What Is A New
Part 3. Contextual Ministry
September 4, 2007
Ron and Karen Schwartz
The New Testament Church recognized both the appointment of church
offices and the endowment of gifts. Men appoint men to an office.
A gift however, is the manifestation of the Holy Spirit in
a person. It is the Holy Spirit’s use of a believer for a divine
“Gift” Versus “Office”
Consider the two following scriptures:
1 Timothy 3:1 KJV
This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he
desireth a good work.
The Greek word for “office” is episkope (ep-is-kop-ay').
It means “inspection and therefore (by implication), superintendence or
overseer.” We find in the epistles of both Timothy and Titus that the
church office was an appointment to a position of oversight that was
given by men. We also find that the First Century Christians recognized
the endowment of gifts as described in the following scripture:
Ephesians 4:7-11 KJV
7 But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of
the gift of Christ.
8 Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity
captive, and gave gifts unto men.
9(Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into
the lower parts of the earth?
10 He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all
heavens, that he might fill all things.)
11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some,
evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
The gifting of ministry is a sovereign act of the Holy Spirit, and since
it is the endowment of the Holy Spirit, it must have precedence over any
office(s) that men create. The First Century Christians gave respect to
those appointed to church offices, but they gave precedence and
deference to those who were spiritually gifted. The New Testament church
did not tolerate a church “officer” taking authority over the
spiritually gifted. Consider the following passage from John’s letter:
3 John 9-10 KJV
9 I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the
preeminence among them, receiveth us not.
10 Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth,
prating (i.e., gossiping)
against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth
he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and
casteth them out of the church.
Here we find an example of a church leader appointed to an office taking
control and dominance over those who were spiritually endowed. Unlike
contemporary Christianity, the New Testament Church placed a great deal
of emphasis on the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit. Christians were
taught that the Holy Spirit is the enabler and leader of each believer,
and by extension, the congregation. Believers respected the principle
nature of the Holy Spirit in one another. They were taught to yield to
the manifestation of a spiritual gift and thereby concede to the
leadership of the Holy Spirit as when Paul wrote of the prophets: “Let
the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge. If any thing
be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace (1
The practice of the New Testament church was vastly different from
its contemporary counterpart. “Appointed” church offices took a back
seat to the manifestation of the Spirit, while those who were
spiritually gifted were both encouraged and allowed to express their
spiritual gifts. Today, however, the reverse is true. In our
contemporary church model, “appointed” church offices (i.e., men who are
appointed to a position of authority) are often expected to be
plenipotentiary leaders who take precedence over the spiritually gifted.
The spiritually gifted are often viewed and treated as troublemakers and
Derailing The Spiritually Gifted
When men are “appointed” to positions of authority, then authority
becomes (at least one of) their objective(s). Artificial authority (i.e.
authority appointed by men) becomes another ingredient added to a
recipe. It changes the flavor.
By nature, people given authority by other people will gravitate toward
plenipotentiary leadership. Therefore any other form of authority
becomes problematic. Even the manifestation of Holy Spirit functioning
in a demonstrative manner (which is a form of leadership) presents a
In contrast, people who are truly endowed with spiritual gifts do not
pursue authority. The goal of the spiritually gifted is to merely
relieve their spirit of the burden that the spiritual gift imposes as it
endeavors to be manifested.
Usually, those who are appointed to positions of authority come from
the ranks of the spiritually gifted. This is because quite often the
spiritually gifted are expected to take positions of authority. It is
clever trick invented by Satan to derail the spiritually gifted. It
derails the spiritually gifted by changing their objective from
“operating in the gift” to “operating in the authority,” from “being a
servant” to” being in control,” and from “waiting on the spirit” to
“having a program.”
In contemporary Christianity, spiritually gifted individuals are
encouraged to attend Bible College and then find a church to pastor.
This is a derailing of the spiritual objective for their lives. The goal
of the Holy Spirit is not to send the spiritually gifted away from the
body of Christians of which they are a part but to manifest Himself
through each person. Instead, institutional churches are barren of the
spiritually gifted because the gifted are either encouraged to leave to
find a church of their own to pastor or asked to leave when they become
The contemporary church is derailed, primarily because its leaders
are. They have allowed their appointed positions to give them a place in
the church that God never intended. Appointed church leaders were to
have authority over that which belongs to men, not that which belongs to
An example of the appointment of men to church offices and the purpose
for doing so is found in the Book of Acts:
Acts 6:1-5 KJV
1 And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied,
there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because
their widows were neglected in the daily ministration.
2 Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and
said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve
3 Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report,
full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this
4 But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry
of the word.
5 And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a
man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and
Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch.
It was the responsibility of the church (not God) to see that the “daily
ministration” of goods such as food and money was distributed equitably.
