A Part of the Body
Christians acknowledge quickly enough that they are part of the body of Christ; the question many of us face is, ‘What part of the body am I?’
When Paul writes to the Ephesians he says that ‘grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift’ (Eph 4.7). He then goes on to explain how Christ’s incarnation, perfect life, death, resurrection, and ascension have given him the right to sovereignly distribute gifts as he sees fit. He can give what he wants to whom he wants. He purchased that right.
Some of the examples that Paul gives are the more obvious gifts: ‘apostles, prophets, evangelists, and shepherds and teachers’ (Eph 4.11). Those are gifts that stand out, right?
But what if I’m not an apostle or prophet or evangelist or shepherd-teacher? How do I know what part of the body I am? I know that I’m supposed to serve the body, but where?
The sad truth is that sometimes we get stuck in seasons where we are not using our gifts or serving our church, not because we don’t want to, but because we just don’t know how to. We don’t know where we belong.
Two Balancing Questions to Find Your Place
Question 1: What gifts does this body part have?
Sometimes people end up getting placed in ministry programs and roles that need to be filled simply because ‘this is what the church does.’ This can lead to bad places. People who aren’t fit, gifted, or qualified to serve in specific roles are placed there to simply ‘fill a gap.’ In the end it doesn’t build up the body, it wears out the person serving, and the ministry is in a worse spot than when the person started.
The question that needs to be asked in this situation is not ‘What ministry positions need to be filled?’, but rather, ‘What gifts have been given to this member of the body?’
Question 2: What needs does the whole body have?
There are problems on the other end of the continuum as well. Christians can sometimes try to place themselves in roles and ministry positions because ‘this is my gift / passion / desire.’ When this is used as a trump card, it is highly problematic. That type of thinking is typically more reflective of the individualistic and selfishly hedonistic thinking of our culture than the others-first impulse of Christianity.
The question that needs to be asked in this situation is not ‘What is going to fulfill me as a person?’, but rather, ‘What needs are there in our church at this time?’
Why Both Questions Are Needed
Both questions need to be asked and kept in balance with each other to protect against prioritizing ministry structures over body members, and also to protect against prioritizing body members over the body as a whole.
The two questions together can help provide a healthy tension. For example, I have a teaching gift. For the sake of Paul’s body analogy, let’s call me a hand. In our church, I currently function as a hand. But if I were to find myself in another church where there were others who were clearly more gifted to be ‘hands’ than me, I need to think through my questions again. If there are two hands already, clearly what is best for the body is not another hand.
So although I may have a teaching gift, it doesn’t necessarily mean that at every time in every church, I should be a teacher. There are places and times, then, when this hand would best work for the body as it wipes tables, moves chairs, shakes the hands of visitors, or cares for those in physical or financial need. In that case, I’ll need to use other gifts.
But If One Question Must Tip the Scales…
The questions should be taken together, but the reality is that the two questions don’t have the exact same weight. The good of the body and the needs of the body must always tip the scales. Having surveyed the gospel in all its glories in Ephesians 1-3, it is the unity and the health of the body as a whole that is the first concern for Paul as he addresses the Ephesians (Eph 4.1-6). And the body is built up as people serve one another, wherever there are needs.
This should not surprise us. It is the gospel.
Jesus didn’t put himself first or consider what would bring him immediate gratification in the ways that he served. He went from throne to feeding trough, from the robes of transfiguration to the robes of Roman mocking. He didn’t do that because of a personal sense of gifting. He knew it was what his body needed, so he sacrificed, suffered, and ultimately died for the sake of serving his body. And that’s what we’re called to as well.
So by all means, consider your gifts. We know we’ll be called to give an account for how we’ve all stewarded our gifts. But remember that if stewarding your gifts means working for the church, asking the question of what your church needs is a good place to start.
And if our head was willing to suffer for the body, serving in uncomfortable ways, then the body parts must also be willing to do the same.