What makes a church successful? How is a mature church developed? According to Paul it is generally the same things that make a football team successful: committed ownership, good coaching, good teamwork, good understanding of the game plan, a commitment to the plan, lots of hard work and practice, and teamwork. While individual talent on a football team is good to have, without the other things it won’t win a championship. In Ephesians 4:11-16, while Paul does not directly compare the church to a football team, he does describe it using many of those attributes that make pretty much any team, or organization, successful.
11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. 14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
It is important for a football team to have an owner who is willing to foot the bill for all the expenses necessary for a winning team. Without the deep pockets, and a willingness to make a significant investment, the team will end up mired in mediocrity, or worse.
So who owns the church? Too often we end up believing that we do; it is our church, or the pastor’s church. And as a result we look to our own resources to be successful as a church. But if we are truly a church, then we belong to Christ. He is the owner, and as the owner he is willing to do what is necessary to ensure that we become what he wants us to be. Paul has earlier prayed in this letter that we would come to understand the plan and purpose he has for us. The resources that are available for us. And his power that is at work in us. If we are not successful as a church, it is not because the owner is tightfisted.
In vs. 11-12 Paul tells us that the owner, Christ, has given the church some coaches: apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor/teachers. All too often those of us in the church look to our pastor as if he were hired to do the work of the church. And while we might volunteer to help out a bit, the work is really his to do. That is kind of like the football team expecting their coaching staff to take the field and play the game, while they stand on the sidelines and cheer them on, or criticize their failures.
But Paul tells us here that the role of our coaches is to equip, or prepare, us for accomplishing the work of the church. The coach has a very important place in the working of the team. But we should never expect the coach to be taking the field to do our job. The coaches responsibility is to lead in the development of the game plan and then to properly train the players to execute the plan.
Understanding Our Roles
My pastor’s role, according to this passage, is to train me to do the work of the church. And to do that effectively, he needs to be working with the owner to develop the game plan for the church. Once that is done then he will be able to equip me to accomplish it. Without the coach having a good game plan, what will he be equipping me for?
My job, as a player on the field, is to allow the coach to train me. And once trained, to go out and give my best. My job does not include second guessing the coach, or doing what I want. Imagine what would happen to a football team if every player ignored the coach and did what they wanted to. Why should we suppose it would be any different for a church?
Understanding the Game Plan
The coach, in his equipping of the people, should have a goal in mind. And he should be working from a plan designed to accomplish that goal. In vs. 12-13 Paul gives us the desired result of that game plan; the development of a unified, mature and Christ-like body. While the ways a church may use to reach that state will vary from body to body, the desired end state is the same for all of them.
The coach has responsibility for the development of the plan that will enable the team, or body, to reach that end state. But it is also important that the players on the team understand the game plan as well; if we don’t, how will we ever hit the desired end state of a unified, mature, Christ-like body. I need to know where we are going and how I fit into the plan to get us there.
Commitment to the Game Plan
How important is commitment, or buy-in, to the game plan? Without it there will be the tendency to change direction every time some more appealing ministry plan comes along. Or anytime we don’t get instant results. A football team, with a good set of coaches, will not let setbacks early in the game throw them into confusion. They don’t dump the game plan and immediately try some other approach at the first sign of failure. Instead they stick with the plan until it bears fruit.
One of the goals of developing a unified, mature, Christ-like body is that we will not be turned aside to some other course when success does not come instantly. There are so many ‘programs’ available, some good and some not so very good. Jumping from program to program trying to find something that will work will leave a body in a constant state of upheaval, going nowhere. We need to stick to the game plan put together by the coaching staff and approved by the owner. It’s the only way for us to be successful.
As a church we also need to be holding firmly to the truth. There are so many deceptive doctrines, with just as many proponents of those falsehoods. And they are looking for fertile soil to put down roots and corrupt a church body. As we are properly trained, and committed to God’s word, and his way for us, we will learn to recognize, and be resistant to, falsehood.
Hard Work and Practice
You’ve got a game plan, and you’re committed to the plan. Now it’s time to begin to do the things the coach has been telling you. It’s much easier to just sit around and watch everyone else turn to and get to work.
We need to speak the truth in love. Unfortunately that probably doesn’t mean that I need to share your faults with you in a loving way. If I am to speak the truth, and Jesus is the truth, then I would suspect that Paul is telling me that I should be talking about him, what he has done, is doing, and will do. Don’t get blown around with false teaching. Instead, focus on the truth of Jesus. And do that recognizing the extent of his love for others. Share the truth with each other, as well as with those on the outside; let love be what takes you to those who need the truth.
