One of the most common metaphors used in the New Testament to identify the church is the church as a body. As such, the church is recognized as a place of unity in the midst of diversity, of complement in the context of variety. A body that is not united is not a body, or at least not a healthy body. No matter what you learned watching the Adams Family, body parts that are not connected to the rest of the body (and through the rest of the body to the head) are not alive.
Any one of us who has a body (and I’m assuming that if you’re reading this you fall into that category) realizes that our bodies don’t always work the way they should. Those of us who have more than a casual level of experience within the local church can attest to the same. Though we are a body, we don’t always function the way we were designed.
This week at the Murch house we had a couple of doctor visits, a trip to the ER, an ear infection and some pretty rough sinus issues with three-fifths of our family. Such is the nature of life with small kids, as many can attest. As we visited various health professionals we were given instructions, medication, antibiotics, etc. which were intended to help get our bodies back on track.
As the designer and creator of the church, God gives the church clear instructions and systems to help keep us on track. Ephesians 4 talks about this:
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
This text tells us a number of things about the church as a body:
- God has given us leaders as a gift to equip and build us up.
- Leaders within the church have the sole purpose of equipping (preparing) the saints (the people who make up the church) for the work of ministry (service).
- Our health is dependent on all members being equipped and working hard.
- We will be susceptible to the diseases of immaturity, lack of focus, and heresy.
- We must work to maintain unity while building antibodies to attack these diseases.
- We must demand accountability in words and actions.
- We are built from the Head (Christ) and into the Head (Christ).
- Our unity is dependent on healthy (equipped and working) joints.
- When we are healthy and unified, we will naturally reproduce, build antibodies, and thrive.
These points only scratch the surface of this text. There is so much here for leaders and members within the church body. What stands out to me is that God has created and designed the church as a body to function properly, but there is a great deal of care that needs to be taken within the body to maintain this health. Similar to our natural bodies, if the church is left unattended or is mismanaged, it will not remain in a neutral state; rather it will digress, wander, and deviate from its intended design. Passivity will produce atrophy because of the sin nature within each one of us.
What if God had left us on our own without clear instructions? Some churches seem to function as if he did. But he didn’t. He gave us a clear plan for maintaining unity, keeping the body healthy and growing, and glorifying Christ. Now all we need to do is follow that plan.
We could look at a number of texts that lay out the plan and design, but if we just look at this text above, there is plenty here to get us started. A few things that seem apparent:
1) We must break down a culture of professionalism in the church ministry world.
God gives these different gifts to the church in order to prepare the church (people!) for works of service. He doesn’t give these gifts to form a class of professional experts who can lead within the church for their own sakes. He doesn’t give gifts and call leaders in order to take the responsibility for ministry away from the people who make up the church, but in order that these people will be formed and equipped to carry out his mission.
Breaking down a culture of professionalism in ministry does not rest solely with those who lead in the church. It must certainly start there. As leaders we need to make sure we aren’t possessive, passive aggressive, insecure, or walking in fear for the sake of our “positions.” However, the responsibility also lies with every member of the body. Professionalism in ministry creates a context in the local church where people are (to be frank) lazy. Consumerism reigns in so many churches today, to the point where we would rather pay someone to minister to us than submit to leadership that is designed to equip and empower us to get off our back-sides and be the church. We really need the grace of God, the Word of God, and the direction of the Holy Spirit to help us avoid such mentalities.
2) The church will function properly to the degree that its members are equipped and empowered.
That final verse always stands out to me. It says “the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” If there are only a few joints that are equipped or only a select few that are empowered and working properly, the body will struggle.
3) WE NEED JESUS!
Notice how many times this passage talks about Christ. We are the body of Christ, built into and by the Head (Jesus), our unity and knowledge is of and in Jesus, our target is the fullness of Christ, and like a body we are completely useless and dead without our Head (Christ). If the church is to be the church; we need to recognize, submit to, and focus on Jesus in every way.