Answering the Call
We are in a time of incredible change. All around us we can see chaos and uncertainty. As followers of Jesus, we might make bold declarations about building on the rock (Matthew 7:24-27), but for many the reality is we feel like we are standing in a thick fog waiting for someone else to sound a foghorn or shine a bright light because we don’t know the way forward. Many are uncertain about what lies ahead.
It is not dissimilar to the nervousness that must have faced the hundreds of thousands of Israelites as the warriors and their families waited to cross the River Jordan into the Promised Land. God speaks to their leader Joshua and tells him repeatedly to be ‘strong and courageous’ (see Joshua 1:9). Do you feel strong and courageous as you look at the challenges facing you? Joshua orders the officers to tell the people, ‘Get your provisions ready’ (Joshua 1:11). It is nearly time to move. Like this large group of Israelites, we are people on a mission, mobilised and resourced to move forward, to be together and to take land. There is a light shining ahead of us because God has a clear plan and purpose.
The story in Joshua moves on.
After three days the officers went throughout the camp, giving orders to the people: ‘When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the Levitical priests carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it.’
It is a simple but powerful message – we are following Jesus. This is our great distinctive in life’s journey. Jesus has a plan for us, our families, where we live and where we work. That is what should give us confidence and cause us to be strong and courageous. The officers by the Jordan continue, ‘Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before’ (Joshua 3:4). It is a powerful statement – Jesus is our heavenly GPS, keep our eyes firmly on Him. He is our good shepherd (John 10:14), leading us into places where we can be refreshed and fed, but He also leads us through places that may seem as awful as the ‘valley of the shadow of death’ (Psalm 23:4, ESV). Even there we are not lonely, we are not abandoned, He is with us, He is for us.
Finally, I want to pick up Joshua’s short words of encouragement to the assembled men, women and children: ‘Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you’ (Joshua 3:5). How do we respond to God’s prophetic word through Joshua: ‘I am going to do amazing (or extraordinary) things among you’? It is easy to be dismissive. To say that was for another very special time. But we are also called to consecrate ourselves because we walk with God, we are in His presence, and He is always extraordinary.
Starting a new job is a nervous experience. It is like entering another country, we don’t know the language they speak or the customs they follow. We don’t know if they are going to like us and make best use of our skills and experience. As we discover more about the new job and how little we know about the new context we are working in, everything can feel intimidating. Like crossing the Jordan.
My first job was working on a farm. In a few short months I learned to milk cows, throw hay and straw bales onto a trailer, drive a tractor, shovel cow poo out of the winter sheds and spread its mucky, smelly contents onto the fields. I nearly killed myself once in my tractor but also learned how to have authority over cows (the nearest I ever got to a superpower!). My next job was as a stripper, at a cardboard factory! As if poo shovelling wasn’t bad enough, this second job was dangerous because it involved stripping excess cardboard from layers of cardboard sheets so they could be folded into boxes. My fingers were sliced with paper cuts and we all secretly admired the worker who wore pink marigolds while the rest of us were too image conscious to protect ourselves!
There have been many subsequent starts. Getting to know the car industry and eventually working for a manufacturer, for a distributor and for car dealerships, a fairly unique experience. I also got to know financial services industry, a complete change of culture and way of working, not least because of tight regulations and a range of mergers and acquisitions. Eventually I found myself as a leadership and change consultant working with a wide range of clients where each one was again like entering a different country with its culture, history, characters and values.
I would highlight three key things that were important to me in navigating my new countries as I went into the lands.
- Consecrate yourself – it’s not easy. The workplace is challenging, from sexual temptations to integrity temptations, to office and team politics, to covering things up. We can feel lonely and isolated. We need to commit ourselves to remain holy.
- Build relationships – for fun and for support. My wife and I found some older couples to help us, to share wisdom and to keep talking about spiritual issues. We also had peers on similar journeys, and we often spent hours sorting out life together. Alongside that it is important to build a range of work-based friendships. Build trust, show compassion and contribute well.
- Prayer – I have always valued prayer. In my early working years we had many amazing prayer adventures where huge situations turned around because people prayed together. God built our prayer muscles.
