Who builds the Church?

Who builds the Church?

If you have been around church for any length of time, you will have heard the phrase ‘building or growing church’, and even more so if you are a leader within a church. You may even have been to church planting conferences and read books about how to structure and lead a church. But what do we mean when we talk about building the church and is it even our responsibility?

There are, of course, two different meanings of the word ‘church’. One is the physical building, and the other is the community of believers. When I am referring to the church, I rarely mean a building. The community of people following Jesus is the Church. That, therefore, defines what we mean by ‘build’. I am not merely talking about a bricklayer or joiner; of course, they are involved in the literal building of a church. But the community of the Church, the body of believers, cannot be contained by four walls. When I ask who builds the church, the second definition of church is more important. Who grows the church community, who builds the Church?

There is a myth that is perpetuated within churches, often unwittingly, a misunderstanding that is simply not true. There is a much more beautiful paradigm. A divine partnership at play. Let’s start by looking at the myth:

The myth: Pastors save people and build the church.      

Pastors, church leaders, it is not your responsibility to save people. You do not own the church or the congregation. It is NOT your responsibility to be God. If you live as those these things are true, you find yourself living in a mindset of captivity. It is your responsibility to lead, teach, and set a godly example. Most importantly, it is your responsibility to develop your own relationship with God and listen to Him. God will guide you and reveal His plans for the church and congregation you lead when you do these things. Remember always to point people to Jesus, and through Him people will find salvation, not through you. These truths are freeing!

There are serious dangers when people try to build something without being guided by God. In Genesis 11, we read about the Tower of Babel. In verse 4, it says, ‘Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”‘. These people decided that they wanted to build something great to make a name for themselves. When we are leading something, we need to watch out for pride. The people wanted independence, power and authority – but this belongs to God alone. When we lead, we need to check ourselves regularly. Are we trying to make a name for ourselves, build a reputation? Or are we being guided and directed by God?

The church is often shaped by corporate principles, which is not in and of itself wrong. However, when they drive us, they can lead to a hierarchical, personality led movement that can sometimes leave very little room for God. No one wants that to be the way they lead, but it is a fine line that can be stepped over unintentionally.

When we grasp the reality of the responsibilities we do and don’t need to carry, it is incredibly freeing, and you will find that you lead better as a result. We need to remind ourselves daily of these, as it is easy to pick up something we were never intended to carry.

We’ve looked at the myth, now let’s look at the reality.


The Reality: God builds His church.

The Scriptures tell us who builds the church. In Matthew 16:18, Jesus says, ‘And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it’. The church is built by God, not by man. That is not to say that we do not have a part to play – we absolutely do. But we are not the architect or master builder; Jesus is. It can be easy when we lead to see ourselves as steering the ship and making the decisions. Although God does give us the authority to make decisions, it can be a dangerous place to lead from.

An important question to ask when looking at this passage is this: what is the rock that Jesus is building on? There is a very interesting play on words in this passage in Greek, as Peter’s name means a stone or rock. When we consider the verse in context, we can see that Jesus says this in response to a statement Peter makes in Matthew 16:16: ‘“You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”‘ The very rock that Jesus builds his church on is Peter’s statement of faith. That is why Jesus should be at the centre of all that we do and why we point people to Jesus. He is the only way people can receive salvation. Jesus is the only one who saves.

Another question this verse raises for me is this: Can Hades overcome a church not built by God? If Jesus isn’t at the centre, if as leaders, we aren’t listening to God’s guidance, we are leading people into dangerous territory. At the Tower of Babel, the leaders led the people into selfishness, pride, and ultimately their downfall. We need to lead people closer to God, not steer them in our own direction. When we lead people, we need to lead them as we follow Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1).

It is a relief to me that the pressure to ‘build the church’ does not rest on my shoulders! Jesus will build His church on the foundation of faith in Him. But just because it is not our responsibility to direct church and save people does not mean that it is not our responsibility to take part. In Matthew 9:37, Jesus says, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few’. We might not be the farmer who created the harvest, but we are the workers who play their part in gathering the harvest.

God has a unique role for each of us as he gives each of us gifts. Some are called to lead, others to encourage, others to prophesy, for example. That leads us to the beautiful paradigm.


The Beautiful Paradigm: We get to play our part!

The Great Commission is God’s blueprint, the architectural design, to build the church. Matthew 28:18-20 says: ‘Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

The Great Commission is Jesus’ command to every believer. To go and make disciples! The beautiful paradigm is that God builds his church through us. He has the blueprint, and he gives us the Holy Spirit to empower and be with us as we go out and play our part in God’s great master plan!

Not only does God give us the Holy Spirit to be with us, but He also gives us spiritual gifts as our tools. These tools help us build-up or encourage the church to share the gospel, teach, disciple, and baptise people. The tools are given to us for a purpose: to empower us as God builds His church through us. There are functional gifts such as prophecy, teaching, leadership and administration (Romans 12:1-8), Manifest Gifts such as speaking in tongues, healing and miracles (1 Corinthians 12:1-12) and the offices of the five-fold ministries of the apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher (Ephesians 4:11). These gifts are all with the purpose to build the church, each with a different function. Similarly to how you would have different trades when renovating a building, they focus on different tasks.

God builds His church through us. He sends us, and empowers us, and goes with us.


What does the building of the church look like?

When people are obedient to God, incredible things happen. There is numerical growth in the kingdom. In Acts 2:47, we see that ‘the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved‘. As the disciples stepped out in obedience, God grew their numbers. Numbers are important as each number is a person who has come to know Jesus as their saviour, but it is God who brings them into the church. The people in the church do not belong to the leader. They belong to God. Sometimes we will put effort into sharing Jesus with someone and they go to a different church to the one we attend or lead, and that’s okay. The church is the entire body of believers, one community, made up of smaller gatherings.

Personal discipleship is at the heart of God’s blueprint of the church. The reason for smaller gatherings is for a depth of relationship and accountability. Jesus had his twelve disciples, in whom he invested most intensely. His influence was wider, but He grew the church through those few he discipled. Focus less on the big numbers and more on the people you are personally investing in. Who are you ‘teaching everything that [Jesus] has commanded you’?


What does it mean for us? 

We need to remember that we do not build the church, we are not the architect, and we do not ‘own’ the church. God is the one who does all of these things. Which, let’s be honest, is a relief because only God can do all that! Yet, that does not mean we sit back and watch as God does it all. We can choose to be active participants in God’s plan to build the church and play the part that God had gifted us to do!

If you are unsure where you fit, spend some praying to God to ask Him to reveal it to you. You may also want to talk to a trusted leader who knows you well, as they may already see the gifts of God in you.



Photo credit: Photo by iMattSmart on Unsplash

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