1 Corinthians 12:12–18 (NASB95)
12 For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. 13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. 14 For the body is not one member, but many. 15 If the foot says, “Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear says, “Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired.
A little while ago, I had a Jr. High student ask a question similar to others I have heard before. She initially asked if I struggled with doubt. I indicated that at different times in my life I have struggled with that but that for a while now that has not been a struggle for me. Then she asked, “Is that because you are a pastor?” While it was an innocent and honest question on her part, it reveals an unfortunate reality in the church. Whether intentionally or not, we give special attention and emphasis to the teaching gift.
In this section of 1 Corinthians, Paul addressed an overemphasis of a spiritual gift, the gift of tongues, in the Corinthian church. Most wanted to speak in tongues because it was impressive (and granted, how many times have you been able to get up in front of a group of people and speak a language you have never spoken?), and it was overemphasized when the church came together. Paul spends quite a bit of time speaking against overemphasizing a gift at the expense of the other gifts.
I have believed for a while that, if Paul was speaking to the church today, he would likely address an overemphasis of the gift of teaching. As it is an equipping gift, it is a very important gift to the body. Yet, teaching pastors are not the reason why we gather together. While we might agree with that, what does the way we construct our churches and services say that our words would not?
We even call these gifted people by a special name: “pastor”. Since the Spirit has gifted me to teach, and I am a paid pastor, I feel like I am in a unique position to question this practice. I understand that that it is simply a long standing tradition, but I think it also perpetuates the idea that this gift should be regarded more highly. We don’t call others “Server Bob”, “Encourager Miller”, or “Helper Melissa”.
We are just as much in need of encouragement when struggling, giving to keep the church afloat, mercy when we’ve blown it again, wisdom when we just don’t know what to do, a gentle rebuke when wrongheaded, and the beautiful collage of other wonderful gifts that exist in each believing body. In fact, this variety of supernatural giftedness is what makes the church different than any other group that gathers anywhere.
And this becomes the real issue. When we overemphasize one spiritual gift and make it indispensable, the natural result is that other equally vital gifts will be underemphasized and dispensable. Yet, do we look at our physical body this way? Is my arm dispensable because I can still live without it? Or are my ears dispensable because my eyes can pick up the slack with lip reading? Of course not! We have a name for people like this: “disabled”. That is exactly what our churches are in danger of being when we forget that God has placed each member of the body of Christ there for a very specific and valuable purpose.
While teaching pastors are essential to the life of the body, each and every other gift that God has given the body of Christ is essential as well. Do we believe that? Do Christian churches reveal that? We need to remember that the ministry of the church does not lie solely with its pastors, and each one of us need to be intentional about living out our giftedness within the body week after week. Are you a foot? Walk. Are you a hand? Reach out. Are you an ear? Start listening. The church is disabled without you.
May we remember that we are a body with many members!