Admittedly—a strange title for an editorial in the Adventist Review.
Before you flip the page, though, let me explain.
Imagine the following congregation—completely fictitious—somewhere in the territory of the North American Division (and, I am convinced, it can be found beyond its borders as well): Brother A leads the personal ministries department and has the grand vision of church members knocking on the door of every home in the small town where the congregation is located and providing families with a copy of The Great Hope. Sister B leads the youth ministries department and feels strongly that this approach just will not work. She is supported on the board by Brother C, who serves as the treasurer and is worried about the financial commitment of this idea that this small-town congregation just cannot carry. Sister D is one of the elders and thinks that the church should be more involved in community projects—handing out books just won’t do it. Sister E is worried about her program in the children’s division—she has not enough volunteers to teach and mentor the young ones. Brother F serves as the stewardship director of the congregation and feels that before knocking on doors, people in this congregation first need to get their priorities straight—including their financial ones. He proposes a series of 20 Wednesday night seminars dealing with stewardship issues before knocking on doors can actually begin.
Enough, you may gasp. Have you found your church in this account yet? Good people, willing to serve their Lord, and eager to push another program. Matter of fact, this scenario is not only being replicated uncounted times in churches spread all around the world—it can also be found at the level of conferences, unions, divisions, and General Conference departments. Conference A aims to be the “fastest-growing” conference in the union. Conference B cannot compete at the level of baptisms, but wants to become the “most faithful in terms of stewardship” entity in the division, while Conference C has designed a vibrant youth ministry that attracts hundreds if not thousands every Sabbath.
Don’t get me wrong: I am not concerned about different programs and initiatives in our faith community—I am worried about competition and losing sight of the big picture. Is it possible that we have allowed the pop culture values of “bigger, better, faster, and always more” to shape our own community?
Paul must have sensed similar tendencies when he introduced the body metaphor into his letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 12). Body parts, he writes, cannot excel on their own. In fact, they cannot survive on their own. The eye needs the eyelid; the head needs the neck; the foot needs the legs; and they all rely on the heart for sufficient oxygen and blood.
So how do we apply the Pauline body metaphor to our fictitious church somewhere in the territory of the North American Division (or beyond)? Step one: lay down human pride—in all its possible incarnations. Step two: formulate a common vision. Know in which direction we want to go. Ministry is not a competitive event seeking to secure more tithe dollars or media light. Step three: let’s remind ourselves that bigger, better, faster, and always more is not necessarily a heavenly measure. To be sure: Jesus loves to see as many people in the kingdom as possible. But He first and foremost would like to see His church united and walking in step. He’d like to see a body, not body parts.
Gerald A. Klingbeil is an associate editor of the Adventist Review. This article was published January 19, 2012.