Before the churches had Field Guides or even the New Testament scriptures, God superintended their development through people. He gave certain people gifts that came with inherent skills and inherent values. These people equipped the saints for ministry, and amazingly the end result was that the church built itself up in love with Christ as the head. According to Ephesians 4:11-16 those people were called apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers.
The prevailing way we apply this today is at an individual level: which people have this or that gift?, are these individuals represented in this church?, etc. But another way, and probably a better way in our context, is to look at the whole church and identify which values would be present were those people present.
It is clear that all the gifts are needed for the church to build itself up in love. So rather than discussing who has what gift, the better conversation is to talk about the church as a whole. Is there evidence that our church cares about what an apostle would care about? Is there evidence that our church does what an apostle would do? What about prophets? Shepherds? Evangelists? Teachers?
Certainly there will be individuals who feel a pull toward one function over the other, but the discussion is not helpful separate from actual demonstration in the life of the church. The conversation about individual gifting can be subjective, but the fruit is much more reliable. This is the way we are encouraging you to use this important scripture in leading and evaluating your distributed church.
T o aid you in discerning the health and DNA of your church we’ve extrapolated the values represented in the Ephesians 4 passage and created a series of questions to ask on an ongoing basis. Reference this list as you get a distributed church up and running to orient the group toward biblical values. Come back to this list periodically to assess your distributed church and make sure you haven’t drifted too far or narrowed your ministry efforts:
Is this church becoming established, with strong leadership and a solid foundation of maturity?
Is this church embracing God's mission in its context?
Is there a desire to see new churches started from efforts to make disciples?
Are new networks being established as churches multiply?
Is spontaneous expansion taking place within these churches?
Is this church connected to other churches and demonstrating a concern for the welfare of the Church universal?
Does this church demonstrate a value and love of prayer?
Is there a practice of repentance, as believers keep short accounts with God?
Are people seeking to become fully devoted followers of Jesus regardless of their context?
Is discernment being exercised?
Is forgiveness offered generously among believers?
Is the bar for biblical character held high?
Is this church inviting new people in?
Is the Good News being shared authentically and regularly?
Are new believers being added to the body?
Are those who already belong being challenged to new levels of maturity?
Is growth (both numerically and spiritually) evident?
Are new believers taught how to share the Good News everywhere, every day as God gives opportunities?
Is Jesus the central focus as the author and perfecter of faith?
Is there unity among the body?
Is there a love between believers that is compelling to those who are brought in?
Is reconciliation happening between those who have disagreements or who have been wronged?
Is compassion shown to those who have stumbled?
Are those experiencing difficult times being supported/surrounded with practical care?
Is the church generous with the community, showing the love of Christ in practical ways?
Are we responding to the needs of others who God brings to our attention?
Does the church value Scripture?
Are there endeavors to establish believers in their ongoing understanding of God’s revelation to us through His Word?
Are believers being taught how to understand and apply Scripture?
Are people applying Scripture and being transformed?
Another indicator of health is to look at the identity of the church. How is this group of people doing at living out the identity of I Am = Us for Them, There? Represented in that equation are worship (I Am), community (Us), and mission (for Them, There). These different aspects live in a kind of holy tension. Sometimes, to eliminate the tension, we place more value on one over the other.
The I Am = Us for Them, There equation creates a framework to understand how various groups and individuals understand themselves. We can use a vertical axis to understand whether the orientation is toward the individual or group; we can use a horizontal axis to understand whether the orientation is toward self or toward service (of the group and/or others).
You for Me, Here - Consumer Christian. Worship service attender who never moves beyond focusing on themselves. (this would also likely apply to someone yet to become a Christian)
When we are functioning in this mindset we see the church, or even a small group, as a feeding station. We participate in programs and are likely seeking to grow closer to God, but we have yet to engage in the lives of others and offer our gifts to others.
Us for Us, Here Inward Focused Group. Trying to help each other grow spiritually, but reticent to invite others in.
In these kinds of groups we are relationally connected, but inwardly focused. The connectedness and nurture are great, but we are missing the power of service in our lives. It also very easy to ultimately approach this group in a “You for Me, Here” mentality.
Me for Them, There - The Cause Chaser. Great heart for service, but trying to change the world alone.
When we are functioning in this way we are quick to research GoFundMe campaigns, wear Tom’s shoes, and attend a rally against human trafficking, but we aren’t engaging in a Lifegiving community. We get a sense of purpose without knowing and being known. Burn out and isolation are frequent. We forget that it is God who is reconciling all things.
Us for Them, There - Distributed Church. Strong sense of community, but also a strong sense of common purpose.
In this kind of group we are relationally connected, understanding that Life-giving community is essential, but we are also seeking to use our gifts to bless those outside our group as well. There is a tension between caring for one another and engaging those outside our group, but we seek to live in that tension. When we swing too far away from the tension, then we end up in one of the other quadrants.