The Church Is a Granary
In my Bible study group we are studying the book of Philippians. At the heart of this short letter is Paul's discussion of Christian unity. What is the church? What is its purpose? Why do we gather? Why is unity so important?
Paul says that the church exists not for the church but for the world. It is to hold forth the life-giving Word. We are the Body of Christ, and what did Christ do with His Body? He gave it for the world. To use a farming illustration, the church is the barn in which the seed is stored, but it is also the granary from which the seed is to be taken out and sown in the field. The biblical church is nothing other than fruitful seed. There is always an emphasis on extending the church by missionary evangelization.
We err when we think of the church as a storehouse for converts instead of as a distribution plant. Every believer must be equipped to become a witness for Christ. And every church must become a center of Gospel distribution. Jesus sent out the 12 and the 72. I have the deep conviction that every deficiency in the church can be traced back to a failure to follow the New Testament teaching and pattern about missions. We may be completely orthodox in our theology and yet fall completely short of the New Testament teaching in our practice. Our faith must be a living thing, not just faith in itself. The earliest Christians were wholly dedicated, sold out to Jesus Christ and His cause. And because they were committed men and women, they expected their converts to be equally committed to the Great Commission, to propagate the Gospel, and to serve as Jesus served. Their leaders trained the entire church to be fulltime ministers rather than selecting a few who would devote themselves to "fulltime Christian ministry."
Today our training must bridge the gap between the so-called clergy and laity. The church is, at its core, an evangelizing organism. Why, then, do we train only a "few good men" who will become "ministers"? How refreshing to hear today of pastors who are concerned about "preparing God's people for works of service" (Eph. 4:11-12). Even a convert with modest theological training can fulfill Jesus' command to "Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature." I am concerned about traditional, top-heavy models of missions, not simply because of their cost, but because of the gap they create between "professional missionaries" and the rest of the saints. The building up of the Body of Christ will not take place until all of the saints are doing the work of ministering.
In future years, evangelicalism will be rethinking what the church is all about. We will do well to remember that the church is a sending organism, a granary from which seed is taken and sown in the world. A good many distractions will work against this priority. The usual tendency of a church is to rely upon professional workers to get the job done. Training every believer to be a fulltime minister/missionary will be a vitally important step as we move forward.
January 21, 2012
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com.