The Practical Expression of the Church, by Witness Lee


Do not think that the elders in the church must be persons with certain natural qualifications and capabilities. No, that is not what the church needs; that is what worldly organizations need. Worldly organizations need someone with a capable and clever mind and a good character. Some may say that this kind of person would make a good elder. But he is not a good elder; he can only be a good chairman in a certain society. He is a good manager, but he is not a good elder for the church.

In 1944 the war in China was nearly ended. There was a man who was highly educated and qualified in government work and whom some of the brothers were trying to bring to the Lord. It was quite probable that he would be saved. Then the brothers told Brother Watchman Nee that if such a man with his qualifications were saved, surely he would be the best for the church. But Brother Nee said, “No, he is only good for government work. He is not good for the church.” What the church needs is not capable or qualified men. They can build up the tower of Babel, but they cannot build up the church of Christ.

What the church needs are those who have been captured, subdued, conquered, fully possessed by Christ, and then are growing in Him in all things. Do not think that you can do things satisfactorily if you hold responsibility in the church. You may do everything right, but you are not the proper person to hold responsibility, because you have never been captured by Christ nor grown into Him. To do things right is one thing, but to have the flow of life is another.

One day in 1948 the church in Shanghai had a large love feast. There was a sister serving who was exceedingly capable; she did everything right. But you could only sense her capability; you could not sense much life in her. She was so capable in doing things. She would really be good for the Y.W.C.A., but she was not so good for the church.

It is not the capability that matters but the life expressed. In the church it is not doing things rightly that is required but the rich flowing out of life. This is all the church needs. The church needs a group of elders who are full of life. Some of the brothers must be willing to be fully captured by Christ and to grow in Him all the time. The flow of life from these brothers is the function.

This is why I stress again and again that we must not care for what is right and what is wrong. We must not care for the teachings or regulations. Regardless of how much you know or regulate, there still may be no life. We are an organism, not an organization. We are a building with living functions, not a brick building without life. What the church requires is the flow of life, for the function of all the members is in this flow. When you come to the meeting of the church and pray something regarding the Lord, all the brothers and sisters must sense the flow of life. When you go to visit a family, perhaps you will not say much, but if life flows out, you will water and refresh them. This is the function, and this function requires the ground given to the Head and the growth in life. We all must be captured and possessed by Christ and grow in life so that we may function.


Regardless of how great a gift you are, you cannot replace the members. You are just a part of the Body; you cannot replace the Body. If you have the gift of an apostle or prophet, you should not substitute or replace all the other members. What you should do is perfect them. All the apostles, prophets, evangelists, and shepherds and teachers are given for the perfecting of the saints. Then the saints must function to build the church. In Ephesians 4:12 there is one for and two unto s: “For the perfecting of the saints unto the work of the ministry, unto the building up of the Body of Christ.” If you have the gift of an apostle or prophet, you should not replace the saints but do a perfecting work to perfect the saints. The perfecting of the saints is unto the work of the ministry.

Let me illustrate in this way. Suppose you are a gift as a prophet or apostle to the church. Before you came, all the brothers simply did not know how to pray in the meetings. Yet, after you came, you are the only one who prays in the meetings. All the brothers and sisters appreciate your prayers so much. We must be clear that this substitution and replacement is wrong. Perhaps before you came, many of them would not pray in the meetings. But if you would perfect them properly, after a certain time everyone would be praying in the meetings. You come not to replace but to perfect them to function.

It is not easy to change our concept. I believe that today some brothers and sisters are settled already. They think, “Let Brother Brown do this, or let Brother Smith do that, or let Brother Jones handle that.” This is wrong. All the gifted persons must perfect the saints unto the work of the ministry, unto the building up of the Body. Those who take the lead must be extremely careful not to do anything to replace or substitute others.

(The Practical Expression of the Church, Chapter 14, by Witness Lee)