Wednesday, January 18, 2017

"Limping or Leaping"

The New Year is a time when many people reevaluate their lives to determine what’s working and what’s not working. Now that we’re a week into 2017, now that you’ve made and broken your resolutions, it’s time to really and realistically assess the changes that need to be made. Maybe you’re determined (like me) to lose a bit of weight, because you’ve found that the holiday pounds are just too much. Or perhaps you’ve decided that your spirituality needs the kind of boost that a daily quiet time can provide. It could be that your church attendance needs to improve or that you’ve realized you need to do something different with your employment to make ends meet. Maybe you determined that instead of waiting for your kids to call you, you’re going to pick up the phone and connect with them. The New Year is a time for figuring out where you’re limping and where you’re leaping in life.

In 1 Corinthians 12, the apostle Paul does some self-evaluation for the church. He sees that, in many ways, the church has been limping. In verses 14-21, he paints a picture of a human body that lacks unity among its members. Jewish and Gentile believers refused to help each other. Women and men lacked unity and cooperation. Employers and employees who attended the same church jockeyed for position. About this disunity, Paul writes:
14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many.15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”

With the disunity and disorganization of the church, Christ’s body which should be leaping in the resurrection seems to be limping. Instead of a figure of love and perfection, the body of Christ seems more of a Frankenstein’s monster or Picasso painting with arms in place of legs and eyes popping out where ears should be. It’s been a tough year for many in the church. Many churches, like mine, have experienced too many tragedies, struggles, and too much decline. But instead of limping in ministry, Jesus wants His body to leap into the New Year with hope and vision, agility and strength. Just as people hit the gym and fix their broken diets in January, so churches need to do some reassessment, streamline their ministries, and reset some dislocated body parts. In verses 27-31, Paul tells how to do this:
27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues.29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But earnestly desire the higher gifts.
And I will show you a still more excellent way.

The way of leaping instead of limping begins with understanding that every believer is called to ministry of some kind. Not all possess the same gifts, but when we work together and exercise the gifts we have, the whole body can function as God intends. Just as a human body has four main limbs, so the church has four limbs that support and do the work of ministry. Each of these four limbs is represented by ministries Paul mentions above:
1. Outreach – This important arm of the church is overseen by people with apostolic gifts. Paul also gives the example of people who can speak in other languages, reaching people groups outside the norm for the established church. Every healthy church needs committees and ministries that are dedicated to outreach. Examples are benevolence committees, groups that take mission trips, teams that work with church prospects, etc.
2. Inreach – Run by people with the gift of healing and helps, this essential arm of the church takes care of the needs of members. Examples are fellowship committees, homebound and hospital visitation of members, and nursery workers.
3. Spiritual Formation – Led by teachers and those with the gift of prophecy, this foundational leg of the church builds people’s spirituality through music, teaching, discipling, preaching, and leading in worship.
4. Structure – This strong leg of the church is headed by people with gifts of leadership and administration. Helping the church to run smoothly seems like a miracle in itself! Examples of this may be a church secretary, building and grounds committee, transportation committee, or those who handle the church finances.

Just as an individual often assesses where they are limping and where they’re limping in the New Year, adjusting so their lives and bodies function optimally, so churches need to go through times of introspection, restructuring, and streamlining. Maybe your church has been doing this type of thing lately. Perhaps God is calling you to step into a place of leadership within your church. You might have an interest in outreach, inreach, spiritual formation, or structure. You might have the gifts necessary for one or more of these ministries. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:31 that we should “earnestly desire the higher gifts.” He then follows up by saying, “I will show you a still more excellent way.” These higher gifts are represented by this more excellent way, the way of love (1 Corinthians 13). It is love that binds the body together like ligaments, covers it beautifies it like skin, and helps the church to leap into her purposes in Christ. I pray that in this New Year, you’ll follow the way of love, that invest yourself in your own health, and that you’ll find your ministry and strengthen the body of Christ.

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