During the westward movement, many started on their journey not knowing where the trail would take them but they all had a vision and a dream. In 1843, some 1,000 men, women, and children climbed aboard their wagons and steered their horses west out of the small town of Elm Grove, Missouri. The train comprised more than 100 wagons with a herd of 5,000 oxen and cattle trailing behind, their eyes always focused on the promised land they would find out west in California and Oregon.
At some point on their way, one man proposed to steal an Indian pony and the rest of the group, worried about the consequences, decided to try the man before the entire company. This event caused much discussion about the need for rules of conduct. This was required so that the train could move as one body, one unit. A committee was formed to discuss it but decided that no law other than the moral code enacted by the Creator and recorded in every man’s heart was all that was required.
The wagon train would travel at around two miles an hour. This enabled the settlers to average ten miles a day. With good weather, the 2,000 mile journey from Missouri to California and Oregon would take about five months. The wagon train was no longer a group of individuals but had now become a body moving as one unit on journey on a common goal. During the long trip, sometimes parts of the body would be in need of repair, as 2000 miles could put a strain on the body, much as our journey does to our own bodies.
Many times spare parts were needed to continue on the long journey. Extra wheels, tongues, yokes, things needed to keep the body going, and other necessities were carried in the wagon. Often these extra items were shared among the rest of the body so that the journey could be continued. One part, working to help another part, could function for the benefit of the body.
As time progressed, our method of travel changed but spare parts were still needed to keep the body going. Where would we be with out the spare tire?
The act of keeping spare parts, to some, is more of a pattern for their life. I was recently talking to Roger about Dennis. The other day we needed something from the back of Dennis’s truck. In looking for what we needed, we had to sift through a mountain of bolts, tools, receiver hitches, and every means of extra parts that might be needed to keep his vehicle going. He has a pick-up truck but would never be able to haul anything for all the extra stuff he has.
Keeping the human body going sometimes requires spare parts. Many of you have most likely had to have some work done on the body. Some of you may have seen Dr. Scarbrough to obtain a set of replacement teeth. False teeth have been around since 700 B.C. and, at the time, were made from walrus, hippo or elephant tusks. Many people wore ivory dentures even though the material deteriorated quickly. In fact, these types of dentures were still being worn in the early 1800s.
Some of you may have had knee replacements. Over time, the wearing down of the cartilage made it harder for you to walk and for your body to continue on its journey. Many have lost limbs, either by accident, illness, or unforeseen occurrence. This also makes the journey difficult. Again, there spare parts which enable to body to once again continue on its journey.
Medical advancement has been able to use replacements even for the heart, the body’s muscle for pushing life-giving blood through the body. Veins from your legs can be used to repair your heart and hearts have been replaced by donors whose whose journey has stopped and even mechanical hearts made by man. These spare parts allow the body’s journey to continue.
In 1975, through a series of unfortunate events, I severed the thumb on my right hand. The doctors were able to stitch it back and did the best they could to keep the nerves intact. My thumb works just fine even though I have no feeling in it, except on cold days and it is the first part of my body to feel the cold. I was lucky to be able to keep my thumb. But with medical advancements today, even big toes can become a thumb.
The church body, like the human body, sometimes finds itself in need of replacement parts. The Body of Christ, like all bodies, is comprised of many parts. There are limbs, organs, and various members that, when left alone, are useless; but when assembled these limbs, organs, and various members make up the entire body. 1 Corinthians 12.12-14 describes it like this:
12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.
Many churches have no clear guidelines on what it means to be a part of the body of Christ; nor what role each must play in that body.
Just as human body parts fail and need to be replaced, so do the body parts of the church. Sometimes the parts need to be replaced so that the church body can continue on its journey.
Over time, our own church body here at Fairfax Baptist Church has gone through several body part replacements. Since it was formed in 1884 until 2019, our church has had 36 pastors. That is one pastor every 3.75 years. Since 1960, when my life’s journey started, we have had eight music directors, myself being one. Over time, Sunday school teachers have come and gone. Deacons, mission directors, and workers of many kinds have been replaced.
