I recently heard an anecdote about a college professor in a life sciences course who often asked this “stumper” question on a test: Of the six nutrients that are essential to building and maintaining a healthy life, which is the most important? While the students were usually able to name the six nutrients – carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals, and water – they often struggled to identify the most important. The professor answered the question: “The one that’s missing.” While each nutrient is essential, none is more essential than the others until it is missing. Nutritionists might argue about the specific balance among these nutrients, but they would all agree that the absence of any one of these elements can become a matter of life or death.
It’s not much different with a church. It’s pretty easy to search the Scriptures to identify elements of a healthy church. Acts 2:42 calls attention to fact that the early church “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Some would point to The Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15) and The Great Commandments (Matthew 22:37-39; Mark 12:29-31). From last month’s sermon series in Titus, we could say that leaders who hold on to the Bible are essential (Titus 1:5, 9). We might consider reducing a long series of lists to fit into more manageable categories, as Rick Warren did in his book The Purpose Driven Church: worship, discipleship, fellowship, ministry, and evangelism; and that would likely cover everything. But among all those lists – and I am sure I am missing some elements – which is most important? Again, I think we would have to agree: the one that’s missing.
Now, don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that if we discover the “one thing” that’s missing and focus on that, we will solve all of our problems in the church. I don’t believe that there are any “silver bullets” in ministry, but I do think there’s value in trying to figure out what’s missing.
Unfortunately, trying to figure out what’s missing from the church usually requires more self-examination than anything else. Consider Paul’s words in Romans 12:1-3
Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will. For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.
When you think about what’s missing from the church, think about what could be missing in your own relationship with God. Do you think of the worship service as a time for you to be “filled” or as a time to offer yourself to God? Do you expect the church to meet your expectations or has your mind been transformed to think of others? Do you focus on what you want or on God’s will for you and for the church?
Does that kind of “sober judgment” make you praise God for his mercy? Does it make you think that the missing element is something you have to offer? Maybe that measure of faith that God has given you has grown a bit.