The Five Functions of the Church

By Rev. Mark Feldmeir, Senior Pastor at St. Andrew UMC

The Acts of the Apostles, The Letters of Paul, and the Pastoral Epistles show the church in its formative stages.   A careful reading of those texts allows us to see the general shape of the functions of the early church.  Those functions can be summarized in five Greek words that outline what the church is called to be and to do.

Training — Didache

“the way you learned Christ” ~ Ephesians 4:20

"Didache" (pronounced “did-a-kay”) is the mark of a Christian community in which all are being trained/formed in the way of Jesus.  We notice that when Paul writes to the Ephesians he does not speak of them learning “about Christ.”  Instead, he talks of “learning Christ” in the same way that we might describe someone “learning Spanish.”  We believe that living as a Christian community in a sea of consumerism and individualism is akin to being trained as apprentices in the peculiar ways of a foreign culture.  Through this training we are shaped in the ways of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who seeks and saves the lost.

Learning Christ - didache -involves living the biblical story in our lives and life together, and living as Christ’s apprentices in the world.

“Now this I affirm and insist on in the Lord: you must no longer live as the Gentiles live, in the futility of their minds.  They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance and hardness of heart.  They have lost all sensitivity and have abandoned themselves to licentiousness, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. That is not the way you learned Christ!  For surely you have heard about him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus.  You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” ~ Ephesians 4:17-24

Worship — Liturgia

“Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy” ~ Exodus 20:8

Our life is rooted in worship.  The Greek word for worship is "liturgia" - a public work undertaken by some on behalf of all.  In worship we turn to God on behalf of the world.

Liturgia is the celebrative ministry of the church—the ministry of praise and worship.  The first worship services were liturgical gatherings, which followed essentially a "Christianized" synagogue liturgical framework, and met in sections of homes quartered off especially for worship.  Christians considered each other to be brothers and sisters, each contributing their respective gifts to the community.

Gatherings featured hymns, prescribed prayers, and readings, especially from the Hebrew Scriptures.  Because the New Testament had not yet been written, Christ's teachings were primarily transmitted through the liturgy, hymns and prayers, and through oral tradition.

Community — Koinonia

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.” ~ John 13:34

"Koinonia" is the mark of a Christian community that is seeking to keep Jesus' new commandment - to love one another, as we have been loved by God in Christ.  The word “coin” comes from the Greek word koinonia because it refers to the common currency of life.  In Christian community the common currency of God's love teaches us to practice love of neighbor, love of stranger, even love of enemy.  Here, we are learning the ways of hospitality, acceptance, compassion, of telling the truth in love, and of seeking forgiveness and reconciliation.

The essential meaning of Koinonia embraces the English words like community, communion, sharing, mutual participation, and intimacy.  The first usage of the word in the New Testament is found in Acts 2:42-47.

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and the prayers.  Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles.  All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.  Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.  And day by day the Lord added to their numbers those who were being saved.”

The word was also used to designate not only the communal nature of church life, but the special communion found in the Lord’s Supper, which was at the center of worship in the early church.  The word that Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 10:16 for the participation in the bread and the cup is the word “Koinonia.”

“The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing [Koinonia] in the blood of Christ?  The bread that we break, is it not a sharing [Koinonia] in the body of Christ?” 

Koinonia means the sharing of and sharing in community with others. 

Service — Diakonia

"Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.” ~ John 13:5

Jesus provides his followers with a model for Christian service when he becomes a servant.  The word for service in Greek is “diakonia.”  Our English word “ministry” comes from the Latin word for “service.”  A critical mark of Christian communal living is a commitment to serving Christ by serving those in need of compassion and care.

Diakonia is a collective notion for many kinds of activities, services, and actions.  It was a service of the apostles in general and in particular the raising of funds for the Jerusalem community (cf. 2 Cor. 8:4).  It is the root word for our word “deacon,” and means one who serves.  Acts 6:1-6 describes the need that initiated the installation of the first deacons:

“Now during those days, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food.  And the twelve called together the whole community of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait on tables.  Therefore, friends, select from among you seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task, while we, for our part, will devote ourselves to the word.  What they said pleased the whole community and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, together with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicholus, a proselyte to Anticoh.  They had these men stand before the apostles, who prayed, and laid their hands on them.”

Proclamation — Kerygma

"Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.'" ~ Mark 1:14-15

Christian life is a response to the news that in Jesus Christ the reign of God has arrived.  This proclamation - "kerygma" - is the gospel message of good news that turns our lives toward God.

Kerygma comes from a Greek word that means, “to cry or proclaim as a herald,” and means “proclamation, announcement, or preaching.”  As Jesus launched his public ministry he entered the synagogue and read from the scroll of Isaiah the prophet.  He identified himself as the one Isaiah foretold in Isaiah 61 (Luke 4:17-21).  The text is a programmatic statement of Jesus' ministry to preach or proclaim (Kerygma) good news to the poor and the blind and the captive.

“When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom.  He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him.  He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Kerygma has been summarized as the essence of the Apostle’s preaching after the resurrection, with a specific appeal for repentance, forgiveness, baptism, receiving the Holy Spirit, and salvation.


Session One: Personal Call to Ministry

  • Prior to becoming a pastor, which of these functions of the church most influenced/inspired your personal call to ministry?  Were there particular experiences or people (clergy or laity) in one of these five areas that planted the early seeds of your calling? 
  • Which of these functions did you feel most drawn to as you began to discern and respond to your call to the ministry?  In other words, when you first began to envision your life as a pastor, did you have clear sense of, “I’m called to do that”?
  • Now that you’re serving in full-time ministry, which of these functions brings you the most joy and fulfillment?  Which of these functions do you feel most gifted for right now?  Why?  Which do you feel least gifted for at this time in your ministry?  In other words, what are your greatest strengths, and where are your growing edges?

Session 2: Current Context

  • Given your current context for ministry, which function(s) does your congregation do well?  Are there functions that your congregation values more than the others?
  • Which functions are lacking, or require the most attention, if your congregation is to grow more vital in your community?  Are there particular reasons why these functions have been neglected or diminished?
  • For the 18-35 year old demographic, which of these functions do you believe are most important and urgent? 
  • On a scale of 1 to 5, how would you rate your church in each function? 
  • Can you name colleagues in ministry who are effective/fruitful in at least one of these five areas?  If you wanted to strengthen each of these areas in the life of your church, to whom could you turn for wisdom and counsel?