When the Church is the First Man

A flurry of debate has surrounded the recent announcement by actor Ryan Gosling that a new movie portraying the Apollo 11 lunar landing would not feature the planting of the American flag on the moon. The reaction to this decision by an American filmmaker set many Americans into a righteous fit of indignation; declaring the decision as yet another example of Hollywood’s attempt to sway the culture away from the idea of American exceptionalism. In removing such an important part of one of the most historic events in modern history, “The First Man,” is now being considered persona non grata by many Americans, who perceive this as an attack on what has always been viewed as an American achievement. Adding insult to injury, Gosling stated “I think this [lunar landing] was widely regarded in the end as a human achievement [and] that’s how we chose to view it.” Such a statement has never accurately represented the public’s perception of the event and even as news of this achievement spread across the world in 1969, it was nearly always associated with the word America.

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin, who shared in the historic lunar landing, came to the defense of America by taking exception to such a claim that this event was merely a demonstration of human achievement at large. Like most Americans, NASA astronauts understood the monumental task of launching three people beyond the upper atmosphere and propelling them on their way to an orbiting sphere 238,900 miles away from Earth with all the essentials for life, fuel to land on the Moon, oxygen to sustain three people for three days and complex mathematically calculated orbital trajectories required bringing together a uniquely skilled group of people with personal ambition to achieve what was perceived as impossible. In fact, one of the motivations behind the goal of landing on the Moon was to demonstrate the superiority of the American system over the communist form of government in Russia. It was a goal accomplished through the unique skills and experiences of multiple individuals coalesced into a single team who demonstrated what was possible when people unify behind a common goal and purpose. It was not merely an individual achievement or a human achievement, it was an American achievement.

Consider for a moment the absurdity of labeling the lunar landing an individual achievement. Such a view would require a person to have the training and experience of an aeronautical engineer, electrical engineer, physicist, orbital engineer, mechanical engineer, computer engineer, medical doctor, pilot, navigator, mathematician and countless other skills all combined into one person within one lifetime. Yet, we can sound equally absurd when we live as if the success or future of the church rests solely on one individual or a small group of leaders.

The achievements of the church are not based merely on the activities of the pastor, the elders or an other group of leaders within the church. The biblical model of church leadership certainly involves elders, called to serve as the spiritual leaders of the church, but leaders lead, they don’t just rack up personal achievements for the church. The Apostle Paul reminds us in Ephesians 4:11-12 that church leaders are given to equip the church for ministry and build up the body of believers to achieve Christ’s mission for His church. The church needs more than just leaders. The church needs a local body of believers working together, not only for the sake of evangelism, but strengthening, encouraging and lifting up one another throughout the challenges of living a life of holiness in spite of a sinful world.

Just as the American space program required the unique skills and experiences of multiple people to achieve a lunar landing, so also does the church require multiple people with different backgrounds, skills and experiences. Every Christian is uniquely endowed by the Holy Spirit with a spiritual gift to be used for ministry in the church (1 Cor 12:1-11). The Holy Spirit does not limit spiritual gifts to one person or just the leaders, because each believer is the recipient of a gift. Paul equates this reality to the human body which has many different parts, all of which work together for the common good of the body (1 Cor 12:12-26). Therefore, the mission of the church will not be accomplished through the achievements of one individual or a small subset of Christians, but only when its members unify behind the common goal and purpose established by Christ in God’s Word.

Leaving the success of the church’s mission in the hands of a small group of people is not the way of the Church because it is not the way of Christ. Neither is working merely towards personal achievement. As the head of the Church, Christ is working in and through every believer to accomplish His priorities; actively sustaining the Church through the power of His Word. As leaders we want people engaged and as Christians we should seek to become engaged in Christian ministry by using the gifts God has given us. Ministry is a joint venture, not a sole proprietorship.

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