One body, one head, many parts.

Woman with Arms in the Air

To be functioning at its peak, a body needs every part to be working effectively. Our role as the body of Christ is to equip and build one another up “until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:13). To this end, those of us who are stronger, more mature or given gifts, ought to use what we have to empower and equip others in their journey.

This doesn’t make us more important – quite the opposite, it requires an attitude of servanthood. Instead of the “hierarchy” of the world, where people jostle for power, prestige and privilege, we have a “low-rarchy” in the church – in God’s kingdom, the way up is down, the first shall be last, and the last shall be first.

We follow a king who rode a donkey, who washed his followers’ feet, whose coronation was a crucifixion, who laid aside his right to equality with God and took on the form of a servant. Unlike the power-hungry ways of the world, “leadership” in the church is always framed in terms of servanthood or building others up. We are never to “lord it over” or “excercise authority over” one another as the “rulers of the Gentiles” do (Matt 20:25) – the way of love ushers in an entirely new paradigm of inverted hierarchy, where those of us with high status need to step down the ladder to lift up those on the bottom rungs. We go down, not to debase ourselves, but to lift others up. “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Matt 20:27-28).”

Here is what that looks like in the church –

the mature mentor the immature.

The elders instruct the younger.

The rich share with the poor.

Those who have gifts equip others for acts of service.

The powerful defend the powerless.

The strong bear with the failings of the weak.

And nobody ever positions themselves in Christ’s rightful place, as head of the church.

Our current structures for church are holding us back from empowering and building one another up, by positioning us either as performers or audience members, as broadcasters or passive listeners. Pulpits and pews separate us into two camps, and prevent the mutual ministry and one-anothering described over and over again in Scripture. We need to rethink our meeting spaces, our seating arrangements, our use of music and our information delivery methods to find creative ways which release all of God’s people to be active participants in their journey towards unity and spiritual maturity. We need to be willing to step off the stage and into the circle, to talk less and listen more, to use our status to lift others high, and to get out of the way and let God work in his people.

This is an excerpt from the chapter I contributed to “Simple Church: Unity within Diversity“. Order a copy now to learn about simple church practices from some great writers.

6 thoughts on “One body, one head, many parts.

    • Thanks so much. I hope you get a chance to read the whole book. I highly recommend the chapters by Keith Giles, Alice Carpenter, Alan Knox and Kathy Escobar. Worth the price of the book just for these gems.

      – Kathleen

  1. the thing is, though, who wants to be regarded as “the immature/the poor/the powerless/the weak”… ?? I wouldn’t want to go to church and have others think I’m there to be defended, equipped, instructed, mentored… on the receiving end all the time… how patronising and disempowering. Aren’t all of us both mature and immature, both powerful and powerless, both strong and weak, both rich and poor…. in different ways and concerning different aspects of our lives, experience, personality…all need to be both givers and receivers, all needing at different times as much to learn as to instruct, to listen as to mentor, and never to assume which way round all the dynamics of mutual growth might operate…

    • You’re absolutely right, Jo.

      I was trying to reflect the model Paul presents of eldership within the church, where we don’t look to one leader in particular, but those who are older/more mature/etc step up to their responsibility and serve others.

      I completely agree with you, though, that the mutuality of ministry is always two-way, and that the most unexpected people often have the most to offer. We see this over and over again at Fresh Start Community.
      Perhaps I didn’t choose the best way to express this in my article. Thanks so much for your feedback,
      Blessings,
      – Kathleen

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