What is the work of the church?
In Revelation Jesus says to each of the seven churches: I know your works1.
He is not satisfied when the works of a congregation are
inadequate. To the church at Ephesus He says: I have this against
you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from
where you have fallen; repent and do the first works (Revelation
2:4, 5). To the church at Sardis, He says: I have found no works of
yours perfected before my God (Revelation 3:2 WEB). He
commended the church at Thyatira: As for your works, the last are
more than the first (Revelation 2:19).
We must be always abounding in the work of the Lord (1
The work of the church is prescribed in Scripture.
Paul told Timothy: I write so that you may know how you ought
to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the
living God (1 Timothy 3:15).
The work of the church is done by its members.
The church is the body of Christ.2 For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another (Romans 12:4, 5).
Christians are always members of the body of Christ. We are to
do everything in the name of the Lord (Colossians 3:17) and to
present our bodies as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1).
In a sense, then, all that Christians do, is done by the church. But some things are done by individual members and some things are done at the congregational level.3
Because all the work of the church is done by its members
(either in their own name or as a congregation) New Testament
letters addressed to churches deal both with congregational and with
personal matters. A sharp distinction is seldom made because many
things apply to congregations and to members.
Various tasks are entrusted to believers and to congregations.
Individual Christians earn money to support their families.4 Believers are to care for their own relatives (1 Timothy 5:4, 8, 16). If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat (2 Thessalonians 3:10). Lydia was a seller of purple.5 Aquila and Priscilla were tentmakers.6
A church of Christ, however, has not been authorized to operate
a business. Jesus condemned those who conducted business in the
temple: Then Jesus went into the temple of God and drove out all
those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables
of the moneychangers and the seats of those who sold doves. And He
said to them, ‘It is written, My house shall be called a house of
prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves’ (Matthew 21:12,
Jesus condemned dishonest gain, but also using the temple for
something other than its intended purpose! This also applies to the
church. It may not be used for wrongful purposes.
Congregational resources result from free-will offerings on the first day of the week (1 Corinthians 16:1, 2)7 and from special gifts (Acts 4:34, 35). These resources may be used for all assignments God has given the church.
Christians administer their own resources. Referring to the land
Ananias had sold, Peter said: While it remained, was it not your
own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? (Acts
Congregational funds are administered by the elders: Then the disciples, each according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brethren dwelling in Judea. This they also did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul (Acts 11:29, 30).8
What are tasks of a local congregation?
One must read the entire New Testament to get a complete
picture of the tasks of the church. Here are some examples.
1. The church is to assemble.
Christians come together to stir up love and good works (Hebrews 10:24, 25).9
About the Jerusalem congregation we read: And they continued
steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of
bread, and in prayers (Acts 2:42).
This fellowship included friendly association, eating together and
helping one another: Now all who believed were together, and had
all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and
divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with
one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house,
they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart
The believers came together both as a large group (in the
temple) and in smaller groups (in homes). The expression ‘ate their
food with gladness’ refers to ordinary meals, not to the Lord’s supper
as in verse 42. They enjoyed being together and they enjoyed eating
Where a congregation is to meet is not specified. Meetings were held in the temple at Jerusalem,10 in an upper room,11 in homes,12 and in their own synagogues: For if there come into your synagogue a man with a gold ring, etc. (James 2:2). Some translations have ‘assembly’ for ‘synagogue’, but it is synagogue in Greek.13
The command to assemble authorizes a congregation to make arrangements for a place to meet.14
2. The church assembles to eat the Lord’s supper.
The church assembles on the first day of the week to break bread (Acts 20:7).15 The Jerusalem church continued steadfastly in the breaking of bread16. The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? (1 Corinthians 10:16).17
3. The church prays and sings to God.
The Jerusalem church continued steadfastly in prayers.18 In the assembly, Christians sing with the spirit and with the understanding (1 Corinthians 14:15), speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in their heart to the Lord (Ephesians 5:19).
Singing is melodious speaking. Unspiritual songs are excluded, of
course, but the general command to sing includes all types of singing
whether in unison or with harmony, whether in the chromatic scale or
some other scale, whether in a major or minor key. It is all singing.
