept, everybody gets to play, and he said, in his experience with the Vineyard, it seemed that “pastor is king.” Now please understand. I know very little about how things were before I came. I’m not talking about that at all. But there is a tendency in the church, from the second century on, for leadership to be hierarchical and to become more so over time. [For more on this, read this excellent article.] I think my friend had a point. The Vineyard has not been immune to that trend. I want us to be very intentional about not doing that – but more than that – I want us to be intentional about building a church where Christ is the head and we are all various body parts doing the ministry we are called, gifted, and equipped to do, so that our body is knit together and grows in a loving, self-sustaining way.

I should also tell you that I don’t know exactly what that looks like. Aside from some small Quaker groups who pretty much just sit around and stare at each other, no one does it this way. The thinking is that growth follows strong, centralized leadership, that one person (in this case me) sets the vision and agenda and by the power of his or her charisma grows the group. But that is a totally different kind of charisma than what Paul was talking about. The Spirit had already begun to give our elders a vision before I came, one that not just so happened to have a deep affinity with these values that I’m so keen on. As I understand it, my role is sow these values into you until they become thoroughly embedded in our DNA, to equip you to do your ministry/our ministry.

So what does this mean in practical terms? The first thing it means is that as soon as we can find a new space to rent, we are going to start meeting on Sunday morning and on Wednesday night. The Wednesday night time especially is going to focus on equipping. My hope is that in a few months two or three home groups will emerge out of that with leaders who feel called, equipped, and ready to go and the Wednesday night service will have a group of new people who want/need equipping.

People who are looking to grow in Christ, not just go to church, this might be a good fit for them.

People who feel stifled in their ministry, who feel like someone over them says “no” an awful lot, this might be a good fit for them.

People who feel called to leadership in the church, but don’t know what to do with that, this might be a good fit for them.

People who have been hurt in typical hierarchical church systems, this might be a good fit for them. This is one I feel strongly about. We’ll talk about this more in a couple of weeks, but just know that there are a lot of people who keep their distance from Jesus because of bad church stuff. And I don’t primarily mean the headline grabbing stuff. Most of it is much more mundane, but still very painful. One advantage of this approach (besides being biblical) is that it creates a safe space to grow. Another for us, is that it really is the only way to live in alignment with our Vineyard values

Three assignments this week:

1. Begin a conversation with God about your ministry

2. Look for people like that and invite them

3. “Can I pray for you right now?” – practice, practice, practice

One thought on “Everybody Gets to Play

Comments are closed.