TABLE OF CONTENTS
HOLY SITES AND HOLY PLACES.
AUTHORITY IN THE KINGDOM, WHERE DOES IT COME FROM?
KINGDOM BUILDING OR LEGACY BUILDING?
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE UNDER THE LOCAL CHURCH?
BUILDING THE CHURCH AROUND THE PERSONA OF CHRIST, NOT MEN!
ORDINATION AND THE BIBLICAL MODEL OF ACCOUNTABILITY.
EXAMPLES FROM PASTORS AND BELIEVERS FROM AROUND THE WORLD.
ARE CHURCH BUILDINGS EVIL? [OR THE GUY WHO WANTED TO CAST DEMONS OUT OF ME!]
WHAT IN THE WORLD IS ‘THE LOCAL CHURCH’?
THE SPIRIT OF COMPETITION IN THE MODERN CHURCH.
GODS PEOPLE ARE NOT SIMPLY ASSETS TO AN ORGANIZATION.
THE CAT CHAPTER. [I DID THIS FOR MY KIDS!]
Welcome back! I hope those of you who are reading this booklet have read our other 2 books first. Though it’s not necessary in order to understand this book, I prefer to think of these little booklets as an on going conversation with our friends in the kingdom. Those of you who are familiar with our ministry know that we view ‘ministry’ and ‘church’ in an unconventional way. I see church as the people of God who are gathered together by Christ in various and unique ways. I see the people that we associate with and minister to as a legitimate expression of church. Therefore those of you who have been in conversation with us through our various areas of ministry [radio,outreach,etc.]are a unique and vital expression of Christ’s body. Our goal is to simply relate to you in such a way that the end result would be for you to be built up in Christ and to find fulfillment in him. In this book I hope to share a lot of personal thoughts that the lord has communicated to me over a period of time. I feel that if I can simply communicate to you the biblical idea of church/ministry and how we all fit into this picture, that I will have in some small way accomplished the goal of writing this third little ‘letter’ to the ‘churches’ that the lord has called us to speak into.
HOLY SITES AND HOLY PLACES
I recently have been studying and speaking on the issue of church and ministry as seen in the New Testament, as opposed to the way we as 21st century believers view it. In this ongoing conversation [primarily through radio] I have been talking about our tendency as believers to fall into a pattern of seeing ourselves as spectators/funders of the work of professionals. We settle into roles that relegate us into a nonfunctioning position of hearers of truth. We generally believe that if we attend the church meeting on Sunday and give financially to the church that somehow this has fulfilled our Christian obligation and that we are free to do as we please with our time and resources the other six days of the week. In this conversation there are those who feel this whole ritual of Sunday church is wrong and should be totally abolished, but there are others who are not quite that extreme but still see a need for a radical rethinking of this whole process. I consider myself to be in the more moderate class.
I personally don’t find anything inherently wrong with ‘going to church on Sunday’ but the general theme of New Testament Christianity is against the idea of believers simply being hearers of the word only. Because of our limited understanding of the word ‘church’ [ecclesia] in the New Testament we usually do not view ourselves as Christians in a proper way. One of the main themes in the New Testament is the idea of the church as community. That God intended for there to be a body of people who would actually be the place where God would dwell. He really lives inside the people who believe in Christ. Because of this the old idea of God manifesting himself only at a certain location [like the temple] is done away in Christ. If you remember the conversation Jesus had with the Samaritan woman [John 4] she asked Jesus about the legitimacy of the religious locations of her day. She wanted him to speak to the issue of which physical location is the proper one in which people should go to worship. Jesus reply was there is going to be a change in the whole system of so-called ‘holy sites’. He tells her that the true worshipers of God will be accessing him in spirit and truth. He is looking forward to the reality of the body of Christ being a living temple of people who will be able to be in Gods presence all the time regardless of there physical location. While most Christians believe this truth, in practice we often deny it. We look to the religious activities that surround our church day as some how being a more spiritual site or day of worship. We gear up for religious meeting and then experience ‘coming down’ from the religious high point of our week.
