By Joe McKeever
“I will build my church…” (Matthew 16:18)
It’s His church and not mine.
It’s His church and not yours either.
Settle that or nothing else will matter. Get it wrong and everything else you do will be off kilter.
The moment you think it’s your church (you’re in charge) or my church (someone else makes the decisions; you have nothing to do with what happens), we’re all in trouble.
It is indeed the Lord’s Church and He is its sole owner. He takes no one in as a stockholder, franchises no part of His operation out to denominations, and asks advice from no expert of theology. Furthermore, He promised that the gates of hades will not prevail against His church.
And, He has populated His church with frail humans like you and me, and wonder of wonders, assigned some of us to responsibilities within that church. What a risk He was taking!
Because the church is made up of people who are flawed and sometimes malformed and always still in process, the Lord’s church is often in trouble, forever struggling, and frequently an embarrassment.
The church is always vulnerable to the whims of its members, the pressures of its surrounding culture, and the variables of its pastors who come and go.
So, it’s a two-sided coin. The church is divine, yet human. The church belongs to Jesus who has promised to build it and guarantee its success. Yet, it’s fragile and vulnerable.
If, as a disciple of Jesus Christ, you pray for anything in this world, pray for the church.
If you “belong” to anything in this world, belong to the church.
If you give to a single entity on this planet, give to the church.
If you stand up for anything, stand up for the church.
Here are ten basic realities concerning the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. To the faithful, they are wonderful; but we ignore them to our own detriment.
1. The church is the Body of Christ.
I didn’t make that up. I’m not smart enough to have figured that out. Scripture makes this assertion and makes it so clear that we dare not take issue with it. (See Ephesians 4:15-16 for starters. Then I Corinthians 12:27 and Colossians 2:19.)
If I’m going to do anything on earth, I’ll do it through my body. And to a great extent–we want to be careful here not to overextend the metaphor–when the Lord wants to work on earth, He uses His body, the church.
I’m only a minor member of the Lord’s Body and not a major player. But the little finger on my hand or the smallest toe on my right food is still important to me.
How honored I am to be a part of His Body on earth. “Lord, help me to be faithful in the spot where You have assigned me.”
2. The church is made up of people like you and me.
Whatever was the Lord thinking? These flawed, imperfect people who make up the membership of His Church often stumble and get matters wrong.They sin, they rebel, they think their opinion should count, and they sometimes believe the Lord reveals His will through them voting.
And yet, the Lord still claims them, stays with them, and works with them. Truly amazing.
“He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust” (Psalm 103:14). Jesus knew He was getting no bargain when He saved us. He knows what humble stuff we are made of. When we sin, we are the only one surprised. And yet, He still claims us as His own.
It stands to reason, therefore, there will be no perfect churches in this life.
That there are no perfect churches has disgusted many a would-be follower of Jesus and given material for skeptics and critics looking for reasons to reject Christ’s message.
The Lord was willing to take that chance.
How honored I am to be a member of His church. “Lord, keep me from criticizing your church because it is made up of people like me.”
3. Christ is the head of the church.
He is both its owner and operator (Matthew 16:18 again). He holds the deed and He calls the shots. That must be news to some pastors who think the church is theirs and deacons who enjoy throwing their weight around.
The single question church people ought to ask as we gather to do business as a congregation is “Lord, what would you have us to do?”
When parts of my body are in disharmony, working in opposition to one another, the solution is not for them to get together for a summit conference and work things out. It’s much easier than that. All they have to do is each one obey the head. After all, Christ is not the author of division (see I Corinthians 1:13). The head does not send contradictory messages to different parts of the body.
It’s a great metaphor and we cannot escape its message.
How important it is that I seek His will in everything. “Lord, help me to want to please you in all I do.”
4. What we do to the church–good or evil–Jesus takes personally.
He said to Saul of Tarsus, “Why do you persecute me?” When the henchman of Jerusalem stretched out his hand against the followers of Jesus, the Lord in Heaven felt it.
Feed the Lord’s hungry children, clothe them, take care of them, and Jesus interprets that as though you had done it to Him. Fail to do it and He registers that as a neglect of Him. (Matthew 25)
“Whoever receives you, receives me,” the Lord told His disciples (Matthew 10:40). Minister to the saints and you are showing love to His name (Hebrews 6:10).
And, mess with the Lord’s people and you are messing with Jesus. Run the preacher off just because you cannot control him and the Lord pens your name down in red on HIs appointment calendar. Split a church in order to get you way and you are in more trouble than you have ever been in your life, friend.
Honor the church as you would the Lord Jesus Himself.
How honored we are to be able to serve Christ this very day. “Lord, help me to take this literally and do unto others as I would do unto Thee.”
5. Church unity is a big deal to the Lord, far more than to any of us.
“I pray that they all may be one,” Jesus prayed, “in order that the world may believe” (John 17:21).
The unity of the Lord’s church is directly tied to its effectiveness in spreading the gospel.
“Being diligent to present the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).
One of the greatest tasks of church leaders is to keep the congregation unified. Likewise, God’s people of every denomination–those who know Jesus, love Him, believe His word, etc.–ought to have a spiritual unity, even if not organizational.
Leaders should always be on the alert for divisive tactics of the enemy and move quickly to deal with them. A divided church grinds to a halt in everything it attempts. Until unity is restored, nothing gets accomplished.
How blessed I have been by the ministries of strong, unified churches in my past. “Lord, help me to do all I can to keep our church–and Thy people everywhere–as one in Thee.”
6. The key to unity in the church is submission.
“Submit yourselves to one another in the fear of the Lord” (Ephesians 5:21).
We submit ourselves to the Head of the Church, the Lord Jesus, yes. But, just as tough and perhaps even more irrational, we are required to submit to one another.