They needed men to be “appointed” to positions to “oversee” this facet
of ministry. Whenever a material or physical need was identified, men
would be “appointed” to address it. But this did not give them
credentials to exert authority over the spiritual affairs of the church.
In the New Testament church, it is God’s responsibility to see that the
spiritual needs of His people are met.
Derailing occurs because appointed church leaders believe that their
appointed ministries supercede the gifts of God.
Derailing also occurs because people tend to gravitate toward a
dependency on the flesh. People tend toward “self”-righteousness,
“self”-intellect, “self”-sufficiency and “self”-control. The more
fleshly people are, the more flesh they want. The more spiritual they
are, the more Spirit they want. Therefore, institutional Christians tend
to gravitate toward institutional-style ministries and churches. Leaving
things to the invisible and spontaneous Holy Spirit goes against the
grain. That is why the pull of Old Testament structure is so strong. The
Old Testament was dependent on the intellect, strength, and (self)
righteousness of men.
The draw of the Old Testament can become self-perpetuating. As a
church begins to grow cold, it becomes more and more institutional. The
more institutional it becomes, the colder it grows. It becomes a vicious
circle drawing a church further and further into the institutional
replacement of the Holy Spirit.
New Testament Ministry
The ministry of the Old Testament was static, or predictable. All male
Levites were priests. Those born of Aaron’s lineage were temple priests,
and out of them, one was chosen to be the High Priest. Who they were and
what they did was both predictable and scheduled. In contrast, the
ministry of the New Testament is dynamic. It is designed to be
contextual. That is to say, the Holy Spirit working through an
individual adapts to the context of a particular situation. Paul
describes the adaptability of the Spirit when he writes:
1 Corinthians 9:19-22 KJV
19 For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant
unto all, that I might gain the more.
20 And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to
them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them
that are under the law;
21 To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law
to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are
22 To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made
all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.
Here Paul describes how the nature of New Testament ministry changes to
adapt to the context of both his environment and audience.
Intuitively, all Christians know this. All Christian mothers and fathers
realize that they are both pastors and teachers to their families. All
Christians understand that they are evangelists to their lost friends.
Jesus confirmed this by the great commission when He charged all
believers to, “Go ye into all the world, and
preach the gospel to every creature (Mark 16:15).” Christians
routinely act as teachers to each other. Every New Testament believer
has acted in the capacity of one or more of the listed five-fold
ministries of Ephesians 4.
This is because, in the New Testament, every believer is a temple,
having the Spirit of God, and is therefore capable of providing ministry
to people. Each believer is meant to adapt to the context of their
environment and audiences, drawing from the spiritual gifts that are
made available to them by the Holy Spirit and ministering to those who
are in need.
Jesus modeled this for us. To the woman at the well, Jesus acted in the
capacity of an evangelist: “Jesus answered
[her], "Everyone who
drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I
give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in
him a spring of water welling up to eternal life (John 4:13).”
To the Pharisees, He spoke
with the rebuke of a prophet:
“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto
whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within
full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also
outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy
and iniquity. Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape
the damnation of hell (Matt 23:27-33)?” To His disciples, He was
an apostle establishing the church: “And I say
also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my
church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Matt 16:18).”
To the inquisitive soul, He was a teacher: “The
same [Nicodemus] came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we
know that thou art a teacher come from God (John 3:2).” And to
children of God, He was/is a pastor: “O Jerusalem,
Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are
sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together,
even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not
The problem with institutional churches is that they have reverted back
to an Old Testament style of ministry where ministry was static
(unchanging) and exercised by only a small portion of God’s people
(Levites). The spontaneity and adaptability of the Spirit is lost in
most churches. However, once out of the church setting (away from the
Old Testament-style ministers), many Christians revert back to New
Testament ministry and once again become the adaptable, spontaneous, and
contextual ministers in whom the Spirit can operate. Once again, they
take advantage of the spiritual gifts and evangelize their friends, they
pastor and teach their children, and, as an apostle, they establish the
church of their own family.
Many people point to scriptures like James 3:1 (“My
brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater
condemnation” - the word “master”
being the same Greek word translated “teacher”
in the description of the five-fold ministry found in Ephesians 4) to
suggest that there is, in fact, a small cadre of men who are chosen for
ministry just as in the Old Testament. But they are incorrect.
This scripture alludes to a Jewish custom of discipling. A Jewish
rabbi (i.e., master or teacher) would gather to himself a group of
disciples whom he would teach. Jesus did this and was often referred to
as “rabbi,” “teacher,” and “master.” Disciples would essentially live
with and serve their “master (or teacher).” Many rabbis who became saved
would keep their Jewish customs and become rabbis of the New Testament.
Even many Gentiles adopted this custom of discipling for New
Testament believers. But adopting a custom does not make something a New
Testament institution. It is merely a custom.
