A wise friend once told me that, “One can accomplish a lot if he doesn’t care who gets the credit”1. When it comes to working with other people, that has proved to be good advice for me over the years. Although the ultimate credit must be directed to God, who is the source of all truly good things (see James 1:17), He often uses other people to accomplish His goals.
Regardless of the source, though, the point is a good one. In fact, predating even the earliest researched sources in the preceding link (from the mid-1800’s), Paul the apostle seemed to understand the basics of this concept. In the book of Philippians, we find that he didn’t worry too much about who was preaching the truth about Jesus Christ:
Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment.
Philippians 1:15-17 NASB
In this case, some people were actively trying to cause Paul problems, but he was so focused on his goal – and his Savior – that he didn’t seem to much care what happened to his reputation, or who got the credit, as long as souls were being led to Jesus. With Jesus Christ’s glory as Paul’s goal, the result was more important than the credit (or even Paul’s own life…although he knew that something better awaited him on the other side).
What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.
Philippians 1:18-20 NASB
While I think that just about any Christian would agree in principle that the goal is about people finding both salvation and new life in Jesus, we can get territorial about our local church. We worry about “losing” people to another church, perhaps even more than about people who are already lost.
In the extreme case, we may start to refer to those in other congregations as “those guys”, or “that church”. However, all who follow Jesus and His teachings are the church, regardless of what building or location they call their “home base”.2
Sometimes, let’s face it – a given congregation isn’t right for a particular person. We can all be part of the body of Christ on earth, but when a community has enough believers to support more than one congregation of Christians, these groups aren’t expected to look, act, and feel exactly the same.
For instance, another church in my city has an excellent sports ministry, reaching out to children with many different athletic interests. During each practice in their sports camps, a devotion is included for the children, teaching them lessons from the Bible. It doesn’t make sense for every Bible-believing church in the area to try and replicate this sports ministry. Instead, they are freed up to excel in other ministries, like providing food and clothing to those in need, or reaching out to the developmentally-disabled. Overlap is ok, but a team effort of specializations lets every congregation focus on where its members have been gifted.
When someone leaves one church for another, I propose that we should not get too worked up about an individual relocation, but still ask ourselves some questions:
- Are we preaching the truth about Jesus, as He and His immediate followers taught? Some people will be offended by Jesus, and we should not take it personally if someone is uncomfortable with Him. (See 1 Peter 2:7-8) If we are compromising the principles that Jesus taught, though, then a correction is warranted.
- Are we living out what Jesus taught us? Speaking the truth about Jesus, but living entirely differently, is incongruous to those who try to evaluate us as messengers of the good news.
- Are we serving others? Both Christians, and those who have not yet chosen to follow Jesus, need help. Whether they need community, teaching, material goods, accountability, or just a place to serve, it is important that the body of Christ seek to meet the needs that it can. It’s tough to admit that we can’t meet every need, but we can meed some needs, as God blesses us with the ability to do so.
After all, Jesus reminded John of the following:
John answered and said, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name; and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow along with us.” But Jesus said to him, “Do not hinder him; for he who is not against you is for you.”
Luke 9:49-50 NASB
So, celebrate the success of the body of Christ, no matter where it is located. Seek to be a healthy contribution to that body, but rejoice with those who are also contributing to the rescue of souls from the penalty of sin (see Romans 12:15).
- While variations of this phrase have been attributed to many, the following site has some interesting research into a number of writers and speakers that have used it in recent history: http://quoteinvestigator.com/2010/12/21/doing-good-selfless/ ↩
- Note that I cannot, in good conscience, condone those who preach a gospel that is not consistent with what Jesus taught. See 1 John 4:1 for a warning about this. However, when we envy or fret over different ministries and methods used by members of true Christians – followers of Jesus Christ who are teaching the truth – we may have missed the point. ↩