Now this is where I take a more moderate view than some of my brothers. I too enjoy the day of worship and fellowship that takes place on Sunday; I just wish that we could break the mindset that sees the doing of this as the primary role for Christians. I wish we could see that God is really with us on a daily basis as we interact as believers with each other. There are many times in our focus of going to church on Sunday that we unconsciously transfer the mindset of the Samaritan woman into the present day. We tend to view both the place and the day of church as taking place at a set location at a certain day. Jesus specifically told her that the day was coming that true worship would take place at a temple in a set location, but that temple would be the corporate people of God and that place would be wherever 2 or more are gathered together in his name!
AUTHORITY IN THE KINGDOM, WHERE DOES IT COME FROM?
Not only are we hindered in our thinking by seeing church as something we go to on a special day, but the whole idea of ministry being some kind of a corporation that exists as a 501 c3 entity. Over the years of ministry I have personally come to rethink this whole issue. I’ve come to view ministry primarily as the kingdom works that God produces through his people when they are in right relationship with him. If you think about it this goes right to the heart of the issue of church being a living society of people. A functioning nation of Christ followers. When Jesus commissioned his followers to go out into the world and be witnesses for him, he told them to do kingdom works and to say to the people that the kingdom of God has come near to them. The actual presence of Christ in his people carrying out his works is true ministry. Later in the book of acts the Spirit falls on a bunch of people and they go forth both speaking and doing things in the name of Jesus. Ministry is primarily a function of God working through his people while bypassing all the technical loopholes of religion. There are certain basic standards that Christians who want to serve God should live by, but the whole idea of ministry being this 501c3 entity that exists as a separate thing is really unscriptural. Jesus not only challenged the idea of holy-sites being a special place, but also the idea of God’s authority/legitimacy existing in certain religious offices or institutions of his day.
The religious class challenged the authority of Jesus. They were saying you have no right to function as the Son of God. Who gave you this authority? Jesus answered in an interesting way. He asked them who gave John the Baptist the authority to do the things he did. Was it from heaven or of men? Well the Pharisee’s didn’t answer. But Jesus showed us that there where 2 types of authority, or ways of being legitimate in what you do. One way is that God directly gives you the right to function as a kingdom person, or you derive your authority from other people. You somehow seek legitimacy by going through the procedures of men. One of the main truths of the New Testament is the incarnation. God becoming man in the person of Christ. The very fact that Jesus was sent by his father, and being God incarnate in planet earth was all the legitimacy that anyone would ever need to do ‘ministry’. Any attempt from the religious mind to try and denigrate his character, or de-legitimize his right to function was directly challenged by the fact that he was sent by God. The works themselves were proof that he was legitimate! Now when we in the church seek to become legitimate, or to derive authority to do ministry through all sorts of natural procedures, we are in essence saying ‘we get our authority through man’. Its o.k. to become a 501c3 organization if it’s simply a matter of necessity [you need it to accomplish mission] but if it becomes a means whereby we feel ‘more legitimate’then we’ve simply jumped thru a hoop that will become a hindrance down the road.
The pouring out of the Spirit at Pentecost was more than an event by which the church would enjoy charismatic gifts. In the Old Testament the Spirit of God would come upon certain individuals at certain times to give them authority to function in their offices [kings and prophets]. The fact that the Spirit came upon them was proof of their legitimacy to function in that office. The day of Pentecost was a ‘pouring out’ of the anointing on a whole body of people as opposed to a particular office. God was fulfilling the words of Jesus when he said ‘all authority is given to me go ye therefore’. Jesus was ‘legitimizing’ a whole society of people to go forth and do his works. No special class or office, but the whole body would now have this priestly/kingly anointing. If anyone would question their authority, or right to do what they were going to do, they would respond by saying we derive our authority through Jesus. They understood that their ordination came by the very fact that Christ poured out his Spirit upon them. Any challenge to who gave them the right to function was seen as a direct challenge to Christ’s authority. In the Old Testament when you challenged an emissary of the king you were directly challenging the king, so likewise when we question the legitimacy of fellow believers because they don’t seem to fit the ‘normal’ way of doing things, we’re unconsciously saying ‘who gave you this authority’. Now I am not saying that every Christian has the right to do anything he feels like doing, but there is a difference between seeking the legitimacy of man and simply doing the works of Jesus!
KINGDOM BUILDING OR LEGACY BUILDING?