And as we do that we will become a mature body of Christ. Until we are committed to the game plan, and putting into practice the teachings of our coaching staff, we will be immature, falling short of his design for us.
Putting the Team First
On a football team it is important that each player do the job they are selected to do. If even one player fails to do their job, or attempts to do someone else’s job, the whole team will suffer. It is only when each player performs their best, in their assigned role, that the whole team will be successful.
A mature church is the same way. It is only as each member of the body undertakes to be the body part that they have been equipped and trained to be, that the body will be most successful. The result of each member being faithful to their calling is a church that is growing and being built up in love.
Yes, the church is not exactly like a football team, and our pastor is not exactly the same as a football coach. There is much more to being the church of Christ than there is in playing a game. But I believe there are some lessons we can learn from the comparison.
Has Christ placed you in the church as a coach? Then please lead and train the rest of us to do the work of the church. A half hour sermon once a week probably won’t do that. Know your players, their strengths and weaknesses, and where they fit within the body. And then equip us to be that.
Has Christ placed you into the church as a player? Then follow the leadership of your coach; be committed to the team; know your place in the body; and give it your all. Realize that if you are not taking your place within the body, that you are leaving a hole, and thus are hurting the body of Christ.
Let’s all work together to become a unified and mature church; a Christ-like body.
All Posts In This Series
- A Brief Introduction to Ephesians: Who and Why - This brief introduction to Ephesians will share some of the ideas of authorship, audience and purpose that many scholars see, as well as my views.
- Spiritual Blessings – Ephesians 1:3-14 - God has given his spiritual blessings to us in the heavenly realm. And we have these blessing because we are in Christ. Praise God for all he has done.
- Prayer – Ephesians 1:15-23 - In Ephesians 1:15-23, Paul's prayer for the recipients of this letter is for a spirit of wisdom and revelation so that they could know God better.
- From Death Into Life: An Act of Grace – Ephesians 2:1-7 - In my natural state I was spiritually dead, separated from the life of God. But by his grace, I have been made alive, with a life that will never end.
- Amazing Grace – Ephesians 2:8-10 - Grace. More specifically God's grace. As believers we talk about it a lot, frequently defining it as God's unmerited favor towards us. And indeed it is. It is by God's grace that we are saved, and not by anything we can do (Ephesians 2:8). God's grace has dealt with our sin and we now have a future with him. It is unfortunate however that we often leave it there.
- Tearing Down Walls – Ephesians 2:11-22 - In Christ it makes no difference whether we are Jew or Gentile. We are all one body in him because of grace. It is by faith in what Jesus did that we come into relationship with God now; not by adherence to the commands and regulations of the law. Because observance of the law as a means to righteousness has been replaced by God's grace, we are all equally able to stand before God, not because of what I have done, but because of what he did.
- The Mystery of Christ – Ephesians 3:1-13 - And the mystery is not only that the barrier that separated Jews from Gentiles has been eliminated. But also that the need for a priestly intermediary has been removed. All believers now also serve as priests and each have direct access to the throne of God.
- Rooted and Established In Love – Ephesians 3:14-21 - Ephesians really gives us a look into Paul’s prayer life, at least concerning the churches he was worked with. In Ephesians 1:15-23 Paul expresses his prayer for this church. And now in chapter 3, verses 14-21, he continues that prayer. Here the prayer appears to have two parts; that the vessel be prepared, and then that it be filled.
- Walking Worthy – Ephesians 4:1-6 - What does walking worthy of our calling mean? In the context of Ephesians 4:1-6, it refers to our role in the body of Christ. Be the best member you can be.
- Growing a Mature Church – Ephesians 4:11-16 - Christ provides his church with the necessary equippers to that we can be a mature church, fully equipped to do the work he has called us to.
- Out With the Old, In With the New – Ephesians 4:17-32 - How do I live as an effective member of the body of Christ? It involves personal transformation, putting off the old self, and taking on the new self.
- Imitators of God – Ephesians 5:1-20 - Don't be like the world around you. Instead, be imitators of God by living a life of love, living as a child of the light, and living with wisdom.
- Married to Jesus – Ephesians 5:22-33 - One of the images for the church in the New Testament is the Bride of Christ. This image pictures the intimate relationship between Christ and his church.
- All In the Family – Ephesians 5:21-6:9 - Paul's instructions to first century families contains useful information for families today. It also contains advice for workplace relationships.
- Spiritual Warfare – Ephesians 6:10-20 - A spiritual battle is raging all around us. So take up the armor God provides so you can stand your ground and be engaged in that spiritual warfare.
- May 15, 2012: Original post
- September 7, 2018: Updated for content and SEO