The Gift of Diversity

By Rev. Sandy Nenadal
Assistant to the Bishop

In April, while visiting family, I broke my ankle. As I adjusted to the reality of using crutches and wearing a fracture walking boot, I thought about Paul’s description of the body of Christ. In 1 Corinthians 12:12-13, Paul wrote, “Our bodies have many parts, but the many parts make up only one body when they are all put together. So, it is with the ‘body’ of Christ. Each of us is a part of the one body of Christ.” 

It is pretty obvious why. Suddenly things I took for granted were hard. I’m used to standing up and walking where I want or easily bending down to pick something up. After I fell, my boot and crutches got in the way. Paul’s words spoke to my personal need, but also, I realized, to the issues facing the church, offering me four ideas to ponder. The parts of the body are meant to work together. 

It’s obvious, I know, but Paul’s description of how the body of Christ was meant to work together offers us the ideal for our ministry in the church. Paul said we are healthy when all body parts function together as intended. Each of us has been given gifts that enable us to work together for the healthy functioning of our congregations. In Corinth, believers had divided people into categories based on their spiritual gifts. The gifts they valued more were given higher status. Paul reminded them that God gave believers their gifts for the common good. 

When one part of our body doesn’t function, the health of our life together is hampered. 
We take for granted how the parts of our bodies are supposed to work together until something is missing. That became noticeably clear to me after I broke my ankle. I had to learn to navigate on crutches. Suddenly not having every part of my body working together created obstacles for me and challenges for those trying to help me. Not being able to use my foot has been, at various times, frustrating, tiring, and scary. It is frustrating to have to slow down. It’s tiring because everything takes more work. Scary because hurrying caused me to fall again. We are happier and more productive in the church when we work well together. 

God can work through other parts of the body to find ways to overcome the challenges. 
Paul also recognized that sometimes the body does not function well because of illness or injury. In verse 26, he wrote, “If one part suffers, all parts suffer with it….” This creates challenges yet also opportunities. 

When one part of the body isn’t working, you become creative and adapt. I learned to do things in new ways. When a large box was delivered to my home, I could not carry it. However, I found myself using my wheelchair. I could push it across the floor with my good foot. Someone lent me a grabber tool to grasp items out of reach. When I had to use my crutches to take my trash out, I threw the bag ahead of me a couple of feet, took a few more steps and repeated the process. 

When someone is ill in the church, we try to carry on their work. God shows us how to work things together for good by helping each other overcome challenges. So, people drove me to work and doctor’s appointments. A neighbor brought me my mail. The office staff provided meals several times a week. In times of struggle, the gift of being part of the body becomes clear. 

As in Paul’s day, we need to expand our understanding of the diversity of the body of Christ. 

Like the people in Corinth, we struggle with diversity. In verse 13, Paul reminded believers, “Each of us is a part of the one body of Christ. Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But the Holy Spirit has fitted us all together into one body.” Welcoming other people and their gifts expands our understanding of how the body of Christ is intended to function. Each person, each gift is necessary and valuable to our work in sharing the good news of Jesus. 

Recent events in Buffalo reminded us again why we must celebrate diversity. The diversity of people in the body of Christ, like the diversity within our human bodies, is a gift. As we continue to explore, nurture and celebrate diversity in the Missouri Conference, Paul’s image of the body of Christ invites us to receive this gift from God with gratitude. 

In the days ahead, reflect again on the gifts God has given you and your church family as part of the body of Christ. Each person brings their unique abilities and talents. Everybody is needed. 

Because of the body’s diversity, we can find a way to bring healing when there is an injury. When there is disruption, we can adapt. When someone suffers, we can offer encouragement and seek ways to ease the pain. As Paul wrote in a later chapter, there is another way to be whole, a better way: the way of living out the love of Christ.