OUTLOOK editor Brenda Dickerson recently spoke with Mid-America Union president Gary Thurber about how church members can build up the body of Christ and what this looks like.

As we focus in 2018 on building up the body of Christ, could you share with us your fundamental views on this important topic?

We know from Scripture that the body of Christ represents His church on earth. And we know, as Ellen White says in Acts of the Apostles, that the church is “the one object upon which God’s bestows His supreme regard” (p. 12).

God loves His church and so should we. We should always bring our best to the body of Christ to edify and encourage all who come. How do we best do this? In Romans 12, Paul gives many principles for how the Body of Christ should work together.  He is essentially teaching the church how to do church:

Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; 11 not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; 12 rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, 13 contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. 16 Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. 17 Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.

Can you suggest some practical applications of these verses?

Here are a few–by no means an exhaustive list–of the principles I see Paul giving find in Romans 12.

Be genuine. (Vs. 9) I have a good friend whose personal mission statement is “to do the right thing, for the right reason, at the right time, in the right way.” Anything else has hypocrisy written all over it.

  • In a redemptive thoughtful way, keep before the church how painful and destructive sin truly is. (Vs. 9)
  • There is much talk today about “authority,” but Paul seems much more concerned with servant hood in this passage. (Vs. 10)
  • It is more important at times to keep a relationship than to be right. (Vs. 10) I heard a pastor once say, “we do some of our greatest sinning when we are right.” It is also imperative for us to remember we may not always be right! (Vs. 16)
  • Whatever we find to do for the church, we should put our whole heart into it…no one foot in and one foot out attitudes. (Vs. 11)
  • Rehearse together the hope we have in Jesus and His plans for our lives. (Vs. 12)
  • Be steadfast, no matter what comes your way. (Vs. 12)
  • Be a praying church. (Vs. 12)
  • Be welcoming and hospitable in the same way to all regardless to social stature. (Vs. 13, 16)
  • Never withhold the love of God from anyone, even your enemies. (Vs. 17)

I believe if we practice these principles from Paul, we will build up the body of Christ.

By way of contrast, what damages the body of Christ?

It always breaks my heart when I see churches that are hurting one another. In a very practical way, you can just state the reverse of what Paul shared in Romans 12 and you would have quite a list of damaging characteristics for a church.  Beyond the Romans 12 list, here are a few destructive behaviors I have noticed do great harm to the body of Christ.

  • An absence of the fruit of the spirit in our interactions with one another. When love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control are absent, the church suffers greatly.
  • A spirit of criticism. There are some who find a way to be upset or critical about everything. This kind of spirit can dishearten the membership and make them want to back away from ministry for fear of the criticism they will receive.
  • Gossip. This might be one of our churches greatest challenges. The amount of “fake news” that is spread so easily via email and social media can be so hurtful. I am going to talk more about this in a future OUTLOOK article.
  • Bullying. When a “spiritual bully” comes on the scene, more often than not the church becomes paralyzed in its ability to carry out its mission. Growth will be next to impossible.

Again, this is not an exhaustive list, but these are truly damaging attitudes to the body of Christ. We must have the attitude of Christ by possessing a spirit of denying self and serving others.

When a church is filled with members possessing the “attitude of Christ” it cannot help but grow and thrive in its mission.

We need to be willing to enter the battle for other’s good and salvation. We need a willingness to do this even though it will be costly…look what it cost Christ when He entered the battle for our salvation.

From your experience as a pastor, can you share an example of the body of Christ being built up in an effective way?

A number of years ago my wife Diane and I accepted an invitation to pastor a multi-church district in Mid-America. I followed a very successful pastor and I can tell you I have never seen a healthier district. The membership loved the Lord and were all about mission, caring for one another, and having a vision of where they were going.

At first it was a daunting thought to come in behind such a successful pastor, but what I found was that this was also a group of people who were invested in seeing their pastor succeed as well. Here are a few characteristics I found in these churches, which I believe can be replicated over and over again.

  • The churches were organized for service. The elders of the church took their responsibilities very seriously and each led out in various aspects of the church. Some for worship, some in the business and finance needs of the church. Others concentrated on our youth and Christian education while others focused on evangelism and nurture.
  • There was a clear vision of where they were going. Much time had been spent on clear plans laying out the strategy of how to grow and move the vision forward. When I arrived, one of the churches had already purchased land to plant a new congregation. A branch Sabbath school was already meeting together and within 18 months, the new church was born as a result of their vision and plans to grow God’s kingdom.
  • The churches genuinely loved one another and invested in ways to get to know one another.
  • There was not a spirit of criticism, but rather one of encouragement and cooperation.
  • They supported their leaders…despite their faults!
  • They were churches of the Word and devoted to prayer. I used to love going to prayer meeting every week with both churches. It was a rich time in studying God’s Word together and praying together.
  • They cared for their houses of worship. Great care was given to see their churches be a beautiful lighthouse to the community and a place where worship and service could take place.
  • They not only wanted to when their community for Christ, they wanted to serve them.
  • They loved their children and made them a priority in their church life.

I believe as simple and basic as all this seems, when it truly comes together, you have a high-functioning community of believers, all headed in the same direction, determined to be disciples of Christ making disciples of Christ.