I just finished doing a teaching on the radio on the book of Exodus. We covered the story of the children of Israel as they progressed in time from a few people into a whole nation of people. If you remember your bible well, you can follow the original desire for God to have a family of people who would inhabit earth and live in fellowship with him. As man sinned and rebelled against God he became separated from God, but the desire to build and make a name for himself still existed within man. The story of the tower of Babel speaks of this. Men tried to come together as a corporate group, and even were willing to have unity [as opposed to ‘doing their own thing’] but it was for the purpose of building to the glory of man. It was ‘legacy building’. A desire that’s in all men to ‘leave a name for myself’. In the corporate world of business you find this mindset existing in a very strong way. In 21st century American society we call it ‘keeping up with the joneses’.
There is a popular commercial on TV at this time that shows an average Joe living high on the hog in order to keep up a certain image in the community. It shows ‘Joe’ as possessing a lot of things in order to live up to the image of the people around him. At the end of the commercial the question is asked ‘how does Joe manage to live like this?’. The answer is ‘he’s in debt up to his eyeballs’. This little commercial captures in a nutshell the attitude of trying to create an image of ourselves so others would think more highly of us, or so we can feel vindicated in the sight of our critics. Now many times in modern ministry and ‘church’ building we give in to this desire without even realizing it. We build facilities or large organizations in order to prove to those around us that we can really do this thing [tower building mentality]. We seem to loose sight of the great reality that Gods ‘institution’ or ‘organization’ which he uses to carry out his will is the church. It is a family of people [a holy nation, temple, city, body] that God freely dwells in, in order to advance his ‘cause’ throughout the earth.
When we unconsciously develop systems of ministry that we feel are the ‘church’, that is if we follow certain patterns and models of ministry and then begin to build these entities with the belief that these models are actually ‘the church’ then what we’ve done is transferred Gods true desire to build his kingdom [a rule in the earth that would give glory to his image] and replaced it unconsciously with a natural desire to build something that gives testimony to our image [i.e.: ‘look what I’ve done, look at the big legacy I will leave when I’m gone’]. Jesus warned the disciples that this desire to have authority and be ‘in charge’ of people would not be acceptable in true kingdom building. He was showing us that this desire for success was nothing different than what already exists in lost society. Many men sacrifice a lot in order to build institutions or businesses. People regularly sacrifice their time and resources in order to get their business going. Often times they even work in unity with many other people [staff, employees] to accomplish their goal. Now I'm not saying this is wrong in and of itself, there are many good businesses and institutions that have started this way. But when we transfer this mindset into the church we can confuse the energy and excitement that naturally comes with any true adventure and begin building ‘at all costs’. We can loose sight of the ‘entity’ that God is building and get caught up in the natural desire to ‘image’ build and become sidetracked.
In extreme cases this actually leads to abusive church situations where the leader[s] are so focused on building the ministry that they begin to unconsciously manipulate people in order to fulfill the vision. This is why it’s so important to see that the church exists as a community of people in the earth whom God lives in and interacts with in various ways in order to build his image in the earth. God wants the knowledge of the glory of ‘the lord’ to cover the earth as the waters cover the sea. The ‘tower’ that all men will see is the ‘Cross’. God will draw all men to the image of his Son as opposed to some great edifice of man. Gods Spirit wars against the natural desire in man to ‘legacy’ build to his own image. We as believers need to reevaluate the motivations behind our outward enthusiasm to ‘press ahead’ at all costs. When we examine ourselves and make adjustments in our thinking I believe God will allow us to participate in great works for his name.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE UNDER THE LOCAL CHURCH?
Over the years of seeing the freedom that we have in Christ, especially as it pertains to functioning in church and ministry, I have met other believers who have seen and grown in the same understanding that the lord has given us. I believe this to be a natural process of the body of Christ coming to maturity. When the head [Jesus] is communicating with the body [the church] you often find different members seeing and functioning in the same truths, though they have never personally met each other. Some of these experiences are lessons for the whole church. Many times in trying to express truth there is a natural tendency for fellow believers to respond in a unified way in defense of a wrong [or misguided] way of seeing things. I remember sharing with a missionary family how the New Testament teaches a greater freedom for the functioning of missionaries/apostles than what we put on them today. I showed how Paul simply operated under the spirits guidance and practiced giving and receiving in a voluntary way with all the believers he was spending time with. I showed how even though Paul was an apostle sent out of the church at Antioch [acts 13] that this didn’t mean he was under some type of 501c3 entity at Antioch that he was sending his tithes to in order to be in obedience to the ‘New Testament pattern.’ If you read the story in acts all the apostles and believers functioned as citizens of a heavenly city and saw themselves all equally as part of this new community of Christ followers.
