One Body

Becoming the Mystical Body of Christ

As we gather around the Eucharistic table and make the death and resurrection of Jesus our own by sharing in the “bread of life” and the “cup of salvation,” we become together the living body of Christ.

The Eucharist is the sacrament by which we become one body.  Becoming one body is not becoming a team or a group or even a fellowship.  Becoming one body is becoming the body of Christ.  It is becoming the living Lord, visibly present in the world.  It is – as often has been said – becoming the mystical Body of Christ.   But mystical and real are the same in the realm of the Spirit.

Henri Nouwen Society’s Daily Meditations, October 13, 2013

More and more I sense the Spirit impressing upon me the importance of understanding what it means to be the living body of Christ. For years I’ve thought of Paul’s use of body language in 1 Corinthians 12 as a metaphor–an apt metaphor, to be sure. But he doesn’t say that we are like the body of Christ. No, he says we are the body of Christ.

In light of Paul’s teaching, Nouwen’s meditation lends understanding to how we become one body…the living body of Christ.

communion

What difference might it make…?

I was in Colorado last week to come alongside ministry leaders, helping them develop the skills and systems to create an equipping culture in their churches. Their enthusiasm for creating a vibrant, serving mentality among those they influence encouraged me, and I sensed the question rising in me again, What difference might it make if you simply focused on helping others to live their God-given vocation in their everyday-walking-around life? To BE Christ wherever they are and whatever they are doing?

If you are a regular follower of this blog, you are probably thinking that this is nothing new, and you are quite right. This has been my theme for quite awhile! But the fact that I regularly pray Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven prompts me to continue asking if I’m doing all that I can–all that God is asking me to do–to encourage that reality.

It seems to me that if every believer is living their true vocation in their everyday life, the kingdom will come sooner. So, what does it look like for me to partner with God in making this prayer a reality? What is needed? As I asked this question, this is the answer that rose up within me: Each and every believer should…

  1. understand his or her true identity in Christ (Ephesians 2:10, 1 Corinthians 3:23)pitcher&basin
  2. grasp how the Spirit moves and works through His people (Matthew 5:16)
  3. discover and embrace his/her unique design for ministry (1 Corinthians 12 and 13)
  4. be ready and able to verbally share the gospel message (1 Peter 3:15)
  5. be connected to the body of Christ, the local church (Hebrews 10:25, Acts 2:42-47)

Each step is integral to becoming a fully devoted follower of Jesus Christ, to facilitating the coming of the kingdom that we believers continually pray for. We can have systems and processes and programs to encourage an equipping culture in our churches, but if we neglect these basic five steps I don’t think that we–as equipping leaders–are doing all we can to hasten the coming of the kingdom of God.

Your thoughts?

The missing link

I am a church member.

I like the metaphor of membership. It’s not membership as in a civic organization or a country club. It’s the kind of membership given to us in 1 Corinthians 12: “Now you are the body of Christ and individual members of it” (I Corinthians 12:27). Because I am a member of the body of Christ, I must be a functioning member, whether I am an “eye,” an “ear,” or a “hand.” As a functioning member, I will give. I will serve. I will minister. I will evangelize. I will study. I will seek to be a blessing to others. I will remember that “if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26).  (read the entire blog post here)

Wouldn’t it be great if every single church member shared this perspective on membership? There would be no need for stewardship campaigns; there would be plenty of resources for ministry! Ministry would no longer belong only to the “paid holy people.” Instead of bemoaning the lack of volunteer ministers, church leaders would be scrambling to accommodate all those willing servants! There would be baptisms every Sunday as new believers professed their faith in Christ. Small groups would be regularly digging into the word of God–not just storehousing knowledge, but actually living it out as they went about their days blessing others.

Yeah, wouldn’t that be great! A perfectly unified church… But how?

Here’s a hint:

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 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. (Ephesians 4:11-13, NIV)

Quoting Eric Geiger, Thom Rainer writes:

For the sake of brevity, let’s deal only with the role of pastors/teachers. Note these truths from the text:

  • Christ (He) personally gave this role. It was important to Him, so it has to be important to us.
  • The role of pastors is not so much to do ministry, as it is to train or equip others to do ministry.
  • If pastors fulfill this role, the body of Christ is built up.
  • As the body of Christ is built up, the believers become unified in the faith.