Humility is a far bigger deal in the Lord’s plan than it is within the Christian movement today. In fact, many of the best-known preachers and denominational leaders literally parade their pride and flaunt their oversized egos. In doing so, they deny the Lord who had no place to lay His head, and was among us as One who served.
To submit simply means to yield to the other person. Suppose you and I disagree. After a full discussion, I say, “Let’s do it your way.” Instantly, the decision is made and the division is nipped in the bud.
Two motorists meet in the middle of a one-way bridge. The first leans out of his window and yells, “I never back up for fools!” The second throws his car into reverse and calls, “I always do.”
Only the strong can submit; the weak will bull forward, insisting on their own way. And, when they do, the church grows steadily weaker and weaker for such shenanigans.
Let the leadership of the Lord’s church preach unity and demonstrate submission to the congregation. Pastors submit to their people when they respond to calls for help, for counsel, for ministry, when they put the needs of others before themselves. The congregation submits to its leaders (see Hebrews 13:17) when members do not carp, do not withhold their witness or praise or attendance or offerings, but enthusiastically join in and follow their lead.
How hard it is to submit myself to someone who seems undeserving. “Lord, help me to have the spirit of Christ in all I do.”
7. Pastors are called by God–appointed as overseers of the church–while deacons are chosen by the church as servants of the congregation.
The first point–overseers–comes from Acts 20:28 and the second, this business of serving, comes from Acts 6:1-7. The deacons are accountable both to the congregation and the pastors. The pastors are accountable to the congregation. (All are accountable to God, of course.)
Pastors are God’s point men, sent not to make the congregation happy but to make them holy and healthy and to make Himself happy.
Deacons are more responsible than anyone else for maintaining and protecting the unity of the church. If there is a troublemaker or a rift in the congregation, they should deal with it promptly, in love, in fairness, and in all wisdom, being careful not to widen the breach or deepen the anguish.
If pastors are the point men, deacons ride drag, bring up the rear, keep the congregation together, and deal with dissent/trouble whenever it erupts.
How blessed I have been by strong, faithful pastors and godly, humble deacons throughout my life. “Lord, help me exhibit the same Christlikeness to those who come behind.”
8. There will always be conflicts and challenges to the church, and that’s not always bad.
“There must be factions among you, in order that those who are approved may have become evident among you” (I Corinthians 11;19).
Every church needs a little conflict from time to time. Every church will have its share of challenges. And if it handles these wisely, a number of good things will happen….
–The church will draw the attention of the watching world. Some will want to see you fail, while others will watch to see if you live by the teachings of the Savior whom you confess.
–The challenge will test your mettle. Do you truly believe the Word or is that just so much talk?
–Handle it well and you will give the trouble-making devil a black eye.
–Handle it well and the difficult ones within the congregation will receive valuable lessons never to be forgotten.
–Handle it well, and outsiders will be attracted to Jesus Christ and your ministry. Acts 6:7 is a great testimony to how this works.
How enlightening it is to look back down the years and see how the Lord has used the conflicts and stresses He allowed into my life. “Lord, help me never to run from the next problem that arises, but to look for Thy hand.”
9. The Bible intentionally blurs the line between the church universal, local, and worldwide.
All the saints across time and eternity make up the Kingdom of God and therefore, His true church. The local church, that congregation with which I am affiliated, is also the church, as are the saints across the world who are serving Jesus Christ at this moment.
Last weekend, as I was leading a deacons retreat for an Alabama church, we were dealing with some of these concepts. A man asked, “So, is the church this building or the people?” I answered, “Strictly speaking, it’s the people. However, this building is where the Lord’s people meet to serve and teach and minister. So, it is no stretch to say that whoever vacuums the floors is serving Jesus, whoever mows the lawn is cutting the Lord’s grass, and whoever cleans the toilets does this as unto the Lord Himself.”
If that blurred the line, so be it. A neglected house of worship–it needs paint, the grounds need tending, the acoustics are terrible–reflects poorly on the people, the Lord, and our message.
There is a redundancy in our salvation. The Lord saves us, the Holy Spirit indwells us, and He gives us an entire family to help us live this life. He gives us the Bible to guide us, opportunities to serve Him, challenges to grow us, and faith to sustain us.
How wise we are to treasure every church that honors Christ and preaches the Word. “Lord, help me to bless every believer in Jesus I meet, no matter what denomination they belong to.”
10. As a living organism, the church is always growing and changing. Always in a state of flux.
“I will build my church,” Jesus said. He is constantly at work in His church.
A church is always changing. Someone joins and the church grows; someone leaves and the church diminishes. Someone begins reading his Bible regularly or giving generously or sharing Christ with his neighbors and the church gets stronger. Someone drops out of church or neglects the Word or finds other things to do with his money, and the church grows weaker.
I’m always amused by people who move to a new city and set out to find a church like the beloved congregation they just left. If given the opportunity, I tell them, “There is no other church like that one. The Lord’s churches are like your children, each one unique. And furthermore, the church back home is not like it was, either.”
“When you moved away, that church changed. When other people joined it, it changed again. It’s always changing. And to ask the Lord to reproduce here in your new neighborhood what He once did in the old one is to require what He has never done and has no intention of doing again.”
I tell them, “The Lord is trying to do a new thing in your life. Don’t ask Him to repeat the old, former lessons. Be open to the next stage He has for you.”
How hard it is to accept change and the new things our leaders introduce. “Lord, help me to keep my eyes on Thee, that I may serve and grow and be found faithful.”
Those are my 10 “basics” of the church.
Feel free to add one or two of yours in the comments below.
“Father, help us to honor Thy Church as we someday expect to honor Thee around the throne. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.”
Joe McKeever is retired missions director for the New Orleans Baptist Association. Before that Mr. McKeever pastored churches in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and North Carolina.