The idea that Paul [or any other New Testament minister] had some type of structural relationship with his ‘home church’ in the sense that he was sending tithes back to his ‘home church’ on a regular basis is simply reading 21st century American patterns into the story that doesn’t exist. You would think that the missionary family would have rejoiced to have seen this truth, as it would have given them freedom in moving forward in new ways in the kingdom. But contrary they were offended in a sense because they truly felt the role of tithing to a specific group of Christians who meet in a building in there area was a New Testament pattern that must be adhered to. While its ok to give to groups of Christians in this way, but to see this as a pattern that if violated would bring the curse in Malachi upon a person is ridiculous. These are ways that we confuse the spiritual temple of believers with the entity/501c3 structures that exist in ministry today. While the obtaining of the 501c3 status, or the purchasing of a building for believers to meet in is not inherently wrong [remember, if its needed for mission it’s o.k.] but to then view that as ‘local church’ which the missionary needs to tithe to in order to be in obedience to the ‘local church’ is confusing the spiritual entity of Christ’s body with the physical entity of American ministry.
When we view ‘ministry’ as a separate organization, we sacrifice the freedom to directly build into people. I was driving through town one day with a friend and as we passed by a certain business I mentioned that I needed to go in at a later time to purchase some equipment. My friend asked why I needed it and I explained I felt the Lord wanted me to buy it for a friend in order to help him in ministry. He questioned why I would spend money on someone who had no type of relationship with us, like a ‘part of our church/ministry’. I explained how believers should be willing to spend time and money for the benefit of others regardless of whether or not they are ‘part of our organization’ [by the way we have no ‘organization’ that someone ‘joins’]. I should mention that the person I wanted to spend the money on was one of our original friends/converts that we worked with in the early days of ministry. So the benefit would be purely spiritual, that is I would receive a reward from God in the sense that one of ‘our disciples’ would benefit directly from this purchase. Paul told the Corinthians that he would gladly spend and be spent for them. He said the fathers spend for the children, not the children for the fathers. He was showing the attitude of building people up for their sole benefit, not simply building staff or employees but giving yourself away solely for the benefit of ‘spiritual children’.
Many times people will unconsciously do the things I advocate, without realizing it! Recently there have been many examples of God working supernaturally in the area of finances. Many people who disagree with my teaching on grace giving have actually been blessed by doing it the way I teach it! People have been giving testimonies of how God would move on them to freely give [apart from the tithe concept] and how after they obeyed his voice to MEET THE NEED OF ANOTHER PERSON, versus ‘paying the tithe’ that the Lord would move supernaturally on their behalf by another person [not institution] being moved to give to them in return. I have been teaching this for years! How when Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for ‘corban’ giving that he told them their mindset of dedicating money to the temple [institution] caused them to neglect giving directly to people [their parents]. So the recent breakthrough in giving that people are experiencing is what I have been saying all along. God wants us to give spontaneously to directly meet the needs of people! I realize this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t also give regularly, but the point is sometimes we reject what a persons saying [like me!] without realizing that what their saying is right!
I should note something here; over the years I have consistently taught and believed in the concept of giving as God leads. There have been many times where the Lord would move on me to meet the needs of people. Just a few days ago one of my homeless friends asked me if I was still buying tents for people, I said sure. There was really no second thought or feeling of ‘I already gave the required amount this week, and this is going out of the way’. I simply felt it to be in keeping with the New Testament to give to someone in need. A few weeks back I ran into one of the original homeless friends that I met many years ago. The first thing he remembered and couldn’t stop talking about was how when I first met him I was giving away clothes in the winter to him and a bunch of other people. Theses simple acts of charity are in keeping with the teaching of Jesus on giving. The New Testament says ‘give to him that asks of thee’ ‘if you have the ability to help your brother and don’t how dwelleth the love of God in you’ ‘if someone comes to your door in need and you don’t help, it profits nothing’ ‘let him who is not working get a job so he MAY HAVE TO GIVE TO HIM THAT NEEDETH’.
