The Empowerment of the Office of the Believer in a Missiological Context

Written by Frederick on . Posted in Gemeentes

Note: This is a summary of Roelf Pienaar’s dissertation in MIssiology at the University of the Free State You can contact him at rjpienaar@absamail.co.za

The Mission of the Church in times of Change

In the changes that South Africa experience after the democratic election in 1994 it is of great necessity that the church present the gospel of hope through every member in every sphere of life.  The world, which is experiencing a paradigm-shift, is in need of the Christian message because post-modernism cannot fill the void which was left by modernism.  Post-modernism’s rejection of the normative message of the Bible challenge the church to better equip its members to be able to serve in a new era.  Studies on the place and role of members who does not serve in a church office is therefore essential in a time of change to assist the church in obeying its call and vocation in bringing the message of hope in the world.  The idea of “empowering” members refers to the comprehensive activity of the church to enable members, as a group or as individuals, to be involved in the world in a missionary way.  In establishing what empowerment of church members is, it is necessary first to examine the missionary context within which the church finds itself and also to examine the reformed framework of the call to missions of the church.  It is then necessary to examine the significant role that church offices play in the mission work of the church, as well as the missionary importance of the general “office” of every believer – if such an office exists.  “Empowerment” can be defined through the use of the term in non-theological contexts and in the context that it is currently used in the church where after a definition can be found of how it should be used in terms of “empowerment” of the general office of believers.

An exploration of the “Missionary Context”

The call to “mission” is central for the church.  Because of the current experiences of change it is essential that the church should be involved in defining the meaning of “mission” and defining the subjects and methods of mission.  The command and promise of Acts 1:8, in the light of the resurrection of Jesus, applied to every believer, forms the background of the Early Church’s understanding of its call to missions.  In the empowerment of believers these elements should also play a meaningful role.  The context of the early church did not require the defining of an elaborate missions policy, and yet a distinct line of development of such a policy is discernable.  The history of missions, though cannot always be described in positive terms because of the fact that the church did not always state its missionary principles clearly.  The term “missions” is derived from the church’s doctrine on the Tri-unity of God and the Missio Dei that focuses on the redemption of humankind through the mending of the relationship between God and man.   “Missions” must reach the whole person in a holistic way to introduce man in all his intricate dimensions to the eschatological hope and redemption in Jesus Christ.  “Mission” takes place where the church crosses the boundaries, visible and invisible, between the gospel and the lost world, in such a way that the world may share in the hope that is in Jesus Christ.  The “mission” of the church, although complex, must be defined in such a way that it would clearly state the hope and redemption that is in Jesus Christ.

A Reformed framework for a definition of “Missions”

A Reformed definition of missions must include the following elements:

“Mission” is Missio Trinitatis.  It is the Father, Son and Holy Spirit that reaches out to bring hope to the world.  Jesus is central to God’s mission.  The hope presented in the Missio Trinitatis is grounded on His obedience on the cross.  After Jesus’ ascension the Missio Trinitatis is continued by the Holy Spirit.  The Missio Dei spans the time before creation and is continued by the Triune God with the aim of restoring the broken relationship caused by the sin of man.  The hope vested in God’s “mission” is meant for everybody that suffers from sin.  God’s righteousness is proclaimed towards everybody that participates in the disrupting of the hope that He brings.  Jesus is the only Mediator of the hope that God presents the world.  The contents of the message of hope presented to sinners is that mended relationships with God, fellow man and the world is possible.  The hope that God present is not earned but is received through grace, faith in the Mediator, Jesus Christ, and through the proclamation of the Word of God in words and deeds by those serving in a church office and members who do not serve in a special office.  Church offices should not only preach the Word of God and serve the sacraments but should see to it that the gospel is proclaimed every where.  The Gospel is proclaimed in formal and informal ways by the whole church.  The motivation for “mission” is the redemption of sinners with the aim that they may honour God the Saviour, by persevering in praising Him as one body of believers into eternity.  “Mission” is the multi-dimensional activities of the whole church with which the church, on the grounds of the Missio Dei, crosses the boundaries between the gospel and the world in such a way that the eschatological hope that is in God alone, through the redemption in Jesus Christ alone, can realize today for everyone suffering of the consequences of sin.