Now to be clear, all of these changes were not due to damage or to a part failing to function. Sometimes replacements happen as a natural progression of the body’s journey; just like children losing a tooth and having a new one grow in its place.
However, just like the human body, there are warning signs to tell us that parts of the body are wearing down or may be in need of replacement. Many times, infections enter the body resulting in sickness and causing the body to fight itself for survival.
In the church, these infections/sicknesses are things like gossip, self-serving church members, lack of prayer, low expectations, failure to evangelize, or power groups. These infections wear down the body, causing it parts to become weak as it fights itself to survive. This weakness makes the journey difficult for the body to continue.
Just as in the human body, we tend to ignore these signs and, over time, matters become worse. We tell ourselves that we are okay or that we will heal and all will be good. We put off going to the doctor or the dentist because the pain is not all that bad or we just don’t have the time.
Sometimes, we have to face the reality of a sickness before we are willing to seek treatment.
As part of the church body we must each take a close look at ourselves to see if we suffer from the symptoms that make us weaken the body. These symptoms are:
Your heart no longer beats for the mission. (1) This doesn’t mean the mission is wrong. It might just mean that God is calling you to do something else. This may have been the case of many of our past pastors who felt the calling to go elsewhere. Others felt the need to leave the ministry.
You begin to hear things come out of your mouth that you don’t really think or feel. You are just going through the motions; saying and doing the right things because that is what those around you expect. Your position in the body requires you to maintain an image. You become confused or aggravated because you are unsure of what you really believe.
You find yourself watching the clock longing for the time to leave. You are anxious to leave church or worship and be somewhere else. Looking for other places to be on Sunday or during times when you are expected to serve could show that you’re no longer invested.
Your main reason to stay is because of tradition. You are in church because your family has always been in church. You serve because it is tradition; i.e. “My family always serves in the church.” You know in your heart that you’d walk away in a second if there was a way not to offend your family tradition. This is a sign your heart isn’t in it.
At the end of your time away, you begin to get tense and dread going back. On days you are away from the church or your responsibilities, you fear going back. This is a sign that you no longer enjoy and find value in what you do.
You don’t trust your leader. Outwardly, you are supporting your pastor, but inwardly, you find yourself questioning him more all the time. If you are honest with yourself, you find that you no longer trust him.
You no longer tithe to your own church. Giving is a heart issue and it often indicates you don’t trust the way the church is handling the money. You may also feel that all the church ever does is ask for money; i.e. “We place so much value on keeping our own lives in the black, why should we have to support so many other functions?”
You are worn out. You are not investing your energy in moving the mission forward. You are tired of debating ministry philosophy and arguing over methods of doing things in your church body. You feel like you are banging your head against the wall over the same issues again and again.
Now, if after hearing this any of you feel that you fall into the above heading, I want to let you in on something. I was humbled and convicted on several of these. This, however, does not mean we give up. We still have a role and a function in the church body.
Sometimes replacements are necessary; we must be prepared for when that time comes.
The idea for this sermon came to me right after the passing of Ferd Ray. As I thought, I reflected on the different members I have known in my life time that have passed on. The music person in me always seems to turn to songs when I am in deep thought. In 1985, George Jones wrote a song in honor of all the great country music singers that have passed called, “Who’s Gonna Fill their Shoes?”
To fill their shoes, who is going to replace them? Who is going to fill the gap that has been left in the body?
Who will be Sunday school teachers, like Virginia Swan or Minnie Vaught? Who will be music leaders like Gil Johnson? Who is going to sing praise like Jess Johnson?
This past Good Friday, while Cindy and I sat in the service, we heard a woman singing the refrain to the hymns. As we listened, we both realized that she sounded just like Jenny Johnson.
Who will be prayer warriors like Ola Thayer, Louise Pope, Olga, Earl and Helen Sons, Aunt Minnie, Aunt Molly, Beth Miles, Dale and Dorothy Grubb, Vernie and Euthel Smith, Aaron Simmons, Gladys Davis, Zeta Wiley Fern and Daryl Jones?
