Say the word “church” and many people will think you are referring to a building, others will think you are referring to an event that takes place on Sunday morning. The Bible, however, never talks about church in either of these contexts. When the Bible uses the word church, it’s always talking about people; people who have come to faith in Christ and follow him. While there is great joy in our relationship with the Lord, it is also very challenging to be a follower of Christ as defined by the scriptures. We are called to sacrifice, surrender, overcome, and endure; to lay down our lives, take up our cross, and renew our minds. This is very imposing stuff and we all need lots of help. So God has devised an amazing way for every believer to receive an abundance of the help we so desperately need. The Bible refers to this ingenious source of ministry as the body of Christ.
God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him… (Eph 1:22-23 NIV)
The Bible refers to the church, as the body of Christ. This is more than just a symbolic illustration, it is a spiritual reality. Jesus is the head and the church is his body; a real, living, active, functioning body.
The Genius of Body Ministry
We are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Eph 4:15-16 ESV)
God wants the body to grow; to develop, to flourish, to thrive, and the source of this growth is the body itself. God has distributed specific gifts and graces among all the members of the body, which enable the body to minister to itself very effectively. God’s genius in body ministry is that it’s give and take, everyone is involved; the people who receive ministry and the people who give ministry are one and the same. If you have 10 people who need to be ministered to, then you automatically have 10 people to provide ministry; if you have 100 people who need to be ministered to, then you automatically have 100 people to provide ministry — and on and on. There is never a shortage of people to minister to the people who need ministry because the body ministers to itself.
Also, body ministry pays double dividends to those involved; they are strengthened and encouraged when others minister to them, and in turn they are strengthened and encouraged when they minister to others. However, the church will never realize this amazing potential to build itself up as long as it depends on a few select individuals that it considers “called to the ministry”. Body ministry is not happening the way God designed it, because most parts of the body are not “working properly”.
In some churches the idea of body ministry is actually talked about quite a lot, but it’s usually in terms of a philosophical approach. Ideas such as, “we are in this together” and “we are there for each other” will be predominate themes, and good ones I might add, but the specifics of body ministry, particularly the nuts and bolts of application, are rarely taught or encouraged.
Normal People with Supernatural Gifts
The Bible gets very specific when it teaches about body ministry. It lists specific gifts that are distributed among the members of the body, and also describes gatherings that are oriented for these gifts to operate freely, so that God’s plan for give-and-take ministry is fulfilled.
Let’s focus for a minute on what the scriptures refer to as “spiritual gifts”, and the role they play in body ministry as described in 1 Corinthians chapter 12. I encourage you to read through this chapter paying attention to the spiritual gifts that are listed in verses 8-10. But before these spiritual gifts are listed, verse 7 tells us why they are important.
Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. (1 Cor 12:7 NIV)
Let’s break this verse down starting with the phrase “manifestation of the Spirit”. To manifest something means that it is revealed, it is made obvious, or apparent. The “Spirit” is the Spirit of God. The phrase, manifestation of the Spirit, describes people operating in one of the spiritual gifts, doing something that is impossible for them to do in the natural, so it becomes obvious that the Spirit of God is at work. This spiritual activity defies natural explanation because it is supernatural, which simply means beyond the natural.
To “each one” means this is for everyone, not just a select few. This is stated again in verse 11; “he gives them to each one, just as he determines”.
The phrase “for the common good” ties back into the idea that the body builds itself up. Each person has a spiritual gift that is given to them for the benefit of everyone else.
The Need for Teaching and Training
Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant. (1 Cor 12:1 NIV)
Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church. (1 Cor 14:12 NIV)
Because “spiritual gifts build up the church”, God doesn’t want his people to be ignorant on this issue. But the sad truth is, most believers have little understanding of spiritual gifts in general, and even less understanding of their specific gifts or how to function in them. It should be a high priority within the church to educate people in the area of spiritual gifts, and to create a dynamic culture where all believers understand they are called and equipped by God to be fully engaged in body ministry. “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime”. This old saying is an excellent illustration of the ongoing value of helping all believers take their place as a functioning member of the body of Christ
God’s Purpose for Coming Together
What I’m proposing is not just a matter of style or a personal preference for doing ministry. The Bible presents body ministry as God’s primary method of building up the church, his chief means for effective ministry to take place.
What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church. (1 Cor 14:26 NIV)
This verse gives a lot of insight into God’s plan for how the church is to gather and what is to take place when it does.
“When you come together” – Paul is not describing a special gathering that takes place every once in a while. He is describing the typical, routine gathering of the church.
“Everyone” – In this gathering there aren’t just a select few attempting to minister to everyone else. Everyone is actively involved in ministering to one another.
The ministry taking place is very diverse. Let’s look at just a couple:
“A revelation” – There is wonderful potential for believers to have and to share revelations as they study the word of God together; as opposed to sitting in silence as one person stands on a stage and tells everyone else what God has to say that morning.
“A tongue or an interpretation” – The operation of spiritual gifts is a welcome part of these gatherings. People encountering the power of God, through supernatural ministry, should be the norm when the church gathers together.
This verse describes a church gathering where everyone is engaged in ministering to one another. It finishes with a strong statement that this kind of ministry “must be done for the strengthening of the church”.
Form Follows Function
By telling us what should be happening when the church comes together, the preceding verse also gives insight as to how church gatherings should probably be structured. It doesn’t take a high degree of spirituality to realize that it’s basically impossible to have a gathering of several hundred people and open it up for everyone to share hymns, words of instruction, revelations, and spiritual gifts. What the Bible reveals about body ministry not only challenges the traditional way of doing ministry, it also challenges the traditional way that the church gathers. Let me place a strong emphasis on the word “traditional”.
There is an engineering principle that says “form follows function”. The idea is that you first determine what you want to happen, and then design the structure that best accommodates what you want to happen. If body ministry is the goal, small gatherings are the structure that best facilitates reaching that goal. Large gatherings virtually ensure that body ministry will not take place.
Large Sunday morning services are resource-hungry events that require a lot of people’s time and effort. But there’s a big difference between carrying out tasks generated by the event itself and operating in your God-given gifts to minister to those who have gathered. Being part of the coffee “ministry”, or the greeters “ministry”, should not be viewed as a replacement for participating in the type of body ministry that is so clearly illustrated in the scriptures. The irony is that most believer’s involvement in their church usually supports the large gathering in some way, and it’s the large gathering which seriously impedes body ministry taking place.
Choose To Be Childlike
Some people will reject this view of body ministry as naive, unrealistic, and unobtainable. They know, as well as I do, that not every believer has the desire or the faith to be engaged to the degree this vision requires. But I also know there are many believers today who are searching, who are dissatisfied with the institutionalized church and are very hungry for this kind of commitment, for this kind of spiritual involvement.
I used to think being naive was something negative, something to be avoided, but recently I looked at the meaning of the word and realized this is actually the attitude God is looking for; people who are simple, trusting, and childlike.
I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Luke 18:17 NIV)
We have to decide if we’re going to take the scriptures at face value and simply believe that if it’s presented in the Bible then it can be lived out in real life by real people.
Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Heb 11:1 ESV)
This is a great time to press into God’s ingenious plan for the body to build itself up by each part working properly.