The Church Office in a Missionary Context

The church office must remain the object of study in order for it to remain within the guidelines of the Word and still fits the demands of new contexts.  Defining offices in the church must be done in the light of the Missio Dei that brings hope through special and general gifts.  The primary meaning of “office” is “service”.  This service is not of a general nature but is rendered under the commission of the Lord with authority that He gives within the realms of the church with the aim of bringing eschatological hope and redemption in Christ, to the world.  Christ rules his church through his Word and Spirit.  The Holy Spirit cares for the church by equipping it through gifts to individuals and gifts to the community of believers.  Church offices forms part of the latter gifts.  All the work done by church offices is service but all services rendered in the church is not official.  Official service creates space for all service rendered to Christ in and through the Church, his body.  There is a diversity of offices with a distinction in commission and function.  In the diversity of offices there is an unity in the service of the body of Christ.  The number of offices is not essential but the origin, commission and theological grounding of every office is.  The essence of the office is the equipping of the saints with the aim that all believers, in a special office or not, may be involved in:
–  a search for unity in the church,
–  the delivery of faith from one generation to another,
–  works of compassion of the congregation, and
–  supervision and discipline of each other.
The task of equipping the members of the congregation includes equipment with a view to exponential and spiritual growth.  Church offices has a missionary dimension although this dimension is not primary to the office.  It is the commission of the office to assist the congregation as part of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church to reach its goal and function in the Missio Dei through intentional deeds of koinonia, kerygma, diakonia en martyria, not only through office bearers but through the whole church, to honour the Head of the church.  In the Reformed creeds a high value is placed on the government of the church as a Christocracy.  Christ is present in the government of the church and is not represented in the offices.  The Christocracy of Christ is acknowledged by the three Reformed creeds of unity and by the Church order of the Dutch Reformed Church of 2004.  In the latter room is made only for three offices, namely the office of minister, elder and deacon.  The service rendered by believers who does not serve in a special office is not mentioned under the heading “offices of the Church” but is mentioned in the section which describes the work of the church.

A Reformed View of the “Office of the Believer” and its value to missions

There is a strong interaction between the church office and faith community which, if it should be disturbed, would lead to a diminution of both, which in turn would inhibit the congregation to reach its purpose and function.  The phrase “office of the believer” does not appear in the three Reformed Creeds of Unity, but the notion of an official task of every believer is found in the creeds.  The phrase “office of the believer” does not appear in the Bible either and therefore there is always the danger that it may be misused or misinterpreted.  There is enough support for the idea of a general office in both the Bible and the creeds.  Whenever the phrase “office of the believer” is used, the Biblical contents of the phrase should be defined.  The Bible teaches about the general office:
• that God since the Old Testament times, has called on all the members of His people to play a mediating role between Him and the world  (Ex 19:5 – 6);
• that God gives His Spirit to all believers  (1 John 2:20 en 27);
• that the Spirit makes the church ’n royal priesthood with the commissioning of all believers to carry the hope in Jesus Christ into the world  (1 Pet 2:9);
• that in the mediating of hope, words and deeds cannot be separated;
• that every Christian is called to use his or her special gifts in the service of the Missio Dei  (1 Pet 4:10);
• that no believer was passed over in the gift of the Spirit or other gifts and that all believers should use their gifts under the guidance of the Spirit in such a way that the local congregation benefits from these gifts (Rom 12:6 – 8;  1 Cor 12:7 en 25);
• that the special offices should equip the general office for the service for which every Christian is called, namely the spreading of the gospel and the up building of the church  (Eph 4:12).
Offices in the church and believers serving in the general office is, without the dominance of one over the other, in interaction with one another, available to be used by the Spirit for the extension of the kingdom of God and the up building of the body of Christ.  The substance and commission of the general office of the believer rests on the fact that every Christian is called to live out his or her redemption in such a way that the gifts of the Spirit may by used to reach his or her neighbour.  Every believer is called to be involved in the Missio Dei on all terrains of life.  With this commission he or she may be able to reach people daily on an informal way with the hope that is in Christ.  Die first value of the office of the believer is lies in the opportunity that every believer has to penetrate the world as individuals.  The second value of the general office is that Christians who are living out their commission in their daily lives bring new life to the local congregation.

The Utilization of General Science in Missiology

The term “empowerment” is currently very popular to denote the task of the church office towards the believer in the general office.  It is however a term that can lead to misunderstanding and should not be used in the church if it is not defined very well.  It may even be necessary to abandon the use of the term al together.  In the definition of the term it may be usefull to look at other diciplines use of it.  In the interaction between theology and general science the bona fides of both are sometimes being doubted.  This is one of the reasons why the results of the one is not always useful in the practice of the other.  “Science” is:
 The Systematic gathering of knowledge about a clearly defined object by a subject who uses fixed methods with clear objectives;
 The object forms a part of the perceivable creation of God, visible and invisible, and is researched in connection with other objects that also forms part of creation;
 The subject practice science from an own philosophy of life and other predetermined presuppositions;
 The methods for the practice of science must be verifiable and is not done in isolation from other disciplines of science;
The methods utilized by theology is mainly critical, systematic reflection on a chosen object.  This is done in such a way that the reflection is afterwards verifiable.  The theologian may study and utilize the results of general sciences to determine the impact that these results have or may have on theology, faith and faithful responses of believers.  This may be done in the belief that both theology and other sciences forms part of the creation of God and in the knowledge that both are gifts from the only source of knowledge, the Holy Spirit.  Theologian and general scientist is effected by the Fall and therefore no scientific result may be elevated above the revelation of God in his Word.  The utilization of general sciences is a means used by die missiologist for contextualizing the message of the Bible and to converse with the world, bringing a message of hope.  This message of hope is about God the creator of heaven and earth, Who still cares and keeps the world.  Missiology is the scientific reflection on all aspects of the church’s commission and the execution thereof.  Missiology spans the reflection on missions from the pre-scientific presuppositions to the ultimate challenges in the praxis of mission work.  Missiology researches the context within which theology is practised and is of help in contextualizing the results of theology.  In researching the context of the church and with the aim of contextualizing theology the missiologist makes use of non-theological or general sciences.  The missiologist is in constant conversation with the world in which the message of hope is delivered.  The use of general sciences is both missions and the contextualization of the message of hope.