We may struggle with the concept of servanthood; it seems strange in our very individualistic era of human rights and personal freedom. But the story of Joshua is of a people trusting God to guide them. The Hebrew word for ‘work’ is avodah – it is a rich word meaning worship, work and service. Our work, our talents and our calling, and the people we work with, can be offered to God as worship. As we worship, we hand things over to God.
Our God is the same God who did great things on that historic day when the Israelites entered the Promised Land after so many years. Our God placed this story in the Scriptures for our benefit and encouragement. Our God kept His promise to the children of Israel – as they followed and served Him, they saw extraordinary things. They saw the Jordan river part, they saw the walls of Jericho tumble, they saw their ferocious enemies vanquished and saw the promise of ‘a land flowing with milk and honey’ (Exodus 3:8) fulfilled. This is our God, the God of promise and the God who delivers.
Joshua tells the children of Israel to consecrate themselves, to prepare themselves, because entering the land of promise is a holy action. God has a great plan for the Jewish people; God’s hand is seen as they occupy the land. But it is true for us also: we are people of promise; we are part of God’s great plan. Heaven can come to our workplace.
So let us set our GPS for our destination – to move fully into God’s call on our lives. Along the way we have set some destination markers:
- To understand our personal calls.
- To understand our unique identities – because God has known us from the beginning, and He likes what He has made!
- To understand that this call is not about task; it is about relationship. Jesus really does want to be our best and closest friend.
- To be prepared to go deeper – we are in demanding and challenging times, but God is with us.
It is time to unlock kingdom identity, kingdom authority, and kingdom ministry. It is time to unleash the power of everyone, everywhere, everyday so that the church begins to fill every city: every industry, and every family with the beauty and the story of Christ.
Who do you think I am?
We need to start with some theology. My passion with this book is to set God’s people free. I want us to understand our calling and our equipping. For those of us in the workplace, and every other walk of life, this is the heart of God’s plan for us – and the people around us. The theology helps us understand why – and why our previous understanding may need a bit of a shake-up!
Six months before His crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus takes His disciples on a road trip. They go north to Caesarea Philippi (Matthew 16:13). This is a remarkable place to go and may well have made His disciples deeply uncomfortable. This was a pagan region, and Caesarea Philippi had been built by Herod’s son, Philip the Tetrarch, to bring attention to himself and to honour Tiberius Caesar. Caesar was acclaimed as a god; the town contained a temple where people could worship him. But the real place of worship, established for many centuries, adjoined Caesarea Philippi. In Jesus’ time it was called Paneas (nowadays known as Banias). It is a spectacular place at the foot of Mount Hermon. The Jordan emerges as a bubbling stream running through attractive sun-dappled woods. On the towering cliff face you can still see the remains of the temple and shrine to Pan.
Pan was the god of fertility. He was half-goat, half-man. Behind him was the entrance to a deep cave known locally as the Gate of Hades. Local belief was that Pan and other demons entered the cave in the winter and would emerge in the spring if their followers carried out a range of occultic, and what Jews called ‘detestable’, practices (see for example 1 Kings 14:24), including prostitution and sex with goats. The Paneas cult centre had been built through Greek influence 300 years earlier. It was built on a place of ancient spiritual darkness.
Further back in time this area had been known as Baal Gad. Baal is called ‘the Lord’ and is also associated with fertility and promiscuity. Baal is referred to frequently in the Bible, including the great conflict in 1 Kings 18 where the priests of Baal confront Elijah. The people watching are unsure who to support. God shows His power and Baal’s impotence and the people of Israel fall prostrate and declare, ‘The Lord – he is God! The Lord – he is God!’ (1 Kings 18:39). Throughout the Old Testament there is an ongoing battle as God speaks against the children of Israel following Baal and engaging in ‘detestable practices’. Ezekiel prophesies, ‘You will suffer the penalty for your lewdness and bear the consequences of your sins of idolatry. Then you will know that I am the Sovereign Lord’ (Ezekiel 23:49).
So this is no ordinary location. Jesus has chosen it on purpose. This is a confrontation – it is every bit as great a battle as that between the priests of Baal and Elijah on Mount Carmel – with the same outcome, the revelation of God.