Who is going to pray as these members prayed? On May 5, we will be having a study on prayer, “Making Prayer Important.” This is all well and good, but will we be able to learn as much from a video over what we could have learned from these powerful prayer warriors?
This is by no means the full list of our past body. And I am sure many of you remember others from your past that I have not mentioned here.
Looking forward, where will our body be when there is no Doyne Swan, Leona Ray, Janice Pierce, Dean and Lois Wiley, Roger and Ann Martin or Alva and Dixie Stoner?
Think about who will fill your shoes if you were to no longer be a part of this body. We need to mentor and train the younger parts of the body for service, remembering that we were young once also.
Ephesians 4:12 says, “To prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.”
During heated discussion at a business meeting here at Fairfax Baptist years ago, I asked this question: “How old do you have to be to be an adult in this church?” (Now to be clear, I was in my early 40’s at this time.) The answer I got was “We will let you know.”
Now I am sure this was not intended to be as bad as it sounded, but how often does one part of the body tell another part they are not important?; i.e., “You just sit back and watch; we have this under control.”
Paul describes members of the body, not by what they should receive in a local church, but by the ministry they should give. Sometimes that giving comes after we have exited from this life.
I want you to take a minute and think about James Pope. Jim was an organ donor. Because of this, many people were given a second chance to continue their life’s journey. We will never know the number of people that Jim helped through his final act of ministry.
There may be someone here in our church, or someone you know, who has been given that second chance; whose life has been made better from what are known as cadaver donations.
Every part of the body needs the opportunity to give. Every part of the body needs to know they are a part of the body.
Often, we look only to the pastor to equip God’s people for service to the body; i.e. “He is the head of the body; that is why we pay him; he is the head and I am just a finger or a toe.”
When, in reality, it is the job of every member, every part of the body, to equip, mentor, and to train, so that the body can remain healthy.
If we do not mentor the younger parts of the body to be replacements in time of need, then the body will fail.
You prayer warriors? Teach others how to pray. Mentor them and walk them through the importance of prayer.
The church body’s overall mission extends well beyond its initial responsibility of preaching the gospel. The Church body must also teach the younger parts, to observe all things that Jesus commanded; to prepare them to care for the body as they grow in it.
Many years ago, an older member of this church stated, “If it wasn’t for the older members, this church would fail. The younger people just don’t have the commitment.” Is it that they don’t have the commitment? Or is it that we don’t have the commitment to see that what we have done for the body continues?
If you feel this way, what have you done to mentor and prepare the younger members to take your place when you have passed? If you feel you are important in this body, who is going to fill your shoes when you are gone?
As I stated in my last sermon, it take exercise and commitment to see that the sick and failing parts of the body are cared for so that they may heal.
It is the job of each part of the body to see that infection does not grow and cause part(s) of the body to be severed.
Just as the settlers kept and maintained the extra parts so the journey could be completed, we must also, as a church body, maintain our spare parts for our journey.
Benjamin Franklin Once said:
“For want of a nail the shoe was lost;
For want of a shoe the horse was lost;
For want of a horse the rider was lost; all for want of a nail.”
What will be lost to the body, all for the want of a replacement? Now you may say, “We are strong. We can get by without a part here and there.”
That may very well be true, and many have learned to live, and even function, with the loss of various parts.
But just like the settlers on their journey west to what they considered the promised land, the church body must work together to keep their eyes on the Promised Land that we call God’s Kingdom.
Our JOURNEY letter for today is: Y – YOU
Take a close look at yourself. Are you doing all you can to build up the body?
Are you helping to prepare and mentor your replacement for the time when you can no longer do your part?
Are you holding on to something just for the sake of holding on to it?
Are you holding back other parts not allowing the body to grow?
(1) Information gathered from: The Church that Jesus Built by Ron Hutchison and How Do I Know When It’s Time to Leave a Church? by Dr. Roger Barrier.