"I Will Build My Church"

December 1, 2007

“…I will build my church.” (Matthew 16:18)

“…apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

I was recently alerted to a very interesting blog post about how we do ministry. The blogger was relating a message from an experienced minister and church planter named Kent Smith, who is now devoted himself to the development of other young leaders to plant more reproducible ministries.

I find it quite interesting to run across new groups that are seeking to spread the gospel through planting of churches that plant other churches. Coming from an ICOC background, it is easy to think we invented that idea and that we are the only ones that really care about it, or that we are the only ones that know anything about how to do it. That blogger’s article reminds me that is not the case. And it gives me some significant spiritual principles to digest.

Jesus is really the only church builder. And the church he builds belongs to him. We are all wretched blind beggars who are only part of his church by the grace of God. Who are we to think we know how to build a church? We should count ourselves blessed just to be a part of it.

Kent spoke of two motives that can taint our efforts to serve God in our ministries. The first is the desire to do something great for God, to make our lives matter. As the blogger relates,

We are often seeking to fill a hole in our lives that will give us some sort of meaning or significance.

That motive misses the point in ministry. It is not about us. We are not here to make ourselves significant. Christ already showed that we are significant, and made us more significant, by going to the cross on our behalf, and by giving us the Holy Spirit to dwell within us. We don’t need any more significance than that! And of course we cannot do anything to improve on that.

The second motive Kent spoke about was a love of community. We may be trying to fill a void inside ourselves, a hunger for the closeness and common values that community can provide. Again, this misses the point. It is not about us. Christ’s church is a community about others. We are in that community, not to serve our own needs, but to serve others.

Kent referred to something Dietrich Bonnhoffer wrote in Life Together about community. I would like to add some other quotes from the same source on this topic:

The serious Christian, set down for the first time in a Christian community, is likely to bring with him a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and to try to realize it…

God hates visionary dreaming; it makes a dreamer proud and pretentious. The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself. He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God Himself accordingly. He stands adamant, a living reproach to all others in the circle of brethren. He acts as if he is the creator of the Christian community, as if his dream binds men together. When things do not go his way, he calls the effort a failure. When his ideal picture is destroyed, he sees the community going to smash. So he becomes, first an accuser of his brethren, then an accuser of God, and finally the despairing accuser of himself.

Because God has already laid the only foundation of our fellowship, because God has bound us together in one body with other Christians in Jesus Christ, long before we entered into common life with them, we enter into that common life not as demanders but as thankful recipients…

In another place, Bonhoffer wrote:

Love community, and you will kill it. Love your brother, and you will build it.

These are some deep thoughts. Why do we think Jesus kept talking about loving each other, meeting our brother’s needs, loving our neighbor as ourselves? Why did he keep talking about giving a cup of water, or visiting the sick or those in prison? Why did he tell us to go and do what the good Samaritan had done? Isn’t there something more important than that?

Why did Jesus live that way himself? He had just three years to inject his message into the world, carried in a dozen common jars of clay. His entire ministry, the results from his suffering and death on the cross, all depended on the message getting out. He had to get these twelve men ready for the toughest and most important job in the history of the world. Why did he take so much of his time doing things other than preaching and teaching? Wasn’t there more urgent, more important work to do?

We forget. Jesus said “I will build my church.” He said “Apart from me you can do nothing.” For a church leader, nothing is more important than remaining in the vine. The greatest command is to love God with everything we have. We must cling to Christ, spend intimate time with him, rely on him, and strive to be like him with every fiber of our being. Apart from him we can do nothing.

And there is also a second command, like the first one. That command was not to love a mission, or to love a community. It was to love our neighbor– one person at a time, to love. As Bonhoffer said, by loving our brother we can build community. Love is how Christ builds his church. That love is carried in his body, the church. It is carried to individuals, one at a time. It is shown especially to those inside the church, but also to those outside.

Love is the work of the church — the kind of love that serves others; the kind of love that washes feet; the kind of love that lays down its life for a brother. Love is the greatest gift (1 Cor 13:13). If you want to do something great for God, then love. That is how Christ is building his church.


  1. Great post, Alan. Mike said something at our Texas seminar that really (imo)summed up where we had been and where we needed to be: “It should have never been about the church; it needs to be about Jesus”ttk

  2. Really great stuff. We certainly resembled that first Bonnhoffer quote, didn’t we?

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