We did a fascinating activity at church this morning. We read the story of Nehemiah and the Israelites rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. Then someone got us all to line up around the edge of the church and represent the walls. Each of us, they said, is part of the walls of the church. Each of us play our part - whether we preach, play music, go out as missionaries, make the morning tea, mow the grass, or just turn up, each of us is vital to the whole.
Like all good visual/tactile activities, it made me think, and here is what I thought.
1. The work of the church is in the world, not in the church
What was left out of the list was as interesting as what was included. On the list were all the activities that go on within the church institution, from the least prestigious and visible to the most. All are equally valuable and important. So far so good.
What wasn't on the list was anything that took place outside the "church". If the church is a body with a mission, God's visible presence here on earth, then the work of the church is what we do in the wider world. Engineers, accountants, doctors, nurses, sales assistants, garbage collectors - all are playing a vital role in the church not just when they come on Sundays or do their bit of "church" service, but in everything they do. Yet when we pray in our church we pray for our bishops, our ministers, the missionaries and aid workers we support, our administrators and Sunday School teachers, but never for these other church members out there representing God - unless they get sick, then we pray for their health.
2. The work of the church is to spread the kingdom of God
The kingdom of God is where things are done as God wants them to be done. Spreading the kingdom includes leading people to Christ but it is way more than this. It is being God's people in the world. It's very important that we have preachers and teachers and helpers and encouragers who help us to do this. We should pray for each other in these roles. But there's so much more.
If you are a doctor or nurse and you provide excellent care for your patients you are spreading God's kingdom. If you are a financial administrator and you keep thorough, honest accounts you are spreading God's kingdom. If you work in a shoe shop and you welcome people and provide them with shoes that fit them perfectly and look great on them, you are spreading God's kingdom. Not because it might lead to an opportunity to talk to them about Christ, but because this is how God wants things to be. Everything we do matters, not just what we do when we are being "holy". We are being the church at all times, in all places. We need prayer and support to do that well.