All these verses [which I just paraphrased off the top of my head, you’ll have to look them up for yourself] speak clearly to the issue of God wanting us to give to meet the needs of others spontaneously and freely. No sense of ‘I already tithed this week to the church’. This legalistic mindset actually works against the spirit of New Testament giving. I am not saying Christians shouldn’t give regularly for the functioning of Christian ministry, I put aside money on a bi-weekly basis in order to fund Christian works. It is because of my priority of doing this that enables me to meet the needs of people when they come up.
I believe Christians should regularly give to the work of the kingdom, I also believe that many people would experience breakthrough in their giving if they truly practiced the New Testament doctrine of grace giving. All the communities of the New Testament [churches] gave this way. There simply was no tithing concept taught to the gentile believers. The scripture says the Corinthians gathered on the 1st day of the week and gave Paul an offering to BRING BACK TO THE POOR SAINTS AT JERUSALEM. Do you see this ‘THE POOR SAINTS’. They were giving to meet the needs of people here. We use these verses to tell Christians if you put in the required amount on Sunday then you’ve met your obligation. We distort scripture to fit into our way of seeing things. I believe its O.K. to put money in the offerings on Sunday, many times the work of ‘building based’ churches is good. Supporting missionaries, planting churches and many other good things. It’s just that we shouldn’t use this as an excuse to by pass all the other instructions in the New Testament to freely give to others in need!
I want to note something here, this is a good example of how are ‘seeing’ church as the Sunday meeting as opposed to the corporate group affects us. The issue of ‘how much should I put into the basket on Sunday’ was a NON ISSUE in the New Testament. There were times where all the believers in a community [the church] gave in a corporate way[ Acts 6, 1 Cor. 16] but there was no ‘Sunday church offering’ that all the ‘New Testament’ churches gave into. Why? Because the New Testament churches are all the believers in any given community. The focus wasn’t ‘going to church on Sunday’ that is our ‘thoughts’ or ways of seeing things [it’s O.K. to go to church on Sunday] but the focus was a community of people living and sharing on a daily basis. So when Paul writes these churches, or when Jesus tells us to give to him in need, they are addressing people directly. It’s not like the focus was on an institution. This is why ‘how much should we give, or should Christians tithe?’ is not seen in the New Testament like we see this question today. The bible speaks of ‘churches’ as communities of people; we speak about them in terms of ‘the church I go to on Sunday’. This basic misunderstanding of church causes us to hold onto a less than ideal view of Christian giving.
BUILDING THE CHURCH AROUND THE PERSONA OF CHRIST, NOT MEN!
In the early days of ministry I remember listening to some tapes on apostles and how they build Gods church. Later I came to see ‘church planting’ as apostles [or evangelists, or just Christians] going to areas and simply preaching Christ to groups of people. After the people believed there was a natural development of family and community that took place as Christ’s Spirit develops the body of Christ. So the New Testament churches are simply bodies of believers in these location’s who came to know Christ. God’s authority and the works of his kingdom are simply a natural expression of Christ’s Spirit through his body. As time progressed in church history people later developed all sorts of offices and institutions that they incorporated into the church. Eventually people began viewing the institution or 501c3 entity as a separate thing called ‘church’.
With this mindset people began seeing apostles and ministers and people who plant these entities as ‘CHURCH PLANTERS’. Church planting then began to be looked at as C.E.O.’s who are starting corporate entities with all sorts of projects to do. The entity itself became the focal point of all ministry and authority in any given community. The actual people [the real church] simply became servants to the entity’. The 501c3 itself became the thing that we saw as having the actual conferred authority of God upon it. The people who did not conform to the ‘system’ in many different generations of Christians were seen as being rebellious or not coming under the authority of the church [system separate from the people] though many of these people were truly Gods corporate community [church] they were looked at as in opposition to the church because the understanding of church evolved [or devolved] from the original meaning. We then put expectations on church leaders to build big facilities and to try and fill them up.
