Essays / A Plea for Church Synergy / Jasmin Pierzina

The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit.

1 Corinthians 12:12-13 (NLT)

It is one of the most widely understood truths or perhaps just a worst kept secret that man works better when he works alongside his fellow humans. Synergy is something we innately understand and value. This is evidenced by the fact that “works well with others” is a bullet point on everyone’s resume, regardless of its truthfulness. Our parents taught us to share not only our toys with our siblings and friends but hopefully also the workload of cleaning up those toys. So, it should come as no surprise that this idea is modeled, too, in the church, not just in a small, individually body, but in the body of believers, the capital “C” church. 1 Corinthians 12 talks about the body of believers, united with the same purpose and the same spirit. Being together is inevitable when we are, in fact, on the same team, but this inevitability does not equal teamwork. There are still aspects where the church struggles to behave with the synergy scripture requires. This is because we often lock ourselves in small boxes by putting our focus on our individual parts of the body, instead of the body as a whole. What we must recognize is that 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 does not just apply to the individuals within a single local church body but to the whole of Christendom. When a local church forgets the larger church, that individual church fails to submit to the example of scripture.  The local church should allow for its needs to be transparently known and met by another church.

How is the church failing this standard? To look at it in a microcosm, we can pull data from Aletheia Bible Fellowship’s (ABF’s) Upreach Program, which did not set out to farm for data concerning the lack of church partnership, but instead to create partnerships and a grounding system for unchurched Christians. If we look at their compiled data, we find that out of approximately 15 churches approached to partner: of the 10 who agreed to partner with ABF, only 3 critical partnerships emerged. Most other local churches were accepting of receiving unchurched people that ABF would send them, but there was little interest in a relationship beyond that point, if interested in this partnership at all. This does not even reflect the numerous occasions where a church is contacted for interest in a partnership, but never responded to the email. When churches hold a business mindset, other churches become competitors and attempts at partnership are often received as threats, rather than a normal response to the doctrine of Christian unity. Granted, I only have a limited and small dataset, but it does provide insight into how sneaky this issue can be and what I believe to be a true issue within the church.. That means, all the more, that we need to work synergistically to solve it.

What is the scriptural example of synergy? The example of the church being a body outlined in 1 Corinthians 12 beautifully and clearly illustrates what it means to work together. Similarly to how a human body cleans itself with water, bandages its own wounds, and nourishes itself to provide energy; the entire body of believers must work together to make the local bodies functional and healthy. The universal church must clean itself, washing in Christ’s redeeming blood to cleanse it from sin, hatred, greed, and ill-will. It must mend its wounds, wrapping up the damage done by people who turn and fall away or even amputating a limb that has died (or in our case, become apostate). The church must feed itself with scripture, right doctrine, and worship and use that energy to output good works. This is something a whole body or the universal church should do naturally and completely. If the enemy cuts or strikes the body, even if it is not our part, we cannot and must not ignore it. Likewise, every local church is a part of the larger body of Christ. If a part is hurting itself, or infected, or bleeding out, we (being the other parts) have an even deeper responsibility to take these pains seriously.. Like it’s said, again in 1 Corinthians 12:20-21 (NASB), “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.’” The truth of the matter is that local churches need other local churches to survive, thrive, and fulfill the outline of scripture.  

With this all in mind, it is easy, within a local fellowship, to slip into the mindset of ‘my church is already doing this’, however I would ask that you think bigger. Have you considered that it is not enough just to take care of the needs of our small part of the larger body on its own? Scripture requires more of us, scripture requires that we share our needs.

What constitutes a need? Need is, perhaps, the simplest component of this problem. Everywhere we look there is a need, inside and outside of the church. The issue arises when the church starts to slip into its surrounding culture, conforming with the idea that need implies weakness. The church clearly has not escaped this idea, even though it has relegated it to what it now calls “personal issues”. This, however, is unbiblical. How can we care for a part that is hurting without knowing it’s hurting in the first place? We have a God-given responsibility to share not only our triumphs and joys but also our burdens. To address serving these burdens, we must first examine the needs.  A church’s needs will vary based on its purpose in the capital C church. Needs can include help with ministries, prayer, building maintenance, or help in any area that stunts the growth and healthy function of a church. These needs do not have to only be small things, like fixing a leaky faucet, but also touchier subjects, like financially supporting a different church so it can keep it’s doors open. Some churches are church plants or have an aging congregation and lack the staff they need for vital ministries. Other churches could have the staff to volunteer. Some churches will simply need prayer or advice for their direction. The fact is this, our biggest hindrance to our unity is our inability to be vulnerable and sharing what we lack.

What does being transparent mean? Again and unsurprisingly, it’s outlined in scripture. James 5:16 (NASB) puts it straightforward, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” Perhaps this idea is something you’ve employed in your own church. If so, great! However, it shouldn’t and can’t stop there. The book of James is not a letter addressed to one church or individual like the Pauline epistles often were, but to “the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad”. In this, we can conclude that James was not looking only for one small piece of the church to be open with its transgressions and, similarly, not looking for one part to only pray for itself. In Matthew 22:36-39, Jesus simplifies the Mosaic Law into two main commandments,  which, to paraphrase, is to love the Lord our God with our whole heart and to love our neighbors with a tenderheart. If we have read this passage through before, we should know that our “neighbor” is not just the person living in the house down the street. The term neighbor includes all people, and in that wide bracket, ALSO our fellow church goers and fellow churches. Please consider, how well are we showing our love for our neighbor if we don’t pray for them? Are we loving our neighbor if we hide our broken pieces from them, and in that, lying that we are capable of meeting the mark of perfection? The answer is that we are absolutely not loving our neighbor properly in those cases. For this, Galatians 6:2 (NASB) says it best “Bear one anothers burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.” Clearly, we are not expected to come together as separate and perfect pictures, but rather as broken pieces that reflect the image of Christ when they are together, and in that togetherness we become a synergistic whole.