A Definition for the term “Empowerment”

Empowerment is those acts and processes that liberates an individual or group of individuals from an oppressing culture or structure and enables the individual or group of individuals to become part of a new community with a sense of belonging.  In the new structure the formerly oppressed individual or group of individuals takes part in the processes of the new community with his, her or their values and norms in tact without again being suppressed.  Before a type or model for empowerment can be decided upon thorough attention must be given to the following questions:
– What lead to the need for empowerment and what caused the absence of a sense of belonging?;
– What does the power structure looks like or what are the perceptions about the power structure within which empowerment is going to take place?;
– Who are the people with authority within the perceived power structure?  Empowerment within the given structure will have to start with those with authority.
Empowerment happens through structural changes which leads to changes in disposition, opinions and perceptions.  Empowerment is not a quick fix solution for any organisation or structure but a long term process.  Equipment and training are important parts of empowerment and empowers but it is not in itself empowerment.  The more empowerment expands the sphere of influence of the object of empowerment the more it will enhance the object of empowerment’s involvement, demeanour, focus and commitment to the structure within which empowerment is practised.  Empowerment is mostly managed by people with authority within the structure and this accentuate the submissiveness of the object of empowerment and can lead to even more feelings of impotence.  Empowerment happens in interaction between the object of empowerment, as the specialist of his or her own situation, and the subject of empowerment, as the facilitator for the improvement of the object’s situation.  The interaction between the subject and the object happens within the parameters of the values and norms of the structure within which empowerment is practised.  This interaction aims at obtaining a more valued role for the object of empowerment, within the given structure or community.  The concept of “empowerment” holds, for some, a dream of a political utopia, but true empowerment is not the shifting of a constant amount of power in a structure or community but is the creation of more power and energy.  Empowerment is a process of participation and delegation which leads to an improvement in the object’s achievements within the structure.  This improvement is because of the object’s experience of worth and control.  The reasons why management or those with authority gets involved with empowerment schemes must be spelled out clearly or else it will lead to suspicion.  The distribution of information within the structure where empowerment is practised is very important.  In the process of empowerment the micro and macro contexts of the object must be taken into account.  Support, the availability of resources and contextual management systems all play a very important role in the immediate or micro context of the object of empowerment.  Empowerment must enhance the involvement and meaningful participation of all role players.  Human resources, skills and the improvement of admission to the activities of the structure within which empowerment is practised is very important for the success of empowerment.  A very high level of trust, sincerity, creativity and simplicity is of great value for constructive change in structures with the aim of empowering the disempowered.  A thorough description of the role of the different parties involved and a process of mentorship can help with the measurable accountability of the process.  The focus on the interests of the individual within the context of the interests of the collective structure may lead to successful empowerment only if a strong core of values is unchanged by the whole process of empowerment.

“Empowerment” as a practise of missions in the church

Postmodernisms’ rejection of general enforceable truths and the search for truths that only applies to an individual’s values has created opportunities for the church within which the empowerment of the office of the believer can enlarge the Christian’s sphere of influence in the world.  With “power” as a root word of “empowerment” the latter should not be use naïvely in the church.  In using the term “empowerment” the church should move away from the idea of power or authority and focus on the process of growing the possibility of service and the sphere of influence of the believer.  All power and authority belongs to God, the Creator of the world.  He utilizes this power within the context of the covenant with the aim of redeeming fallen man.  There is no power except the power of God.  He transfers aspects of this power to the members of the faith community.  He does this through the living community of faith that Jesus had established, through His tradition of teaching and through the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit.  This legacy of Jesus transfers authority to people within the context of Scripture, the church and its traditions, human reason and human experience.  To participate in the power of God outside of this structure is destructive.  Power that is received from God is internalized through the reception of the gifts of grace and faith.  If power is not internalized in this way it will not lead to a better sense of belonging but will lead to feelings of estrangement and disempowerment.  Empowerment must always be about God and His glory through the promotion of commitment and discipleship of believers in such a way that they may live out the truth of the gospel and also share it verbally with the world.  The purpose of empowerment has two facets.  On an individual level it is aimed at creating a sense of belonging for the individual believer.  On the corporate level its aim is to equip believers in such a way as the body of Christ in order for them not only to be verbal witnesses of the gospel but also to be a new community in the midst of a broken world.  The aim of corporate empowerment as an activity of the church is to lead the church to have a missionary understanding of Scripture, to be a pastoral-prophetic community in the world, to have a congregational and ecumenical life and to have insight in being the church gathered and dispersed.  Empowerment is to guide believers into a Christian lifestyle in the public sphere that would enlarge their influence in the restoration of the world.  With this in mind the church should focus on a style of worship, Bible study and spiritual equipping that empowers through correction, giving information, inspiration and the support of believers’ different ministries.  Empowerment consists of measurable actions taken by a congregation to improve the quality of discipleship of believers.

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