One of the things that I’ve always been good at is making things work without all of the necessary parts. They may not look the best, or work as well as we’d like, but sometimes being able to get to our destination is more important than what vehicle gets us there. One of the most important lessons that my mother ever taught me was the skill of making do with what you have. My father was a master at emergency repairs and short-term make-do’s, so between the two of them, I guess I’ve got all the right genetics for on-the-fly “creative engineering.” I’ve done quick roadside repairs on my car, and driven away with an engine running on only half of its cylinders. It was a difficult drive, but it got me there—eventually.
Still, there are some things that you’ve just got to have. You might be able to get a car to run on half of its cylinders, but it still needs gas. The fastest of computers can become incredibly stupid if it doesn’t have enough memory. The most promising of churches can become a spiritual paperweight without the right people, with the right spiritual gifts. And, the most gifted of believers can dry up and blow away without an appropriate venue to express those gifts.
I’ve heard people say that they’ve “given up on church” or “can’t stand all those hypocrites,” so they’ve stopped going. They say that they’ve replaced the church with a wonderful time of individual worship that fulfils their needs. In each case, although I understand their frustration, I still had to gently disagree. They might be getting along today, but sooner or later they will suffer from spiritual anemia and have nowhere to turn for a transfusion. I’ve illustrated this phenomenon with a tree limb. If the tree is in full leaf, and you cut off a limb, at first it looks as though everything is just fine-the limb looks healthy, the leaves are sturdy and green, and you can hardly tell that it’s not attached. Before long, though, the leaves start to wither. You can slow this process by putting the cut end of the limb in water, but there are critical nutrients that can only be provided by the tree, and eventually the leaves turn dry and fall off.
We as believers work the same way. You may think that you’re doing fine as a “lone ranger,” but if you’re not attached to a local gathering of like-minded believers, you aren’t able to get all of the nourishment and support that you need. Eventually, it will start to show—and your spiritual vitality will begin to wither.
It’s not just about what you receive from the church. It’s also about your contribution to the church. The tree limb contributes to the tree, as all that chemistry stuff happens in the leaves. God designed the tree to work that way. He also designed you to work in a similar fashion. You have a unique set of spiritual gifts that were given to you to help equip and empower the church. Your gift set is incomplete, so you need other people with gifts that complement yours, to fill in the gaps and provide balance. You benefit from this interdependent relationship in two ways. First, you receive the support of others who minister to you in areas where you’re not gifted. Second, you experience great joy and satisfaction as you apply you gifts and use them within the church. A church where all of the gifts are present and being used is an environment of growth, support, and dynamic empowerment. No matter how hard you try, you can’t produce that all by yourself.
It’s sad to see a church limping along on only three cylinders. It might get where it’s going, but it’s a rough and uncomfortable ride, and if one more spark plug gives up, the whole thing will be sitting on the side of the road. It’s even sadder to see that church struggle while there are “spark plug” believers all around that don’t think they need to be part of an engine to be fulfilled. They might even be in the engine already, but if they’re not connected, they might as well not be.
You can’t make it as a stand-alone. You need to be part of a local body of believers—and you need to be “plugged in” to that body, not just sitting on the pew.
And, we need you just as much as you need us.