Date: June 27, 1999
The Church: More than a Bunch of People with Mailbox Numbers
Text: Eph. 4:1-16
Do you ever wonder why some people who seem to be very involved in the life of the church in the beginning seem to grow cold toward the church after a while? The following illustration may shed some light on the reason for that.
Two Texas ranchers were trying to impress each other with the size of their ranches. One asked the other, "What's the name of your ranch?" He replied, "The Rocking R, ABC, Flying W, Circle C, Bar U, Staple Four, Box D, Rolling M, Rainbow's End, Silver Spur Ranch." The questioner was much impressed and exclaimed, "Whow! That's sure some name! How many head of cattle do you run?" The rancher answered, "Not many. Very few survive the branding."
Some members get so overwhelmed by the expectations put on them that they don’t last long? We sometimes place great expectations on each other without giving one another the necessary space to move around and make decisions?
Eph 4:1-16 tells us a few things about our coexistence as parts of the same Body of Christ.
4 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit— just as you were called to one hope when you were called— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
11 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
I want to highlight a number of points expressed in this passage that can make a big difference in how we view the church.
Marlene Wilson, in her book, “How to Mobilize Church Volunteers”, regrets the fact that “The vast majority of congregations… are experiencing the ‘ministry of a handful’ in which a small core of members are doing most of the work while the rest come to watch on Sunday.” Our basic Christian Theology that relates to the “Priesthood of all believers” and the Biblical mandate to “be doers of the word , and not hearers only” (James 1:22) is being violated every week.
Moving from “the ministry of a few” to “the Priesthood of all believers” requires a shift in our thinking about the church. I want to suggest a few areas:
God works through every member of the Body of Christ. But gifts are not something we possess, things that we are branded with when we become Christians or when we have a deeper experience of God (Collins & Stevens, 35). Gifts are simply the persons we are in Christ and in relationships. You and I are gifts.
A biblical look at gifts suggests that we do not have gifts in ourselves but only in relationship with one another and with God. See for example 1 Cor. 13: 1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
As the Body of Christ we open ourselves up to give and receive each other as gifts from God. As we celebrate our differences and diversity as members, we become more united for the optimal functioning of the entire Body. Not all of us are noses or eyes or feet. But each part depends on the other.
There is a story that tells of the members of the body when they were first trying to figure out who is the boss. The Brain said, “I will be the boss, because I do all the thinking.” “No way”, says the heart, “I am the engine that drives the body, so, I will be the boss.” The feet react and say, “Yea, and I’m the one who takes you where you want to go, so it’s quite clear that I will be the boss.” The eyes protest and say, “But without me, you don’t know where you’re going, so, I will be the boss.” And so one body part after another gave the reasons why they should be the boss. Finally, the neck says: “You’ve all got it wrong, I will be the boss.” When the other body parts began to protest, the neck stiffened up, and before long the pain was so great that the brain couldn’t think, the heart skipped a beat, the feet would not move, the eyes became blurred. And so, the case was closed: “The pain in the neck is the boss.”
Isn’t that the way it works in the church sometimes? The truth is that each one of us, as essential parts of Christ’s body, need each other precisely because our functions complement each other. Not everyone is a great singer, a preacher, a prayer warrior, an usher, or Committee Member. But each one fulfills a function that is essential for bringing glory to Christ, our Head and Master.
And so we need to celebrate our differences as sisters and brothers in the service of our Lord. Unity in Christ does not happen when some members consider themselves more important, and others see themselves as unnecessary parts of the body. Unity does not mean that we all think and act alike. But, if one part suffers every part suffers with it. If one part is honored, every part is honored with it.” And, “each member belongs to all the others.” (Rom. 12:5).Therefore, let us celebrate our differences that bring us together to do God’s work in unity through the bond of peace.
The church is not only a bunch of people with a mailbox number. The church is not a bouquet of believers in social relationship with each other. Biblically, the church is a living body that finds its life in Christ, the head. It is the Body of Christ, not only a group of individual Christians. As a Body, the church has its own personality that includes the behaviour of each individual member.
There is something that doesn’t quite sit right with the concept of separating baptism and membership – that is, the idea that you can be baptised without becoming a member of a local church. For Paul, there is no such thing as a solitary Christian; the faith that unites us with Christ also unites us to the rest of the Body of Christ. The church is not a bouquet of Christians, it is a fellowship of believers.
Now, what is all of this to you and me? Why do we need a message about the Church?
Let me offer some suggestions. I believe that periodically we need to check the vital signs of the congregation. Go through a physical examination, if you will. (And even get a second opinion). Maybe go to the Chiropractor, and get the spine realigned. We need to pay attention to what the members are saying to each other when some are burning out and staying away from the fellowship. We need to pay attention when a fairly large portion doesn’t follow through on the expected membership contributions. We need to listen to what our body is telling us.
Furthermore, we must become more personally interested in the life of the entire body. I often hear people say, “Well, that program is only for the older people. It doesn’t interest me.” Or, “I don’t know and I don’t care what’s going on at this or that event.” Let me ask those of you who are not yet retired, “When was the last time you went to a funeral of someone not related to you, just because it was a member of your church? Or, when was the last time you participated in a Bible study group to further your understanding of God’s word and to seek discernment of God’s will.
We need to find ways to show honest interest in each others’ lives. We need to give expression to our love and compassion for each other. We need to know and we need to care for the Body of Christ that unites us.
Next time you look at the mailboxes in our church foyer, remember that each slot represents a vital part of the body of Christ here at Springfield. May it be a visible reminder to always encourage one another. May we always respect and celebrate our differences as members, knowing that we all work together to bring glory to Christ our Head.