The Body of Christ, Fully Alive
“The glory of God is man fully alive,” wrote Irenaeus, one of the early church fathers. Fully alive.
Though Irenaeus was referring to Jesus Christ, the phrase still strikes me. Think of it: when a man, woman, young person, or child is fully alive—when that person is fully living life as God made him or her—God is glorified. Fully alive. I like that. It resonates with my experience and my theology.
Have you seen people fully alive? Picture a family gathering where people come together to celebrate a child’s birthday, and the relatives are talking, laughing, eating, and singing. Think of how they use all five senses: looking around the room at the rest of the family, singing “Happy Birthday,” smelling the wisp of smoke as the candles get blown out, tasting the cake and ice cream, touching the smooth wrapping paper and hearing it tear, hugging and kissing each other. Picture all the best of a family birthday celebration and you’ll see people fully alive. I think God smiles when he sees his children celebrate.
Now picture a congregation that is fully alive. Imagine people coming together and greeting both old friends and visiting guests with warmth and enthusiasm. See people worshiping, singing their hearts out to God in praise, praying individually and corporately, hearing the Word spoken and proclaimed, responding in joyful giving. And then see the church going out as the body of Christ into the world, using all the gifts, abilities, and talents that God has given as they invest themselves in people and community. Picture the very best of a church and you’ll see people fully alive. I know God smiles when he sees his children live like this.
This is my vision for the Synod of the Heartland. I have a picture of congregations in small towns, suburbs, and cities that use every gift, every talent, and every ability to be the church for which Jesus gave his life. Can you see your church fully alive?
Since I began as synod ministry coordinator, my wife Peg and I have worshiped with more than a dozen congregations. One of them, First Reformed Church of Inwood, Iowa, is a small-town church that was struggling to stay alive a few years ago.
When we visited, construction at the church meant that people had to rather awkwardly enter through a side door at the front of the sanctuary. Greeters smiled, shook our hands, and apologized for the inconvenience. The sanctuary filled up with young families, lots of kids, and some seniors as well. We could practically feel a buzz in the building.
Pastor Rob Horstman led worship, which included baptizing someone and welcoming a family as new members. Following the service, we shook a lot of hands and were shown construction drawings—a new entrance and gathering space, some additional sanctuary seating, and an education area. In our hour of worship and our time with church members, Peg and I both felt something about this congregation—a buzz, a spark, a spirit—yes! the Holy Spirit present in the life of First Reformed. And by the power of the Spirit this congregation is being transformed and is transforming. The glory of God is the church, fully alive!
There are many other churches in the Heartland that are fully alive. It’s wonderful to see and experience! My vision for our synod is to be 150 congregations that are glorifying God, growing his kingdom, impacting their communities, starting new congregations, and making disciples who make disciples—in short, being the body of Christ, fully alive!
Tom Smith is the Synod of the Heartland ministry coordinator.
[Photo courtesy Tom Smith]