(Edited from August 2012)
Over the years I have been blessed to help with various small building projects on mission trips and around the church. While I don’t have a lot of experience in areas of construction, I’ve enjoyed catching glimpses of skilled craftsmen at work. When these opportunities arise, I often try to learn as much as I can, but I’ve also been reminded of key spiritual truths about the difference between building a structure and building up people in the body of Christ. Whether we see ourselves in “official” ministry or not, each one of us is involved in relationships where we love, serve, and mentor others. As ambassadors of Christ, we are all called to encourage and build up one another in the faith. However, we must remember that this process is very different than constructing a building.
Let me explain: Suppose that I could build a wall. The procedure seems fairly straight forward. I would begin by gathering tools and materials and cutting the lumber to the desired lengths. Then, I would frame the wall, erect it, attach the drywall, and apply the mud. Next would come the trim work, and I would finish the whole thing off with a nice, fresh coat of paint. I’m sure I’ve missed something, but you get the idea. All these tasks take skill, but my point is that I could follow a step-by-step process and at the end of it all, I could sit back and admire my handiwork. I could say to myself, “I’m done with that, and by the way, that’s a good looking wall.”
Building up people is a completely different process. Jesus describes the advancement of the kingdom in a much more organic way. He says, “What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to? It is like the mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air perched in its branches” (Luke 13:18-19). We have to understand that people are like the tree in the parable; they are living organisms. In the example of the tree, the gardener can plant the seed. He can nurture it, making sure that it has the appropriate amounts of water and sunlight, but he can’t make it grow. He does have a part to play, but ultimately he must let nature take its course. And even though the seed starts out as the smallest of seeds, it grows into a great tree that benefits other living creatures.
Similarly, as we encourage one another in the faith, we must understand that it is an organic process and that growth takes time. We can’t just put a few pieces in place, slap some paint on it, and say we’re done. There is no 3-step formula that guarantees growth. However, like the attentive gardener, we have a part to play in cultivating an environment that promotes growth in other believers. We must deal honestly with each other. We need to share our lives with one another and talk about what the Lord is doing among us. We need to speak words of love, peace, hope, and even correction to one another. Worshipping together, praying together, and studying God’s word together are important for the growth of the body as a whole and its individual members.
However, when it comes to building up people we must also remember that it is not our efforts, but God that causes everything to grow. So, we must constantly be aware of the work of the Holy Spirit in the circumstances we face, and in this way, God will help us to strengthen others’ faith. In the midst of this process, the key is to show patience, grace, and love for those we’re serving. People don’t always behave how we would like, and thus, we need to allow for growing room, understanding that God longs to bring us all to maturity in Christ. Finally, remember that God wants to do a great work in our lives and in the lives of the people to whom we minister. Though at times we might feel as insignificant as the tiniest of mustard seeds, God is always at work advancing his kingdom. Just as the birds come to perch in the branches of the tree, so also through the church, God extends his arms to the lost, inviting them to come and find rest.