The Apostle Paul likened the church to a human body (1 Corinthians 12). Like our physical bodies, the church is made of many parts, each one valuable to the whole. Just as the human body has fingers, toes, eyes, etc., the Church body has a variety of people, each serving a specific function. Paul’s point was two-fold: everyone has a place in the church to serve, and everyone is valuable. But there is another aspect to Paul’s analogy that we don’t often think of…
Several years ago I read a challenging book called Soul Tsunami by Dr. Leonard Sweet. The book details life and ministry in our fast-paced, postmodern world, and within this cultural discussion, Dr. Sweet comments that the clinical definition of death is a body that does not change. So, change is life, and stagnation is, of course, death. If you don’t change, you die. Sweet elaborates:
In molecular biology the world revolves around the cell. In the time it takes you to read this chapter, of the 100 trillion cells that make up your body, hundreds of millions will have died… for every one of those cells that dies while you’re reading this, another cell divides to replace it with a new one. Skin replaces itself every month; the stomach lining, every five days; the liver, every six weeks; the skeleton, every three months; cheek cells, three times a day. Ninety-eight percent of the atoms in your body are replaced every year – your whole body every five years (men) or seven years (women).
As you can see, our bodies are constantly being transformed. When change stops occurring, we had better update our life insurance policy because the end is near.
What is true of the human body is true of the church. In the book of Acts, we read that the church was growing at a radical pace (Acts 2:41-47; 6:7; 9:31; 14:21), and as it did, theological issues were discussed, relational tensions arose, and unanticipated problems bubbled to the surface. As God added to their numbers, the focus, structures, and organization of the church had to be modified in order to accommodate the increase of people (Acts 6:1-7; 15:1-35). Change, movement, and even problems were not a sign of death, but rather a consequence of life.
It’s easy to forget that God is building His church with living stones (1 Peter 2:5). The problem with living stones is that they are always moving, shifting, and changing positions. In a living body, things are always in motion, and changes are always occurring. While this can be frustrating, it is not always a bad thing, nor is it a sign something is wrong.
Sometimes church members, and leaders in particular, can believe it’s their job to do everything they can to prevent problems. They falsely believe that change and challenges are a sign that something is wrong, so they do all they can to prevent change and challenges from occurring. But change is a good thing, especially in a living body made up of living stones.
When I was pastoring my first church, I had a 45-minute commute. Every week I passed a rural church in a small town. My wife and I would often comment about the small number of vehicles there on Sunday mornings. One day as we drove by, my heart sank as I noticed the stained glass windows had been removed. Within a couple of weeks, the church had been leveled. Today, there are no signs that church ever existed. When it stopped changing and the life left, there was nothing to do except tear it down.