Author: Ron Graham
Among the Christian brothers and sisters I mix with, the terms "work of the church" and "Lord’s work" are often heard —usually in expressing concern that the Lord’s work gets done by the church, and gets done right.
Occasionally one finds churches who are not doing the Lord’s work, or they are doing work that is not really the work of the church as authorised by our Lord. Alternatively there is sometimes a far too narrow view of "the Lord’s work" and what constitutes "the work of the church".
Broadly speaking, there are three main activities that make up the work of the church of Christ. They are:
Note:— Who is the Audience? Regarding the above activities, we should note that the people in "the pews" are not the audience. They are the worshippers. In a church service, the audience is God, listening to our hearts.
Now that we have broadly and briefly noted the nature of the Lord’s work, let's go on to consider some important general concepts relating to this work.
The church's work is normally and naturally focussed in its own locality. The deacons are in charge of this work overseen by the elders. We notice that the first church in Jerusalem was very active doing its worship, teaching, and benevolent work there in Jerusalem (Acts 2:41-47, Acts 4:32-35, Acts 6:1-7).
While every local church obviously has a local responsibility, there are occasions when the need in a locality is much greater than the local church there can cope with. This happened in Jerusalem when famine compounded the church's problem with poverty. So other churches in places like Galatia, Achaia, and Macedonia, began giving assistance sacrificially to assist their brethren in Judea (1Corinthians 16:1-3, 2Corinthians 8:1-5, 2Corinthians 9:1-5).
The same can be true of the teaching work where "the fields are white unto harvest but the labourers are few" (John 4:35, Luke 10:2). Churches co-operate in putting missionaries where the need is great and the local church cannot cope.
A local church can also be at work on a global scale by supporting the translation, publication, and distribution of Bibles or supporting teaching work on the internet. Even small local churches can (and should) do the Lord’s work globally as well as locally.
On the same principle, but perhaps on a smaller scale, churches will sometimes come together for fellowship in combined worship. Or perhaps a group from a large church will go to visit a small church to worship with them. In Australia it is common practice for "Christian camps" to be held once or twice a year, to enable brethren from various local churches to come together for a season of refreshing.
If we are not careful, we can fall into a trap when talking about "the work of the church". We can think only of that work being done corporately, that is by the church acting as a body. However, the church also works distributively, that is by the members each acting individually.
Look at Ephesians 4:15-16 for example, which says in part, "the proper working of each individual part causes the growth of the body..." Here there is a blending of the distributive with the corporate; individual working is the primary thing, working in harmony with the whole body. "Now you are Christ's body, and individually members of it" (1Corinthians 12-27).
Bible passages on the Lord’s work often have an individual emphasis —members working severally on their own initiative. You will notice this for example in James 2:15-16, James 1:27 and Titus 3:14.
In most cases, opportunity to help the needy, for example, comes to the notice of individual Christians and households, and they handle the matter themselves. If your next door neighbour's house burns down, you first take out of your own cupboards. You probably don't ring the church office. The good Samaritan took personal responsibility for providing the urgent needs of the person he helped (Luke 10:30-37).
Many churches do keep a supply of goods at the church building for emergency hampers. This is a common form of benevolence especially in depressed localities. However even the goods for these hampers are often donated by individual members and not purchased by the church..
We can get too organization minded and think too much of the corporate church, the "one body" and not think enough of the distributed church, the "many members".
Much of the work that the Lord wants the church to do can be done by members working individually, personally, privately, from their own houses, out of their own purses, and on their own initiative, albeit in harmony with the whole body and with its blessing. That is often the best way for the Lord’s work to get done.