By Chuck Lawless

Several times, the Apostle Paul wrote about the church as the “body of Christ” (Rom. 12:5; 1 Cor. 12:12; Eph. 4:12; Col. 1:24). While this image is only one of dozens of images of the church in the New Testament, it is a most helpful one. Thinking and applying this image properly should lead us to consider several implications for the church and church leadership:

1. The church is God’s church, not ours. This point is clear in 1 Corinthians 12. Everyone in the church is empowered by the same Spirit (vv. 6, 11). We were all baptized into God’s body through the Spirit (v. 13). God arranges all of us in the body as He chooses (v. 18). He appoints leaders in the body (v. 28) – and He can do so as He desires because the body is His body. This simple truth reminds us that while we may be the leaders, the story is not about us. God can, and will, raise up other leaders if we decide the church is ours.

2. We really are family. The body of Christ is genuinely family, even if we do not share a physical lineage. All of us hurt when one of us hurts; all rejoice when one rejoices (vv. 25-26). God somehow takes people who previously worshiped mute idols (v. 2-3) and makes them part of His body. We then share the love so beautifully described in 1 Corinthians 13.

3. Every member matters. The body is made up of many members, but all of the members form one body (vv. 12-13). In fact, God gives spiritual gifts to each member of the body (vv. 4-11), and the body needs all the gifts. No person is insignificant in God’s eyes. That means I must love even the church member who seemingly can give little in return.

4. The seemingly less significant need more attention, not less. It’s easy to focus on only those members who are equipped, ready, and willing. Those less ready to serve require time and energy. On the other hand, Paul said that God gives attention needed to the “less presentable” so they fit well in the body. We must do the same. Sometimes the “less presentable” are that way because no one has given them time.

5. We must be comfortable with diversity. If everyone were an ear, there would be no body (vv. 17-19). We need ears, eyes, noses, and arms to be a body. Let’s be honest, though: if I’m an ear, I’m more comfortable hanging out with others who are also ears. That kind of thinking only hinders the body.

6. Every member has a role in the body. He may be an “eye,” or she may be an “ear” – but each one has a purpose. This truth has huge ramifications for the church. Not only must we assume that each member has a purpose, but we must also help these members find their place in the body.

7. We learn to serve within the body. We have different gifts, but the same God grants these gifts (v. 4-11). By implication, we help one another recognize these gifts as we serve – that is, we do something – in the context of His body. The ear serves, others recognize and affirm his abilities and gifts, and he begins to see how he fits in the body. Hence, we must have in place a means to help people serve in entry-level positions. We must help them discover their giftedness.

These next two implications, I suspect, will raise some questions. I separate them here to encourage you to give them some extra thought.

8. We are responsible for uninvolved church members. I hear it all the time: “My church members just won’t serve. They just won’t get busy.” Here’s my response to that thought: if church members come to our churches and “only sit,” they do so because we allow them to do so. They do so because we have not done our job as leaders to help them find their place of service and then hold them accountable.

9. We are responsible for overworked church members. We love the members who are committed to serving anywhere, anytime, doing anything. We appreciate the person who is willing to be an ear, an eye, a hand, a leg, and a nose—perhaps all in the same week. Here’s the problem, however: God does not intend for one church member to play all the roles. Our members get overworked, too, because we fail to lead our church to understand and live out New Testament “body life.”

Perhaps I’m overstating my case, but I don’t think so. Let me know your thoughts.

Lifeway_Blog_Ad[1]Chuck Lawless currently serves as Professor of Evangelism and Missions and Dean of Graduate Studies at Southeastern Seminary.

You can connect with Dr. Lawless on both Twitter and Facebook.


  1. says

    Dr. Rainer,
    Good Morning! Here’s a question for you. I’m a young Women’s Ministry Director at a very small church which used to be large in number.

