Like a Symphony

How Church's Function - Or Should



God gives grace and grace-gifts to the Body of Christ the Church. Another analogy could be that of an orchestra, with its overall unity and concerted playing, but through the individual instruments and sections of the orchestra.

Ephesians 4:1 -13

As a bond-prisoner of the Lord, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling that you’ve received. Be completely humble, gentle and patient, bearing with one another in love. Do all you can to keep the unity and peace – as bond-prisoners of the Spirit. There is one Body and one Spirit. You were called to one Hope only when you were called: to one hope through one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism; called to the one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. Now, grace – as Christ has apportioned it, has been given to each one of us.  As Scripture puts it: “When he ascended to the heights, he not only took many captives, but also He gave grace-gifts to his people.” Christ himself gave apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastor/teachers – to equip his people for works of service, so that the Body of Christ may be strengthened and built up until all of us reach unity in the Faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, becoming mature - and attaining to the full measure of wholeness in Christ.

This message comes as a church prepares itself to welcome a new Pastor. We need to be reminded of Paul’s teaching in Ephesians with regard to church leaders’ and congregants’ responsibilities and privileges. Here, I am using two metaphors, one a biblical metaphor used by St. Paul and one that appeals to me also; thus, a biblical metaphor and a contemporary illustration. Paul writes to the Church at Ephesus of that Body, the Church (like their own local Fellowship), that continues the work of Jesus. I’m thinking of the Church as a Symphony Orchestra that plays the songs of Jesus.

In Paul’s analogy of the Church as Body, all of the body parts move and work in harmony, with Jesus Himself being its Head. In Philippians Paul has encouraged Christians to ‘have the Mind of Christ. The parts of any body, consciously or unconsciously, obey the brain. The life, ministry and mission of any local Christian church, may also be compared to the workings of an orchestra. Just as there are parts of the body making up its whole and giving it appropriate function, so the symphony orchestra also has its respective parts, enabling it to make beautiful, arresting music. Further, I’d like here to compare the leader or Director of a symphony to that of a Senior Pastor of any Christian congregation. We need to know what pastors are supposed to do and what is the role of each member.

The Symphony Theme, or that of the Church’s witness, is the constant music playing about ‘the fullness of Christ,’ the purpose of Church to become in its sum and through its parts so as to reveal the fullness, presence, power, love and compassion of Jesus. Others around us and throughout are world are to be able to see what He’s like - what He acts like, from His disciple-apprentices. People need to ‘see’ and know about Jesus as revealed in the life and ministry of any local church.

A major theme that Paul develops in this passage is that of ‘unity’ and ‘diversity.’ I’d like to consider here comparison and contrast about the two. Of course, in any body, as in any symphony orchestra, there must be Unity – solidarity in purpose. We long to have healthy bodies; when they are out of whack we say that they are sick. A concert orchestra makes beautiful music; when the music is played badly , we have cacophony.

Paul begins his thoughts in this part of his letter by reminding the recipients of his letter that he is united to Jesus. But oddly enough, he does so by telling them again that he is a prisoner. Implicitly, he invited them to be one with him and with Jesus, even in solidarity with his bonds. He’s in prison, he’s bound to the Lord: he’s doing what His Lord wants and also willingly going to those places where His Lord leads.  Paul wants the believers in Ephesus - and in all places, to have same attitude, even if it gets them into the same kind of ‘trouble’ – to be of the same mind, the same manner. Elsewhere, he has written: ‘imitate me as I imitate Christ.’ Follow my teaching; I got them from Jesus Himself. I think Paul was saying: - “Look, it’s got me in jail - but that’s not a bad thing.”  Luke records in the Acts of the Apostles, another time and place when Paul was called to give account of himself before King Agrippa. Said Paul, after his personal and ministry defence: “I wish you could be as i: - except for these bonds.”

I’ve seen the prison in Rome where Paul’s days were ended, in the Martine Prison. I’ve seen also the chains he purportedly wore in that foul place. I’ve visited too the basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls Basilica where beneath an altar are housed the bones of this faithful saint.  Says Paul, ‘I’m a prisoner of the Lord; you be one too – one who is in bonds of the Spirit. Reflect that reality in your life and life-style, in a life that is worthy of your calling to Christ. You might not be in jail, but I’d like you to have cords and restraints on your life, too.’

Paul’s words and attitude remind me of the words of the old hymn: Make me a captive, Lord, and then I shall be free; force me to render up my sword, and I’ll a conqueror be.

