Am I a second-tier Christian if I’m not a set-apart gospel worker?
No! Definitely not. And here are three reasons why.
1) All Christians share an incredible privilege.
Under the old covenant, the priests were ‘set apart’ to serve God – first in the tabernacle, and then in the temple. They were the only ones who could enter the sanctuary; anyone else who came close to it would die (Num. 18:7). And only the High Priest was allowed to venture into the Most Holy Place and enter the presence of God (Lev. 16:2, 7) – and he could only do so once a year, having taking serious precautions (Lev. 16). Priests were the mediators between the holy God and a sinful people.
Under the new covenant, of course, Jesus is the High Priest – and able to do what all the priests of the past could not: that is, to offer himself as a sacrifice in order ‘to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.’ (Heb. 7:25) And because Jesus’ blood has cleansed us from our sin, there is no longer a need for a distance between God and his people. Now, we ourselves are able (and commanded) to enter the Most Holy Place (Heb. 10:19–22). We are all priests.
This is a privilege to surpass all those which are part of the role of a gospel worker. We are a set-apart people – able to enter God’s presence with expectation of blessing rather than fear of punishment. That is a wonderful and incomparable privilege. We must never fall into the trap of thinking that anything – whether what we do, or the role that we have, or the amount of time we can give to gospel ministry each week – is more valuable than our relationship with the author and guarantor of our faith (Luke 10:20).
2) All Christians share an unfinished task.
At the end of Matthew, Jesus says: ‘Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’ (Matt. 28:18–20) This commission was given to the eleven disciples and they were to pass that same instruction on as part of ‘everything I have commanded you’. That is, the eleven weren’t merely to aim at making disciples. They were to aim at making disciple-making disciples.
In God’s mercy, the obedience of the eleven disciples – and that of their successors – means that we are also disciples. And that means that we are also tasked with being disciple-making disciples. Jesus hasn’t allowed any exceptions. We can’t claim exemption because we know other people are better at it. We can’t skip it because our diaries are too busy. And we certainly can’t excuse ourselves because it’s not part of our regular job. Jesus has given this task to all his followers. You can make disciples at the school gate or in the church hall or in the canteen at work. You can point people to Jesus at home or in the pub or even from your hospital bed. You can advance the gospel in your hometown or in a remote village on the other side of the world. The context doesn’t matter. What matters is that you make disciples.
You may not feel as well-equipped, either in training or in experience, as a set-apart gospel worker. You might not have as much time to give to gospel ministry. But why should that stop you from being a disciple-maker? Of course, God doesn’t need either you or me to witness to so-and-so. It’s true that he could use someone else. But he has put us in particular places and positions – next to particular colleagues and neighbours – for a reason. Mordecai’s challenge (‘And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?’ Est. 4:4) has a resonance for us all.
Moreover, the New Testament is clear that the gospel spreads not just through the preaching of pastor-teachers and set-apart gospel workers (e.g. Peter and Paul and their co-workers, but also through the everyday conversations of every member of the church (as in Luke 8:39, Acts 8:4, 1 Thess. 1:8 and 1 Pet. 3:15). Twenty centuries later, the Lord’s methods haven’t changed. Each one of us can live counter-cultural lives which raise questions – each one of us can then share something of Jesus with those who have never really encountered him. Each one of us can be the herald whose testimony is used by God to raise the dead to life. Each one of us can be part of making heaven party (Luke 15:7).
3) All Christians make a single sacrifice.
This last reason relies on what Christians can only achieve together. Romans 12:1 says, ‘Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship.’ It is easy to read the words ‘living sacrifice’ and imagine a multitude of sacrifices offered by me and by you and by the Christian sitting opposite. But no – it’s one sacrifice.
As one commentator puts it, ‘To be sure, each of us individually is called upon to make this sacrifice, but the text leads us to think of all our bodies together as making up one great living sacrifice. Consider the surrounding context. In chapter eleven Paul has been expounding on the unity of God’s people, Jew and Gentile, under the image of the one olive tree. In the following context, chapter 12, verses 3-8, he will speak of the people of God as the one body in Christ. Here, between those two images of unity, he describes the Church as one living sacrifice.’ (James S. Gidley, A Living Sacrifice.)
We gather as a church as one body (12:3–8), with each member blessing the church with their particular gifts. When all these come together, when we are being different in function (v4) and yet belonging to one another (v5), this is our true and proper act of ‘worship’ (also singular). If any part of the body refuses to use their God-given gifts for the benefit of others (vv6–8), the rest of the church is hindered in its unity, maturity, worship and witness (cf. 1 Cor. 12; Eph. 4:12–13).
As I discovered when I cut my little toe, the body really does need all its components (however small). It’s remarkably difficult to walk on one-and-a-half feet. So don’t despise the gifts you’ve been given. Don’t neglect them in order to pursue ones that seem more glamorous. The church can only worship to the best of its abilities when each person contributes their different abilities. And that means that your abilities (along with those of your gospel minister and your best friend and that person you find difficult – and all those in between) are crucial. The church would be the poorer – and the sacrifice of worship in some way less – without you.
We do need more men and women who can labour in the Lord’s harvest fields as trained, recognised workers. The need is desperate and the time is short. If you think you can do it – if you’re willing to do it – if your church thinks it’s a good idea for you to pursue it – then go for it. But if, for whatever reason, set-apart gospel work isn’t for you, then there’s no reason to feel either guilty or ashamed. You are not a second-tier Christian. We are all set apart as priests. We all share in the great mission of disciple-making. We need both gospel workers and every-member ministry. Let’s use all our differing gifts and opportunities to build up the church in maturity and number. It’s what we are designed for.