I never liked the expression, “doing church.” It just sounds kind of cheesy, equivalent to “doing the laundry” or “doing your homework.” The church is the fellowship (a community of equals) of the saints (those redeemed by the grace of God in Christ). We don’t really “do church,” we are the church. That said, there is a right way and a wrong way to live as the church. If we are going to be the church that Jesus intended, we need to (forgive me) do church right.
When we talk about how we live as the church, there is a right and wrong way, but it really has nothing to do with form and style, and has very little to do with our various traditions. It has to do with how the individual members of the church see themselves in relationship to the whole and in relationship to God’s plan. 1 Corinthians 12 gives us some great context to begin unpacking this important truth. “The church is a body yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:12). Too many times I’ve had people look at 1 Corinthians 12 and use it as a teaching about spiritual gifts. This is not what the apostle Paul is teaching about. Using different people’s various experiences with the manifestations of the Holy Spirit, Paul is teaching on unity. The first point to be made is that though we are all different (from various backgrounds, carrying a variety of experiences, having been used of God in any number of ways), we are a unified diversity, and we all must be working toward the same goal. This is a critical point: God has a Plan, he does not have a “plan for me.”
I know we all want to rush to Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you…”, however, we must remember that these words are spoken, not to an individual, but to a nation and their descendants, having it’s ultimate fulfillment in the Messiah, Jesus. God has a Plan, and that plan is redemption in Christ. He does not have a plan “for me” that is somehow different than his Plan. If we ascribe to the thinking that God has “a plan for me,” then (in our thinking) God and his work begin to serve us; it puts us at the center of God’s work and we begin to excuse and even justify our disobedience on the basis that certain commands and expectations are not part of “God’s plan for me.” In this way we also begin recreating God into our own image—creating a God we feel comfortable with and who doesn’t ask too much of us, rather than one Who leads us through refining fire that we may may be purified and reflect His character and nature. Doing church right begins with the understanding that God has saved us into His kingdom and given us a place in His great Plan (see also John 14:1-3, we don’t each get our own mansion, but a place in the Father’s house). We serve Him, not the other way around.
Secondly, as we each have a place in God’s plan, we each have work to do, “prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10). Not everyone is given the same tasks, and herein lies a great problem. We’ve robbed Christ’s church of it’s beautiful diversity. It’s as though we found a stunning mosaic and painted over it with all one color so there is little distinction between tiles and colors and textures. Ephesians reminds us that God “gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be shepherd/teachers for the equipping of the saints for works of service” (Ephesians 4:11-12 emphasis mine). Notice that some, not all, are called to these positions. Notice also that there are four offices (shepherd/teacher is one function, we call it “pastor”). In our modern expressions we have pastors (shepherd/teachers) and then try to guilt everyone else into the role of evangelist. No wonder the church has lost so much influence. Too many Christians get nervous at the title of “Apostle” or “Prophet,” usually because those titles have been abused by many and are pretty much misunderstood by all. A pastor gathers, feeds, and keeps. An apostle gathers, equips, and sends. Evangelism is about public proclamation, as opposed to a witness (which we are all called to be) who balances speaking and living the truth of the gospel through relationship with others. Prophets often work in tandem with these other offices connecting the dots between temporal reality and eternal truth; they reveal eternal mysteries and bring understanding to darkened minds. All four of these functions are necessary. There is a fantastic article to this point from Pastor’s Coach, and you can read that article by clicking here.
Apart from these four functions, members are meant to be witnesses, discipling people as they go about their lives following Jesus. The word we translate “witness” is “martures,” from which we also get our word “martyr.” Martures is not limited to the giving of one’s life in one big payment, dying for their faith at the hands of the godless, but just as much through the giving of their lives day-by-day and moment-by-moment as they invest in the lives of others for the sake of the Gospel. As it is, members have become consumers. They’ve been gathered and fed and kept. Like a tiger that’s been raised in captivity, they’ve lost their drive and are content to do a few tricks and wait for feeding time. The church was meant for far more than that. The church was meant to execute rescue missions behind enemy lines. We are called to “seek and to save those who are lost,” to “pull down strongholds” and to “destroy every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God” through discipleship. If we only have one office of church leadership functioning, the church will be malnourished and misguided. We cannot fulfill our purpose like that.
In order to live as the church, the body of Christ, we must be responsive to the movement of His Holy Spirit who inhabits us. That begins with leadership—with you and me. We need to make room for God to raise up or bring in other leaders who bring an apostolic, prophetic, evangelistic service to the fellowship; who will empower them and equip them to disciple people and lead them to the cross, into baptism, and continue walking with them in the life of Christ. That’s doing church right.