In I Corinthians chapter 12, Paul compares the church and its members to the physical body. Paul starts his discussion with this simple comparison. Just as the physical body is one body with many parts, so too the church is one body (of Christ) with many members. And just as with the physical body, each member of Christ’s body is different and gifted for a unique function and contribution to the church. The beauty of it all is that “God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired” (vs 18). God Himself has placed you in the body for a purpose.
To summarize the main points of Paul’s analogy, no part of the body should consider itself inferior to another. Conversely, we should not look down on others as less important than ourselves. And we should not desire to be a part of the body that we are not. Every individual and unique member of the body is crucial to its function. “If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be?” (vs 17) and so on. So crucial is each part that we should never say to another, “I have no need of you” (vs 21). But I wonder if, in subtle and subconscious ways, this is exactly what we say to each other.
As I visit with people, especially young people, across the country, folks are looking for a way to exercise their gifts and talents in the church. They are looking to extend the church’s reach through their various circles of influence. The churches themselves, however, are often going the other direction; streamlining and eliminating ministries in ways that suggest not every gift is needed. For example, when the church choir disappears, what happens to those with the gift of song? When the adult Sunday School classes are dissolved, what happens to those with the gift of teaching? When the service projects go away, what happens to those with the gift of helps? Focusing on doing a few things well is great for businesses, but it does not fit the church, the body of Christ. The church is made up of diverse members with diverse gifts and all should be embraced.
A young missionary working overseas shared with me her joy at being asked by a team of nationals to join them in planting a new church. She has the gift of encouragement and had an integral role in helping the local leaders get their new ministry off the ground. The joy in her voice as she shared her story was unmistakable. Why? Because she had been asked to contribute to the cause of Christ in a specific way that matched who she is. She not only felt needed, she was needed!
My own ministry experience has been marked by great highs and disappointing lows. The highs were generally marked by being asked to do something I was made to do and the lows usually involved serving in an uncomfortable role; not uncomfortable because it was difficult, but uncomfortable because it was not where I felt that I had something to contribute. Maybe it was far from my giftedness or just a place where I was filling a slot and not really feeling needed.
Now, let me make clear, as we mature in the Lord, we move beyond our natural talents and develop ways to serve in all kinds of areas even those we thought tedious. We should always be willing to be stretched by God into new areas of service. We should never become a prisoner of our personality or our own self-evaluation. We should always be open to new challenges and opportunities to serve. But as leaders helping spur our members on to maturity, a good place to start is helping them find their “sweet spot” in the church and develop that avenue of service.