If we want people to see Christ, we should show them the body of Christ. Of all the ways that we manage to stuff up the mission God has given us, surely taking it on as an individual rather than team event is the most hapless. Our brightest witness, which is being a loving community (“by this everyone will know that you are my disciples”), we hide from the world. You hear me bang on about privatised gatherings often enough.
But the other side of it is this: we imagine that somehow each one of us should be able to carry the full expression of Christ. And for this we (rightly) feel deeply inadequate. There are so many things we should be and we should do and we should say and we should feel. We chase a fantasy on the one hand and drown in the shame of not living up to it on the other. There’s a far better way.
You as an individual don’t need to be strong and capable in every way and every aspect. And you don’t need to be ashamed of not contributing things that God hasn’t given you to contribute. That’s the good news. The discipline of the better way is this: The different parts of the body of Christ – we need to talk to each other far better and become coordinated under the Head as we were made and redeemed to be.
Each part of the body needs to discern the contribution that it has been designed for and called to. I call this vocational discernment. It’s amazing when a nostril finally realises it’s a beautiful nostril and stops seeing itself as a ‘weird, dysfunctional, and poorly placed toenail’. That’s Step 1 (and by the way, that step is an exercise best done with the brothers and sisters around you, not individually).
Step 2 is to find out how and where you can fully offer the strengths and resources to the rest of the body to help its overall quest. “I’m a nostril! Hey, any lungs out there needing fresh air? That’s what I do!” or “Hey eyes, I smell smoke. Everything OK?”
We should spend more time thinking about what we can contribute to the mission – and joyfully contributing it – than beating ourselves up about what we don’t have or can’t do. And this leads me to Step 3, an aspect of the better way that can be a real struggle: We need to be able to name not only our strengths and resources, but also our weaknesses and needs. To signal to the other parts of the body around us “Hey, I can’t do this without you.” For instance: “I could help with Youth Group on Fridays – but I’d need some babysitting every other Saturday.” Imagine the nanna in the church who’d be hopeless at youth ministry but delighted to baby-sit. And imagine the delight of the Youth Leader who got a creative ‘Yes’ instead of the typical ‘Too busy.’
There are just so many ways that God’s Spirit sparks among us in love when we open up our lives to one another, to serve each other, give to and receive from one another, and together bring to the world the whole ministry of Christ.
But it will take some intentionality, because it’s counter-intuitive to our pervasive individualistic and fantasy-shame culture. The three ‘steps’ I’ve outlined are more like dance steps to be practiced and repeated over and over than linear ‘finish one and then start the next.’ Yes, you heard that from a Baptist. Dance, church, and show the world the joy of it.