The Lord created the local church to accomplish the great work of being God’s means to glorify his name in the world. Many Christians today are losing an understanding of this purpose. The result is the existence of a local church that is not living up to its identity. At the root of this failure is not seeing the church as a team with a mission.
“Church,” it is something folks “go to”; it is something folks become a “member” of; and it is something folks “connect” to. But “team” is not often used to describe a local church. And yet Paul repeatedly describes a church in terms of a body. For example, in Ephesians 4:16, Paul says:
The whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.
And Peter says,
As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace … in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 4:10-11).
The concept of a team or a body teaches a number of critical principles:
- A team is only as strong as its weakest link. If there are team members who will not do their share, the success of the team is greatly limited.
- One team member who is out of step (not of one mind & one spirit) can destroy the efforts of the whole team. Grumbling and murmuring will demoralize the spirit of the team.
- It is necessary for each team member to identify their role and actively pursue and develop their talents.
- One team member, or a few team members, cannot carry the rest of the team. Some members have the tendency of letting those who are more active do the things they are able to do. This results in burnout and discouragement in the active team members.
- Team members, and especially leaders, will be more effective when they recognize the importance of concentrating on their own roles and not spreading themselves too thin. While these leaders may be capable of doing other jobs, the overall effectiveness of the team would be diminished if they left their role. Doing so would also take away the opportunity others have to participate in the team effort. For example, you wouldn’t want a star quarterback playing middle linebacker on defense!
To this last point, the apostles were careful to maintain their primary role, and encourage the church to pick up the slack in other needed areas. Acts 6:2, 4 states:
And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables … but we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.
This may be one of the most violated principles in a local church. Shepherds are spending a significant amount of their time doing what deacons and other members could be doing. The result is that their prime directive of caring for souls is neglected. Further, preachers are often devoting an inordinate amount of time in hospitals or visiting the sick and far to little time in prayer, the ministry of the word, and doing the work of an evangelist. And members, especially those who should be spiritually mature, are not helping the matter by complaining that shepherds and preachers aren’t responding to their every need or request. The church is a team, and “every part is to do its share.” In fact, Paul stated that “evangelists, pastors and teachers” are to “to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” (Eph. 4:11-12, NIV11). It is not the evangelists, pastors and teachers who do all the “works of service.” They equip the church so that “every part can do its share” (Eph. 4:16).
Identifying the Goal of the Team
The second way church teams fail is not identifying their role in God’s plan. God has given a church team three goals:
- Love God passionately (Matt. 22:37).
- Love one another fervently (1 Pet. 1:22)
- Love the world as Jesus loved the world (Matt. 22:39; Luke 15; Matt. 5:16, etc.)
In order to reach these goals a local church team will first need to delete any activity from their agenda that does not fit into one of these three goals. This is exactly the reason a church must avoid organizing and supporting social and secular functions as part of their work. These earthly activities are never defined in scripture as the means to accomplishing God’s purposes.
Next, a church team must deepen each member’s knowledge of God. Paul identifies this purpose when he says, “…until we all come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God to a perfect man” (Eph. 4:13). The deeper a team member’s knowledge of God, the better able to defeat the attacks of Satan, resulting in one’s light shining in such a way so that others will glorify God (Matt. 5:16).
To accomplish these goals team members will also be accountable to one another and expect the kind of high commitment that Jesus required to enter the kingdom. In Luke 14:26-35, Jesus three times challenged the multitudes with the phrase, “You cannot be my disciple unless…” Unless what? Unless you “hate father, mother, wife, children … yes even your own life.” “Unless you bear your own cross and come after me.” And, “unless you forsake all that you have.” To be anything less than this is to be “salt that has lost its taste” (verses 34-35).
Finally, to reach these goals the team must want to win. Can you imagine a team that didn’t want to win? “What?” someone says, “A church team is supposed to win? I thought we were just supposed to come together and play the game.” No, God made us a team so that we can win a battle against Satan for the souls of men and defeat the principalities and powers in the heavenly places. This was his eternal purpose for us (Eph. 3:10-11). As Jesus said, he has placed within believers “rivers of living water” (John 7:37-38), which are intended to spread throughout the land giving life to the nations (Ezek. 47:1-10; Zech. 14:8). When Jesus shined light into our souls, we are in turn to become lights to the world (Matt. 5:16). Through Jesus, God has made us the “offspring of Abraham” (Gal. 3:29), and thus fulfill God’s promise to Abraham that “through your offspring all the nations shall be blessed” (Gen. 22:18)
Identifying the Roles of Team Members
We will save this for the next article, but for now, each team member must know his or her role or talent and develop that ability so that the team wins and accomplishes God’s purpose. This is the third way most “church teams” fail.