I recently got back from a business trip to Guam, a tiny island territory of the US located directly south of Japan and east of the Philippines. Internet connectivity is usually pretty bad on the island since every hotel is made of poured concrete to protect against typhoons. Forcing myself off the internet gave me time to reflect on some of the lessons we have been covering with the students at our church. Most recently, a new student worker and I probed the students on why they do the whole “church” thing. I mean, what does it really mean to be a “Christian”?
When you pose the ‘What is a Christian’ question to teens, you get a lot of answers because, simply put, many of them don’t have a lot of life-experience being a Christian yet. It would be like asking a freshmen in college what it means to be a master in their industry… they have a skewed view of what it means to be a part of ‘their’ industry aside from what they’ve been told and the very little amount they’ve experienced. This line of questioning led to Ephesians 4 where Paul says that all of us have a place in the church and all of us have different talents and functions. We are all created uniquely to fit together into one body that helps support each other in our individual missions and encourages mutual growth.
All of this culminates to a single question that, it seems, doesn’t get asked nearly enough: why do we do what we do and what makes us say and think the things we are driven to say and think? When we look at the middle verses in Ephesians 4, we read this…
Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love. (Ephesians 4:14-16 NLT, Source: Bible Gateway)
There is a strong theme of ‘harmony‘ throughout much of the scriptures. This idea of ‘harmony’ is often overlooked by many of even the most genuine and active Christians we see today, not because it isn’t important but rather because our culture focuses so much on ‘what is my role‘ versus ‘what is our group’s purpose‘. To accommodate ‘harmony’, we have to focus on our role in the church within context of how it affects other people in their ministries as well as what our own passions and desires may be. Yes, I may be able to teach, but is my drive and passion as a teacher more beneficial to God’s overall mission for the church and the harmony of the congregation than someone else’s current role in the church? When we consider that our personal missions don’t exist in a vacuum, sometimes our perspective on our ‘role’ in a church starts to shift.
These lessons circle back to the original question posed to our students. What does it really mean to be a “Christian”? Is it the amount of sacrifice we make for the church? Is it the time and money we pump into our activities or whether we look at someone who is singing, teaching, or working and deciding we can do it better? Or, instead of any of that, is it loving others, building relationships, and encouraging mutual growth?
There is some cross-over between ‘how good you are at your job’, ‘how much effort you put into your job’, and ‘how effectively you help encourage growth and build relationships’. That’s obvious. However, as my father has always said, you got to keep the main thing the main thing. For Christians, the main thing is Christ and Christ alone. If we are walking around with our ‘believer’ card and not doing it because Christ really is the main thing and we are more interested in our own role or status within the family than we are building stronger Christians and encouraging harmony, then maybe it’s time to check our motivations and ask ourselves what we’re really trying to do: living as a harmonious part of the body of Christ or something else?