If I ever had any aspirations of going into the field of medicine, High School Biology class dashed them to the wind. Now, mind you, I attended a little Public High School in rural Harford County, Maryland and so “state-of-the-art” was little more than a series of spelling words for us. Nevertheless, we had biology class and in biology class, we dissected dead animals.
Mind you, we didn’t get to dissect anything exotic. Our teacher was a fisherman by avocation and so most of what we dissected related to that hobby: worms, crawfish, small fish, etc… Needless to say, for a teenage boy having grown up in the Boy Scouts, dissecting critters like this was not a huge draw.
What made things worse was the fact that those were the days when pretty much every boy carried some sort of knife in his pocket to school, but the School Board did not trust us with scalpels to do the dissections. Instead, we were assigned this little, rounded scissors — kind of like what we had used for crafts back in Kindergarten — to dissect these animals.
I don’t know what the School Board members were thinking (probably about liability), but if you are unsure as to the results we got, Kindergarten shears do not serve the budding biologist well in this task. I remember looking at all of the diagrams in our biology book, depicting what we were supposed to be seeing and all I remember ever seeing was mush. There is a rule of thumb principle in this — imprecise tools in the hands of a novice does not yield precision in any meaningful sense of the word.
So, why the recollection about High School Biology? In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul gives us one of the great analogies of the church — that of the body of Christ. Not all are eyes or hands but both eyes and hands are needed. You know the language. Yet, often, when pastors and theologians handle this idea and apply it to the church, I think that they handle it much like we handled dissection with Kindergarten shears. They make a mess and the body of Christ ends up looking like all the same stuff: mush.
Let me offer an example. In many denominations, if someone is identified as having a call to serve on the missions field or perhaps to go and plant a new church for the denomination, they are sent out to start raising money. True, the benefit to that model is that by the time the man is in the field, he has developed a large network of churches and Christians to help pray for and support his work — though most often, those churches and Christians are not anywhere near the field in which the man is working. Furthermore, it makes the assumption that the calling to be an evangelist brings with it the gift of being a fund-raiser. And the two do not necessarily go hand in glove.
A better model would be to say that if the church identifies a man as having the calling to serve as an evangelist, the church should send him and let him commit fully to said work while assigning the task to others in the body (who have a gift for and love of fund-raising) the task of making sure the evangelist’s financial needs are met. Different parts of the body have different roles, tasks, and giftings so that the whole body can function effectively.
It is true that we are fed by one Spirit and that we have one head in Christ Jesus. And so, there are some things that the whole body shares in common — a circulatory system and a nervous system, for example. Thus, there are things that the whole body does together. We gather for public worship, we commit time to prayer, and we study our Bibles. But, when it comes to the good works that we are called to do, we are most effective doing those works for which God has designed us. Not everyone is called to teach, but we need teachers. Not everyone is called to labor in mercy ministry, but we need those who do. Not everyone is called to organize events, but if we are going to put on an event of sorts, we need people to organize them. Not everyone is called to raise funds for projects, but we need people who raise funds. Not everyone is called to be at every mid-week prayer meeting, but they are good and healthy for the body (think of them like a vitamin tablet!). And, when you assume that every believer should be involved in every area of the work of the church (as many do), then you are making mush of the body with those kindergarten shears once again — rather than seeing the beauty of God’s design in the elegant complexity of the body.
Here’s the trick though. Each part of the body needs to be committed to a common end and each part of the body needs to trust the other parts of the body to act and work in the way in which they were designed. Just as in the human body, parts do not act autonomously, so too, all is meant to work under the headship of Christ that is expressed through the teaching of the Word of God and is moderated by the oversight of the Elders. Yet, the hand can do best what the hand was made to do and the other parts likewise.
And so, leadership in the body is not simply a matter of maintaining systems (your body can be physically healthy but your person can still remain utterly unproductive). Leadership is about equipping hands to be hands and eyes to be eyes and knees to be knees — and then letting those parts function at their full capacity (getting out of their way) so that the body as a whole can achieve its God-given mission of making disciples of the nations and being a buttress and pillar of the truth.
Now, part of Paul’s analogy is the principle that when one part of the body is hurting or in need, then other parts compensate. I stand amazed, for example, at people who have learned to do with their feet what most of us commonly do with our hands, and vice versa. Having had a stroke several years back where my left hand no longer wanted to work right, I had to learn to compensate and then to retrain my brain to make my hand work like it was supposed to do. And thus, in the church, sometimes we step out of our normal areas to assist the whole body in its time of need, but that too, only happens when the body is committed to a common end.
And so, we have a choice, as we look at the church, the body of Christ, we can lump all of the gifts together, dissecting the body with kindergarten shears (and ending up with a gooey mess) or you can expose the elegant diversity of God’s design for the church, celebrating the diverse gifts while knowing that all of those gifts came from one Spirit who calls us to serve to one end — the building of Christ’s kingdom.