As we look at Matthew 16, we see this dramatic confrontation unfold as Jesus asks the disciples a key question, ‘Who do people say the Son of Man is?’ (v13). We can imagine the nervous looks from one to another; they were feeling uncomfortable enough with their setting and now the rabbi is asking them a challenging question. They have a half-hearted attempt, suggesting John the Baptist (although they have seen the two men together), Elijah, or even Jeremiah (v14). Then the tipping point moment happens. This is a heaven to earth moment; we can imagine hosts of angels listening transfixed to what happens next. Matthew tells us:
Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’
Jesus replied, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.’
Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ. He is not a reincarnated prophet. He is not just a good teacher or gifted rabbi. He is the Christ. All of Jewish history leads up to this moment. The Christ has come. He is the anointed one, the promised one, the Messiah. This is a historical shift – the Messiah has come and is literally standing among the people gathered in Caesarea Philippi. Peter has a revelation from God about who Jesus truly is.
I am sure it took weeks for this to sink in and was then shaken and refined after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. Here was an astounding fact: these men, and eventually so many others, could be in a living, breathing, walking, eating, joking, praying, listening relationship with the Messiah. And so can we. It changes our whole life story – because the story of what we do is not ours; it is God’s story. Just as for the disciples, our lives are closely integrated with the story of Jesus. It is the story that the Christ walks with us in our workplace, where we live, where we have our leisure. It is Christ, the Messiah, who moves through us and in us.
A key feature of revival is the restoration of our intimacy with God. Intimacy allows us to draw close, to come into heavenly places – the courts of praise, the seat of judgement, the place of government. The disciples standing together intimately with their friend and teacher have this great revelation – this is the Christ, the pivot of history. This is the King, building His kingdom.
A new identity
Jesus gives Peter a new identity. This is a powerful analogy for us, because when we understand the revelation that Jesus is the Christ, He gives us a new identity too. We may be familiar with the story and the wordplay between Peter and Jesus. Peter in Greek is Petros, which means a small stone, and Petra is rock, a solid immovable object for building on. Jesus says, ‘You were Simon or Simeon (which means he who hears) and while you are a small stone, I will build My Church on the solid rock (Petros) of your declaration’ (see Matthew 16:18). It is the declaration that is key.
We see a similar identity change with Gideon, in the Old Testament. At first, he is hiding in a winepress to thresh wheat. Much to his surprise, an angel appears, and then astounds him even more with his declaration that Gideon is a ‘mighty warrior’ (Judges 6:11-12). Through God he becomes what was promised, he is remembered through time for his military victory with just 300 soldiers, following God’s plan to the letter, bringing destruction to the camp of the Midianites and Amalekites.
Gideon is hiding, his land has been invaded, and he is protecting his crops. He has every right to be annoyed that an angel with an odd sense of humour has turned up. The last thing he feels like at that moment is a ‘mighty warrior’: he is hiding in fear. But the angel is making a faith declaration. He is issuing a call to Gideon.
Maybe you are used to hiding yourself away in the workplace, maybe you feel intimidated by your colleagues. But the angel knows what he is doing – he is revealing Gideon’s true identity and calling. Just as Peter becomes a rock. What is your identity in Christ? Is it more than you currently understand? Is the angel beside you going to call you a mighty auditor? Or workplace pastor? Or a person of compassion? Or a woman of great integrity?
We will look at the issues around identity as we progress through the book. But the starting message is this – what you believe about yourself may be wrong! The story of Caesarea Philippi is central to God’s plans and purposes. The enemy aims to emasculate the people of God, to bring disunity and to stop us from becoming all God wants us to be. He has made us lose sight of the enormity of this moment in Scripture. God has raised us to be mighty, to be rocks, to be builders – and the enemy wants us to be confused about our identity and call.
Our identity has been narrowed down. I remember my church doing a course on our gifts. I had some expertise in this area, being responsible for some pioneering work in British industry on using psychometrics so we could better understand our different personalities. Disappointingly, the programme was all about how we used our gifts to serve the Church. But Jesus call on Peter was for something much bigger.
Introducing the Ekklesia
Let us go back to Caesarea Philippi and this dramatic setting for a major moment in the disciples’ teaching programme. Jesus was preparing this small group of fishermen, tax collectors and zealots to change the world. Jesus has responded to Peter’s dramatic declaration that He is the Christ, the Messiah. He has given Peter a new identity. Now He gives all His followers a new identity, a new calling and a clear authority.
