October 16, 2013

Pastoral lessons from the church as a building

by Jesse Johnson

The New Testament often describes the church as a building. Jesus is the “living stone” that makes our foundation, but all believers are also “living stones…being built up as a spiritual house” (1 Peter 2:5).

Paul uses this same metaphor and stresses the progressive nature of it. He writes that believers are “built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone” (Eph 2:20). But then he notes that, “the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit” (v. 21-22).

building prjoect

In other words, the work is on going. We ARE being built…right now the work is continuing. And if the church is an ongoing building project, that affects the way pastors view their work. In fact, this is exactly Paul’s point in 1 Corinthians 3:9-14). The work is ongoing, and that should seriously affect the way pastors view their work.

Here are eight brief ways the building metaphor should affect how church leaders view their ministry:  

  1. It’s not finished yet. God is actually working in a supernatural way in our midst right now. His work is on hearts, he is the architect, and he is using the leaders of his church as contractors. In other words, by working with Christians, we are working with God’s building project.
  2. We are all works in progress. The church is built with people, by people. We are the living stones. None of us are completed, and this should cause us to show extreme patience toward others, and extreme urgency with our own sanctification.
  3. Of course there are problems in the church. Because of the ongoing and incomplete work in the church, there are obviously going to be things that don’t work right. If you are building a house and you haven’t turned the water on in the kitchen, obviously the dishwasher is not going to work, so don’t be flabbergasted when you press the start button and nothing happens (or the kitchen floods). In the church, it is a little silly to be shocked that some things are not done well, or not done properly, or are done with faulty motivations. There are going to be contradictions because the work is not complete yet.
  4. The people are all important, in that we are all working to build. We are all on a building committee. The point of all of our theology is to glorify God, but in the church he is glorified on hearts of flesh. In other words, his glory is seen in transformed lives, and thus we pour out ourselves on the work, which is to say that we pour out ourselves in discipleship.
  5. The work is global. The same work is being done in other street corners in your city, as well as other parts of the world. We should realize that not every church (on the outside) looks like ours. But on the inside, there is similarity, because we have the same builder.
  6. The building is historic. We lean on what happened in the past. We are built on the foundation of what has gone before, and thus We have continuity with generations that have gone before us. We are not reinventing ourselves any more than a builder would change his entire approach to construction half-way through a project. We stand on the shoulders of those who were building the same building before we got here.
  7. There is no end in sight. We don’t finish our corner of work and go home. There is always another room to add or another project to finish. In our earthly life, we will not see the finished product. That should (again) give us patience and endurance, as well as a long-term view of our ministry.
  8. Only faith sees the building that God intends. With our own eyes, we cannot see the completed work. But with faith, we know that God is going to be faithful himself to carry the work to completion on the day when Jesus returns. In the meantime, we labor and build by faith, not by sight.

Are there any other implications from the building metaphor that come to mind?


Jesse Johnson

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Jesse is the Teaching Pastor at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, VA. He also leads The Master's Seminary Washington DC location.
  • Terry

    SHOW UP FOR WORK. Being hurt isn’t an excuse to stop meeting together. We were born of the Spirit but still made of flesh and getting burned or hurt is inevitable. I could not think of a better place to learn and practice Christlike love. When the workers don’t show up the other workers suffer. It’s not only what we do that affects others it’s what we don’t do. (spiritually speaking) Hebrews 10:24-25 “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

  • Ted Bigelow

    Hi Jesse,

    A couple implications come to mind:

    1) The Church is primarily an institution, not a set of relationships. The relationships of its members, both with God and with each other, are defined by the institution, and not vice-versa.

    Proof: Prior to us enjoying relationships in our churches we are built onto a pre-existing foundation (Eph. 2:20).

    2) That foundation is not people, but teaching. Or to put it another way, the institution of the church is itself defined by its foundation, which is doctrine. These doctrines may be easily known by all since they are explained in both precept and example in the 27 books of the canonical Christian Scriptures.

    Proof: The foundation is comprised of both Christ and the apostles/prophets. Of the former it is said “he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near” (Eph. 2:17). Yet Christ Himself, in His incarnate ministry, never preached to the “far off” (i.e., Gentiles). This refers then to the preaching of Christ through His apostles and prophets to both Jew and Gentile after His ascension.

    Therefore Christ’s own preaching is given to us only in the Christian Scriptures which are the only documents of the teaching ministry of the apostles/prophets. Just as the cornerstone measures the remaining foundation stones of a temple, so Christ’s ministry of inspiration measures all the preaching of His apostles and prophets to the church.

    • I agree with you that we are on a theological foundation. I think that’s well said. But I’m always weary of making that in tension with relationships–I see the two working in concert.

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