Paul understood the whole church of Jesus Christ to be a body. In 1 Corinthians 12 he writes, “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.... The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”
Now I understand Paul to be talking about more than the local congregation. I understand Paul to be talking about the entire church of Jesus Christ. Just as Jesus did in John 17 when he prayed that all his followers, and those who came to believe in him through them, might be one with him and with the Father. The Church is one body, wherever it is, however big or small, whether persecuted or free. We are one body.
I think we work really hard on being one as a congregation, but we must never forget that the body of Christ is bigger than just our own church. It includes Christians across eternity, across the world, and across town. We all need each other and we should all honor each other and we should strive, as our Master commands us, “to be one.”
Human sin and egotism makes it harder than you would think to live this out.
Consequently, we have a core value at Zion (part of our values which we’ll roll out and explain in the fall) that says this:
We are a part of something bigger than ourselves.
Jesus taught us to pray that God’s kingdom would come and that things here would be the way they are in heaven. We believe that God’s kingdom is comprised of all his children and so we seek ways to work with others for the sake of making that kingdom real to the world around us. We seek unity with other believers and churches and partnerships with other people and organizations and ministries who are engaged in doing good things in the world. We do not believe that we have to own every idea or ministry. In fact, we believe that our Master taught us how to die to ourselves and to our egos, and so we hope that we can find ways to bring people and groups together without having to “own it” or take credit for it. We believe that this attitude will bring many good things into being without our egos getting in the way. In all things we seek a kingdom orientation.
We try to show that we are a part of the greater body of Christ. We have done this in the following ways:
- By supporting local congregations in Des Moines and other cities in Iowa that ask for our help. We have sent worship teams, preachers and teachers to different locations in order to help cover empty pulpits or organs or classrooms. We have especially tried to be of service to new immigrant churches which are trying hard to get established in this new land.
- By reaching out in our community and “being church” for those who have no church or who have been forgotten.
- By supporting missionaries and churches and evangelists and catechists in Tanzania, Vietnam, Burma (Myanmar), and elsewhere.
- By sending mission teams to help do good things all over the world and to be the presence of Christ. Our people have gone all over the world and all over the nation as part of this effort. Whether it’s a youth service trip to Colorado or a three week trip to Africa, it’s the same concept.
I think we are called to do more at Zion to show our city that we are, in fact, part of something bigger than ourselves. Can you imagine the witness that churches working and worshipping together would have? I have a dream for Zion, that we would lose our dependence on the weekly offering. That’s why we’ve been making such a push for electronic giving lately. It’s also why we don’t pass the plate at services any more. We want people to give regardless if they can make it to church services or not. Ultimately, this will free us up to truly be a church on the move, and allow us to move out into our community and bless other churches on a Sunday morning by showing up and encouraging them. In other words, we could have our service together with them at their church and they could keep the offering because we wouldn’t need it. We could worship in parks and other public places. Worship would become an outreach.
All this talking about how we try to live out this value might sound egotistical but it isn’t. The truth is, that for all the support we give to the body, we also receive a tremendous amount of support from the body for our ministry. Here’s what I mean:
- This summer, three different Christian camps worked with us so we could send nearly 50 kids to camp. They shared the financial burden and kingdom work was accomplished.
- We have volunteers from many different churches every Wednesday night for our STAR Kids program.
- We have volunteers from other churches staffing our clothes closet and helping in our furniture ministry.
- We receive regular gifts of money from people in other churches to help support our ministry and outreach.
- Art Camp and our soccer team, Zion United, are all helped enormously by volunteers from various other churches.
- We just received an invitation from other churches to band together and help a local man who was car jacked and is having a slow recovery and whose family is in desperate need of help.
We have been so blessed by the body of Christ in our city. Recently, a church in the suburbs called to ask if they could partner with us in our furniture ministry. They are willing to make this ministry a part of their church as well, helping us with donations and with people and trucks to move things. It’s amazing to see what can happen when we work together. The fun part for me is that I have never met the pastor or any staff members from this church. They simply checked us out on the web, found out that we love Jesus like they do and they offered a union of sorts to help. That’s kingdom of God stuff to be sure.
But everything isn’t always that easy. Another church in town sent a high ranking staff member to tell us that they wouldn’t help us. They even expressed dismay that some of their members were helping us in various ministries as volunteers. They expressed concern that they might lose members to us. This was really hard to hear, as this is a very large and very wealthy church and the people we serve have such incredible need. But they expressed their belief that they couldn’t participate in someone else’s ministry in our city without owning it. The irony is that they can freely participate with churches in other parts of the world but not here. I suppose we’re all called to different ministries, but I’m not sure that nullifies the desire of Jesus that we be one.
I give this example not to shame or embarrass anyone, but rather to show that working together as a body is harder than it seems. For the most part, churches are in competition for members and money and fame. To work together requires a real effort to die to yourself and trust Jesus to keep you in “business.” But I believe that our Founder and Master showed us how to die and that he bids come and follow him. Which, if we’re faithful followers, ultimately leads to the cross. But it’s through that spiritual dying that we are reborn to eternal life and can really be useful to our Master, Christ Jesus. One of the greatest witnesses we can give to the world, which is used to churches being in competition and divided, is to put our self interest aside, overcome our egos, and strive to truly be one body for the sake of our one Lord.