    What do you do when they won’t serve nor will they fill out a survey to find out their strengths?!! What do you do when they won’t meet you half way?!! I love the ladies in my church with every fiber of my being. Most of them are Seniors. They don’t drive at night and I happen to work full time during the day. Suggestions?!

    Blessings, Alicia

    • Michael Smith says

      Work within your schedule. Build activities around what you and these ladies do have in common. Realize that not all people are yours to lead. Lastly, don’t forget we are His people doing an eternal work. Ask God to show you how to be their leader.

    • Chuck Lawless says

      Alicia, I would do two things: (1) find only one or two ladies, and spend some time with them. Learn about their interests, and then help them figure out where they might best fit (even if it means creating something new). Sometimes we spend so much time trying to convince the masses to get involved that we miss the ones who are ready. (2) Try to develop some kind of ministry that really does address the ladies’ interests, abilities, etc. You might find that they are willing, but the church has never considered developing something just for them. Talk to them rather than survey them. I would also see if you can find an assistant director who is available during the day to help with these ladies. Blessings on your work!

  2. Mike says

    First let me say this is a good article and is dead on, I’m just not sure that I totally agree with points 8 and 9 being the problem in every church.

    My response to “Are Church Leaders Responsible for Church Members” – to a point. I am responsible for training them to do the work of the ministry (Eph.4:12), and to “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching” (2 Tim.4:2). I have done studies on subjects like “I am a church member,” prayer, service, worship, ministry, witnessing, the judgment seat of Christ, church & pastor’s relationships, etc. . .over and over again, year after year – and I still have “members” (at least on paper) who are unmoved to do anything or to commit to anything. I have never been a control freak when it comes allowing others to do ministry, in fact I support them in anyway they want. Over the years I have even instructed church members not to be trying to do everything by themselves but to pick the ministry that they are passionate about. I keep the congregation informed on the ministry needs of our church, and have even tried to get people involved by plugging them into a ministry – but if their heart isn’t right, they are only in that ministry in name only. So I say as a pastor that I am responsible for church members – yes, to a point, and that point is when they refuse to respond to the Word of God, and the Holy Spirit’s leading – then they become responsible for their own actions and heart condition. But my job is not to give up and to keep praying, preaching, teaching, instructing, discipling, and leading – regardless of their response.

    As a side note, this has been a main issue in every church that I have been a member of and every church that I have pastored. I was in the Air Force for 20 years, so I was a member of 7 different churches over the years, and I am now pastoring my 5th church. I never looked to join a church because of what they offered, I looked for churches where I believed the Lord wanted us to serve in. Over the years pastoring, I have had very few (count them on one hand) people ever tell me that they were searching for a church home where God wanted them to serve – the majority (I don’t have enough fingers or toes to count them on) always asked, “what does your church offer.” This whole issue comes down to spiritual ignorance and/or heart conditions.

    • Chuck Lawless says

      Good points, Mike. I’m not arguing that any of us will get everyone involved, but I do want us to think about our responsibility to move people in that direction. You’ve helped us think. Thanks!

  3. says

    This is a great article! So what about the church member who isn’t shut in and doesn’t come. Granted I agree we should pastor them in their time of need, but are we to spend vast amounts of time pursuing them when they refuse to come? If so, how much time?

  4. Ritchie Price says

    Love your thoughts on this subject, Chuck! Really appreciate #8 and #9. On the uninvolved folks, it does make sense to think of ways to directly ask them to use their gifts. I think we just tend to sit back and glare at those that put in their 1 hour each Sunday morning, and feel like they’re good for the week. That’s a refreshing insight.
    And #9 has always been a concern to me. We DO need to recognize when the “20% that are doing 80% of the work” are getting beat up because they can’t say ‘no’ and get burned out. I think it’s good to speak up and say ‘that guy is already doing more than enough…let’s think of someone else”.
    Thanks again, Chuck! Love your posts!