Even today, many Christians are mentored by others. This is a form of
the rabbi/disciple custom of Judaism. But this does NOT mean that the
disciples are not ministers as well. It only means that they have chosen
to be mentored by a modern day equivalent of a rabbi. In the context of
a church, there are many people who mentor others. The mentoring
relationship does not make one a minister while the other is not, but
rather the mentor is a minister to ministers. However, institutional
Christianity has taken the custom of the mentor/disciple and turned it
into an institution - known as a pastor and his congregation. And like
the Levitical priesthood, today’s pastors have a static (unchanging) job
over their congregations.
The New Testament ministry is meant to be dynamic and contextual.
Like salt sprinkled on food, God has His people everywhere [i.e., “Ye
are the salt of the earth (Matt 5:13)”], in every social setting,
and in every environment. They are fully endorsed as His ambassadors to
represent Him [i.e., “Now then we are ambassadors
for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's
stead, be ye reconciled to God (2 Cor 5:20)”]. They are to be “springs
of living” and temples full of God’s power. Does this describe
the institutional style of Christianity we see today? No.
We don’t see this style of Christianity because churches have
institutionalized the ministry. It no longer is the dynamic and
spontaneous empowerment of the Holy Spirit, but an appointed office. It
is academia, a degree in “Divinity,” or some other certification of men.
For Christianity to become what it once was, Christians must come to
understand that they are to function in ministry according to the
context of their environment and to once again believe that they are
fully endued with the power of God to do so. God has called no one to
sit in a church pew: all His people are called to act on His behalf.
When Jesus said, “Go ye therefore, and teach all
nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and
of the Holy Ghost (Matt 28:19),” as part of the Great Commission,
He was not just commissioning the eleven disciples but all who would
follow Him. Preaching, teaching, and even baptism is not a right
reserved exclusively to those in appointed offices (i.e.
institutionalized pastors) but to every believer.
In a New Testament church, there will be leaders. This does not mean, as
is the case today, that once the church assembles everyone who is not a
“recognized” leader must put his ministry away. In a New Testament
church, it is the gift that is recognized and heeded, not the person.
Scriptures like James 3:1 (“My brethren, be not
many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation”),
or Hebrews 13:17 (“Obey them that have the rule
over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they
that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with
grief: for that is unprofitable for you”) is not describing or
endorsing an institutional minister who is over everyone in a church but
those who disciple and mentor others. Anyone discipling another should
consider everything they do with the utmost gravity. And this especially
applies to parents.
We must be careful NOT to institutionalize these scriptures to mean
that all Christians, even those who are spiritually mature, are to lay
down their gifts and ministries when in the presence of an institutional
minister. Such behavior quenches the Spirit and is the reason we do not
see more of the manifest presence of God today.
In a New Testament church, a believer does not need to be appointed to a
church office in order to minister. ALL MATURE CHRISTIANS are to be
regarded as elders and speak with the SAME authority as those appointed
to church offices. Why, then, have church offices at all? The practice
in the New Testament church was to appoint spiritually mature
individuals to handle the business and physical affairs of the church.
That is why all the qualifications for a church office in Titus and
Timothy deal with the honesty and integrity of a man, NOT his spiritual
In the New Testament, ALL Christians are, literally, ministers. They
aren’t just called ministers (as is popularly done in most institutional
churches): they truly are. If a believer does not minister to others, it
is because they have reverted back to the Old Testament in the service
of God where only an elite few were actual ministers. A mother may not
express herself much in a meeting where other “leaders” tend to be more
visible, but it does not take away from her ministry to her family. Her
ministry in the “context” of her family is no different than that of the
leaders of a church. They are both pastors. The people at her assembly
who are acting in the capacity of pastor by mentoring and discipling the
spiritually young do not take precedence over her ministry to her
family. Therefore, in any assembly, there are multiple and overlapping
“contexts” of ministry.
A person speaking prophetically may minister to the whole group, while a
mature Christian may be discipling only one or more believers. Unless
the group is comprised of only new believers (as were some churches in
the New Testament), there should not be a case of a single person
mentoring everyone. In an assembly, there should be husbands and wives
who minister (at least) in the context of their own homes. Care must
be taken that no one exerts the context of his own ministry to usurp the
ministry context of others. The context of every believer’s ministry
must be respected, and in addition, true New Testament ministry will
never strip another believer of his ministry. That is the action of men,
not the Holy Spirit.
In the New Testament, every believer should feel the confidence to act
on behalf of God. It is not God who wants you to set your ministry aside
but men who struggle for power and control. You are the temple of the
living God and a well of life-giving water. Just remember the words of
Matthew 5:14-16 KJV
14 Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot
15 Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a
candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.
16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good
works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.