What is the work of the church?

In Revelation Jesus says to each of the seven churches: “I know your works”1.

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 Corinthians 15:58).

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, 13).

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 5:4).

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” (Acts 2:44-46).

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 together.

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 music.

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 and opportunities.

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 have priority.

In the second letter “to the church of the Thessalonians”28 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 good”29 (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 Corinthians 3:1).

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.
Roy Davison

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


1 Revelation 2:2, 9, 13, 19; 3:1, 8, 15. This is according to the Textus Receptus and the Majority Text. A few manuscripts lack this statement for Smyrna and Pergamos.

2 Ephesians 1:22, 23.

3 A Christian, for example, may place an ad offering to study the Scriptures with people. He does not have to ask anyone’s permission to do this if he uses his own name and address, and pays for it himself. He may not do something in the name of a congregation, however, without asking permission. This also applies to preachers. They may preach whenever and wherever they wish. But they may not do something in the name of a congregation without permission.

4 Christians may not burden the church with their personal responsibilities. Believers are commanded to work with their own hands so they will lack nothing (1 Thessalonians 4:11, 12). Christians are to work in quietness and eat their own bread (2 Thessalonians 3:11, 12). They must work with their hands so they will have something to give to those who are in need (Ephesians 4:28). Children and grandchildren ought to help their needy mother or grandmother (1 Timothy 4:4, 16). The church has a back-up responsibility with regard to such needs (1 Timothy 5:16).

5 Acts 16:14.

6 Acts 18:2.

7 See also 2 Corinthians 9:7.

8 This proves that one congregation may send funds to another congregation. Division has been caused by some who condemn churches that send funds to another congregation for mission work. Although this instance relates to benevolent work, the principle, like the Sunday collection, applies to all works a congregation is authorized to do.

9 Christians assembled to pray for Peter when he was in prison (Acts 12:5, 12) and to hear a report given by missionaries (Acts 14:27). Everything must be done decently and in order (1 Corinthians 14:40).

10 Acts 2:26; 5:12.

11 Acts 20:8.

12 Romans 16:5; 1 Corinthians 16:19; Colossians 4:15; Philemon 2.

13 In the New Testament, the word usually refers to a meeting house. The statement ‘come into your synagogue’ suggests a building, as does the reference to seating arrangements. Compare with Mark 1:21; Luke 4:16; Acts 18:19; 19:8.

14 The meeting place has no special meaning for Christians because under the New Covenant the believers themselves are the temple of God (1 Peter 2:4, 5). Thus special rules about what may or may not be done in ‘the church building’ have no Scriptural foundation because a congregation can just as easily meet in a field, under a tree, in a cave, or in someone’s home. What one may do in the assembly or with congregational resources are Scriptural questions.
Discord is sometimes sown by people claiming that Christians may not eat in a building that belongs to the church. To support this they usually appeal to Paul’s statement: “What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in?” (1 Corinthians 11:22). In that context, however, Paul is discussing a situation where the Lord’s table was being degraded to a regular meal. In the assembly it is indeed true that one may not have a regular meal rather than the Lord’s supper! The Lord’s supper is not intended to satisfy hunger.
Paul ate in the meeting place at Troas. In Acts 20:7 the believers came together in an upper room on the first day of the week to break bread, which refers to the Lord’s supper. Paul preached until midnight. After he raised Eutychus from the dead, he went back upstairs. Then we read: “Now when he had come up, had broken bread and eaten, and talked a long while, even till daybreak, he departed” (Acts 20:11). This refers to a regular meal since it says only that ‘he’ ... ‘had broken bread and eaten’. If it referred to the Lord’s supper, it would have said when ‘they’ had broken bread and eaten. The informality of the situation makes it clear that this was not a part of the regular assembly “and talked a long while, even till daybreak.”

15 See also 1 Corinthians 11:18, 26, 33; 14:23; Hebrews 10:25.

16 Acts 2:42.

17 See also 1 Corinthians 11:23-26.

18 Acts 2:42.

19 Sometimes discord is caused by people who insist that an example must be found in the Bible for every application of a general principle or command in the New Testament. But a general command authorizes all ways of obeying that command that do not conflict with other principles or commands.