The passage is clear. As pastors are more involved in training others to do ministry, there will be greater unity in the church. (read the entire blog post here)

Rainer goes on to say that they uncovered an interesting–and unsettling–statistic through their research:

Almost all pastors we surveyed affirmed their critical role in training others to do ministry. But almost three fourths of these pastors had no plans to do so. For most pastors, the reasons behind this gap were simple: they either didn’t know how to take the next steps, or they didn’t feel like they had the time to do so.

Are we, as pastors/teachers, the missing link? Have we developed a plan for equipping our people, raising them up to be fully devoted followers of Christ? Are executing that plan? Do you need to develop one, write down what you are going to do and how you are going to do it…step by step? I’m not sure there’s anything more deserving of our time than equipping our people for ministry.

Perhaps the first step–one we may have overlooked–is teaching our people what it means to be a church member.

The spice of life?

decisions3Variety is the spice of life!

It’s an old saying that, for some of us, holds a lot of truth. Culturally speaking, I think we’ve taken variety to an all-time high. I’m currently in the market for a new computer. My laptop has a defect that can’t be repaired and, though it’s only four years old, it’s destined for the computer graveyard. I can’t tell you how much I loathe purchasing a new one. It’s not just having to shell out a chunk of cash, although that’s bad enough. No, what really frustrates me is trying to find the right machine for my needs for the right price. There are simply too many choices, and sorting through the variety of available options requires more energy and time than I want to invest.

For ten years I served on staff at a large church. The immense variety of programs was certainly attractive to me and to my family when we began worshiping there, and I was excited at the prospect of  coordinating their volunteer ministry. I remember the first time I actually counted all the serving  opportunities we offered: 250. I was really proud of that–so much for people to choose from! However, many folks coming through our discovery and placement process found it overwhelming. Choosing a ministry from the wide variety could be a daunting task. It often took several conversations, several trial runs, before we found the right fit. There were some who quickly tired of the process and simply opted out, never finding a place to serve that would grow their faith.

I now serve a small parish as the pastor of ministry development. Ministry development, however, is certainly not limited to creating serving opportunities. I do that occasionally. But primarily I am concerned with developing a person’s ministry–their vocation— for wherever they are at any given moment. I begin by engaging in meaningful dialogue around one’s passions in life, their personal preferences, the talents they were born with and the skills they’ve acquired, the experiences they have had, and the way the Holy Spirit has uniquely gifted them. When we take those discoveries and line them up with that person’s daily routines, we begin to see how all of life can be ministry and how ministry can be the wellspring of life.

In this way, those who thrive on variety can see that each new day offers plenty of opportunity for ministry, while those who would be overwhelmed by choosing from a list of 250 serving opportunities need look no further than their everyday life to find meaningful ways to serve. Variety made simple.

Now, if only the computer companies could grasp that concept…

A word of encouragement…

I am blessed to be traveling around Indiana this week, presenting workshops to help ministry leaders develop equipping values and practices within their congregations. I’ve spoken with pastors, paid staff, and volunteer staff who are working together to encourage their congregations to discover how fulfilling ministry can be, to live into their God-given call to serve. I am truly humbled by their commitment to learn and grow, to try different methods and practices in hopes that they can better encourage growth and maturation of the body of Christ.

One young man today said that he would like to just push the pause button on current ministry, put in place some of the practices he learned today, then turn the ministry back on again to run in alignment with those new practices. Of course, that can’t happen. And so I encouraged him to remember that the way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time! Do what he can today…take that first step…make one little change…then watch for the next opportunity to take another step into an equipping culture.

Another woman shared that she had to cap one of her children’s ministry programs due to a lack of volunteers. She said that it was unsafe  to allow more children to participate than the volunteers could handle. She also said that it was really unfair to the people who had volunteered in good faith to serve to overwhelm them with more children than they could care for. So, she faced the frustration of members whose kids had to be placed on a waiting list–not to mention the pastor’s skepticism about the wisdom of such a move. This leader did the right thing: she courageously protected the children as well as her volunteers. The result? More volunteers than she needed, which birthed a new ministry initiative!