I want to make a note here; I am not against the modern phenomena of mega churches. If they are growing as a natural outgrowth of healthy evangelism it is a good thing. Where we often miss it is when we begin seeing the goal as having the big thing and then pressuring the flock because they’re not helping us obtain the big thing. Well the original tapes I listened to from the brother who was teaching on apostles eventually visited Corpus Christi and he spoke on his vision to build a 7 thousand seat auditorium and having 100,000 dollar faith and then a million dollar faith and having faith to build it and that people will want to hear him speak [the money stuff was spoken at a different time, but this is the context]. While this minister meant well he simply was not speaking New Testament language. True apostolic church planting is the natural outgrowth that takes place in communities of people when they come to know Christ. When we as leaders begin seeing the entity [501c3] as the goal, and the people as the tools, or fellow helpers and financial supporters of the entity, we’re then relegating the body of Christ to simple servants of the system. Sort of like the children of Israel in Egypt. They were multiple [big numbers] but they were under constricting styles of leadership that caused them to build the cities of man [Pithom, Raamses]. God raised up prophetic leadership [Moses] to bring them out of bondage so they themselves would become a self functioning society on their own, without being subservient to another system.
The unhealthy focus of ‘church’ that centers around the high-powered personas of men is in direct violation of the spirit of the New Testament. Church today too often has become a community of people whose ‘common bond’ is found in the personality of the pastor. All healthy groups of people in society will have stages of growth where they go through the process of leadership bringing them from dependence to independence and finally to interdependence [the stage where I don’t need you to survive or find my identity through you, but I need you as a coequal member in order for us both to function in a healthy way]. The New Testament ecclesias were groups of believers whose leadership [elders] functioned as mature guides and facilitators of this corporate experience. This leadership style is far removed from the present mindset of church leadership, which patterns itself after the predominant personality of one individual. While its O.K. at certain stages of group development to have periods of time where one person is the main influence in an individuals life [like a mentor/big brother], but if this relationship between mentor [pastor/leader] never grows to a stage where the ones being mentored do not eventually develop to the point where they are no longer dependent on the mentor, then you have the danger of the leader and his personality becoming the central figure that the disciple organizes his life around. We unconsciously repeat this cycle in the church without realizing it.
The simple truth of the churches of the New Testament having no central office where a person [no matter how well meaning he is] is the primary figure of the community should cause us to rethink our present mindset of church and ministry. It is inherently dangerous for any group of people to hear and see and be centered around the giftings of one person [the exception being Christ]. The gifts of the Spirit that freely operate through all of Gods children are powerful. God designed a safety mechanism in the church [body] to prevent the power of these giftings from causing people to become to oriented around one individual. The method God chose was ‘body ministry’. That is Gods pattern of all the people of God corporately sharing and giving to each other would prevent the unhealthy focus on one persons personality. Any group of people, no matter how well intentioned they are, put themselves in an unhealthy position when they violate this principle. We often confuse the New Testament doctrine of leadership and replace it with the charismatic individual. We don’t realize that we are violating the intent of scripture when we do this! All biblical leadership should bring people to a point where ‘He must increase and I must decrease’. Leaders need to be the ones who take the bold initiative to ‘wean’ people off of our personalities.
Children in a natural home environment will go through stages in their relationship with their parents that hopefully bring them to a point of independence. Though they are your children when there 12,25,or 55 yet the way you relate to them will be different as they mature. The mistake we make in present models of church leadership is we think it’s healthy to relate to the people the same way throughout their entire lives. If you hear me preach or function in some prophetic gift week after week for 30 years, and my primary relationship with you is this way, then its only natural for you to develop an unhealthy view of me. It’s inherent in the gift of the Spirit to cause people to be drawn to the persona of Christ, when we violate the principle of body ministry [that is where all the people give and receive from each other] we unconsciously set up an unnatural environment where people are eventually drawn to the wrong persona [the person who they see functioning in the gift all their lives]. Many well-meaning pastors do not realize what a basic violation of scripture this is. Our goal should be bringing people to a point in their lives where they need us less and less as they develop a greater trust in God.