The genius of the Church, the One Body of Christ, is its unity and togetherness, its oneness. Its members are one with each other throughout the world and with all of God’s People, back through the pages of the Christian Story, and the faithful of Israel before it. The mystery of the Church is that we are better, and we do life and ministry, worship and prayer - better, when we’re together. Again, the continuing presence of the Church since its inception Is, I believe, at least one argument for the existence of God

When Christians are united we are conscious of our One Hope. We are one, together in our One Lord, as each of us has been found and rescued by Him, and now we follow Him as Saviour and Lord.  Our identity with Him was signed by our Baptism and by our entrance thereby into a visible, local church. Our faith is grounded in space and time in this-here church, with these-here people, under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

Notice Paul’s repetition of ONE. There is only one God of us all.’ He is over all; He moves in and through all of us, and around and throughout all of His Creation. He indwells us by His one Holy Spirit: He is our life, our strength, our all. There is one Body and one Spirit. You were called to one Hope only when you were called: to one hope through one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism; called to the one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

So now we come to Diversity. Having reminded us of our wonderful unity together in Christ and of our solidarity with Paul, and with all the saints both living and who have passed on before, the Apostle, Paul develops the idea of our diversity, that we are parts  individual members of the Body, and of any orchestra. This is a diversity that Jesus Himself has made possible, even as  it is He also who has joined
us together as one, in one Body - His Body the Church.

Thus as Paul guides our thoughts, we move from thinking about guarding UNITY to allowing DIVERSITY , and even celebrating It. Our uniqueness, our differences are recognized and respected – God has made us so diverse, but we are to be linked into our Oneness by the Spirit of God. For, unity does not mean total sameness or uniformity; our oneness does not overlook the fact that we are so very different – in backgrounds, experiences, approaches, even in our understanding of Scripture. (Scripture may be inspired but we come humbly to it and from it, because our interpretations aren’t necessarily so.) We are different in temperament, in our talents, abilities, resource capacity, as we initiate and respond to life each day.

Our differences in the Body are as vital as unity, but we are not left to merely do our own thing. Believing we can and should is very much a Western-world, Enlightenment myth; it’s the seeking and exercising of individual rights and freedoms at the expense of the common-weal, the common health – the common-wealth.

Now the symphony orchestra has different gifts, as well for there are different instruments and players and we all have different abilities as we seek to contribute. And there are different overall sections, as they prepare for and present the concert program. There are percussionists and those who play brass instruments. Or, those with instruments belonging to the reed and wood-wind family; And there are strings. As in an orchestra and body, our respective differences are to be shared in concert, help each other as needed in moving to our goals. The parts in mutuality are not to jar or work against each other – but they can, and so often do. Which is why we need much grace and mercy each day, and as we come together in concert as a body.

There can be gift-clash – and the sound becomes cacophony, the body wounded and immobilized in its effectiveness. Church life, can be a mess – a massive screw-up, a traffic accident with injury and fall-out that leaves deep wounds and too many bodies left behind in the wake. So
often, sometimes intentionally as well as not, we fail one another; we beat others up because they don’t have the gift that we, or another,
should be bringing forward. Other cultures are not failed attempts at being you, nor are other people, and perhaps other denominations.

I serve on a Board of a Christian ministry and we work well together.  Recently, in order to help us further as we work together, seeking the Mind of Christ and unity in our goals, purpose, timing and best use of resources, we invited an outside leader to bring us through a process of individual and corporate examination of the board. Again – the take away? – we are, each one of us, so very different. Our thinking, temperament and approach to most opportunities and challenges were so different, and in so many ways. What a wonder that we accomplish
anything – and we do, in this fruitful ministry that has changed the lives of thousands for over two decades. We discovered that the ‘natural’ overlap of likeness of board members, in thinking, temperament and approach was less than 25%.

Our differences are why we gravitate to people and groups when we find some measure of likeness, or near enough. But, when we just hang out with folk like us (or folk we like), we end up with an isolated little club, a less than holy huddle. Most of the time, everyday, with everyone we meet - and with those with whom we want to work, play and interact – we’re so different! No wonder we’re often frustrated, some days mostly so - even angry with others, even with close family, dear friends, normally amiable colleagues and neighbours, and with those to whom we’re called to form community, to work together as church. Church life an be a mess – no wonder, or it can a majestic thing – full land rich with art,
beauty, music -- a symphony, a Wonder of God’s grace.

So, now for the Dance - the concert, the ministry. Given the desired unity, but the fact of diversity; how can we make this work? What are the
secrets for maintaining bonds of unity and peace? What is God’s remedy, plan and wisdom in this regard?

1.  Jesus has given the Holy Spirit to The Church. The Spirit makes us One; we also have to work at it: to guard and protect it  so we remain united, resolved to keep the bonds of peace.

2.  By the Spirit, Jesus has given the Church His own Good Self, His Gifts and His ability. He gives grace and grace-gifts: charisms and charismata to enable the church’s ministry, as we are caught up into the Mission of God. Paul writes of God’s grace – and the grace-gifts that mark and accompany the flow of God’s Spirit in and through God’s People when (and when they are walking as Jesus walked.

