One Body – One Level, Not Two Levels
I am not sure if this is how you conceive of fellowship, or a church. You may be hearing all this talk about one body and being interconnected and prioritizing church and you’re thinking to yourself, this doesn’t apply to me. I am here to be served. The servants are the pastors, the elders, the leaders, the staff, not me, I’m just a member. Or another way to put it, on Sundays, you guys put on the show, you guys cook the food, clean the tables, give rides and I am here to be a passive spectator.
Catholics – Two Levels (Clergy/Laity)
It is not surprising that many conceive of fellowship or church in this way. Catholics view church as being divided into two levels. There is a clear line of demarcation between the clergy and the laity.
Some Protestants: Two Levels (Leaders/Members)
Many Protestants may not take it that far, but in many cases, there is a clear distinction at Protestant churches between the pastor and the congregation. I have a specific role to teach, shepherd and lead, but we are all servants under Jesus, the Chief Shepherd. The Head. We are the body. We may have different roles and gifts, but using the body metaphor, there are no levels. We are one, we are interconnected. There are no parts of the body that are greater in importance than the others. One body. We’re all body parts. Your pinky toe hurts and the entire body notices. We are all connected to the Head. We report to the Head. That’s the only distinction. If you want to call it levels, that’s the only higher level. Christ the Head on one level and the rest of us the body at another level.
As I said earlier, if you look at the New Testament, there is no detailed blueprint that all churches are expected to follow in terms of structure and polity. I think this is deliberate because God is infinite and every generation and every culture is different so the Bible gives every church a great deal of autonomy to adopt practices that fit their context. Even SBC, our denomination gives complete autonomy for each local church and we partner with the denomination and other SBC churches on a voluntary basis.
It’s notable that there are several instances in the NT where there is a breakdown between elders and deacons and deaconesses. All are servants but some serve by focusing on teaching and prayer and spiritual guidance–the elders–and others serve by focusing on meeting the needs of the congregation. Deacons and deaconesses.
One Level: We Are All Servants/Parts of the Body
Of course, Heb 13:17 and James 1:3 warns that overseers and teachers and leaders will be judged more harshly by God. Certain roles come with added burden. Still, we are all servants. We are all parts of the body. We all serve at different capacities because we have different roles and gifts. But we are here to serve one another instead of being passive spectators. The job of the ministry is not the responsibility of the pastor or one or two key leaders. We’re in this together.
Ministering to the Whole Person (Spiritual/Physical Needs)
Both the spiritual needs and the physical needs of the church are critical. If all we did is to teach and then everyone is on their own to figure out how to manage their own physical needs, that’s not a picture of a healthy church. If you come to one of the leaders with spiritual issues only and we never talk about your studies or your future or issues at home with your kids, or your financial problems, then we are not meeting all of your needs. We are both physical and spiritual beings. So as a church, we are ministering to the whole of your life, not just the spiritual part. Conversely, if all we did was to meet the physical needs of the congregation and made sure you were well fed and you were having fun but the teaching and your spiritual development was being overlooked, then we’re just a social club.
What Kind of Culture Do We Want?
Now that we established the fact that fellowship or church is a shared burden, I want to speak to the importance of creating the right culture. What kind of culture do we want at LBC?
We All Bring Our Culture to the Table
We all bring our culture to the table. If you’re Asian, you bring your Asian culture to the table. If you’re Caucasian, you bring American culture to the table. If you are a second generation Korean American, or Chinese American, you bring a hybrid culture to the table.
On top of that, we bring our previous church culture to the table. Growing up, your church might have been a first generation immigrant church that was very conservative and had strong leadership and they were reaching out to only one ethnic group.
Compare that first generation immigrant church with a church like ours where we, God-willing, are trying to build a multi-ethnic community. Do you think the methodologies within those two churches will be the same? Of course not.
Or you might have come from a church where there was only one dominant ministry–homeless ministry or some type of social work and nothing else vs. a church with many kinds of ministries–the poor, college students, the elderly, young singles, married couples, empty nesters. How similar would those 2 churches be? Probably not that similar. Yet, due to our culture and our previous church background, subconsciously, we all bring certain preferences and perspectives to the table. Wouldn’t you say so?
Flexibility and Fluid
Some of those things are good and should be kept. Others should be discarded. We have to be flexible. Remember Jupiter? Or the reversed tootsie roll lollipop. Some things that worked 10 years ago may have been effective then, but it no longer works because times have changed and people have changed.
David was a man who served God in his generation and I would bet that his generation looked quite different from our generation. How can we serve THIS generation that we are a part of in THIS city? Every church that seeks to be relevant needs to wrestle with this question.
No One Size Fits All Approach
I don’t believe that we can have a one-size-fits all approach to fellowship or how we do church. There are many factors to consider. We have to consider our context. Where we live. Who God brings to our church. The stage that our church is in. Before, while we were at the Coral Center, our neighbors were horses. Now we are in Old Pas. We are in the heart of the city. And we are sharing a building with Friendship Baptist. These factors are going to have a direct impact on our fellowship here.
So with all of these moving parts, what is our anchor? Obviously, it has to be the Word of God. And with the Word of God, I believe our first priority is to create a biblical culture that supersedes ethnic culture, upbringing, previous church experience.