The Church as a Functioning Body

By Mike Willis

In our concern for evangelism, we need to be certain that the church is functioning in the manner that God designed that it should. When the church is doing the work that God wants it to do in the way that God planned for it to do it, the work of evangelism will be done. The number of congregations which are experiencing rapid growth are few and far between; some are not even experiencing any growth; others are actually losing ground through deaths and job transfers. Perhaps it is appropriate that we spend some time in re-examining how God expects the church to function in contrast with the manner in which we sometimes conceive of it functioning.

Present Attitudes

The present disposition among many members of the church is altogether foreign to the Scriptures. I have certainly seen congregations which manifested the disposition of hiring a preacher to do their evangelistic work for them. They have the concept that the preacher is the man responsible for teaching non-Christians what to do to be saved. Sometimes these same members extend the work to elders and deacons, i.e., they think that the elders and deacons also have a responsibility to do this work.

Coupled with this attitude is the disposition portrayed by the members that they have done the sum total of their Christian responsibilities in attending the worship services. There is no doubt that some have developed the idea that attending the worship services on the Lord’s day and the mid-week Bible study is the sum total of their responsibilities in the service to God. The result of this is that members have a church building concept of Christianity, i.e., that one’s service to God is done at the church building.

The consequence of these concepts for evangelism is that the average members are doing little if anything to preach the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ to their neighbors. Little evangelism is done in the local community; few visitors attend the worship services. When one adds to this the fact that preachers are frequently so tied down putting out a local church bulletin, visiting the sick, and doing other jobs that he has little time for evangelism, we can see our sad plight.

The Church As The Body of Christ

I would like to consider the descriptive term “body of Christ” as a means of examining these modern concepts in the light of the Scriptures. The Lord used this figure of speech to help us better understand the nature and work of the church. Since all of us are familiar with the operation of a physical body, we can use it as a means of better understanding the operation of the Lord’s body, the church.

1. A body requires the function of every individual part. Examine these Scriptures which show that the proper functioning of every individual part of the body is necessary for the proper operation of the body of Christ .

. . .but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love (Eph. 4:15-16).

The proper functioning of each individual part of the body is necessary for the total functioning of the body. In my body, I need every muscle and ligament to do its work in order for my body to function properly. When some part of my physical body quits functioning, it affects my overall physical condition. Similarly, the church requires that every member of it be active in doing the work which God has given him to do. We have no parts of our body which are non-functional. A non-functional part of the body of Christ is a diseased organ in need of healing.

2. Every individual part of the body serves a particular function. My body is so composed that every individual part serves a particular and individual job which no other part of the body is designed to do. No other organ can do that job for it. For example, the lungs cannot do the work which the heart is designed to do nor can the kidneys do the work of the small intestine. Every individual part of the body has a particular and individual function to do. Here is how Paul stated it:

For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired (1 Cor. 12:14-18).

The same as is true with reference to our physical bodies is also true with reference to the body of Christ. The man who sits in the pew cannot say, “Because I am not a song leader, elder, deacon or preacher I am not a part of the body.” He is a part of the body and has a particular job which he does.

A body is a particular organism in which a multiplicity of differing parts work together for the good of the whole. Again, Paul continued,

And if they were all one member, where would the body be? But now there are many members, but one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; or again the head to the feet. “I have no need of you” (I Cor. 12:19-21).

There are no useless members of the body of Christ. There are a good many who feel useless and think that there is no job which they should be doing. That is a part of the problem. The average member has lost sight of his work in the body of Christ. He has the unscriptural concept that because he is not an elder, deacon, preacher, teacher, song leader, or man serving the Lord’s supper that he is not doing anything. Consequently, he is occupied with the business of doing nothing! The total body is suffering from this problem with the individual members.

The necessity of every member functioning is further seen in Paul’s comments about the body. He said,

On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; and those members of the body, which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our unseemly members come to have more abundant seemliness, whereas our seemly members have no need of it. But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked (1 Cor. 12:22-24).