    • Chuck Lawless says

      I don’t think, Mike, we should spend all of our time trying to reach people who refuse to come — BUT, we should have someone trained and in place to do that kind of outreach. Most churches have someone who is relational and kind, a good listener, etc., who might enjoy the ministry of seeking out the non-attenders.

  5. says

    I do not think you overstate the case at all. We are all, cleric and laic alike, for what we do.

    Uninvolved membership is a spiritual matter. The parable of the talents tells me that. It seems to me the failure to use one’s gifts is a VERY serious matter for the guilty party, and for the leader who did not motivate them, who did not make it clear how serious that failure is, and who allows people to continue uninstructed or unmotivated. So the uninvolved unmotivated laymen is responsible for his inaction (hello, priesthood of the believer….) and so is the pastor who never leads the congregation, for his failure to motive or require their involvement.

    That doesn’t seem like it came out quite right, but I’d hope you know what I mean.

  6. Larry Elrod says

    Dear Dr. Lawless,
    I serve as the pastor of a church in the midst of the multi-generational poverty culture. Many of the people we work with have been diagnosed with mental health and emotional disorders. The advice and counsel they are getting from professionals seems to be geared toward them not getting worse instead of them getting better. The great commission and the Ephesian job description for pastors clearly calls me to encourage those under my care to get better; more like Christ. Recently, one of our members chose to leave the church because he felt the discipleship material was too demanding. I will not go into all the details except to say that his decision came after a lesson on gossip and another lesson on forgiveness. Anytime we lose someone I feel like I have failed in some way. Sometimes the tension between compassion and accountability seems terribly great. Thank you for your article. It did not resolve the tension but it did give me more to think about.

    • Chuck Lawless says

      As one who has served as senior pastor and interim pastor, I understand your thoughts completely. Few leaders like to see people leave, though we cannot get everyone on board (even Jesus didn’t…). We do indeed live in the tension of compassion and accountability. Just prayed for your work.

  7. says

    LOVED your article…but most loved your HEART for God’s people! I was encouraged by the humbleness, unconditional love and genuineness of your article. I agree wholeheartedly that sometimes we can lean towards working with, reaching out to or equipping those who need “less attention/less time” when it comes to equipping and serving. I tend to look for those who are in the “bleachers,” the “sidelines” of church life because I want them in the “huddle” of the game if you will. I want them to be down on the playing field where the “action is at” and where relationship-building and living life together takes place. THANK YOU for this gentle reminder to BE CHRIST to ALL PEOPLE!

  8. Heartspeak says

    Very intriguing post indeed. I’m totally convinced that each member has a purpose both for their own life as well as in conjunction with the Body. I believe that equipping and enabling them to discover and use/pursue that purpose is the prime role of the local church. As such, church leaders have a responsibility to work towards that outcome.

    Often, there are imposters within the Body, the ‘tares’ so to speak. While one cannot see another’s heart, their lifestyles and (in)actions often reveal their heart condition. There will be tares in our midst who will resist our best efforts. It is not a leader’s ‘failure’ in this case. (Thankfully!)

    It is obvious that leaders do have an accountability for how they lead however. Are we enabling by permitting a few to wear many hats within our gathering? Do we ‘hire’/select/recruit according to gifting and purpose or do we do an ‘all call’ for ‘somebody’ or ‘anybody’ to fill a position or role within the Body? If we don’t seek to match gifting and purpose to roles (whether small group leaders/ SS teachers/ janitors or even deacons/trustees/council members) then we are failing because no matter what is spoken from the pulpit, if our practices are inconsistent then we’ve promoted confusion and inadvertantly (at best) enabled a lack of action and response.

  9. David Bryant says

    There are 2 things I rarely see churches doing.
    1 Counting the cost with people either as a small group or individually before they consider themselves to be saved. Luke 14:25-35.
    Do you do this at your church?
    2. Have Biblically qualified elders. Men who can handle God’s Word.

