The Starting Five

“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” – Ephesians 4:11-16

Paul brings out a group of five special folks in this passage to the church in Ephesus. What is so often missed here is the roles all the people mentioned are expected to play. This leadership isn’t meant to do all the heavy lifting. Rather, their job is to prepare and equip the church body to do the work of ministry. Based on Paul’s teaching here, if the whole body of saints doesn’t do their part, the church will not grow. They will not look more and more like Christ. They will not be a functioning body. They will fall apart.

In a way, those five could be looked at as the “starting five,” but they work with the whole team in a way to bring everyone else up with them.

One way (emphasis on one) the body practices this growth and unity is through regular worship gatherings. It’s in that typical Sunday setting that you may be familiar with another form of the “starting five.”

In a big church setting, in my previous experience, here are the starters: the opening prayer guy, the worship leader, the Scripture reader, the preacher, and the closing prayer guy. (Not sure if the announcements guy makes the cut?)

What does that make everyone else? At best, they’re on the bench, but they’re ready to go if a starter goes down. The team won’t miss a beat because all are equipped. At worst, they’re the spectators. Sure, they may sing with the worship leader, they listen to the preaching, and they participate in the prayers—but is that really more involvement than fans/spectators at a basketball game? In reality, it probably falls somewhere in the middle. And I know, there’s more going on behind the scenes, and the nature of a larger body means that not everyone gets a chance in every gathering to share. We see those kinds of necessary limitations in Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church in 1 Corinthians 14:26-32. I think it still raises some critical questions: Does each one that’s gathered have something they want to share (1 Cor 14:26)? Does each one want the opportunity to contribute? Is each one equally encouraged to contribute? Is everyone being equipped for the work of ministry?

That’s why I believe it is better to be part of a smaller church community, so that each member of the church can be directly involved in equipping others, as well as being continually equipped themselves. However, this means we can’t afford for anyone to ride the bench all season. But to stretch the sports analogy a bit, who really wants to be a bench warmer anyway? No, if we’re on a team, we want to be involved. We want a role to play. We want to contribute. And for the church, the body needs all the parts to function properly (Ephesians 4:16). Be ready! Be engaged! Hustle back on defense, take those open three pointers, make the assists to your teammates. If you don’t play your part, we don’t have a backup supply. We don’t even have an audience we can coax a reluctant volunteer from. We are forced to play one man/woman down. Our team is then at a significant disadvantage. A family is only a strong as its weakest member, and we want to be in a position where we can strengthen each other and edify each other. That can’t happen if we’re not all committed to bringing our gifts fully to the table.

My encouragement to you: Whatever setting you find yourself in, get involved! There are situations where the starters sit on the bench to let others take the lead, which is actually a sign of a good and healthy team! But be an active contributor. Be available. Be willing. Be ready to go. And remember, it’s not you—it’s the Holy Spirit inside of you. Your adequacy is not in yourself. God makes you adequate (2 Corinthians 3:5-6). The rest of the team needs your gifts that the Spirit gave only to you.

This isn’t a legalistic mandate like “you must have perfect attendance at all church gatherings.” This isn’t about doing something that you’re “supposed to do.” This is an encourage to live out the truth of who you are. Believe that you are special part of the body, a part that God himself arranged exactly as He saw fit (1 Corinthians 12:18) and start functioning! And as I hinted at earlier, the church is supposed to function every day, not just on Sunday gatherings. Are you playing your role throughout the week?

“…For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” Luke 6:45

What’s in your heart is revealed by how you live. Fill your heart with Jesus and you can’t help but follow Him (Acts 1:8).

What is the church, and why is it important?

First of all, the word “church” tends to bring a certain picture to our minds today–at least us in America. We instantly picture a building, usually with a steeple and a cross. It may be large or small, with a peaceful country setting or the middle of a big city. Some may picture a more ornate building than others with beautiful stained glass windows, intricate statues, and fancy seating arrangements. Even searching for the picture for this article, I only used the keyword “church”. This is just one of many buildings that popped up.

Hopefully though, there are some that simply picture a group of diverse, imperfect people gathered to worship a perfect God and celebrate their unity in Christ. That’s what the church is. It’s not a building. It’s not a regularly scheduled event that we “go to.” It’s a group of people living out their purpose as Kingdom citizens to be the salt of the earth and light to the world.