I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
Familiar words – but the wrong words: they are not what Jesus said! In fact, if Jesus had said these words the disciples would not have understood Him because they did not know what a church was. The English word for church is taken from the Greek word kyridakos, which does not appear in the Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. The large team that worked on the King James Version of the Bible made a number of translation errors; some errors were to keep their royal sponsor happy, others were owing to a lack of understanding of some key words in the original. It was a mistake that was copied by most subsequent translators. The critical word they missed here was Ekklesia (the Greek word – ecclesia in Latin). Significantly, it is used more than one hundred times in the New Testament but is improperly translated as the word ‘church’.
In Jesus’ time this term would be clearly understood. It was a very well-established word; the book of Ecclesiastes was actually known as the book of Ekklesiastes. It refers to the Teacher of an assembly – the author describing himself as ‘the Teacher’ (Ecclesiastes 1:1). An Ekklesia was an assembly called to listen and make decisions. At national level, that may have been decisions to go to war or make fundamental changes. Locally, it may have been to engage in decisions about expenditure, judicial decisions or appointments. It is used in the Old Testament to describe the people gathered together. It comes from two words: ek, meaning out of, and klesis, meaning calling or gathering. But it clearly has a government and decision-making purpose. It was, for example, the name for the periodic meeting of the Athenian citizens for conducting public business and for considering affairs proposed by the council.
I remember talking to a Swiss member of Agape some years ago and she described the Ekklesia process still happening in her town, where the whole town would gather for decision-making meetings. The council had proposed that taxes remain the same as the town’s income was good. The gathering argued there were many people currently being left unsupported and, much to the council’s surprise, they voted to raise taxes. The gathering had the authority to make high-impact change.
Jesus’ words to Peter have been misinterpreted. He says, ‘on this rock I will build my church [Ekklesia]’. Some argue this is about building the Church on Peter himself, the leading apostle. Clearly Peter had a pivotal role in founding the early Church. But we need to move away from Church again and remind ourselves that Jesus is building His ekklesia. The rock foundation on which He builds is Peter’s declaration that Jesus is the Christ. Only Jesus is the heart of the Ekklesia. He resources it and guides it, and sometimes challenges it.
What do we know about being the Ekklesia?
- We have an authority from Jesus to make decisions as an assembly (Matthew 16:19).
- The gates of Hades will not be able to stand against us (Matthew 16:18).
- We are powerful. When a small number of the Ekklesia – only two or three – agree, we can bind and loose in prayer and create this wonderful link between heaven and earth (Matthew 18:18-20).
- We work together to make decisions. This is a group that listens to each other because it is acting on behalf of the local community with its diverse issues.
- We are called to govern – in our workplace, neighbourhood, town/city and nation.
Joel 2:15-17 gives us a further insight:
Blow the trumpet in Zion,
declare a holy fast,
call a sacred assembly [Ekklesia].
Gather the people,
consecrate the assembly [Ekklesia]; …
Let them say, ‘Spare your people, Lord.
Do not make your inheritance an object of scorn,
a byword among the nations.
Why should they say among the peoples,
‘Where is their God?’
Here is a critical moment; a terrible judgement is coming upon the land as a horde of hungry locusts is going to ravage the nation. But God is calling His Ekklesia to pray. He is giving them a remarkable authority to change this national disaster as they repent, rend their hearts (Joel 2:13) – a powerful picture of intense anguish and passion – and ask God to relent.
A holy confrontation
So, one final trip back to Caesarea Philippi, and let us look again at Jesus’ holy confrontation. This is the gunfight at the OK Corral, the Avengers against Thanos, David v Goliath. At the place many believe to be the literal Gate of Hades, He wants His disciples to know that these gates cannot stand against God’s Ekklesia. Indeed, He is giving us, His people, the ‘keys of the kingdom of heaven’ (Matthew 16:19). It is a shout of authority over Pan, Baal, Caesar and any other entity that claims to be divine. There is only one God. Across history, Jesus brings His Ekklesia together at national, city-wide or local level. He teaches them to hear His will and use His authority to pray for change. It may be for revival, it may be to turn a plague or sickness around, it may be in the face of great danger, it may be to release blessings and fruitfulness. Jesus works with His Ekklesia.
