Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The Temptation of the Body of Christ

Part of the process of preparing a passage of scripture for storytelling is to read a variety of commentaries so that one not only knows what a passage says, but also what it is trying to say. In preparing the story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness I’ve been reading a commentary on Matthew by Thomas Long in which he makes the observation that what the devil is trying to accomplish is to decrease the scope and focus of Jesus’ ministry. Long puts it this way:

The challenge to turn stones into bread is connected, of course, to the fact that Jesus is ‘famished’ after his long fast, and this is key to understanding this temptation. The devil is attempting to beguile Jesus into making the nature of his work too small - satisfying hunger- and the recipients of his work too few - only one, himself.”

He then goes on to relate this temptation to the church:

The church experiences this form of temptation whenever it risks losing sight of the breadth of its calling or when we measure the effectiveness of the church according to how quickly it responds to our personal ideas and needs, our demand to be fed. “I’m bored; give me excitement in worship.” “I’m a parent; take my children and give them religion.” “I don’t like the way the church spends its money; change it now.”

I’ve been giving this idea a lot of thought and I must tell you I find myself agreeing with Long. For some time now the focus of many churches has been attempting to meet the needs of the individual members of the congregation as far as we are able. We try as much as we can to be “all things to all people.” Of course, this is not a bad thing; but it is not the only thing. The church definitely has a mandate to meet the needs of the members of the body, but I wonder if in focussing on the details we have lost track of the "big picture."

Each of us have our individual interests and concerns that we feel need to be addressed in the body of believers. As a result there are particular ministries that have captured our hearts and minds. What often goes by the wayside however, is an overall plan that looks at how well all the various ministries fit together to create a healthy congregation. We know that the needs of the individual parts of the body are bing dealt with, but if there is no correlation between these efforts, if we don’t keep in mind how meeting the needs of one group affects another, then is the entire body truly healthy?

This is the challenge for those among us who are leaders in the church. The problem is the task looks so daunting because of its sheer size, that to lessen our fear of the burden we follow the conventional wisdom of breaking it up into smaller pieces. Logic dictates that if the individual parts are each taken care of properly then the whole will take care of itself. But does it?

Jesus understood that the health of the entire body of believers was His responsibility. Fortunately for us, He did not shirk that responsibility. He resisted the temptation to focus on the hunger of the moment and kept His eyes on the greater need of tomorrow. Those who lead in the local body face the same temptation and must, if the Body of Christ is to be healthy, resist the temptation as our Lord did.

There are many in the congregation with the heart to nurture the individuals; there must however, be someone whose responsibility it is to ensure that all the individual efforts are pulling in the same direction. This means stepping back from the details far enough to see the entire picture. It means making some tough decisions. Sometimes it means that instead of heading the sound of a grumbling stomach, we may have to go hungry just a little while longer.

1 comment:

jhklaas said...

Dennis, This is very insightful. Our culture demands that we should refuse to subjugate our smallest personal need for the benefit of the group. After all, isn't this is what the 'abundant life' is all about? Cross bearing would imply that we march to a different beat and that our food is to do the will of Him who sent us.
How this works out in practice is a mystery. Personal initiative, individual faith steps should not be micro managed by church leadership. Yet there must be a bigger picture and coordinated effort.