Our service must be something that is gladly given. As outlined in Romans 12, each individual has gifting from the Holy Spirit. As each church is made up of different people, and each church has a specific function in christendom, it also stands to reason that each church has its own unique purpose as well. Every church does something really well. For some, they are fortunate to be gifted with serving others and specifically their brothers and sisters in Christ.  However, though not all of us have the gift of service, we are called to serve how we can anyway. Paul is outlining the gifts of the spirit when he says in Romans 12:6-8 (NASB), “Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith;  if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.” However we serve, however we can, we are called to do it cheerfully, diligently, and with a self-sacrificial heart. We are called to serve, not through our own strength, but through God’s grace and providence. We are called to be the first to arrive and the last to leave in how we serve. When we serve, we should serve eagerly. Have you looked for places that need your gifts? Have local churches asked for your help? Have you responded to their call with urgency and joy?

Our service must be something that is holistic. The buck doesn’t stop with serving gladly. Our responsibility to serve is often placed on the wrong shoulders. Our responsibility to serve does not only sit on the shoulders of leaders, just as the mandate to teach is not only the task of teachers. Like how walking uses the whole body, we are liable to fall flat on our face if our feet don’t move in tune with our shoulders. How can a church successfully exemplify Paul’s example of a human body when only those in any kind of leadership seek to serve and partner with other local churches? Likewise, if we don’t operate with synergy in our individual parts of the body of Christ, we cannot properly operate with our prescribed synergy outside of our individual churches. That means leaders should encourage and have the expectation that the laypeople of the church work toward the common goal of synergy, both locally and at large. That means congregants should work with their local leaders towards a larger synergy, rather than hindering them out of comfort or for a longing to cling to how things have always been. “How things have been” doesn’t work, isolation doesn’t work, they are not sustainable and are misguided. Only God and his scripture are consistent, local churches and individual parishioners should rely on those alone to work to better fill the shadow they cast. We should remember that our present state is not complete.  We must allow for God to sanctify us as he intended.

Our service must be something that is brotherly. We should work together, not only with our part of the body in our local church but with the body as a whole, as brothers and family. We can’t gain that familial rapport if we don’t work together correctly and only rely on those in charge to make things synergistic. We can support each other by making reasonable efforts to attend public events, praying together across local bodies, and making friends outside our own local church! Not only will we be better suited to work together when we know who we’re working with, but we will also be better equipped to anticipate needs and have needs anticipated on our behalf. We will be better prepared to serve the whole if we know can take care of ourselves, within God’s providence, through the care of others. Now we must be honest with ourselves! We should and are called to share not only the spirit and the same purpose but the same burden; the burden caused by the sinful world we seek to treat. We should ask ourselves,have we  severed ourselves from the body? Does our local church treat the other local bodies of the capital C church as fellow parts of the body? Ask if you are seeking to fulfill the needs of the whole body? And also ask yourself, are you being transparent in your needs?

How do we accomplish this? Becoming a synergistic whole sounds easy on paper, however the truth is humans are dynamic and live in a fallen state. For most of us, this change requires more than the flip of the proverbial switch. For us to grow in our transparent synergy in any real way, we must build a structure to sustain growth of that kind. Our structure must consist of being legacy minded in what we do and the ministries we build. ABF has addressed this situation and a solution in their Upreach Program, starting with it’s featured principle called Modular Legacy Minded Components or MLMC. The principle of MLMC is essentially, each ministry and resource has to be developed in a way that’s transferable to future generations and in some cases other local churches. MLMC makes the process of working in synergy even easier as any resource of ABF’s is readily sharible. To establish MLMC in your own church body means to carefully blueprint and outline the function and form of ministerial resources in detail, so another church can read a ministries’ blueprint to build one similar. ABF also presents another step to the solution by creating a position on staff, focused on facilitating MLMC in ministries, creating relationships with other churches, and organizing cross-church events. For ABF this presents itself in their deacon of external ministries, Heidi Parker, who is tasked with looking for opportunities to partner with local church bodies and facilitating the communication between them. Finally, ABF created a group, the aforementioned Upreach Program, to create and facilitate ways to partner, which has been decently successful in creating those partnerships.

So, our answer is relatively simple. To create the transparent synergy scripture asks us to have, churches should:

  1. Have and maintain a position that’s focused on facilitating synergy in the body.
  2. Teach and enforce the idea that it is not just the task of the church workers, but also the congregation, from youngest to oldest, weakest to strongest, to take this to heart and exemplify what is required of us in scripture.

To be successful we have to work together, admit our vulnerabilities and our weaknesses, and use our gifts to serve the whole. We have to hold each other to the highest standard and be tenderhearted in our affection for each other. We must not be strangers, but the brothers and sisters we are in Christ’s work. We must all work together, from the youngest to the oldest, the weakest to the strongest. If we have our good God as the foundation and center for our synergistic collaboration, we can be the body he has intended for us to be!

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

-John 13:34-35 (NASB)

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