Jesus is also Jehovah Sabaoth, the Lord of Hosts.13 Here again is one of the ways the Church is disempowered. We have lost sight of who our Jesus is. He is Yahweh Sabaoth. Many are familiar with the compound names of Jehovah – Jehovah Jireh (the Lord, my provider), Jehovah Shalom (the Lord, my peace). The phrase ‘Jehovah Sabaoth’ is an important one and is used more than 250 times in Scripture. It is often translated as the Lord Almighty, but this loses sight of the Lord of Hosts with His vast angel army (‘ten thousand times ten thousand’ says Daniel 7:10). Jesus is not a penny-pinching God, with meagre resources and a reluctance and inability to act. He has vast angelic forces at His disposal. Angels can undo chains and set prisoners free (Acts 12:7), confuse and terrify huge armies (2 Samuel 5:24).
Do we have a vision for angels unleashed in our workplaces? Can we see a need in our workplace, in our team or with an individual colleague for peace, or for hope? Where is there a need for breakthrough and fresh ideas? Where is there a need for protection? When it comes to spiritual warfare, one of the reasons God’s people often lose is because they don’t get into the battle. We have authority to use heaven’s amazing resources to bring peace to tense team meetings, to pray for our colleagues’ marriages, to bless their children. It does not have to be complex; simply praying, ‘Lord, bring Your peace,’ can change situations.
David defeats Goliath – ‘in the name of the Lord of hosts’ (1 Samuel 17:45, ESV).God has given him peace and courage to face the giant that had turned more experienced soldiers’ hearts to the wobbliest of wobbly jelly. David did not come in strength; he came trusting in God.
Our God is a God of justice, in the workplace as well as elsewhere. James tells rich people to weep and wail because they ‘have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord [Sabaoth]’ (James 5:3-4: I have replaced the NIV’s use of ‘Lord Almighty’ with the proper translation of Sabaoth.) Doesn’t a verse like this show the great relevance of the scripture today? Workers’ wages are still abused, and people are still crying out for financial justice – and the Lord of Hosts cares about it. You may not have responsibility for people’s wages but can pray for justice and for God to change minds.
God has given us the power and authority to be like a lion, but we wander about like domestic cats. He has empowered us to be like a sleek sports car, yet we appear like worn-out, scratched and battered old vehicles that we are ashamed to park outside our front doors. We need to better understand, and use, our authority.
Authority comes from God. He tells us to move mountains (Matthew 17:20). He tells us to heal the sick (Luke 9:1). He tells us to bring peace (Luke 10:5-6). Alongside this He tells us to apply these things where we are. In Acts 3, we read that Peter and John were walking to the temple, they were open to God, and when they passed a man who was lame, they felt they had the authority to tell him to walk. The man was astounded and started to leap about and dance because he hadn’t been expecting his life to be turned around that day!
Jesus tells the story of the ten minas given to ten servants (the equivalent of two to three years’ average wages). He gives them authority to put the money to work. We know one of the servants hides his single mina in a cloth and is told he is a ‘wicked servant’ for not doing anything better with his mina (Luke 19:22). Look what happens to those who use their authority well – the king says, ‘Well done, my good servant! … Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities’ (v17).
Early in my career I had responsibility for graduate recruitment for a large motor manufacturer. We generally received about 3,500 applications annually, and part of my job was to sift through them all and select those people we would invite to assessment. I well remember Friday nights sat with 100 at a time putting them into ‘Yes’, ‘No’ and ‘Maybe’ piles. I developed a capacity to work through the application forms and select those people I wanted based on how positive their comments were. If people said, ‘I started this initiative …’ or, ‘I took responsibility for …’, I was much more likely to select them than if they said, ‘I was part of the team that…’ or, ‘While I was in the club we won…’ In hindsight, I was looking for authority, for those who were most likely to make things happen.
Here are some challenging words on our authority. ‘What is mankind that you are mindful of them …You made them rulers over the works of your hands; you put everything under their feet’ (Psalm 8:4, 6). We are destined to rule, not in our strength, but because God has given us authority.