Perhaps we would be doing ourselves and everyone else a favor if we began to refer to the church as the ekklesia–the Greek word that is often translated as “church” (Matthew 16:18, among many others). Maybe this would help us wipe out the cultural definition from our minds and give us a new perspective of who we are. We say without thinking things like: “Let’s go to church” or “Where do you go to church?” We need to leave this language behind. If we really believe that we ARE the church, then that word is not something we “go to” on Sundays. We ARE the church 24/7/365.

Even more than ekklesia, I’ve grown fond of using “Kingdom Community” to refer to the body of Christ. It reminds us that we are called to live in community with one another (Acts 4:32), and it reminds us that our lives should reflect a Kingdom perspective (Matthew 6:33).

Not to say there’s anything wrong with the word “church,” as long as we can train ourselves and teach others what it really means and what it does not, and we use it correctly.

To answer the question in the title, I’ll use “church”–if for no other reason than to help create a new picture for your mind to associate with the word. I hope that you’ll provide your answer to the question in the comments below!

Put simply, the church is the body of Christ! What could be more important than the manifestation of Christ on earth right now, representing the Kingdom? We are the community of the believers, bound together by Christ in perfect unity.

There is a local aspect of the church, as well as a global aspect of all citizens of God’s Kingdom. I believe most of the emphasis of practical instruction in the Bible is placed on the local body, because that is where we as individuals are meant to operate—both in receiving edification as well as offering edification. The unity of the church is based on LOVE, which we have received a perfect example of in Christ. In fact, Jesus says that the way the world will even recognize us as His disciples is how we love EACH OTHER (John 13:34-35). One might think that the world would notice us when we love strangers, and indeed we should; but Jesus said the world will notice our great love for ONE ANOTHER, the church. That inexplicable bond was demonstrated so powerfully by the first century church—Jews and Gentiles, once vehemently opposed to one another, now locked arm in arm and praising Jesus together. Rich people liquidating their assets so they could support the poor, slaves congregating with the free, all in love. How could the world not take notice?  (Colossians 3:11, Galatians 3:28, 1 Corinthians 12:12-13)

We come together as His church and remember that He has arranged us according to His purpose. He has gifted each member in the way that He planned so that we can build each other up. (1 Corinthians 12:4-11,18) He gives us spiritual gifts so that we can help equip other saints for the work of the ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we ALL attain the UNITY of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the FULLNESS of Christ! (Ephesian 4:11-13).

Before Jesus was crucified, he prayed that that we would all be ONE just as He and the Father are one. He was praying for His church. He was praying for all people that believed and would believe in the future.  (John 17:20-23)

The church cannot be separated from Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 12:12 reads like this: “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.” Notice that it’s not: “so it is with the church.” What did Jesus ask Saul on the road to Damascus? Acts 9:4: “…Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting ME?” Those people Saul was seeing thrown in prison–they were part of Jesus–they were His body! In 1 Corinthians 1:13, Paul pleads with the members of the body there, asking them “is Christ divided”? Surely the church can’t be divided if her head is not divided Himself. Eve came out of Adam, and is Adam in another form. Eve represents the church just like Adam represents Jesus (see Ephesians 5)! The church comes out of Jesus, and is Jesus in another form. The church is Jesus’s bride, and they are one.

Jesus is also referred to as the new Jacob and the new Israel. Consider when Jacob met his would-be wife, Rachel, at a well in Genesis 29. It was the middle of the day–an odd time to go fetch water… Now look at John 4:1-45. This is the story of the Samaritan woman that Jesus meets at the very same well mentioned in Genesis 29. What time did Jesus meet this woman? Noon! (John 4:6) She even questions if He is greater than her father Jacob (vs 12). Jesus gently leads her to the truth that He is indeed–He is the Messiah, the Christ, and He’s come to provide the eternal spring of Living Water. Who does this Samaritan woman represent? Samaritans by birth are part Jew and part Gentile. She is a perfect representation of the church which has that same genetic makeup! We are the new creation, we are the new race (2 Corinthians 5:16-17, 1 Corinthians 10:32)–where earthly, fleshly distinctions no longer carry any weight or shame!

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. – Colossians 1:15-20

What are your thoughts? Please share with us!