Division of labor is such a fact of life today that it’s hard for us to even imagine what it would look like to be a church where every member is called—and trained hard and weekly—to do every ministry task. But that’s the vision of the New Testament, and it’s the calling of Christ to each Christian.
Truly, it’s the church’s only task: by the power of the Holy Spirit, grow each member into a full representation of Christ. Train each member to do all the things he did—greater things, in fact, according to Jesus in John 14:12.
And whatever you do, don’t shrink each Christian down into being one pixel in what is supposed to be a composite portrait of Jesus.
The Gospels don’t portray Jesus administering a gifts test to his disciples and dividing up the labor according to their skills and interests. Instead, Jesus trains his disciples by living with them and having all of them to do all of the same things he did–healing, proclaiming, sharing bread, opening their homes, throwing banquets, and even taking up their crosses. These weren’t preliminary activities designed to help them settle on one or two preferred ways of serving him. Doing all the activities – grounded in inward spiritual disciplines like prayer, scripture study, and worship- is how Jesus taught his followers to receive God’s grace fully and mirror it to others completely. Because it turns out that the best way for someone to receive the grace of God fully… is to regularly put them in a position where they have to pour it out fully as well.
Christians today sometimes cite Paul’s analogy of the body (in 1 Corinthians 12) as justification for focusing their service on one or two areas while leaving the remainder to someone else. They think of themselves as an eye and not a foot—a minister to the homeless but not a proclaimer of the Gospel, for example—and assume that Christ somehow mystically stitches all of the disjointed pieces into a gorgeous physique. But contemporary biology demonstrates that even a single eye cell contains the DNA necessary and sufficient to reproduce not only the foot but the whole body. Ministry “specialists” who are unable to reproduce the whole of Christ’s body are cancer cells, fostering unhealthy growth and distortion in the proper functioning of the body.
Worse, they’re people who never really come to consciously experience the fullness of God’s grace. Obviously, loving others so that God will love us is a super-serious theological error. But so is believing that we can experience God’s love deeply when we horde it. Just as with forgiveness, the fullness of God’s grace is never really experienced by us until we pour it out fully—in all its various forms—on others who don’t deserve it, just like we didn’t and don’t.
I wrote The Whole Life Offering book as one possible plan we Christians can follow to ensure that we’re each undertaking and growing in each Work of Mercy (i.e., each category of neighbor love that Christ performs on us and calls us to mirror to others) and each Work of Piety (i.e., each internal spiritual discipline Christ grants us to come to know God and express our love back to him) each year. In the book I propose an annual calendar, which is working really well for our lay church:
- Begin the year with a month of preparation, reacquainting ourselves with the Bible’s overall plan and provision for growing to fullness in Christ.
- Focus on one Work of Mercy each month. Different church leaders have created slightly different Works of Mercy lists over the millennia, but the list of ten that I propose (e.g., do good to your enemies, share your bread, open your home, etc.) won’t start any controversies.
- Analyze and experience each dimension of that Work of Mercy by using each of the seven Works of Piety as a lens. We start each the month searching the Scripture to determine how Christ performs this Work of Mercy on us. We progress through learning how the church has understood and undertaken the Work of Mercy across the ages. Then we spend time working through the Works of Piety of prayer, worship, and self–denial related to the Work of Mercy before ending the month serving and giving this Work of Mercy to others.
Every year and every month, the idea is to grow every member to fullness in Christ by experiencing the fullness of God’s love for us…and to train them how to pour God’s love out fully in love of our neighbors.
Which Jesus says pretty much covers the two greatest commandments on which the rest of the Bible hang.