The following are excerpts from a letter written to a young person seeking advice on preparation for service to Christ. It raises issues that ought to concern every Christian young person and especially those who desire to serve Christ in the fullest possible way.
… Several things in your letter made me happy to hear which I will point out. First, I am glad that you are including the Lord in your plans for the future and that you want to serve Him. Second, I am glad that you realize that studying and knowing the Word of God is the most important part of the preparation to serve Christ. Third, I am glad that you are open to the idea that a college classroom may not be the best or only place to prepare.
… getting to the matters you asked about, let me share with you some principles that I think you ought to keep in mind. The Bible makes a clear distinction between one’s calling and one’s occupation. For example, Paul was an apostle by calling, a tent maker by occupation. The most important thing for a Christian to determine is his calling, and let the occupational choice be secondary. To illustrate, I know of a Christian businessman who, when asked for his ‘card’, produces one with a picture of his home church which reads, ‘Joe Smith, Deacon,’ and then the name and address of his church. For him, that is his real business, although he actually spends more hours doing secular employment to support himself and his family.
What I am saying to you is that your place in the work of the Lord may not have a thing to do with your occupation. In some cases, the two may be the same, as in the case of some pastors and missionaries. The question is, ‘Can I determine my place in the Lord’s service in the same way that I would determine my occupation?’ I believe that the answer must be ‘No.’ I can decide for myself, ‘I will be a bricklayer.’ I may not decide for myself, ‘I will be an evangelist, pastor, etc.’
So then, how can you determine what God has in mind for you? Well, as always, the answer is in the word of God. Why don’t you get your Bible and turn to Ephesians 4:11 and read verses 11-16. Verse 13 tells what God’s will is for every Christian. We are to grow into the unity of the faith, to know Jesus Christ better and better, and to become complete, or mature in Christ — becoming like Him. Verse 16 tells what the means of this edification or upbuilding is: the working together of every member of a local body of believers – a church. Verses 11 and 12 teach that God has given certain gifted men to the church to equip the saints (that’s all Christians) so that the saints can do the work of the ministry.
To summarize, then, every Christian has a ministry to perform in a local assembly of true, believing Christians: every Christian needs to be ministered to for his own edification by the members of a local church; and it is the church which is God’s chosen means of bringing men to faith, knowledge of Christ, and Christian growth. In other words, your place in the church of Jesus Christ is more important than your occupation, and more important than your place in an evangelical group of any kind. (A church is a group of people organized according to the New Testament pattern, including officers such as elders, pastors, and deacons, to worship together for the spread of the gospel.)
I hope you are following me. The next question to be asked is, how do I find my place in the church? Turn to Acts 2:41, 41. In these verses we see that the following were expected of all the new converts: (1) To be baptized after trusting in Christ as a public profession of that faith; (2) to benefit from the teaching ministry of the local church; (3) To join in the fellowship of the local church; (4) To take part regularly in the Lord’s Table; and (5) To pray together. Hebrews 13:17 teaches that each believer is to submit to the authority of the local church.
Some Christians, feel that they are too “good” to be under the discipline of a local church. To do so is to put oneself above a person like the Apostle Paul himself. Look at Acts 13:1-4. How did Paul (Saul) determine that he should be a missionary? He didn’t. While performing his ministry in a local church, the Holy Spirit led the church to set him and Barnabas aside as their missionaries. I believe that this principle applies to any kind of Christian work. As a Christian ministers to the Lord in a local church, God will make it evident to the people there what his gifts are and what type of work God would have him to do. THE NEW TESTAMENT LOCAL CHURCH IS GOD’S ORDAINED MEANS OF TRAINING AND SENDING MEN INTO HIS WORK.
What I am suggesting to you, on the basis of what I believe the Bible to teach, is that you ought to take the following steps:
- If you haven’t already, get baptized and become a functioning member of a Bible-believing, salvation-preaching, Christ-honoring local church.
- Take full advantage of all aspects of that church’s teaching ministry, both public and private.
- Submit to the authority of that church, deciding in advance that your own personal gripes and hang-ups must be put down, realizing that it is Christ’s church, and that even those of the New Testament had problems.
- Enter as fully as you possibly can into the ministry of that church, either in simple service, personal witness, exhortation and prayer for others, or any other ministries that the church leaders feel you are ready for; in all of this, pray that the Holy Spirit may give you the best gifts – those which will edify – to equip you for your ministry.
One last question still needs to be answered: “How do I know which local church God wants me in?” We can start by answering what churches God does not want you in. A church is not a Christian church unless: it believes in the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ; it believes and preaches that salvation is alone by faith in Christ on the basis of His death on the cross; It believes that this Christ arose bodily from the dead and now is in heaven.
If a church meets the above standards, then I believe that the next priority (this may be an opinion area) would be to submit to the church which produced you, spiritually. I don’t think that a new Christian has the prerogative to say, “Well, this church was good enough to get me saved, but now that I’m a Christian, I think that I like the church across town better.”
If a person becomes a Christian through means other that a church’s work (tract, radio program, witness of a non-church member, etc.) then that person ought to seek the closest church that has a fully New Testament practice.
I hope that these words help you. I will pray that you will know God’s will for your life. If you still have questions, then feel free to write me.
Your brother in the Lord,
Harold E. Burchett