  10. DL says

    Chuck, to your response,

    “Good points, Mike. I’m not arguing that any of us will get everyone involved, but I do want us to think about our responsibility to move people in that direction. You’ve helped us think. Thanks!”,

    I agree. I believe that too often we think that equipping people to do the work of ministry is to tell them that they need to do the work of ministry. People don’t need to be told; they have heard it all their life. They know what they need to do. The reality is that they need to be shown; hands on. They need to “see” us as leaders doing ministry and leaders taking them by the hand and showing them what it looks like. Just like a college student. Book training is fine and necessary but the real stuff comes with “on the job training”. So yes, it is our responsibility to physically move people in that direction.

  11. Jan D. Davis says

    Thank you for sharing the importance of the church seeing itself as and
    working together as Christ’s body — instead of individuals with personal agendas. Many church members struggle because their church does not provide opportunities for them to discover their gifts and use them in serving God through His church. The guidelines described in numbers 1 through 7 provide a necessary foundation for reversing the, sadly, current state of many churches shown in numbers 8 and 9.

  12. Sylvia Fowler says

    I loved the title of the article but because of my own past experience , was looking for another perspective. I come from a tradition where the leadership (ie, The Pastor) is expected to do everything! I loved the book, “I Am a Church Member”. But as a minister and a pastor’s wife, the level of expectation that is placed on us is unrealistic and unhealthy. My husband and I recently declined a Sr Pastor position because of this. When we tried to help the members see the “dysfunction” of this mindset, we were verbally attacked by those who were unwilling to change. My husband and I were unwilling to become the next pastor that they literally ” worked to death”!!

  13. Jimmy Edwards says

    Regarding #8, in my last church I went to my small-groups pastor two years ago and told him I wanted to mentor other church members to help them grow spiritually. He never followed up with me; and along with other things I slowly became frustrated with being a part of that church.

  14. Broken Beyond Repair says

    I have been in a large church in O.C. for about 20 years..very active and love it. I have been with my small group for about 8 years…(like family-we have gone through a lot together). An EX-Friend of mine started vivious rumors about me…They were totally a lie..they spread quickly. She is in leadership, I asked for the Pastors to STOP it…to call her in and STOP, they would not honor Matt 18…this went on for 3-4 months…then they asked me to leave the church and leave my small group and do nothing that has to do with church because they sent securtiy after me….I was assaulted twice. I was told this gal wanted security protection to make herself look important. She did this on false grounds….The church knows they are liable now because they believed her false accusations, without investigation. I have my counseling degress and have been in counseling for over a year. I have also spoken to several Pastors and college professors..some know this gal and stated that she has the characteristics of a socio-path/narcissist personality. She goes from church to church leaving a trail of hurting others…..for HER kingdom…not the GOD of the BIBLE.
    I have strived for PEACE for over a year now…My whole life has been tremendously affected….my profession has been teaching for close to 30 years and I live in depression. These rumors have gone to many O.C. churches because of this BULLY. Every time I try to go and start over, she has followed me on F.B. and sabatages everyfriendship I try to make. I am beyond myself and the counselor has documented every situation…I NEED HELP in what to do….

