Imagine a lazy man who never gets anything done. He’s full of good ideas and noble intentions but his arms and legs stay pretty much right where they are. When you point this out to him, he responds that he has a fully functioning nervous system, thank you very much. Isn’t listening to the signals passed on from the brain enough? Or, if the brain really wanted things done, wouldn’t it do them itself?
Hopefully that doesn’t describe any real people you know, but unfortunately, it is the attitude of some real churches. In Ephesians 4, Paul fires up his favorite metaphor and describes Christ as the head of His body the church. As a special gift to the church, Christ puts in place a nervous system made up of apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers, to communicate His instructions to the body. Their work is to pass on signals from the head that equip the rest of the body for the work of ministry, that ministry being the building up of the body into unity and maturity. This growth doesn’t happen when teachers teach, it happens when each part is working properly.
Is Ministry the Pastor’s Job?
But many people assume that pastors or elders are the ones to do the work of ministry rather than passing along the head’s instructions to the hands and feet. If ministry isn’t happening, the church blames the pastor for inaction (a hands and feet sin), when his actual error is poor instruction (a nervous system sin). The idea that the saints do the work of ministry is a foreign concept and so many adult churches sit passively in stinky diapers of inactivity, waiting for their pastors to change them.
Sometimes the pastor himself thinks this way and never assigns or offers responsibilities to anyone else. He feeds this misconception by addressing all his sermon applications to the head: think differently, know this, understand that. The congregation then mistakes listening and learning for doing the work of ministry. They settle for the church’s message, and neglect the church’s mission. Such an immature church is either untaught or disobedient. Whether pastor or congregation is at fault (usually both), the result is the same: Tyrannosaur congregations with giant heads and tiny arms.
Busy Hands & Feet
All Christians should listen to the head, but comparatively few Christians are part of the nervous system. The body is complex, and in order to stay healthy and to grow to maturity, it needs far more than just neurons and synapses. A healthy, growing, church body is marked by an abundance of ministry that isn’t done by the pastor or the elders: members visiting each other in the hospital, members cooking meals for new moms, members sharing the gospel with neighbors, members raking a widow’s lawn, members heading down to the jail for a Bible study, members meeting together for prayer, members serving soup down at the homeless shelter.
All of this ministry takes place in imitation of Jesus, out of gratitude for His work. As Paul said earlier in Ephesians 2, we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works. These good works are inspired and guided by the preaching and teaching of God’s Word, as the nervous system does its job, but they are carried out by the hands and feet of God’s people. This is how the whole body builds itself up in love: not by watching a few people use their gifts, but by receiving God’s gifts that equip each member to play their part.
Have you found ways to contribute to the ministry of the body? Talk to us in the comments below.