As many of you know, our church is in the middle of a major building program. As a result of some of the amazing growth that God has sent our way in the last few years, we began having discussions almost a year ago about the need to build a new Sanctuary. As that plan began to take shape, we realized that we would need to relocate our gym to our vacant lot across the street from our main campus in order to make room for the new structure.
That sounds pretty simple, but it’s actually fairly complicated.
The main complication, as it turns out, is zoning: While our main campus, on the north side of E. 6th Street, is in the central business district, the property on the south side of the street is considered residential and is zoned accordingly. And, there are different requirements to build on a residential lot than a commercial lot.
In case you aren’t familiar with the ins and outs of urban planning, some cities choose regulate the use of different properties. Because thriving cities need lots of different types of activities to remain healthy – commercial businesses, public buildings, warehouses, schools, houses, etc. – some cities choose to try to create specific places for those specific uses in order to promote a healthy mix of uses while maintaining the character of specific areas and neighborhoods. This process is called zoning, and it’s why you usually don’t have a busy strip mall in the middle of a quiet neighborhood or an elementary school located next to a busy industrial factory.
In our case, we needed to get a variance from the city to allow us to build our new gym where we needed it to go. Last week, after a process that lasted a couple of months and involved lots of assistance from city staff, both the Planning & Zoning Committee and the City Council approved our requests, so we are moving ahead with our plans to build our new gym.
Why did I just go through the trouble of explaining all of that? Because I think that the concept of urban zoning has parallels with how God designed His church to operate. Let me explain.
As I mentioned above, healthy cities will have lots of different people doing lots of different things, each one of which may seem insignificant on its own but all of which combine to form the community that we know and love. A city that only has residential areas, for example, won’t have any jobs to support its residents, so we need commercial zones with shops, restaurants, gas stations, etc. Likewise, a city that only has commercial use wouldn’t have any workers to staff all of those businesses.
It gets even more minute than that, however. For example, if the only kinds of businesses we had were manufacturing, we wouldn’t have anywhere to get groceries, buy gas for our cars, or eat out. If all we have are upscale homes, people of more modest means won’t have anywhere to live. Variety is the spice of life, as the old saying goes, and perhaps nowhere is that more true than in the makeup of our communities.
So, what’s the parallel with the church? We can find it in 1 Corinthians 12.
Paul begins this chapter by addressing spiritual gifts – the specific ways that we are empowered to serve God – and then segues into a discussion of the need for God’s people to use their gifts and abilities to work together.
Paul compares the church to the human body, pointing out that all of the different parts of the body are necessary in order for it to fully function as it was designed to (vv. 15-18):
Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.
(Notice that last sentence, about God putting everything together just as he wanted – we’re going to come back to that in a minute.)
Just as God designed our bodies so that each individual part has a role to play, he also designed His church to function in that same way (v. 27):
Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.
Each of us has a specific part to play in the context of our church, and every part is important. Unfortunately, we tend to think that there are only a handful of really “important” jobs in the church – deacons, Sunday School teachers, etc. – but the reality is that all of us have something to contribute, and each of those contributions is important to God’s work.
It occurs to me that we have some great examples of this in our own congregation. I’m thinking about Pam Knotts, for example, who uses her skills for organization and communication to keep our calendar up-to-date and send out our email newsletters each month. Although it may seem like a small thing, those emails keep us all on the same page and ensure that everyone knows what’s going on week-to-week.
Jeff Steinhauser is another great example. Did you know that he sweeps the sidewalk leading up to the main entrance each Sunday morning? He makes sure that our facility is clean and inviting, and he even stands in the foyer to open the door and greet everyone as they come in.
As far as I’m aware, neither Pam nor Jeff was ever recruited to those jobs – they saw a need, realized that they could meet that need, and stepped up to do it. And, they are by no means the only ones who I could mention – there’s the Wednesday night supper crew that prepare our food each week, or the hostess committee that do such a great job expressing Christ’s love to our church each time we have a special meal or other event, or the ushers who collect our offering each Sunday morning. I could literally go on and on, listing dozens of people, and that’s the point – Flatonia Baptist Church is a great place to be precisely because we have so many people who use their gifts to serve God in hundreds of ways, large and small.
Now, remember that verse about God putting the body together just the way He wanted it to be? Remember that the next time that you think that you have some shortcoming that prevents you from being useful to God’s kingdom. God created you in a unique way, for a unique purpose. Don’t let anything hold you back from reaching your full potential to do the work that God placed you here to do.
So, what will your contribution be? Whatever it may be, remember this: there are no unimportant people in God’s kingdom or in this church. Every person is important, valued, and needed. We must all work together if we are to fulfill God’s mission for our congregation.