I know that it’s difficult to embrace these truths, even if they are true! I myself had a hard time seeing the reality of the present day mindset of ‘pastor/minister’ as a basic violation of the intention of God for the church [body] to be an environment where people are centered around the persona [identity] of Christ. Many times well-meaning pastors become the central personality of the group in an unintentional way. Out of a sincere desire to ‘protect’ the flock they unintentionally become the central attraction of the local community. They feel that if there were too much freedom the people could go off track. This possibility does exist, but the primary method of preventing people from going off track is to allow them to develop into mature saints who need not be dependent upon us. The example of the parent/child relationship. It would be ‘safer’ to allow the child to never leave the home and for you to always be the child’s main source of comfort and identity, but it would not be right! So likewise in the church leadership needs to re-examine our proper roles and responsibilities. If we have embraced roles of ‘pastor’ that truly violate this most basic principle, then it is incumbent upon leadership to recognize this and to make the proper course corrections as God would direct.
I really want to emphasize the truth that the church is a community of people whose environment tends to the exalting of the personality of Christ at the expense of the personality of the individual leader. God intended the Church to be a place where gifted individuals WOULD NOT come to the forefront in the minds of the group, but would recognize the fundamental nature of servant leadership and willingly take the position of humility. [John 13, 1Cor. 12:22-25]
We don’t seem to understand that the way modern Christians relate to leadership in the present day is in many ways a violation of the spirit of the New Testament. Today it is common in any city to have many churches who all have their own pastors with believers attending the church of their choice. While all of these people [both the pastors and believers] are for the most part well intentioned, they unconsciously develop a mindset that Paul rebuked in the Corinthian church. The church at Corinth [all the believers living in the city!] got to a point where they began identifying themselves by the people they followed. Some said they followed Paul, while others were following Apollos. The actual seeing of the individual leader, and identifying around him was rebuked by Paul.
Now I know that we don’t realize this, but for us today to have many thousands of believers in many cities actually saying ‘he is my pastor’, to the point where all the believers have one main personality that they look to and identify with is not the intent of leadership in the New Testament. The biblical model of believers in any location is to have a plural group of elders that are viewed as trusted community leaders; this is more in keeping with the intent of the New Testament. If you later were to visit these New Testament communities and found them saying ‘he is my elder, or I go to elder so and so’s church’ this would be seen as division resulting from having too high of a view of Christian leadership. I know it’s difficult to realize we have done these things, and I’m not advocating getting rid of all the good men who serve as pastors today, but if we begin to see the basic violation of scripture in our present models of leadership this will allow us to take a more humble approach and hopefully facilitate a greater spirit of unity in the Church.
What I want you to see is how we in the church have a view of ‘local church’ that causes us to have a misplaced loyalty that is inherent in Christ’s brotherhood. Because we view ourselves as ‘members’ of so and so’s church, as opposed to truly being one body in Christ, this breeds a spirit of disloyalty to our fellow brothers in Christ. We tend to hold to the view that if your not a part of ‘my local church’ [meaning the individual meeting I attend] that somehow I am truly not responsible to you. While in reality I really am supposed to have the same care and concern for you as my brother in Christ, regardless of whether or not you attend my ‘church’ [group I meet with]. In the New Testament there are references to the ‘church in your house’ and things of this nature.
Where we usually ‘miss it’ is when we think that somehow these statements violate the concept of our oneness in Christ. When the bible speaks like this, it is not saying that all the believers in one location have separate ‘churches’ that they belong to. It is simply saying ‘that part of Christ’s body that meets in your house’. It would be wrong to view statements like this and then develop an ecclesiology that ‘sees’ a hundred different independent ‘churches’ [entities] in your city. While there very well might be a hundred different groups of believers in your city, you should be committed to these believers just as much as the people you meet with every Sunday. While God recognizes different groups of believers in each city, He also lays down guidelines for our mutual care and concern that we are all to have for one another. Our dividing over ‘who’s church I attend’ creates a false mindset of a lack of loyalty to our brothers because ‘they don’t go to my church’.
I just read a verse in Isaiah [55: 8] ‘My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord’. I want you to see that when we view things from our own perspective [our thoughts] we often violate Gods ways [his thoughts]. Many times when dealing with issues that would personally affect an individual’s present mindset, or the lifestyle that he’s living [like when I deal with the subject of tithing, or the lack of the full-time paid minister in the New Testament story]. People will often reject the truth of scripture [Gods thoughts] simply on the grounds that they are already practicing ‘church’ in a certain way [their thoughts] and have no desire to ‘give up’ their present practice of doing things. Many times it’s simply a matter of personal survival. ‘If you are right John, then it will affect me too much, and I am not willing to ‘die to the way I see things [my thoughts] because it will entail too much pain [I think they used to call this ‘bearing our cross’]’.