Let us look at what Peter (Petros) has to say: ‘But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light’ (1 Peter 2:9). The royal priests get access into the presence of God. Hebrews 12:22-23 reinforces that access: ‘You have come to … [the] joyful assembly, to the [Ekklesia] of the firstborn’. When you are going through difficult times in the workplace, you have authority to come into God’s presence, and the heavenly Ekklesia, and know He will hear you.
Authority means you can do things! A king or queen of England gives authority to a wide range of people to represent them and undertake tasks on their behalf. The ‘King of kings’ (Revelation 17:14) gives us authority as His children in a wide range of areas. We can bring peace into a situation at work, we can pray for wisdom for significant decisions and pray for breakthrough when we need change. We have authority to bless other people and situations.
We have settled for building churches, rather than using our authority to bring life to cities. And yet Jesus was exceptionally clear: ‘I will build my church; [ekklesia] you have the keys of the kingdom’ – in effect He invites us to take the keys of our authority into the community and introduce it to its divine destiny.
We are like the twelve sent out in Matthew 10:6-8 to preach, heal and see miracles. These were not mature, theologically sound, highly educated men – they were ordinary workers used to mending nets, catching and selling fish and collecting taxes (and facing abuse). Jesus gave them authority. Stories abound from around the world today of healings, people being set free, miraculous occurrences, or getting wisdom in difficult situations. Every believer has spiritual authority. We may struggle but our God is able. Let us be hungry to live in our authority and use it more.
The Great Commission is for the Ekklesia – Jesus tells us to go, not in weakness but with authority:
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.
The call is to go. This must be our mindset. This is the call of the Ekklesia – we are sent out; yes, we do things when we gather but our prime calling is to go. We need to see our workplace as central to Jesus’ plan and purpose. He sent us, and He gives us His authority.
Your kingdom come
Peter was stepping up into his leadership call at Caesarea Philippi. He goes further on the day of Pentecost as he stands in front of thousands and announces the birth of the Church/Ekklesia. He has entered more fully into his apostolic ministry, as have his colleagues. It is interesting that Jesus calls them ‘apostles’ (Luke 6:13). It is not a religious term. It comes from the Greek Apostolos (meaning a delegate or envoy). In Roman times an apostle might lead a mission to change the culture in a given nation to better reflect Roman ways and values. Jesus appoints envoys who will go and bring about change. They are announcing a new kingdom – just as Jesus did. They are changing the culture around them – just as we can do in our workplace.
Church Growth teacher Ed Silvoso writes:
Something extraordinary is going on all over the world. Ordinary people are doing extraordinary things that are radically transforming schools, prisons, cities and even nations.
Ed has written extensively about God calling Christians to the marketplace, as priests, as signed up members of the Ekklesia. ‘Many already know that they are called to play a vital part in the establishment of God’s kingdom on earth. They believe they are ministers, and they have turned their jobs into ministerial vehicles.’
Ministry might be protecting people as a security guard, bringing peace and compassion to the shop floor, or asking God to give you the way forward on a major business breakthrough. My friend Steve shares his story later in the book – he is in a high-paid, demanding job changing transport systems, and sees his call as being a pastor to his workplace. Matthew runs workshops and training sessions where he asks God to give him words of knowledge and holy wisdom for the attendees. Another friend is given mathematical formula that give him breakthroughs on social media.
Ministry is praying for the presence of God in every situation. It is listening to God when He holds us back from sending that stinging email that lets everyone know how frustrated we are. It is Aquila and Priscilla building a business together with Paul in their home in Corinth (Acts 18:1-3). Paul the apostle and culture changer was also Paul the tent seller. In a bustling trading place like Corinth, this gave the opportunity to meet and impact many people.
It is time to go!
We have already referred to the Great Commission given to the disciples by Jesus just before He ascends to heaven. It is His last word; He wants them to remember and act on what He tells them to do. ‘The Great Commission was never given to a kuriakon or church. It doesn’t have the tools nor the DNA. No, the mission of Christ uniquely requires the ekklesia to arise.’
