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During the Christmas season a few years ago, the pastor of the church Joy and I were attending made a point that hadn’t really crossed my mind before. As we read the gospel narratives of the incarnation story one of the main characters in the story, doesn’t have any lines. For me it is a little dangerous when a new piece of information surfaces in church as it seems that my mind leaves the building in search of how that information might impact other things. In the midst of the flood of thoughts that raced across the landscape of my mind three men and a challenge came to rest in center stage. One man you have heard of, Joseph, two you probably have not, Allen and Bob.

The challenge that is frequently sent to me is do we always have to pick on what church leaders do wrong, can’t we ever find something positive to say? That is a good challenge for as my friend and Advisory Board member, Bill Honsberger of Haven Ministries often reminds me, God loves the church. The church is made up of individual believers who attend local assemblies. Many of the local assemblies would become more spiritually healthy as they recognize the spiritual assets which God has placed in their midst. As it is many are trying to slot the believers into a predefined “church in a box” program. There are churches whose leadership are first and foremost servants and they fan the flames of the individual giftedness and calling of those in their charge. God moves in some truly amazing ways in these settings. Instead of trying to find people to fill church “needs” they allow the people to rise up and perhaps found and define a whole new ministry within the church that serves their area and people better than any program could accomplish.

Joseph, when we think about it, is an odd duck. He is clearly not someone who would ascend very high in most churches today. His betrothed was “with child” by someone other than himself before he was married. He chose to go through with the marriage which would inevitably bring about the shame and suffering that went with having a child that was conceived out of wedlock. Mary had quite a bit to say but we don’t hear a word from Joseph. By and by Joseph vanishes from the scene but Mary is very publicly present through the crucifixion and resurrection. Mary was the public voice of their ministry while Joseph did the work of providing for and protecting her behind the scenes (Matthew 1:23, 2:14, 2:21 & 2:22). God used them in what some may view, if they think about it, as a sort of role reversal. Joseph comes across as the strong, silent type while Mary is very visible communicating about and leading people to God.

Allen and Bob remind me of Joseph in many ways. They are both married to women who are lively, intelligent and love the Lord. They are actively involved in the lives of others and are always on the lookout for ways to share the gospel or disciple those whom God has put in their path. Neither Allen nor Bob say very much, in fact, Dani says of her husband Allen, He probably only says 6 words a day and three of them are ‘I love you’ and so I stay.” Having gotten to know Allen over the last thirteen years or so I can say that although that may be exaggerated, it is only slightly so. Like Joseph before them, Allen and Bob are spiritual anchors for those around them. They clear the way, provide for and protect their wives, fan the flames of their wives passion and particular giftedness to enable them to carry out what God has called them to do. Although Bob and Allen don’t seem to have many lines in the play they observe, think and on occasion, only when absolutely necessary draw on that pool of words that they use in a miserly way and say something which others should defiantly listen to. They are the heads of their homes and in a truly biblical way are servants to their wives and others around them. They see their value as coming from God who served them to the point of incarnating solely for the purpose of dying and resurrecting Himself for them. Their wives, being encouraged, cheered on, provided for and protected do their level best to out serve their husbands. Most churches don’t value these couples very highly as they don’t fit the program well but then Joseph and Mary also would have been looked upon with a wary eye. I have had the marvelous opportunity in my life to meet many of my heroes of the faith. Allen and Bob are definitely in that group.

Ephesians 4:11-16 presents a view of the church which is not the stuff of fads and programs and as a result is somewhat unpredictable and difficult to box up into a marketable one size fits all package.

And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.

The challenge to the church is for leadership to begin seeing themselves as servants and worry less about programs. As pastors and teachers abandon the role of church CEO (I didn’t notice that office in Paul’s list) and excel in their role as pastor (shepherd) and teacher their local church will also take on a different dynamic. As they allow those in their body to use their gifts and share the vision of what God has called them to do individually each body will be infused with new life and energy. Will the people make mistakes? Certainly but that gives some great teaching opportunities as leadership recognizes and cheers them on. Since the ministry and mission of the local church becomes directed by the giftedness and calling of the individuals, men like Bob and Allen will expand the ministry of the church in ways that don’t fit well in the “church-in-a-box.” They may not have many lines and perhaps won’t teach Sunday school, but they will move heaven and earth to make their wives ministry and the ministries of those they trust and believe in more effective. They may show up at the home of a widow and fix her car or water heater to give her stability and comfort because she is at a loss as to what to do and is a friend of their wife. They may not say much but, like Joseph before them, what they do adds a great deal to the gospel story that is vitally important although very subtle. It may be a bit uncomfortable for churches to make the transition to function more as a family but the church will become the living organism that it was designed to be. Will it be scary? Sure, for God is not predictable but then that is the best part of a gift, guessing what it will be.