The Terrible, but Effective Way to Build the Church


“I’m going to build a fence.”

My dad made that declaration in the summer of 1971.  What did it mean for me and my seven-year old brother?  Would we watch?  Stay out of the way?  Bring him a glass of kool-aid when he got thirsty?

“You’re going to help,” he told us.

At least that clarified it.

At first the project sounded exciting.  We were the kind of boys who always wanted to help as long as it involved using tools with destructive potential.  We liked axes and blowtorches, but those weren’t required for a fence-building project.  Hammers would have to do.

I guess we thought this was going to be a free-for-all.  We swung the hammer around like idiot ninjas, pounded a tree, and clubbed the ground to see who could make the deepest indention.  We were enthusiastic, but I can’t say we were so keen on listening and learning.   My dad wasn’t amused.

“Stop it before you hit each other in the head.  Now look, I’ll set the nail myself by tapping it a couple of times.  Then you come along behind me and finish driving it in.”

I took a few clumsy swings and hit everything except the nail head.  The wood of the fence was hopelessly marred.  It looked like a creature had tried to chew a hole through it.

Daddy took the hammer away from me as if to rescue it.  “You hold it this way,” he said, and made me choke up on the handle.

I had to discipline my swing with precision strokes.  This was not the fun I had in mind.  I tried harder and still hit more wood than nail.  I did so poorly I was demoted to holding the nail bag for my younger brother, who was then promoted to the hammer.  He did worse than I, which made me feel better about myself.

The whole project ground to an excruciating crawl as we spent most of our time pulling out bent nails.  Yet the fence got finished, plank by plank, slat be slat.

Now go back with me to a point much earlier than the

summer of ’71.  Jesus said, “I will build my church” (Mt. 16:18).  The question that ought to immediately cross Christian minds is, What does that mean for us?  Do we watch Him do it?  After all, He said, I will build it.

Ephesians 4 indicates we’re definitely supposed to be involved.  Ideas start flowing as to how this should take place.  Gifts, ministries, and activities are everywhere.  We Christians are long on enthusiasm.  But this isn’t to be a free-for-all any more than when my dad built His fence.

Here’s the plan:  “He [the ascended Christ] gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds, and teachers [gifted people] to equip the saints [the typical believers in Christ] for the work of ministry, for the building up of the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:11-12).

According to this verse, for the grand work of church building to take place, two things have to happen: 1.  Gifted believers need to stop thinking it is better and easier to do ministry all by themselves.  They should teach so that others can do.  2.  The typical believer needs to stop watching gifted folks and thinking it is much better and easier that “professionals” do ministry work.  They should learn and do.

The will of God has an on-ramp, and this is it.  Either do and teach or learn and do.  Hopefully, both.

No doubt the Lord could have finished the church in twenty-four hours if He wanted.  Or He could have exclusively flooded every gathering of Christians with apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers.

Instead, He has decided you’re going to help.

From the point Jesus declared His vision to build the church two thousand years ago, progress has crept forward under His supervision.  Hands-on labor comes from the building expertise of some frazzled gifted folks and their enthusiastic, but sometimes slow-to-learn apprentices.

Sounds like a terrible way to do things.  Yet Jesus will continue doing it “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ“ (Eph. 4:13).

Put another way, this effort will be completed.

Two thousand years.  That’s a lot of bent nails and chewed up wood, false starts, crooked slats, and do-overs.

Jesus is fine with it that way.



Photo credit:  Brittany Greene

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s