So we are called to go; the Ekklesia is a movement of generous sent people:
- To go to the nations of the world;
- To go into the homes and marketplaces as they did in the book of Acts;
- To go to broken cities that need rebuilding and hope;
- To go and build strong relationships with others, so they can hear our stories, find out about Jesus, be freed and blessed;
- To go and serve both those who are literally and those who are spiritually hungry and thirsty;
- To go in authority because He goes with us.
This is a big step of faith. Sometimes we end up in situations or places that are not of our choosing, but it is pretty certain there will be people in that situation who need hope and compassion and love. The Bible is full of people God chooses to partner with, from Adam in the Garden of Eden through to the farmer and businessman Boaz who works righteously, as we see in the book of Ruth. In the beginning of the book of Acts, 120 people (Acts 1:15) are gathered to wait on God. They have just seen the resurrected Jesus, and everything in me would have cried out, ‘Let’s go and tell the world what we have seen!’ No one in history has seen what they have, and yet they are told to wait (v4). Because on their own they could do something, but with the promised Holy Spirit God powerfully equips them.
Rick Warren says, ‘a church is measured by its sending capacity, not its seating capacity’. Alan Scott, in his book, Scattered Servants, talks of the huge growth their church in Coleraine, Northern Ireland, experienced when they realised that God’s call was not to plant churches but to plant people. People were sent everywhere. In Doxa Deo church in Pretoria, South Africa, they have fully grasped this; they literally commission people. They have wonderful and powerful moments when they get all the people working in the health sector at whatever level to stand, and they pray for them. The church lovingly gathers round those being commissioned, to hear from God words of scripture, prophecy, wisdom and encouragement. Another week they commission all of those in the business sphere, or education or the arts. This is the Great Commission at work – Jesus commands us to go.
Doxa Deo is a church of incredible contrasts, the wealthy and the poor, the young and the old, male and female. There is a range of ethnicities and languages. One of the hard challenges for any church like this is to welcome all, irrespective of wealth, health, history or prospects. Its Great Commission focus is anchored in the belief that everyone is precious to Jesus. Jesus did not discriminate when He gave His life for everyone. They give intense focus to the pain of their city, the large numbers of homeless, the jobless, the addicts, those with mental health issues, those thrown out of their homes. The Old Testament regularly tells us to focus on the widow, the orphan/fatherless, the alien/foreigner and the poor (Zechariah 7:10). So their ‘go’ commission is not just to a workplace; it is with a heart for the poor and for their city.
We must go out to our communities and immerse ourselves in our world in order to make a difference. The question, ‘How big is your church?’ should be replaced with ‘What impact and influence does your church have in your community?’
Call to action
Much of what we will take from this chapter – and from this book – depends on our level of faith, and how it leads us to action.
- Do we believe with all our heart and soul that Jesus is the Christ? If we truly believe Jesus is the Christ, He can build His Ekklesia.
- Do we believe we are fully appointed and anointed members of His Ekklesia? Many are unaware. Let faith change our mindset. We are a long way from powerless; we have Jesus’ authority.
- Our calling is not on the sidelines of a church; it is right at the frontline of the Ekklesia. We are not spectators; we are key players.
- We are sent out – the Great Commission is for you and me. It is a living call, not a historical event. Jesus calls us to go – now. That call is to the workplace, to the marketplace, to our cities.
It is time to see ourselves in a different light. This does not happen overnight. It takes determination to move from a spectator to a player – but it is God’s plan. He is for us!
I encourage you to stop for a while to reflect and pray. Here are three things to reflect on. Maybe have a conversation with others and certainly pray about this.
- ‘Your kingdom come’ (Matthew 6:10) – what could that mean for your workplace?
- What signs do you see of churches/Christians you know acting as an Ekklesia?
- What more needs to happen? If you are part of a small group, could you discuss what acting as an Ekklesia would mean for you all?
Thank You, Jesus. You have called me, changed my life. Use me to bring peace, to be a blessing, to be your instrument. Amen.
Terry Boatwright lives in Eastbourne, where he was a head teacher looking after four schools and 3,000 pupils. Following his retirement, Terry became the educational leadership consultant for his county council. He has advised government on school improvement and served as chair of Anglican School Heads National Committee.