Another older couple came with their much younger ministry leader. After the workshop, the leader told me that they were helping her re-structure all her ministry teams and had come to the workshop to learn all they could about helping equip people for ministry. She was blessed by their willingness to learn a new way of doing ministry and their excitement about helping church members grow.

Changes are occurring in churches as ministry leaders are working faithfully to equip their people to live into their life vocation. How exciting! As we pray, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done,” it’s actually happening! The body of Christ is maturing. For all of you ministry leaders, I echo Paul’s prayer from Ephesians:

That’s why, when I heard of the solid trust you have in the Master Jesus and your outpouring of love to all the followers of Jesus, I couldn’t stop thanking God for you—every time I prayed, I’d think of you and give thanks. But I do more than thank. I ask—ask the God of our Master, Jesus Christ, the God of glory—to make you intelligent and discerning in knowing him personally, your eyes focused and clear, so that you can see exactly what it is he is calling you to do, grasp the immensity of this glorious way of life he has for his followers, oh, the utter extravagance of his work in us who trust him—endless energy, boundless strength! (Eph. 1:15-19, The Message)

Thou shalt not compete…

We live in a culture that prizes competition. Heaven knows, we’ve been exposed to some pretty heavy–and ugly–competition over the past several months leading up to yesterday’s election. More than once I’ve listened to an ad or a debate and wondered exactly what would happen if the candidates worked together, pooling their resources and cooperating with each other rather than competing.

Competition is as old as mankind. We see it in the story of Cain and Abel, in Lucifer’s desire to have equal status with God, between the disciples as they jockeyed for a favored position in the Kingdom of God. Yes, competition is as old as sin itself.

When applied in moderation, competition can hone, sharpen us. But competition unleashed is the antithesis of cooperation, and a strong deterrent to interdependence. One doesn’t have to look any farther than 1 Corinthians 12 to understand that the body of Christ must be interdependent in order to function the way God intended.

Where do we see competition in the church today? I’m not talking about competition between denominations (though there is certainly that!), but about competition that goes on within individual churches…places that are supposed to be known for loving fellowship.

Competition among volunteers.

It’s not at all unusual for me to encounter someone who covets the spiritual gift or ministry that someone else has. Sometimes it’s a matter of helping them discern their own unique design and finding a good ministry match. Sometimes it just boils down to a desire for attention and recognition, so making a point of celebrating all ministry equally can help avoid that particular symptom of competition.

Competition between staff and volunteers.

Any equipping leader knows that a hallmark of good practice comes when they find they’ve equipped themselves out of a job! But in all honesty, that’s a scary scenario in the middle of a recession, with so many churches taking the brunt and laying off staff in order to survive. It may be tempting for a staff person to protect their job by limiting the ministry they are willing to give away. If you find yourself dealing with this temptation, I encourage you to face down your fear and continue to give the ministry away as God brings qualified volunteer ministers. You can trust that he has more than enough ministry to go around–even for you! (I speak from experience.)

Competition between leaders.

Leaders who fight to keep their favored ministry continually in the limelight in order to garner resources–people, time, and funding–at the expense of other ministries do so much damage to the church body. Not only does ministry become very lopsided, but the perception is given that one ministry is more important, more valuable, more desirable in God’s eyes than any other. In reality, all are equally necessary–everything from cleaning the church’s bathrooms and washing windows, to serving a hot meal to the poorest in the community.

No matter how you look at it, competition within the church is divisive. It robs the body of Christ of the interdependence it needs to be the body of Christ, leaving the church crippled and ineffective in its ministry. But when we work cooperatively, serving together inside and outside the walls of the church, our ministry becomes fruitful and attractive–to God as well as to those who are watching us!

The Impact of Yield

The rules of right of way make sense.

A manueverable motor boat yields to a sailboat because it can more easily recover from the turn.

A bicyclist going downhill yields to one struggling uphill, because he can get back up to speed more quickly.

The senior partner invests a little bit of time helping the junior one, because no one else has the skills to do so, not because reciprocation is the goal.

Asymmetrical trades are what makes a society work.

Yield has two meanings, and one leads to the other.                                                -Seth Godin, Yield

Encouraging others to yield to ministry has two benefits:

  • the yield for the individual is spiritual formation…becoming more like Christ
  • the yield for the body of Christ is that it becomes the body of Christ

What’s your yield?