    • says

      I have strived for PEACE for over a year now…My whole life has been tremendously affected….my profession has been teaching for close to 30 years and I live in depression. These rumors have gone to many O.C. churches because of this BULLY….Spiritual issues are resolved through spiritual means you cannot and should not expect temporal solutions to spiritual problems, at the same time though issues and circumstances manifest externally and in the temporal realm the problems most times are ultimately personal and spiritual Ephesians: 6:12 For we wrestle not with flesh and blood… you should know the completion of this scripture but if you don’t, then what is actually needed in your situation is to stop wrestling with flesh and blood returning to the basics and start wrestling with God in the manner of Jacob in Gen 32. You’ve listed your concerns about the ex-friend and how she manufactured an untrue report about you through lies and rumors you are clearly blaming her rightly or wrongly “because I don’t know you or her I cannot speak to the situation of the rumor’s and really they are unimportant, because rumor’s only have power among people that don’t know you…why should the opinion of people who don’t know you drive you into depression? there opinion of you should not matter to you personally unless you have personal relationships with them….simply stated your friends who know you don’t believe the rumors. It should not matter what the EX-Friend Thinks does or says, nor the Leaders, or the entire population of the O. C. Churches or even the HEAD PASTOR even though I know you are talking about an earthly being—the HEAD PASTOR who by the way is Jesus Christ- Yeshua and this HEAD PASTOR does know you, can provide you with the peace you seek, can deal with all those who mistreat you etc… Your post has a lot of anxiety and because of this I felt compelled to respond to you…the confusion in your life is not due to your right relationship with God because God is not the author of confusion, but in your situation it is because you have not yet obtained the right relationship with God- in other words your name is still Jacob. Jacob depended on himself and his own strength and cunning to guide him, this always ended up in Jacob having to run for his life or leave in a hurry, and the running brought about two results either he could never go back to the same place again as long as certain people were there or those who he escaped from engaged in pursuing him “Sound familiar” God helped Jacob by crippling him, because it left Jacob unable to run from his battles physically and spiritually and forced Jacob to trust and rely on God to care for him and fight his battles spiritually and physically- “This is important because fear, doubt, hate, anger, anxiety, frustration, worry, and depression are the ways that the devil attacks our spiritual relationship with God by attacking our mental faculties”— remember the opposite of fear is ____________, and the opposite of doubt is _______________ …….and the opposite of depression is Hope and energetic zeal for life and living when you compare Satan’s list to God’s List you see the condition and the bible gives you the solution so when you find yourself in doubt seek to build your trust in GOD and His Word and so on…when you have wrestled with GOD and He has changed your name he will bless you and you will also have that peace you seek. You wrestle not with Flesh and blood…it’s time to build up your Spiritual relationship with God and make that the priority because if you seek first the kingdom of heaven everything else will be added

  15. Hal says

    Great article Chuck!
    I don’t think you overstated at all. In fact I think you actually understated by leaving out a very important responsibility of leadership toward church members; and that is the issue of church discipline.
    God loves each member of the flock so much that he even went as far as allowing the sacrifice of His Son in order to provide for us the means of an eternal relationship with Him. And since God loves each of his sheep that much, He also expects church leaders to love the souls of His sheep almost as much.
    Scripture describes the lost or straying sheep and how the good shepherd will leave the rest of the flock to go after the one that has strayed and attempt to return that lost sheep to the fold.
    The problem is…in this particular day and time, church discipline is all but gone in most congregations. And this is probably happening for a host of reasons. Even though God has given leaders some very specific instruction describing Gods plan for how leaders are to lovingly restoring those wayward sheep, this seems to be an issue that most chuch leaders would rather ignore and not deal with. It seems we have a generation of church leaders today that love executing the “fun” parts of leadership, but when it comes to the really hard stuff like church discipline many leaders, and many church’s are out to lunch, and this can have a devastating effect on a flock of believers.
    The real devastation with this trend is this: America has done many things in the last several decades to remove God from many facets of our lives, and it’s my opinion that when church leadership starts picking and choosing what parts of God’s Word they are going to ignore, simply because God is instructing us to do something that is viewed as really difficult, unpopular, socially outdated, or viewed as potentially having severe negative side effects on church attendance or the size of the offering plate; then church leaders become guilty of removing God from the church. If we are ignoring the hard parts of God’s Word, and only playing with the warm fuzzy stuff, then we have taken God out of the church and not functioning as he inteded.
    In essence….just playing church.
    Since God has placed so much importance on church discipline, I believe church discipline is a must bullet point on the list of Leaders Responsibilities to church members.

  16. Darrell Davis says

    i have more of a question than a comment what if you have a member that is willing to work in the church and the pastor fails to cultivate that persons interest or talent to help the church.


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