20 Churches have an obligation to support preachers and missionaries (1 Corinthians 9:6-14; Philippians 4:15-18). When Paul preached at Corinth, he received support from churches in Macedonia (2 Corinthians 11:8, 9), and he suggested that the church at Corinth might “help him on his way” at a later time (2 Corinthians 1:16). Churches also sent men to serve Paul on their behalf (Acts 19:22; Philippians 2:25; Philemon 12-14).

21 There can be several brethren in one congregation who are teachers (Acts 13:1). Not everyone is a teacher in this sense (James 3:1). Elders and teachers can be supported (1 Timothy 5:17, 18; Galatians 6:6).
Teaching disciples to observe all that Christ has commanded includes combating false doctrine (Ephesians 4:14; Titus 1:9). When false teachers from Judea came to Antioch, the church sent Paul and Barnabas and a few others to Jerusalem to discuss the problem (Acts 15:1-4).
A congregation can send someone to help build up a congregation in another place (Acts 11:22).
Although each congregation has its own responsibility, evangelists sometimes give instruction in more than one congregation. Titus taught several congregations on Crete (Titus 1:12-14; 2:6, 8, 15; 3:1, 2, 8). This does not mean that Titus exercised authority over these congregations, as is sometimes claimed, but simply that he provided instruction.

22 A new Christian must be fed with ‘milk’ until he is able to digest ‘solid food’. “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able” (1 Corinthians 3:1, 2). “However, we speak wisdom among those who are mature, yet not the wisdom of this age” (1 Corinthians 2:6).
In time, Christians are to advance in knowledge. The Hebrews were reprimanded because they had not grown: “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Hebrews 5:12-14).

23 To fill the need for advanced instruction, some congregations set up a program of concentrated or even full-time Bible study with teachers from their own congregation and from other congregations. The instruction is given to people in the area, some of whom may have moved there to study. A congregation is authorized to do this by the commission of Christ: “teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20) and the brethren who teach are authorized by Paul’s command to Timothy: “And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2).

24 Some translations have “at home” although the original has “by himself,” corresponding with “as he purposes in his heart” (2 Corinthians 9:7). That “at home” is not intended is clear from the context because Paul wanted to avoid a collection being taken after he arrived. Also, why would it have to be on the first day of the week if it were not in the weekly assembly?

25 A congregation may agree to give something in the future (2 Corinthians 9:5). A congregation may appoint a brother to take a gift to its destination (1 Corinthians 16:3). One brother may be chosen for this by several congregations, and accountability should be maintained (2 Corinthians 8:18-23). Paul made these arrangements so no one could question his integrity in financial matters. In church finances, high accounting standards should be maintained, providing for what is honorable “not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men” (2 Corinthians 8:21).

26 1 Corinthians 16:1, 2.

27 Since “them” in verse 13 refers back to “saints” in verse 12, “all” includes non-Christians. Some condemn churches that help needy non-Christians. They say individual Christians may help them, but that the church may not. They claim that “all men” means “all Christians” and they deny that “Let us do good to all” (Galatians 6:10) applies to the church. Considering the subjectivity of their opinion, ought they not to at least admit that “all” possibly refers to “all men” and that Galatians 6:10 possibly applies to the church? Then they could be less judgmental.

28 2 Thessalonians 1:1.

29 Once when Jesus was criticized for healing on the Sabbath, He replied: “What man is there among you who has one sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not lay hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep? Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:11, 12).

30 Acts 4:4.

31 Acts 11:28-30; 1 Corinthians 8:1-4, 12-15; 9:12, 13; Romans 15:25-28; Acts 24:17.

32 See 1 Timothy 3:1-15; Titus 1:5-9.

33 See also Matthew 18:15-18; 2 Thessalonians 3:6; 1 Corinthians 5:4, 5, 13; Romans 16:17; 2 Corinthians 2:6.