Work of the Church

The Lord's church is His spiritual body (Ephesians 1:22–23). It would seem to be unarguable that Jesus wants His spiritual body to engage in the same work He came to do in His physical body. Most would not argue otherwise verbally, but many strongly so argue practically.

Some years ago a few “promoter-type” brethren began spreading a spiritual “virus” in the church that has infected many congregations. Its practical effect is to “provide all things for all men” (not to be confused with our personally “becoming all things to all men” in optional matters [I Corinthians 9:22]). Some call this approach “ministering to the whole man” or “meeting felt needs.” It spawned a troupe of church growth “experts” who began compassing sea and land with their weekend How to Grow a Church “seminars.”

My first preaching work out of college (1959) was as one of the preachers with a large church in Wichita Falls, Texas. A Methodist Church building a few blocks away had a gymnasium in its basement. You could have tortured our elders and they would not have built such a building. They knew there was no authority for such use of the Lord's money. Twenty years later, with a new set of elders, that congregation had its own gymnasium. Oh, they call it their “Family Life Center” (but when I see an expansive room with basketball goals, net poles for volleyball and lines on the floor for boundaries, pardon me for calling it a “gymnasium”).

When one starts down the minister-to-the-whole-man road it is difficult to find a stopping place. Accordingly, another symptom of this viral disease is the pleasure jaunts of senior citizen and teenage groups in the church (pity the “middle-aged” folk—almost always left out). I enjoy travel, fellowship, and pretty scenery as much as the next person. However, I have never figured out why the Lord's church should pay for it or employ someone who spends much of his time planning such activities and excursions, often on a bus or van owned, operated, and fueled out of the church’s bank account.

Can you imagine apostolic consent for a three-day sightseeing trip to Tyre and Sidon for the Jerusalem church’s “39ers” or the “Autumn Leaves” group? Try to picture Timothy's planning a ski retreat on Mt. Olympus for the “keen teens” of Ephesus. I somehow doubt that Paul ever considered taking a contribution from the Gentile churches to build a “Family Life Center” for the church in Jerusalem.

Such suggestions are ludicrous, bordering on blasphemy. But only liberals among us have jumped on this meeting-the-felt-needs bandwagon, right? The September 2013 “Polishing the Pulpit” extravaganza, planned, overseen by, and participated in by brethren who consider themselves (as we once considered them) to be “men of the Book, included classes in conflict management, weight loss, the risk of dating, sibling rivalry, budget shopping for clothes, nutrition, preparing for SAT, and such like. Somehow they overlooked small engine repair and basic auto maintenance.

Such activities and emphases are no more the work of the blood-bought church of Christ in the twenty-first century than they were in the first. The kingdom is a spiritual entity by definition (John 18:36). Its work and mission are tied innately to its nature. Its work, as was that of its Builder/Head, is spiritual—to bring the saving Gospel to lost humanity (Matthew 28:19–20; Mark 16:15–16; Romans 1:16). All else we do as His church is peripheral to this one grand task.

Faithful saints desire congregational growth as much as any of the “church growth experts” do, but that end will never justify the sacrifice of Scripturally authorized means. “We must work the works of him that sent me…” (John 9:4a).

Dub McClish