Those who know me would probably testify to the fact that one of my favorite descriptions of the church is that of a body. I love to spend time reading, thinking about, and speaking on the verses in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12 (and elsewhere) which speak directly to that description.
There are so many good, helpful, and challenging implications and instructions in those passages. Events over the last year have caused me to consider and appreciate this description even more than has ever been the case.
For almost four decades, my “professional identity” was that of a full-time located gospel preacher. I began my adult life as a high school teacher, but, after eight years, I started preaching on a full-time basis for a small congregation in southern Illinois. Except for four-and-one-half years during which I still preached almost every Sunday, but was representing Freed-Hardeman University, I spent a little over thirty-eight years preaching for that congregation (Vienna, Illinois), the church of Christ in Dexter, Missouri, and the Central church of Christ in Paducah, Kentucky.
Then a year ago, at age sixty-eight, I decided to retire from that work at Central. It was my plan to continue to serve the Lord in a variety of ways, but to no longer be “the preacher” for a local congregation.
That privilege and duty is now that of Robert Guinn who “came on board” about four-and-one-half years ago to work alongside me. Now for the past year, as one of our other elders said, in a recent congregational meeting, he is “the guy.”
This transition has caused me to take another look – and consider another implication of – the fact that the church is described as a body. For what may be the first time, it occurred to me that the Holy Spirit used that word picture instead of using a word picture that would imply that the church is a machine.
It seems to me that there are some good reasons for this. Because of what is going on in my life and in the life of the congregation in which I serve, one possible reason is primary in my thinking at this time.
A machine is composed of interchangeable parts.
A bolt is a bolt. A pulley is a pulley. A gear is a gear. When one part of the machine needs replacement, the solution is fairly simple. Get another part and replace it. The machine should continue to run smoothly and efficiently.
Local congregations of God’s people aren’t that way. They weren’t even designed to be that way. There is an obvious reason for that.
A congregation is composed of people.
Each congregation is unique in many ways. Each member of each congregation is unique in his or her own way. Any change in “personnel” will result in a change in what some might refer to as the “dynamics” of a particular congregation.
It is impossible to merely “plug in” a new preacher to replace the older or former preacher. It is, likewise, just as impossible to replace an elder or deacon with another elder or deacon who is “just like” the one who has passed away, moved, resigned, etc. Even the addition of elder(s) or deacon(s) to the number currently serving will mean that a particular congregation will never be the same as before.
I am writing from experience. It would be difficult for me to produce a list of all of the changes in the eldership and among our deacons during the sixteen years I have been preaching where I am now. Only one of our four current elders was even a member of this congregation at the end of 2000. Only one of our eight deacons worshiped here at that time. There are Bible class teachers and others who serve in a variety of ways who were not even Christians sixteen years ago.
Even though there is a schedule for regular maintenance that is followed, machines tend to rust out, wear down, and become outdated. A machine may even be replaced by a “new and improved” model. The day may come when a machine is little more than a novelty or an item in a museum.
There is more than ample evidence from Scripture that the church was (and is) to be perpetually relevant and vital (cf. Dan. 2:44; Matt. 16:18; etc.). The message and the influence are designed to never grow old, nor to become irrelevant.
My body certainly does not look like it did over thirty-eight years ago when I first began to preach. The world in which I now live is, in so many ways, not the world it was then. I have lived in three different communities (and in three different houses in one of those communities) during those thirty-eight years. It seems that one of the few things in my life that is constant is change.
During the sixty-nine years that God has allowed me to live on His earth, my physical body has had to adapt to a lot of changes, but it has done so without losing the “essence” of who I am. I believe that the body of Christ can and must learn from that.
Our message and our loyalty to the One whose name we wear cannot change. If our message and/or loyalty to Him changes, we no longer deserve to be considered a church. We may be a social club, a community resource, or any number of other things, but we would no longer be honest if we sought to identify ourselves as His body in a local community.
Unlike a machine, we can think. We can reason. We can plan. We can adapt.
It would behoove those of us who are members the body (church) of Christ (cf. Eph. 1:22-23; 4:4; Col. 1:18, etc.) to heed Paul’s inspired instructions to the church at Ephesus as we think, reason, plan, and adapt:
I…urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:1-3).
I pray that the day will never come when any congregation in which I serve in any capacity will be identified as a well-oiled, super-efficient machine. My prayer is that I can, in some way, contribute to a local congregation so that it can be identified as a healthy, functioning, and vital body.
AUTHOR: Jim Faughn