'... the whole body ... when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.' (Eph 4:16)
Some of the most encouraging times for me personally in the routine of our congregational life are the several occasions each year when I lead a new members' class, and then, with Richard Henry our Session Clerk, meet individually with those wishing to join our fellowship here at The Tron. It is always exhilarating to hear people's stories, and to wonder afresh at the infinite variety of ways and means our Lord uses, weaving his web of grace and mercy around their lives to draw people to himself.
More recently, these times have been not just encouraging and exhilarating, but exhausting – because we have been blessed with so many new folk coming among us. But if we are to be worn out in gospel work, may it always be with that kind of fatigue, from 'right hand' gospel ministry, not the defensive (yet necessary) 'left hand' work we have had more than our fill of in recent times! There is a kind of tiredness that is delicious, that gives a constant gentle reminder of joys recently experienced, like the satisfying awareness of aching muscles after an invigorating day's walking in the beautiful Scottish hills. What our bodies might otherwise sense as pain is transmuted into pleasure by the richness of the experience such happy exhaustion reminds us of. Just so, too, in the enlivening work of real gospel ministry.
"We, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another"
Speaking thus in bodily terms is indeed appropriate, because church membership is a 'body' matter. 'We, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another' is how Paul puts it in Rom 12:5, and that is why tangible membership of the church is important. It simply expresses the reality that we cannot be united truly with Christ without being united truly (and therefore visibly) with Christ's people. We are 'members one of another', and real Christian discipleship takes that seriously and seeks to live out that truth visibly in a meaningful commitment to the living body of a real church family.
Indeed, so interdependent are we as Christians that our own personal health, preservation and growth in Christ is completely bound up with the health, preservation and growth of the whole body, the church to which we belong. It is as the whole body is built up that each part – 'every joint with which it is equipped' – is built up (Eph 4:16). That is entirely obvious when we think about the body metaphor; legs cannot lengthen without the body growing taller, nor can the whole body gain height without the legs getting longer. You simply cannot separate these things, nor can you prioritise the order. It is not the legs which make the body grow, nor the body which makes the legs lengthen, but every cell in the whole organism (where there is a healthy metabolism and an input from a health-giving diet and exercise) is working in concert, quite imperceptibly to the human eye, so that the whole body builds itself up. The body grows, and all its 'members' with it.
And so it is with real Christian growth and real church growth: 'the whole body .. when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.' (Eph 4:16)
It is a wonderfully liberating thing to realise that the vast mountain of so-called 'church growth' literature which abounds in the contemporary era is rendered largely unnecessary if we simply grasp that one little sentence of the apostle Paul! We don't need to be cast down by our lack of understanding of the '101 essential steps' to creating church vitality in the 21st century world. We don't need to feel inhibited by a lack of grand and detailed 10 and 20 year plans. Nor must we all have a PhD in urban ministry or postmodern culture. We just need to be a church where 'each part is working properly.'
That means, according to Paul in Eph 4, that those set apart for the specific teaching ministry of the word of God – the pastor-teahcers – are to be devoted to that ministry (and never distracted from it) so that all members, 'all the saints', are people equipped 'for the work of ministry', that is, 'for the building up of the body of Christ'. It is the people, not the pastor, who build the church. Together, '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.' (Eph 4:11-16)
"It is the church where ordinary members are simply engaged in real gospel partnership ... that builds itself up in love"
It is the church where ordinary members are simply engaged in real gospel partnership, where they are being equipped for ministry and are committed together to the Lord Jesus Christ and his gospel in willing ministry, that builds itself up in love, to the glory of Christ.
You will understand, then, the sense of joy and thanksgiving that I felt as your pastor when time and again, upon recently interviewing our new members, we were faced with abundant testimony to the way in which the whole fellowship has been at work, quietly and without ostentation, but solidly building itself up in love, and adding to our number the 27 new members we welcomed on May 19th. Among this large and varied group, in age, stage and nationality, there are stories which bear a telling witness to the diligence of so many, for which I thank the Lord, and in which I hope that you are all also greatly heartened and encouraged, 'knowing that in the Lord your labour is not in vain.' (1 Cor 15:58)
Some of our new members have found their way to us through Christianity Explored, where they were brought by a friend in the congregation, or encouraged by those serving in the various building evangelism teams. Others were first encountered out in the street by someone sharing the message of Jesus in George Square or Sauchiehall Street, and then being invited to come to a church service. One such, having been thus encountered by Euan Dodds some years ago, but having had no interest in Christ, through a tortuous journey including trouble with the police, and a spell in prison, remembered Euan's words about Jesus, cried out to the Lord to help him, and then on his release sought out the church again, professed Christ, and has been discipled through the international bible studies.
One lady in her 70s, almost immediately on coming to our church, was picked up by some of our 'senior' women, and quickly made to feel at home in the Ladies' Fellowship and a morning ladies' bible study. It was a particular encouragement that she first came just a week or so after our move to Bath Street, and so having known nothing else, to her The Tron always been where and what it is today! Another, at the opposite end of the age range, was first brought along to Tron Youth by a school friend, found her way into our fellowship that way, and is now keenly involved in our student work.
Someone else, new to Glasgow and Scotland, wandered into the building one weekday, and was greeted so warmly by one of our members that she decided to come back on Sunday, and has now found a real spiritual home here with us. Another, similarly, first came to a Sunday service some time ago, rather nervous about being in a large church, but was made so welcome by someone sitting beside her that she immediately felt at home. Someone else started coming to church occasionally just when his parents were visiting, to keep them happy, but then became gripped inexplicably, started coming more regularly, and over time has come through to real and living faith in Christ, much to his parents' joy! Another girl who was baptised on May 19th was brought along to church by her fellow Thai flatmate, who herself came to faith and was baptised just last year; I will never forget the joy I felt when, on our first Sunday service after our move to Bath Street, she came to tell me the good news that she had trusted in Christ on that particular day!
I could go on, but these few brief cameos are surely sufficient to demonstrate the many and varied ways in which surely 'each part is working' in the body we know as the fellowship of The Tron.
Must this not encourage us all? For such evidence of Christ's body working properly and growing must surely speak of him 'who is the head, from whom the whole body ... builds itself up in love', the Spirit of our Lord himself, being present and active in our midst, to will and to do according to his good pleasure. We have felt so conscious of his special presence among us in these recent days of upheaval and change, sweetening our hearts where otherwise bitterness could have taken root, and giving us the oil of joy in the place of mourning. But here, to add to the sense of his healing fragrance, is clear sight of his heartening fruit; we may have had to abandon a few inanimate stones, but the Lord has not abandoned the living stones of his true building here! Rather, he is here in the midst, adding to our number, and making the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
"Your ministry ... our ministry together ... is building up the body of Christ"
So, my dear brothers and sisters, be encouraged! Old or young, newcomer or veteran, on the front stage or in the back room, seen or unseen – none of your labour in the Lord is in vain! Your ministry – our ministry together – is building up the body of Christ. And believe me, nothing could be so humbling thrilling for any pastor than to be surrounded by such an army of 'rival' gospel ministers, as I seem to be here!
So, keep going! 'Each one of you go on speaking the truth with his neighbour, for we are members one of another.' (Eph 4:25) And so let The Tron go on building itself up in love, each part working properly, as together we keep our eyes fixed on the Lord Jesus Christ, from whom alone comes the life-giving Spirit by which his body grows.
Yours in the glad thanksgiving of a living church,
William J U Philip