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.