Ordinary Means

by

Nowadays, ordinary is a bad word. In a culture that is constantly looking for the next big thing, who wants what is ordinary? We want the spectacular. We want what is bigger, better, and exciting. We desire extraordinary gadgets, extraordinary kids, and extraordinary lives. To feel validated as a person, one must not settle for what is ordinary.

Our approach to church is not much different. In a world that values novelty, innovation, and relevance, the expectation is for pastors to appear hip, worship to feel amazing, and teaching to be useful for our most recent news feed of felt needs. We don’t want ordinary ministers of ordinary churches, but bigger-than-life celebrities who lead transformational movements that are in a rush to make a radical impact on our lives. We want churches that are worthy of our personal quest for the spectacular. We want churches that are worthy of us.

In such an age as ours, why should we bother planting churches that are committed to the ordinary ministry of Word and sacrament? Such an endeavor seems backwards and counterintuitive. Yet this is precisely what the Head of the church has called us to do. Before He ascended into heaven, Jesus gave us our marching orders:

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matt. 28:18–20)

The goal of the church’s mission is to make disciples. The means of the church’s mission is the ordinary ministry of Word and sacrament in the local church.

This becomes clear when we consider how the Apostles sought to fulfill the Great Commission. After receiving the power of the Spirit (Acts 2:1–4), they preached the gospel (vv. 14–36), baptized people (vv. 37–41), and began meeting weekly with those who “devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (v. 42). Not long after receiving their commission, they planted a church.

The whole book of Acts goes on to document this pattern of planting churches that were committed to the ordinary means of grace, following Jesus’ prophecy that the Apostles would be His witnesses “in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (1:8). The Apostles went throughout the world preaching the gospel, baptizing believers and their households, and planting congregations where they appointed elders to oversee the new disciples (14:21–23). This work continued in the transition from the Apostles to ordinary ministers (1 and 2 Timothy; Titus), and remains to this very day (Eph. 4:1–16).

The necessity of the local church for the making of disciples can hardly be overemphasized. This is our Lord’s chosen means for gathering His redeemed people, feeding them with His Word, receiving their worship, nurturing their faith, and bonding them as a community rooted and established in love (Rom. 12; Eph. 4; Phil. 1:27–2:11). The local church is a manifestation of the people who belong to Christ, and also the place where He meets them through the means He has ordained: an ordinary ministry of Word, water, bread, and wine.

Those means do not appear spectacular to the world. There is nothing particularly exciting or novel about a ministry of preaching, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper. It is the same routine each week. We hear the Scriptures proclaimed, we come to the table, we sing, we pray, we enjoy fellowship, and then we go home. There are no halftime shows, no rock concerts, and no celebrity personalities. It is plain, ordinary, and even boring at times. Truth be told, it is about as exciting as watching a tree grow.

But then Jesus said that the coming of His kingdom is like the growing of a tree (Luke 13:18–19). A tree doesn’t grow by big and marvelous events but through the slow, steady diet of sun and rain year after year. The same is true with the kingdom of God. More often than not, it does not grow by what the world considers a mark of success: big buildings, big budgets, and big names. Instead, it grows in simple and often small services where the gospel is proclaimed. It grows where believers and their children are baptized into the covenant community. It grows where repentant sinners come to a holy meal that appears tiny and insignificant. It grows where ordinary members of a congregation love and serve one another. It grows in those late-night, unglamorous meetings of the elders as they seek to tend faithfully to Christ’s sheep.

We do not need more movements, more conferences, and more celebrities. We do not need the next big thing. What we need are more churches committed to the way disciples have been made since the Apostles planted a church in Jerusalem two thousand years ago: the slow-going, unspectacular, ordinary ministry of Word and sacrament, where God is raising dead sinners and creating a living communion of saints.

By God’s power and grace, we are growing together into a tree whose glory will not appear fully until the end of the age. Until then, the extraordinary is God’s business. Our task is to be faithful to fulfill the ministry Christ gave us, as ordinary as it is.œ

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