If the command had been to make music instrumental music
would be included. But the command to sing excludes non-vocal
4. The church preaches the gospel.
And He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the
gospel to every creature’ (Mark 16:15). No single congregation or
individual can preach to everyone in the world. All Christians and
congregations work together to carry out this assignment.
Exactly how the gospel is to be preached, is not said. Thus Christians and congregations may decide the best way to go (on foot, by boat, by train, or by airplane) because they have been given the general command19 to go. They also make use of available means of proclamation (sermons, tracts, newspapers, radio, TV, Internet) because they have been given the general command to preach.
Christians preach both in their own vicinity and in other parts of the world. Some go and others support those who go20 (Romans 10:11-15).
5. The church teaches disciples to obey Christ.
Then Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has
been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make
disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father
and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all
things that I have commanded you’ (Matthew 28:18-20).
God gave apostles and prophets in the first century to found the church (Ephesians 2:20) and evangelists, elders and teachers for all times to build up the church21 (Ephesians 4:11-16).
To teach disciples to observe all that Christ has commanded,
each congregation provides instruction according to its needs, abilities
Exactly how the instruction is organized is not prescribed. Such details may be decided by each congregation according to their own circumstances. Many congregations, for example, have special classes for children of various ages, for women, for people with various levels of knowledge,22 and to train men for leadership.23
6. The church is financed by gifts from its members.
A collection is taken on the first day of the week. Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also: On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside,24 storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come (1 Corinthians 16:1, 2).
This example authorizes a congregation to have a collection on the first day of the week and to form a treasury from which needs can be met.25 Special contributions may also be given (Acts 4:34, 35).
7. The church does good works.
Paul prayed that the church at Colosse might be fruitful in every
good work (Colossians 1:10). Pure religion includes helping orphans
and widows (James 1:27).
In connection with the gifts collected by the church at Corinth,26 Paul says that they shared with the saints and with all men. For the administration of this service not only supplies the needs of the saints, but also is abounding through many thanksgivings to God, while, through the proof of this ministry, they glorify God for the obedience of your confession to the gospel of Christ, and for your liberal sharing with them and all men (2 Corinthians 9:12, 13).27 By doing good, the church brings glory to God.
In the letter to the churches of Galatia (Galatians 1:2) Paul
wrote: And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due
season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have
opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the
household of faith (Galatians 6:9, 10).
Since the church cannot alleviate all needs, fellow Christians
In the second letter to the church of the Thessalonians28 Paul wrote: But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary in doing good (2 Thessalonians 3:13).
Jesus is our example: He went about doing good29 (Acts 10:38). One of His distinctive teachings is that we should do good to all, not just to brethren (Matthew 5:46, 47).
The church at Jerusalem (with more than 5000 members30) distributed food daily to the widows (Acts 6:1-4). The church is to support older, godly widows, who have insufficient help from their family (1 Timothy 5:3-16).
Congregations helped brethren in other places who were in need because of famine.31 This help was extended to all (2 Corinthians 9:12, 13).
8. The church appoints elders and deacons.
After seven men had been sought out by the church at
Jerusalem, they were appointed by the apostles to take care of the
widows (Acts 6:3).
The appointment of elders and deacons who meet the Biblical qualifications, may be done with the help of an evangelist. Paul told Titus: For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you (Titus 1:5).32
9. The church withdraws from Christians who persist in sin.
A congregation may not allow its members to bring reproach on the church by their conduct or by false teaching. After a loving attempt to bring the person to repentance, if he refuses to repent, he must be excluded from the fellowship (1 Corinthians 5:11-13).33
A congregation can give letters of recommendation to traveling
Christians to confirm that they may be accepted as fellow believers (2
May our works be acceptable to God!
We have examined several tasks God has given the church. The
church is to assemble for worship and for other suitable purposes. A
collection is taken on the first day of the week and special
contributions may also be given. With these resources the gospel is
preached and believers are edified. The church does good, especially
to believers. The church appoints qualified men as elders and
deacons, and withdraws fellowship from those who persist in sin.
These are some examples of works of the church.
Both in our daily lives and as a church, let us be always
abounding in the work of the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:58). Let your
light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and
glorify your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16). Amen.
The Scripture quotations in this article are from The New King James Version. ©1979,1980,1982, Thomas Nelson Inc., Publishers unless indicated otherwise. Permission for reference use has been granted.
Published in The Old Paths Archive