Every Church needs Gifted Amateurs

‘The curse of the gifted amateur’, that was how Phillip Jensen berated English Evangelicalism. It was one of his off-piste comments that, had he known he was going to be quoted, he may well have wanted to kill with a thousand qualifications. But he didn’t, which is what makes him so worth listening to! But at the time, his point was that as a theological constituency we had far too low a view of the value of theological education. He was probably right. And there were good reasons for that. We hadn’t had it and we’d had to survive without it. Lots of our flagship churches were run by men who were extraordinarily gifted in intellect, initiative and instinct but whose theological education had ill equipped them for evangelical pastoral ministry. I’m not saying that they weren’t good. They were. And are. And I still benefit hugely from their ministries. But most of the people who went to the theological colleges in Oxford, Cambridge, Durham and Bristol in this period say that they learnt how to do ministry by being involved in student ministry and participating in their local evangelical churches. They weren’t helped by their theological training, which was overwhelmingly liberal in flavour. These men were ‘naturally’ gifted and on their watch they raised up the next generation of young church leaders. Those men now have the privilege of being able to choose between some fine theological institutions that are geared up to helping us teach the truth and refute error. But it’s possible to overplay the theological education card. My Co-Mission colleague, Pete Woodcock, repeatedly reminds us that attending a theological college isn’t a New Testament requirement for consideration for eldership. And he’s right. It’s not. And then there’s Nehemiah 3.

One of the striking features of this narrative is the sheer number and diversity of people who joined in. Just look over the chapter to get an impression  of the frequency with which different people are named. The variety of different people is astounding. Every Tom, Dick and Harriet is involved in rebuilding the Kingdom of God. We get a flavour of that from the people mentioned who rebuilt the area around the Jeshanah Gate.

The Jeshanah Gate was repaired by Joiada son of Paseah and Meshullam son of Besodeiah. They laid its beams and put its doors and bolts and bars in place. Next to them, repairs were made by men from Gibeon and Mizpah—Melatiah of Gibeon and Jadon of Meronoth—places under the authority of the governor of Trans-Euphrates. Uzziel son of Harhaiah, one of the goldsmiths, repaired the next section; and Hananiah, one of the perfume-makers, made repairs next to that. They restored Jerusalem as far as the Broad Wall. Rephaiah son of Hur, ruler of a half-district of Jerusalem, repaired the next section. Adjoining this, Jedaiah son of Harumaph made repairs opposite his house, and Hattush son of Hashabneiah made repairs next to him. Malkijah son of Harim and Hasshub son of Pahath-Moab repaired another section and the Tower of the Ovens. Shallum son of Hallohesh, ruler of a half-district of Jerusalem, repaired the next section with the help of his daughters.

Uzziel the goldsmith participated. Did he really know how to wield a trowel. Perhaps DIY was a hobby. Shallum the ruler got involved and so did his daughters in. But what I especially love is Hananiah the perfume maker. The man was a beautician! What could he possibly know about bricklaying? But God used him and all the others to rebuild his Kingdom. This is a grand theme that the New Testament picks up in places like 1 Corinthians 12. God uses gifted amateurs and not simply the professionals to grow his churches. He gifts his people with whatever he thinks they need in order to grow the church in maturity and numbers. Very few of us are professionals. But no matter. God does it this way so that he gets the credit. And rightly so. He uses the glorious diversity of gifted amateurs like us.

To build the Kingdom of God in this country I’m not sure that we need more professionals as much as we gifted amateurs who are prepared to get involved in building the work of the local church.

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