Summary: God uses the local church to grow baby Christians into mature Christians.
God has designed His church to function like a loving family that you can invite people into. Church is not a place to issue edicts; church is a place to nurture growth. Church is a place for shepherds, not generals. Church is a place that exists for the purpose of helping people grow and mature from being spiritual babies to being spiritual adults.
Now, I’m not knocking babies. I love babies! Babies are always beautiful, even when they’re ugly. Whenever a mother brings a newborn infant into the church for the first time, smiles widen and a crowd forms. Right? People swarm around to see and to touch and to coo and to beg for permission to hold this little package of joy in their arms. Babies are great.
I love toddlers, too. I think the best entertainment in all the world is to sit and watch a little one, like Madison Erbaugh or Joshua Lopez, putter around and explore their world, and hear them giggle for glee when you toss them into the air and catch them on the way down. That’s great fun!
God loves infants and toddlers, as well. Jesus praised little children for their humble and trusting faith (Matthew 18:3,6), He opened His arms so they could come to Him, and warned people not to ever harm them. Jesus loves babies a lot!
But nobody thinks it’s cute when a person remains a baby for too long. If a small child never learns to walk and talk, never figures out how to feed himself, never outgrows his need for diapers, it’s a sign that something is terribly wrong. If your baby were to ever stop growing up to maturity, you’d call it a tragedy. If your teenagers were still acting just as immature as they did before they turned two, you’d be on the phone looking for professional help. Why? Because although we all love babies, we expect every baby to grow.
When God calls us to be His children, we all start out as spiritual babies. Jesus said that before we can ever be a part of God’s family and enter heaven, we must be born again (John 3:3). The apostle Peter tells us that we all start out our Christian lives as "newborn babies" who need the pure milk of the Word. (1 Peter 2:2). That is our spiritual starting point for all of us.
But God does not want any of His children to remain baby-like forever. Just like every other father does, our Father in Heaven wants His children to grow! Specifically, God wants us all to grow up and to mature by continually becoming more like His first and favorite Son, Jesus Christ.
I invite you to open your Bible to Ephesians 4:11-16. This portion of Scripture that we will be studying today explains this concept of growth perhaps more clearly than any passage. This is a central, core passage that is going to help us all to understand why our involvement in a local church is so vitally important to our spiritual life. In Ephesians 4:11-16, we learn what we need to do in order to make sure that we grow up as a Christian the way that God desires us to grow.
Last Sunday, in Ephesians 4:7-10, Paul described how the risen Christ has given each and every Christian a spiritual grace-gift which we are now to use for His glory within His church. We pick up his flow of thought in verse 11 -- "It was [Christ] who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers..."
Verse 11 spells out four specific gifts of church leadership, each one of which involves teaching God’s Word.
When God gave birth to the church in the First Century, He used apostles and prophets to establish healthy believers by means of writing down the New Testament Scriptures. Today, God continues to build up the size and strength of Body of Christ through the work of evangelists, many of whom serve as missionaries around the world, and pastor-teachers, both of who teach the Scriptures to people.
But why bother? What’s God’s goal behind a pastor teaching the Bible to people? God’s answer to that question, in verse 12, is that the job of evangelists and pastors is -- "to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up..."
Now let’s compare God’s job description to the stereotyped "pastor" in our culture who is expected to preach, lead, administrate, visit, marry, bury, care, and counsel. In many people’s minds, he’s supposed to be the superman generalist who "does" all the ministry for the flock, putting out all the fires, oiling the squeaky wheels, and solving all the problems.