All Roads Lead to Jesus - Ephesians

Ephesians: King Jesus is Head of His Church
Reading: Ephesians 4

I have been a Senior Pastor of a church for more than 10 years. I have been serving in full-time ministry for close to 23 years. Over the past two decades, I hear well-meaning Christians refer to local churches as the Senior Pastor’s church. They may say something like this, “I go to Pastor Dan Betters’ church,” or “I go to Pastor Jim’s church on the other side of town.”

I understand why churchgoers refer to churches this way. It’s hard to think of any other event in our culture where people willingly sit and listen to a person speak for 30 to 60 minutes other than pastors and comedians. The difference between comedians and pastors is that people willingly sit and listen to a pastor on a consistent basis and for many years whereas they may only pay to see a comedian once. The church pays the Senior Pastor, he is put behind a sacred pulpit, usually on a stage, and featured every week. He is given the responsibility to open up a sacred text and is called to apply God’s infallible word to the hearts and lives of the people in the church. This happens week in and week out and it is a high calling and sacred duty.

In addition to being heard, uninterrupted, every Sunday, the Senior Pastor has to oversee the direction, vision, and business of the church. He must answer the phone when people are in need. He must learn to counsel on the spot and on-demand in order to help mend broken hearts or broken relationships. Depending on the wealth of the church and the size of the staff, the Senior Pastor may have many responsibilities or just a few. At the end of the day, the Senior Pastor is seen by many as the leader and head of the particular local church.

Church members may reason that if the church does well it must be because the Senior Pastor has made it so. If the church does poorly it must be because the Senior Pastor isn’t very good at his job. After all, that is the way business is done. History has proven that organizations rise and fall with the talent and faults of the leader.

But that isn’t the way of the church. How many large churches with incredible success are helmed by a charlatan? How many very successful churches are led by corrupt people? There are many churches that do not preach the Gospel and are doing very well for themselves. Conversely, there are many untold thousands of churches that are so insignificant to the world that the world doesn’t even know they exist. In many of those churches, there are pastors who faithfully fulfill the duties of their calling day in and day out. There are preachers in small churches who will never be heard by large energetic crowds. These faithful pastors could preach circles around the hip and elevated preachers-in-sneakers who mastermind big productions. There are men who have a Texas-sized knowledge and mastery of the Bible that will never preach in an arena where men with Rhode Island-sized skills draw masses from around the world.

The point is that God’s work in His church has never depended on the skill of the person who has been charged with leading that work in service to Him. The church where I am Senior Pastor is not “my church”. The church down the road is not another man’s church. Every church that preaches Christ faithfully is led by the one Senior Pastor, who is Christ Jesus.

This is the central theme of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Jesus is the Senior Pastor and Head of his Church. Paul writes, “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” Earlier in the same line of thought, Paul says about those who lead the church that they have this purpose, “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds, and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” Did you see that? The church belongs to Jesus Christ. Any leader has this one purpose – to build up the body that belongs to Christ. The church never belongs to the Senior Pastor. The church belongs to Jesus. Jesus is the lead shepherd. He is the only one to be revered. He is the only one that is to be worshipped.

This means that everything the church does and everything that the church believes itself to be must revolve around Jesus rather than a personality or the talents of a given leader. This is good news for pastors and congregants alike.

For the pastor, this means that you are not in control of how God uses your set of talents and gifts to further his kingdom. You may preach to thousands or you may preach a thousand sermons to just a few. If you are being faithful to the calling which God has given you, then you can be assured that God is using you. You will still face pressure that no one else can see. You will still feel very alone at times. You will still envy how God has used the church down the street or on the TV that you feel isn’t as faithful as you. When you do feel those things, remember your identity in Christ. Remember that you are a servant of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Remember that this church is not your church, and this work is not about you.

For congregants, Jesus being the head of the church means you mustn’t put undue pressure on your local Senior Pastor and your hope in his talents and abilities. Instead, appreciate that person for the gifts that God has given him to teach, preach, counsel, and walk with you in whatever way God has seen fit. So long as he imitates Christ, imitate him. So long as he preaches Christ, listen to him. He is going to fail you. Trust me, I know this personally. He is going to preach sermons that stink. He is going to lead initiatives that fail. Give grace and remember the grace by which we have all been saved. Your preacher didn’t die for you on a cross and if he had, it wouldn’t have accomplished much of anything. Jesus is the only one worthy of our worship. Everyone else needs grace.

There is another way in which both pastors and congregants need to return to Christ as the head of the church. We must strip away any teaching or practice that has diluted our worship of Jesus. There are many things that we could list here: politics, programs, worship styles, meaningless messages, unbiblical teaching, Christless preaching, and so on. The church exists to make Jesus the head of the church known in the world. Paul says in Ephesians that the Gospel was given to him and to the church in order to “…bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Did you catch that? The church exists to bring about the eternal purpose of Jesus Christ into the world. Jesus’ eternal purpose is to bring salvation through the Gospel to the world. Our purpose as a church is to follow our true Senior Pastor’s eternal purpose – to reveal how God has brought salvation through Jesus. In short, preach Christ and make him known.

All of the ways in which we fulfill this purpose as local churches are negotiable. The church needs to be creative and needs creative leaders to reach the people in their given context. We should celebrate those differences and rejoice in the victories of other churches and pastors. But our purpose must remain singular – to make King Jesus known.

Paul was writing from prison when he wrote his letter to the churches in Ephesus. He could have written a letter that touted his accomplishments, required their loyalty, or pressed the church to put political pressure on the government for his release. Instead, he made Christ pre-eminent and of first importance in his letter. Why? Because the church was never about the most successful missionary of all time or the greatest theologian of all time. If the church wasn’t about a man like Paul, then it most certainly isn’t about a man like me. The church was always about and will always be about its true Senior Pastor. King Jesus is the Head of His Church.

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