Church as we know it in the West isn’t working; I don’t mean people don’t enjoy themselves (as that seems to be the main directive), some do. What I am talking about is our prime directive to go into all the world and make disciples, our current understanding of church is most certainly failing in this respect. It was this understanding that caused me to make such a radical shift of direction in my life. Whilst I really don’t have all the answers I feel I am closer to what Jesus had in mind when He said ‘church’ than when I ‘pastoring’.
What do you mean by church?
Most of us are aware that we mean people and not buildings when we say church, but do we really believe it? Have you ever used the phrase “I am committed to my church”? It sounds good, but it is like me saying “I am committed to my marriage”. What’s wrong with that? I am not committed to an institution, I am committed to Sandra, our marriage is a statement of that commitment.
Make a choice
Some of us who have been around a while will have experienced some of the pain involved in church splits and the like; you may have been put in a position where you had to choose between a friendship and the church – That is the give away, we see our brothers and sisters as distinct from the church. Most of us see ourselves as ‘belonging’ to a church, but are unaware of the out-workings of our belief. Once we believe this way we can attend the church, support the church, give to the church and serve the church without actually touching another life. In fact this kind of belief keeps us from getting too close to other people. Sadly, I even know of churches where attendees are encouraged not to meet up in case they get their own ideas and thus cause division (if you agree with this practice please ask the Lord to show you what is wrong)
Two or more
When Jesus promised His presence where there are two or more, He wasn’t giving a mathematical formula, i.e. the more people there are the more Jesus is there. I believe the point He was making is that as Emmanuelle He is always with us, we don’t need the minimal numbers required by the synagogue, attendance at the Temple or any kind of clergy. What we do need however is to meet, and by meet I don’t mean attend.
When I meet with my family there is food, laughter, banter, sharing, apologising and learning, all of which are requirements for church. Unfortunately none of these can function within our modern definition of church. It’s interesting to note that Paul rebuked the Corinthian church for allowing people to get drunk, whilst others went home hungry after the Lord’s Supper. What was the Lord’s supper like for that to be a problem? Very different from our regular experience.
Commandment and Commission
The great commandment can be summarised as ‘love God and each other’; the great commission as ‘make disciples’. It is from these that we are to live, and it is how we choose to live that will define our church experience. The church is after all nothing more than the people of God; it is not a building, meeting or institution, it is a people. As the people of God we meet, we meet in all sorts of ways (social, recreational, educational etc.) and one of those ways is to meet specifically in the name of Jesus. However, if our lives are devoid of love for God and each other, nothing we do will be of any true value and as such will be fruitless.
When God created the world Adam and Eve were naked; we now live as God’s new creation and nakedness is a part of that. Obviously we need to keep our clothes on, but we should be growing together so that confidence, intimacy and vulnerability are allowed to flourish among us (I think we call it love). Let’s face it, I am not going to share my faults with people I don’t trust, nor am I going to show my weakness to anyone who I think might exploit me. It is in this atmosphere of love and acceptance that discipleship can take place. Even the supposed negatives of correction, rebuke and discipline find their true meaning here as the Lord builds up His people into the fullness of His image.
But we need leaders… don’t we?
I can’t help but smile when I hear this; I was a ‘church leader’ for well over twenty years and came to the conclusion that people will do want they want unless you have some decent leverage on them. That leverage may be a pay packet, God’s displeasure, lack of acceptance or the threat of hell, none of which are a particularly healthy way of influencing God’s people. I suspect that what we really mean when we say “we want leaders” is someone to make our decisions, carry what we are supposed to carry and if need be take the blame if things go wrong. We think that our leaders are responsible to ensure the kind of church experience we think we are entitled to, when in fact Jesus models a very different kind of leadership.
Once a church has been established you will have at least one person who has a level of maturity; most likely the person who started the church, and that person will automatically have the role of elder as people come to faith in the Lord Jesus. A church elder isn’t someone who tells you what to do, they aren’t there to give permission to, or forbid certain things. An elder is a mature believer who has the respect of other believers who are happy to receive advice and teaching from them. An elder is not a superior class of being and contrary to popular teaching, they don’t have people ‘submit’ to them. An elder will demonstrate their faith in humility, love, compassion and mercy, all of which will manifest in the way they live their lives. A true elder will encourage other believers to mature until they themselves become an influencer for the Kingdom of Heaven and hopefully an elder to another group of new believers.
What about the five-fold ministry?
Personally I believe that the ‘Ascension Gifts’ are relevant for today, but I reject whole heartedly the semi-political, hierarchical status that we have given them. I will share more about this another time, suffice to say that these people are servants who far from lording it over the people of God encourage them into new levels of faith and freedom.
Growth, growth, growth
One of the pressures on modern leaders is to get the crowds to their meetings at almost any cost. Having said that, growth is important and that is why small is the new big. Imagine an elder has three people he or she are helping to disciple, what will the outcome of that relationship be? Of course there will be all the joys of friendship and family but also those three will reproduce after the likeness of their new life. The outcome? Hopefully three new groups of believers who in time will of course become nine and in so doing the Gospel will move through a community, jump national and political boundaries and the knowledge of the glory of the Lord will fill the whole earth.
Go well my friends 🙂