Focus is often held on the role of a pastor, the role of the elders, and the role of the church, but very little focus is pointed toward the role of the congregation. A community of believers, like any family, will have problems, but it is how these problems are handled that really matter. Also, how the congregation operates together is vitally important to the growth of each individual as well as fulfilling the great commission.
First, the congregation must be focused on the whole community of believers, not focused on the pastor. Sometimes the pastor receives too much praise when things go well, and too much blame when things go poorly. The pastor’s role is important, but he should be protected from every good or ill will in the congregation. In other words, talk about the church and its mission as a whole body of Christ, rather than the pastor’s. This can be seen in 1 Corinthians 12 best when unity and diversity in the body.
Second, the congregation should be truthful with their pastor and elders, as well as offer grace. If there is an issue within the church or anything the church is involved in, it is the congregation’s responsibility to speak up to the pastor, staff, or elders concerning the matter. No one will know there is a problem if there is not anyone who will speak up. This also needs to be followed with grace. If there is a problem, that is not a reason to spread the issue around the church, nor to let anger get out of control when voicing concerns. We are all under the grace of God, every single person.
Third, the leaders are not meant to do all the work. “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-13). The congregation has just as much responsibility for furthering the body of Christ and accomplishing the great commission as anyone else. This not only includes acts of service, but also even lifting the pastor, staff, and elders through prayer. This is one of the most vital responsibilities of the congregation. Pray for the church as well.
Finally, this is a sore subject among many congregations: conflict. When there is conflict within a congregation, it can cause major rifts and ultimately damage many members. One of the main things that can happen is that conflict can give the enemy a foothold to enter into the situation and turn many away from God. Most believe that the pastor, elders, and staff have the responsibility of resolving conflict within the congregation. This is, however, not the case. The first responsibility falls on the congregation itself. We are brothers and sisters in Christ and we have a deep spiritual connection to each other. Our relationships are one of the main examples of how our relationship with God is doing. There are multiple verses stating specific things we must do within the congregation for conflict resolution. Matthew 18 is very clear on this issue, “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.' If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church…” The first part of that verse expressly points out the responsibility of the congregation: handle it among yourselves. Too many times this is forgotten and the pastor or others are involved before any attempt is made to resolve the issue with those actually involved. This also leads to backbiting, which can spread like a disease across the church and give the enemy a tool to use to lead them away from God.
The congregation has a heavy load to carry within the church. The body of Christ requires every member to be present and focused on God. No member is dispensable. Each member needs to understand how valuable he or she is as an individual, both in the eyes of Jesus who is the head of the church, and also to the rest of the body. Those congregations and pastors who can sustain one another will be blessed because they are deeply rooted in the life of God.