For my first blog of 2017 I thought I’d write about something that has been a burr under my saddle for a while now. I doubt my comments will do any good, but it’s just something I have to get off my chest.
Here goes: Christians are lousy at working together.
In fact, throughout my life I have had more success partnering with people outside the faith than I ever have partnering with those inside. I have found people in the secular world much more willing to network, partner, and collaborate than people from different churches, denominations, or even generationally within one’s own church!
Honestly, it’s just pitiful. And it’s unbiblical, which is the part that gives me some holy discontent.
I’ve tried to reason why this is. One conclusion I draw is the secular world is a business world that is dependent upon partnerships and collaboration to complete any type of work. Whether private sector or public sector, the world of business requires working together both within an organization and with others outside the organization, whether they be vendors, suppliers, customers, strategic partners, or even regulators. People just naturally work with each other.
My experience in that world is when I suggest a program or partnership, so long as both parties benefit everyone does everything they can to make it go!
My other conclusion is that in the secular world there is a lot of competition. In turn, competition drives constant forward progress and change. And change requires networking, new partners, new customers, new ideas. Thus again, people work together.
Unfortunately, our faith as Christians has become self-contained and seemingly has stopped needing these things. If your church has a pastor, a worship leader, a youth pastor, a children’s minister, a band, and some administrative staff you’re good to go. You can take care of your flock without ever leaving the comfort of you building. And if you have all these elements, you can do “missionary” things all by yourself, too. Sure, you may partner with your denomination for youth Camp or in a foreign missions project, but you’re pretty much insulated from having to work with others.
And unlike business, you’re really not in competition with anyone, and you don’t really need to grow and change. So there you go, status quo works!
There’s just one problem: That is not what the Bible calls us to.
1 Corinthians 12 lays out how we in the Body of Christ are supposed to be working together. Let me share it with you:
Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2 You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols. 3 Therefore I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.
4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.
7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. 8 To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues,[a] and to still another the interpretation of tongues.[b] 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.
12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by[c] 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. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.
15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
21 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!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 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, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 28 And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues[d]? Do all interpret? 31 Now eagerly desire the greater gifts.
Pay particular attention to verses 15-26. Do you see it? One church is the foot, another is the hand, and yet another is the eye. Apart they are not a body, just useless parts. Together, they make the body and work together to accomplish the will of God.
Here in Salem, OR we have about 50 Christian churches (probably more, but a rough count). Some of the pastors meet and support one another. Dee Duke at Jefferson Baptist does leadership training and an awesome prayer conference. Other churches offer different things. But those 50 churches do not work together at all on a daily basis. They are too busy with their own congregations, their own programs, and their own missions to actually do what scripture call them to. We have 50 body parts lying around Salem individually trying to expand the Kingdom of God on Earth. Good luck with that.
I’m tempted to give you several examples of how these churches have not only not worked together but have rejected requests to work together! However, the Holy Spirit is tempering me right now so I’ll hold my tongue on that.
Instead, I’ll note that it is the para-ministries that seem to be the glue that truly implements a 1 Corinthians 12 approach to ministry. The Gospel Mission works with all the churches to help the homeless. Another program – Interfaith Hospitality Network – works with 14 churches to provide housing in one church each week for homeless families. All the churches contribute to the local food bank. Numerous churches fund a social work organization (Congregations Helping People) to help those with significant needs. Strange – the churches will work with these groups but not really with each other to share the Good News of salvation with those who desperately need it.
So what can we do about this? I’m glad you asked! Here is how I think our world as Christians should work:
- All the pastors of all the Christians churches should meet regularly to discuss evangelism efforts in our city, region and state. Then they should develop plans to work together to implement said evangelism efforts TOGETHER.
- When one church asks for help or partnering the answer should always be YES unless there is some significant primary doctrinal issues at stake. And churches need to be asking each other for help instead of being so proud and seeking to do things on their own.
- When a brother or sister in Christ asks for help or partnering the answer should always be YES as far as that request is reasonable and furthers the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
- Churches need to stop spending all its time, money, and efforts on the 99 sheep in the pews and start spending those resources looking for the lost one in the world.
- Congregations should meet each other! Imagine what we could do if we actually knew each other and could leverage each other’s gifts in a significant way!
I know I’m dreaming here. I don’t think that could ever happen because in our fallen state we are much too selfish to actually work with each other like that. But I can dream. And maybe you can, too. Ask yourself these questions:
- Am I willing to work with other Christians even those not in my church or denomination?
- Do I say yes when asked by a Christian brother or sister for help or do I find reasons not to help?
- Am I willing to sacrifice what I want for the greater good to work with others to expand the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth?
- If I am one body part, am I willing to find others who are not like me to work with?
- Can I humble myself enough to admit I need to be a 1 Corinthians 12 Christian?
Let me say that I know not everyone in our faith falls into the trap of isolating themselves from others in the body. I actually do partner with a lot of good Christians and churches. But I think we are anemic and it doesn’t serve God as he planned. Perhaps this message has resonated or worse, the Holy Spirit is convicting you. If so, give some thought to how you can personally expand your partnering and if you’re a member of a church, how you can get your congregation to do so as well.