Building Up the Body of Christ: Supporting Community Life in the Church

Title of Work:

Building Up the Body of Christ

Author of Work:

Bruce M. Hartung


Pastor Jeremiah Gumm

Page Number:


Format Availability:

Kindle or Paperback


$14.24 or $14.99

Dr. Bruce Hartung is professor emeritus of practical theology at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, where he served as the dean of ministerial formation. He is a diplomate and past president of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors. He has served as counselor, executive director of pastoral counseling centers, director of counseling, and parish pastor. He is also the author of Holding Up the Prophet’s Hands: Supporting Church Workers.

“I am not the Body of Christ.” A wise pastor once told this reviewer that those words should be placed where he could see them every day. That simple statement speaks to a difficult lesson that pastors of every age need to learn because pastors so easily fall into the trap of thinking a congregation’s ministry depends on and revolves around them. The temptation to be Herr Pastor is ever lurking because of pride in one’s own ability or training or experience. The temptation is ever there to think, “I am the Body of Christ and the Body of Christ is me,” when in reality, the Lord of the Church has entrusted the Ministry of the Word to the Body of Christ, the Church.

The Apostle Paul speaks to this in Ephesians 4:11-12, “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up…” Ministers of the Gospel are not just tasked with faithfully preaching the Word and administering the Sacraments, but with using those Means of Grace to equip God’s people for service to their Lord and to one another. The pastor’s task is to provide God’s people with Gospel training and tools so that the Body of Christ will continue to be built up—growing up and growing together in Christ.

With this task in mind, Dr. Bruce Hartung wrote Building Up the Body of Christ for church leaders as a companion volume to his previous book Holding Up the Prophet’s Hands: Supporting Church Workers, which was originally written for lay members. Hartung explains the interdependence between church leaders and the Body of Christ.

Church professionals…need intentional support from those they serve. But these church workers are not alone in being susceptible to these risks. The congregation’s volunteer leaders, too, are subject to stress, conflict, interpersonal differences, and sin. Serving in the church opens people to real vulnerabilities, but church leaders can mobilize congregations in support of church workers… In turn, church workers support and build up the whole community of Christ, the people of the congregation to which He has called them as servants. This dynamic goes both ways: church leaders need support from the congregation and the congregation needs support from its leaders (7).

While Holding Up the Prophet’s Hands focused on the congregation’s support for its church leaders, Hartung focuses on the second half of that equation in Building Up the Body of Christ. His goal with this book is to provide basic tools to strengthen congregations and to “help [church] leaders develop specific skills to build up the community, the Body of Christ, in the local church.” He also places special emphasis on “the person of leaders, as well as their skills” (9). In particular, Hartung emphasizes the importance of relying on one’s identity “as baptized daughters and sons of God, made so by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ…empowered and blessed by the Holy Spirit” (9). This emphasis on our identity as baptized children of God and on the importance of the Means of Grace in our lives as church leaders building up the Body of Christ is beautifully woven throughout the book.

Each chapter includes fictional short stories to provide practical examples and situations in congregational settings. Most chapters end with “a few words of personal reflection and suggestions for additional reading on the topic of the chapter…” (10). This allows the reader to see that the lessons shared in a particular chapter have been learned—or are still being learned—by the author from personal experience, while also providing suggestions for ongoing growth.

After a brief discussion of what it means to be a leader in the church in the first chapter, Hartung spends each subsequent chapter on a particular topic that impacts either the church leader personally or how that church leader interacts with the members of the Body of Christ. He discusses the subjects of spiritual warfare, burnout, stressors and the stress response, and secondary traumatic stress as they impact not just pastors and other professional church workers, but also a congregation’s leadership. Hartung then delves into some very practical subjects as the pastor or a congregation’s leaders interact with others: trust and trustworthiness, ways to respond to others, listening, safe spaces[1], disclosure and feedback, and outside influences.

Hartung then spends time on two subjects that might strike the reader as very behavioral—the brain and personality types. The author explains the importance of studying these subjects, “The church leader who knows, recognizes, respects, and utilizes the spectrum of styles and personality types has the better potential, blessed by the working of the Holy Spirit, to build up the Body of Christ” (139). This section did not strike this reviewer as an attempt to use psychology to manipulate members of our congregations, but rather an attempt to show how the Lord uses the unique styles, make ups, and personalities of each individual member to actively serve as an important member of the Body of Christ.

The next three chapters focus on a subject that is becoming more of an issue in the modern congregation—conflict and conflict resolution. Hartung provides a particularly fascinating explanation of conflict intensity in Chapter 12. After spending time on conflict management, he also devotes a chapter to the subject of “conflict encouragement.” He does advise church leaders to encourage conflict, but conflict in the sense of “difference of opinion” or “another idea” as opposed to everyone thinking alike on everything all the time. This kind of encouragement is worthy of further study since it speaks of a constructive form of “conflict.” The final two chapters of the book provide eighteen warning signs for church leaders and eighteen practical encouragements for church leaders.

The only negatives that this reviewer could find were the occasional overly clunky quote from the English Standard Version and the occasional example in Hartung’s short stories that confused the Scriptural callings of men and women as they apply to leadership in the church. Nonetheless, these negatives were quite minor and did not detract from the book itself.

In a very similar way to what this reviewer wrote about Holding Up the Prophet’s Hands, Dr. Hartung has provided the Lutheran church with a valuable resource in Building Up the Body of Christ. One would be hard-pressed to find a similar resource that is as comprehensive, personal, Christ-centered, and Gospel-focused as this book, especially on the subject of church leadership. This book may serve as a good resource for further study by a congregation’s leadership[2] or by a circuit, and deserves an easy-to-reach place in the pastor’s library to assist him with the God-given task of “building up the Body of Christ.”

[1] Not to be confused with “safe spaces” sometimes found on college campuses, but with creating an environment where members of the Body of Christ trust their leaders so they feel safe to be transparent and honest with them.

[2] Caveat about the examples noted.