We don’t own nor can we hoard the gifts. The grace flows like a river from the Spirit, from the Living Spring that is Jesus – and we are channels only – rivulets and streams, wee bits of pipe whereby God’s grace flows out to the dry and thirsty places and people in our world. “Grace, as Christ has apportioned it, has been given to each one of us . . . He also He gave grace-gifts to his people.” Jesus has poured out His Spirit on the
Church, freely giving thereby His likeness and manner and abilities. The Spirit enables our diverse gifts to come together in shared worship,
mission and ministry. The church is given gifts for Gathering (a concert) and gifts for Scattering (whether individually - or in small groups) – for as we go. For some of us, these gifts are best expressed when we are gathered together; for others of us, when we are scattered and apart, when we take it to the streets and express it in our vocation and community life; when, as we go, we seek to raise the spiritual temperature In our home, on our street, where we work, work-out - or play.

We have seen those ‘flash mobs, where a dance troupe, band or choir shows up and does their thing is\n some public place and space – to the delight and amazement of most of the crowd that gathers. What joy we would experience if we discovered and were involved in the places and ways in which the Holy Spirit of the Living God would flow through us to touch the lives of others.

3. Jesus, by His Spirit, calls forth, sends out and gives His Church – Leaders. Leaders too have grace-gifts to bring to the Body. The Great Shepherd of the Sheep gives ‘Under-shepherds’ to lead and care for the flock. Leaders are to draw forth then music and coordinate God’s
ministry in and through us all. It’s easy to think that we could and should use grace-gifts just by ourselves, for our own personal satisfaction and fulfillment. But that would be to miss the genius of the Body – of unity, of togetherness and of working together. So, to coordinate our best efforts – or God’s, through us - Jesus has given leaders so the body, can function well; so that gifts will be coordinated and maximized.

Just as the body’s head and brain knows the body’s parts (and consciously or unconsciously controls them), so, the symphony director too knows what each section, every instrument and each individual player has to contribute - knows each member in each section: brass, wind, percussion or string. I believe that the leaders ought to know what are the unique circumstances, challenges, opportunities, talents and gifts that each member of the Body brings. And if the Church is big enough we call others to lead (paid staff . . . ) and we elect Elders and others to share spiritual oversight and coordination of the ministries. And we develop small group ministry; because the larger a church gets, the smaller too it must become.

So, people are known, helped and encouraged in their walk by Leaders that ‘we may all attain to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ’ and o we may together discover, develop and deploy those grace-gifts of the Spirit, whereby we can bless our community and our world. The Leader’s job is to help us do that, together – to preserve the unity of Jesus’ Body, to make sure we’re at least working on the same piece, if not on the same page as we offer our respective gift in our shared desire to look like Jesus and do like Jesus. Theirs is an ‘equipping ministry (Gr. ‘katarismos’ = mending nets). Said Jesus to the first disciples He called: ‘I’ll make you fishers . . .’

No leader has all the gifts just as no member has the other member’s gifts. No one pastor, however we define it, can do the job. Each pastor brings strengths and gifts - and will be totally lacking in other gifts. A symphony director may not know how to play one instrument; their gift and task is to get the music out of the individual instrumentalists, out of that section at the appropriate time –- and out of all of the gifted players together.

To the Church are given: Apostles - Prophets - Evangelists and Pastor/Teachers (says Paul). All of these leaders are needed still today, I think (not necessarily their ‘offices’ – but ‘functions’). They are needed especially today in our need to rediscover local mission, living as we do in ‘un-churched Canada.’ Such diversity of leadership is as important as diversity of the members’ gifts. Perhaps the list isn’t exhaustive; maybe we need more. But we have left out vital leadership pieces, parts and styles.

Apostles have big picture thinking and over-view ability. They make good missionaries; we send them overseas. Prophets are able to discern the times and what God’s people should do. Evangelists are those gifted, (perhaps in ability more than most of us though it’s our task, too) to share the life and faith of Jesus with others, inviting folk to join His Way. They’re especially gifted in doing so; they invite winsomely and wisely, with gentleness, patience and sensitivity. And of course we have pastors with the compassionate, steering gifts of a Shepherd and the ability to open the Scriptures and teach God’s precepts.

Where are the apostles, prophets and evangelists that we need in our day to build up and equip the Body? Have we dormant gifts in us as we sit in the pew, gifts that are asleep and undiscovered because the up-front model say of ‘apostle, prophet and evangelist’ has been missing - or sent on their way to do itinerate ministry elsewhere?

Some Final Thoughts

A Church leader is shepherd, not a ‘hireling.’ A pastor, for instance, is not to do ministry to or for us, but to help equip, coordinate and deploy us – In and for our ministry together.\

We need to have realistic expectations. We can over-work and burnout leaders by expecting them to do it all, or most of the ministry: all the visiting, all the counseling, the preaching and administration. The text does not say: ‘He gave leaders to do the work of the Church, because, after all daily - everyone in the church has to go to work.’  Uh – no.

Each one of us needs to find our own role for the exercise of our gifts in ministry. It’s not: ‘How will a new pastor do’ (keeping score) - but how
will you and I do? Working together new can celebrate and use well the gifts and enabling Jesus gives by His Spirit, to then great blessing of
our world.

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