Our physical bodies are so composed that those weaker members are the more necessary. My arm can absorb a greater amount of punishment than can my liver. Nevertheless, I can live without my arm but not without my liver. The same can be said of other parts of my physical body; I can survive without my leg but not without my heart or lungs. Yet, who did you ever see flex his liver muscle as he does his biceps? You see, God has so composed the body that those parts of it which we deem less honorable are the more necessary.

Now, make the transition to the church. We tend to exalt the elders, preachers, deacons and song leaders; they are the more “honorable” parts of the body. Yet, I have seen churches exist without elders, preachers, deacons, and song leaders. However, I have never seen a church exist without members! The Lord has so composed the body of Christ so that those parts which we deem less honorable are the more necessary. As a preacher, I can preach my best lesson without result unless the members are present and are active in bringing their friends, neighbors and relatives to hear the gospel preached. In my ten years of preaching, I have yet to baptize an empty seat; I have yet to see an empty chair restored. Indeed, those parts of the body of Christ which we tend to say are the less honorable are the more necessary.

The well-being of the body depends upon every individual doing his part. Not all of us have the ability to do the same job, but all of us have a job to do. We do err significantly when we so burden one or two parts of the body with doing jobs that it is not assigned to do that it cannot do its God-assigned tasks. We expect the elders to clean the building, print the bulletin, and mow the lawn; we expect the preacher to type the bulletin, take care of mailing out the correspondence courses, visit the sick in behalf of the entire congregation, etc. We have committed the error which the apostles sought to avoid-“it is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables” (Acts 6:2). What has happened to the body of Christ reminds me of the condition of a man with a broken leg. His arms have to help him do the walking through the usage of crutches; therefore, someone else has to do the work of the arms (open doors, carry things for him, etc.). The only difference in this illustration is that in the body of Christ the leg is not broken!

Let us activate the entire membership of the body of Christ. The jobs which can be done by non-preaching members should be done by those who lack the ability to preach. The jobs which can be done by those who do not need to be teachers of the word of God should be done by those who lack the ability to teach. Let us call an end to that day in the church when we depended upon 5 % of the body of Christ to do 95% of the work!

Application to Evangelism

This series of articles in this special issue is designed to deal with the subject of evangelism. Consequently, let us make application of these principles to the subject of evangelism.

1. Let us free those men who have the ability to preach from the tasks which anyone can do so that they can do their God-assigned job of preaching. Do not make a secretary out of your preacher; let one of the ladies who has the ability to be a secretary do the secretarial work of the congregation. Let them type, fold, address and mail the church bulletins.

2. Let every member of the body of Christ be active in his own service. The work of visiting the sick, comforting the distressed, and checking on those who are not attending belongs to more Christians than just the elders and preacher. Let every individual accept his personal responsibility in these areas and be active in discharging them.

3. Let every member be active in taking the gospel to others. Any member who knows enough about Jesus Christ to obey the gospel knows enough to tell his neighbor of his need for salvation and to invite him to attend the worship services with him. He can initiate the contact. Even if he lacks the ability to do the teaching, he can at least bring people to worship with him and in other ways establish contact with non-Christians in order that they might be taught the gospel of Christ. He can do as Cornelius did; he called together his kinsmen and near friends in order that Peter might preach the gospel to them.


There is no doubt in my mind that grasping the concept of the church as a functional unit in which every member is working to do his part will increase the number of conversions which congregations are experiencing. Instead of conceiving of our service to God in terms of attendance of the worship services, we must view the worship services as times for being built up in the faith in order to go out and convert the world to Jesus Christ. Like the early Christians, we must leave the assembly and go everywhere “preaching the word” (Acts 8:4). The number of conversions we witness will be proportionate to the number of persons in the body of Christ whom we can activate in preaching the word.

Truth Magazine XXII: 18, pp. 290-291
May 4, 1978