Terry was a reluctant head. His wife spotted an advert for a ‘Practising and committed Christian’ for a headship at a Church of England school in Eastbourne, East Sussex. It did not fit with Terry’s thoughts about the future, and he discovered the school was the worst achieving in the county. The Church of England had considered pulling out of it, and it was so unpopular that hardly anyone wanted to go there.
I remember telling my wife that I ‘did not feel led to apply’. It was then that my ever-patient, and prayerful, wife pulled her killer punch. Totally unfairly she suggested that we pray about it! After prayer I reluctantly agreed to apply and that, if I was offered the job, I would take it as guidance that I should accept it. I have never put less effort into an application in my life. Yet I was called for interview and offered the job! So started the most amazing and fulfilling eighteen years of my life. I saw miracle after miracle and many lives transformed.
He later discovered a prayer group from different churches in Eastbourne had been persistently praying for the school: ‘God had given them a vision that the school would become a beacon, a model, for other church schools up and down the country and of God’s light shining far and wide from it.’
If I were a betting man, I would have backed flying pigs over the chance of that particular ‘vision’ becoming a reality. Who could have imagined that over the next five years the government would name the school one of the most improved in the country; and it would become oversubscribed? I found myself shaping government policy for church schools as a member of the National Executive Committee of AASSH (the Association of Anglican Academy and Secondary School Heads); and, most significantly, the school would be one of three researched to be [the] subject of a book about successful church schools. The school literally did become a model church school and God’s light did shine across the whole country, including featuring in a national newspaper article entitled, ‘On a mission: Can a headteacher with strong religious faith really make all the difference to a failing school?’
Reflecting on his career from young teacher till now, Terry says:
What has impacted my work, and life, even more has been demonstrably walking step by step with Jesus. As a Christian, I believe it is not a holier-than-thou attitude that changes the world, but when the world recognises that we serve a God who walks with us each day and following Him is the most exciting and fulfilling thing we can ever do.
He gives some great wisdom on being a Christian in the workplace:
I want pupils and colleagues to realise that a Christian is someone who has a personal, loving, honest and incredible relationship with the God of the universe who loves us immensely. Of course, that affects our values and how we live our lives, but, I believe, there is a danger if we get those things the wrong way round.
Jesus is the key driver!
The school continued to thrive, winning numerous awards as the most improved school in the country. The story attracted national newspapers and writers to learn about its success. Here is part of The Guardian’s interview with Terry:
When I first arrived at the school, the children would say to me, ‘We’re rubbish. The school is rubbish. Everyone thinks the school is rubbish.’ But as a Christian I believe we are all of supreme value, and that became one of the planks of our mission statement. Drawing up a mission statement was one of the first things I did when I arrived, and I’ve got it plastered all over the school – it’s a vital document, and we all need to be reminded of it all the time. The important thing about the mission statement,’ says Boatwright, ‘is that it’s something we all sign up to, and we can all be brought to account because of it.’
Eventually there was talk about Terry becoming a ‘super head’ with some struggling secondary and primary schools. Terry was travelling to a meeting and realised he needed to discuss this with Head Office! He recalls thinking, ‘God, I’m sorry I haven’t prayed properly about this. You know that I really, really don’t want to do it. However, if You really want me to do it, please make it very, very clear. I won’t do it unless You get someone from government to take me by the arm and directly ask me to do it, personally.’
It wasn’t my best prayer ever! The good news for me was that the whole meeting happened without anyone mentioning anything about taking over struggling schools.
The bad news was that as I was leaving the room, one of the top government officials grabbed me by the arm, yes literally(!), and specifically asked me to take over three incredibly tough schools in a town down the coast from me!
God is good at getting our attention!
That was the beginning of an incredible period when I and my church school were brought in to support a number of struggling secondary and primary schools. None of them was a church school, some far from it, and yet each school knew of my Christian faith and appreciated the support.
I would never have taken that path if the choice were mine. However, yet again, the God of Joshua 1:9 – ‘be strong and courageous’ – walked step by step with me and the journey we went on together was amazing.
Terry’s headship was incredibly demanding but brought great fruit. He was supported by colleagues and by a number of prayer groups in Eastbourne. Prayer has constantly opened doors and given wisdom and direction as needed. Terry retired from headship and is now team minister at Gateway Church, Eastbourne.