Looking across the yard – there is one tree that stands out from it’s neighbors: it’s bare. It was only a few weeks ago that the tree was full of leaves. It was only when it began to turn brown did we suspect something was wrong, after all, it’s only half-way through the summer. As it’s leaves began to fall, we noticed that there were a few trees alongside the first that had just begun to turn brown, all of them the same species. After a few storms, what few leaves there were left had been blown away. Without leaves, there can be no photosynthesis. Sunlight cannot be converted into sugar, energy cannot be stored, and that energy cannot fuel next season’s growth. It is only the roots of the tree that can keep it alive – and that is assuming that the origin of the problem isn’t in the roots. If it is, then the tree’s chances of being restored to health are greatly diminished. While I was learning about trees, I learned that they have fifty thousand to seven hundred thousand leaves.
It reminded me of the recent report that some two hundred thousand Southern Baptists had left their church. Some went to other denominations, but some are likely done with church altogether. Their loss represents a ‘root problem’ in the church that affects the whole organism. When Scripture refers to the Church as a body, what parts are mentioned? Foot, hand, ear, eye, nose, and head. Some of the people that left had to represent a little of each part. Somebody who was tripped up or tied up. Somebody whose senses went ignored when they heard, saw, or smelled that something was wrong. Somebody who was a part of the head and saw the others were in effect saying: ‘And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”’ The truth is that all of them are needed and vital if the whole church is to be a body that has full mobility, full vision, full hearing, full use of it’s strength, and full wisdom to put it all to good use. As it is, our church is nothing like that. We don’t even know which ‘parts’ have left us – and what that leaves us able to do without them.
The worst thing about a ‘root problem’ is that it takes out not only the affected tree, but can effect any neighboring tree so long as it’s the same species. Which means that a whole denomination is at risk – and not just the one church that belongs to it. But the way that most churches operate; spectator style, doesn’t lend itself toward seeing the church as a body of believers. A group of people who have different parts to play to achieve a common goal. If somebody realized that they were meant to lend a hand (other than applause), then they might wonder what they can do to help out. If somebody realized that they were meant to be the boots on the ground, then they might wonder how they could get some support in place wherever they’re going. With such a variety of parts and tasks, it seems odd to me that there’s such a limited selection of approved ministries. Not only that, but giftings are also restricted. If Christians really believed that the Holy Spirit inspires anyone to teach, then they might want to let that teacher teach. But that’s not always the case. There are people who have the gifts and that’s not enough to get the church to stop hindering the use of those gifts.
It is our world, and we are a part of it, just as a branch is part of a tree. Do you see branches tearing leaves off one another? No! Do you see roots hoarding water from the trunk? No! – Star Trek Voyager, Doctor’s sermon from ‘Spirit Folk’