“Let all things be done for building up.” This call wrapped up Paul’s response to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 14:26 on the question of spiritual gifts. He was dealing with a divided and spiritually immature church—“infants in Christ”—who wrestled, ironically, with how to be godly in their new relationship with God.
So here’s my question for the day. How good are we at building up others—with helping new children of God to be more godly? Not just as individuals but in our church ministries? And in parachurch ministries?
I ask this as an honest question in the afterglow of a global workers’ conference in Oak Harbor, Washington. One of my highlights was a midweek visit with the Navigator ministry at the local Whidbey Island Naval Air Station. The “Navs” feature outreach and discipleship—a building-up ministry—with a unique focus.
I spent time with the Navigators decades ago during my two-years as an Army draftee. I still remember that time with pleasure—in my being built up by others. I later met and worked with the first fruit of the Nav ministry—Les Spencer—a sailor on the battleship West Virginia who started meeting over the Bible with a mentor, Dawson Trotman, in 1933. Another of that first round of Navs was Ed Goodrick who marked me deeply as one of my Bible college teachers. Ed combined a dynamic mind with a robust devotion to Christ.
These men were great building block figures in my own growth. As was Art Branson, my high school youth pastor. For Art the Scriptures were an artesian well of God’s overflowing heart—where we could “taste and see” God’s love for us. He ministered to more than a hundred youth but he still had time for me as an individual. He was a ready coach and companion to any of us who were hungry to grow.
And that’s what I have in mind as I write this. How many of us are good at helping others to grow? In doing what Jesus did with his small core?
As an example of the need, as I started writing this entry at a local coffee shop a young man was sitting at the same long table with his Bible open. We struck up a brief conversation about Bible reading—my own Bible was obvious—and he was soon promoting a well-known “kingdom” cult. After he left I couldn’t help but wonder how a Dawson or an Art might have helped him in his first days of Bible reading—in doing some “building up” on a proper foundation.
Over the years I’ve noticed certain tendencies in the church at large. Some feature star-based ministries—churches led by charismatic orators. Other churches promise wealth and health. Still others offer therapeutic ministry—ways to find more satisfaction and success in life. But these approaches rarely produce biblical maturity—the sort of well-rounded believers who live and talk like Jesus.
So where are ministries that feature authentic spiritual construction?
I’ve also noticed that the fastest-growing churches I’ve been part of over the years—those that still proclaim a clear devotion to Christ and to his teachings—are often thin in offering what Art offered me. Home groups that review last Sunday’s sermon are the high-water mark for most. It’s not a bad approach but the more robust work of digging and developing truth from closer Bible study is rare.
So here’s a thought. Are the pastors in such churches operating with a spiritual gift that needs to be complemented by other gifts? I can think, for instance, of Billy Graham’s realization in the 1950’s that the many people who responded at his crusades needed to be helped. He soon got in touch with Dawson for help on that score and the Nav ministry started to multiply.
One of the apostle Paul’s big points in what he wrote to the immature Corinthian church was his so-called “love chapter”—1 Corinthians 13—located in the middle of his discussion about spiritual gifts. As Paul reached the finale in his letter about building up others he had already elevated love as the only proper basis for ministry.
So I’ll end with that thought. We all need to love and be loved. My mentor, Art, reflected Christ’s love for him. And he shared it with those of us who were hungry to grow. We jumped at the more focused times he offered. As I look back that only amounted to a few of us—out of the larger group of more than a hundred—but he was always there. He loved God and he loved us. He was infectious.
Paul offers a bottom-line we need to notice. Who is available today for the young and hungry believers found in any ministry setting? Shouldn’t churches and ministries today do more in offering more robust pathways to maturity? Let’s call it a constructive suggestion.