So while I don’t want to personally condemn any brother for his views on church and ministry, I want us all to see how we are subject to preferring our own views to Gods [even me!]. It’s a natural tendency of the sinful nature to presume ‘our thoughts’ [our way of seeing things] are ‘Gods thoughts’. It’s when we take this presumption to the extreme that we get into trouble. We get to the point of seeing others who don’t hold to ‘our thoughts’ as violating scripture [Gods thoughts] and then we unconsciously fall into the category of the Pharisees where we condemn those who don’t ‘see things our way’.
ORDINATION AND THE BIBLICAL MODEL OF ACCOUNTABILTY.
In the 1st century Jesus showed up in the midst of a religious system that had a voice of its own and refused to acknowledge anyone who did not submit to its authority. This system [religious Judaism] not only resisted Christ and the disciples, but would later resist the freedom and growth of the New Testament churches established by the apostle Paul. The leaders of this system actually said that they feared loosing the influence they had in society if the young church continued to experience success. They were already showing signs of the kingdoms of men resisting the kingdom of God. The Pharisees had their position that religion gave them and they were unwilling to give it up, even if it meant their rejection of messiah. The Pharisees used the law and religious protocol as a means to de-legitimize those who would not jump through the hoops of their day. Many of our modern concepts of church and ministry unconciously produce the same results. The very idea of ordination in the new testament was simply the public recognition [through the laying on of hands] of those leaders [elders] in the Christian community [not some non profit entity] who were deemed grounded in the person of Christ and could be looked up to as spiritual guides in a voluntary society of believers.
Over the years ordination has evolved into a ritual of licensing and certification from a religious institution in order to be legitimate to function in church circles. So the simple concept of all believers having the ordination of God [John 15] has now developed into a system of approval that one must have in order to function in the church [as a full time minister]. Now while I personally have no problem with ordained ministry, we must see that what we call ordination today is a more developed concept than was originally intended in the New Testament. It can become wrong when we begin to limit the function of all believers as ordained priests under God and use the modern concept of ordination to de-legitimize those who don’t have it. The 1st century Pharisee saw Jesus ministry as a direct violation of their understanding of legitimate ministry. They were using law and religious regulation to exclude people from feeling accepted in Gods society. Jesus way of doing ministry not only violated the current standards of the day, but also opened up a whole new realm of people who would be able to function in Gods kingdom. All who would simply accept him and become a follower were now given legitimacy to spread God's kingdom despite their unwillingness to submit to the system of their day. This is what offended the religious mind of the 1st century Pharisee. They spent years jumping through the hoops of religious protocol in order to function as religious leaders, Jesus comes on the scene and bypasses all their procedures and vests authority to do kingdom works to the common people.
There was a spirit present in both the mind and religion of the 1st century Pharisee. They had an intellectual knowledge of scripture that focused on particular aspects of scripture while never being able to comprehend the ‘body of truth’. Their religious position in society gave them a greater degree of responsibility to be able to understand that Christ himself was the goal and result of all religious learning. In essence they were guilty of possessing a special position in society and because of there unwillingness to loose the ‘honor’ that came from this position they committed the worst type of offense that leaders could commit. They actually rejected the person of Christ in order for there own personas to continue to be at the forefront. If you remember when Paul speaks of antichrist [I am not saying here that present Christian leaders are antichrist!] Paul says that ‘he sits in the temple of God showing HIMSELF to be God’ 2 Thes.2: 4]. There is an aspect of ‘anti-christ’ that rejects the development of the person of Christ in the Church [body] in order for mans persona to remain at the forefront. He sits [antichrist-not wanting Christ to be seen!] in the place of God taking the glory [adulation/honor] to his persona that belongs to Christ.
I want you to see that no matter how well we know scripture, we really know nothing until the actual person of Christ is at the forefront [Jesus being Lord]. When man persists in his pride to continue to hold on to a position of attention in the Christian community that rightfully belongs to Christ, he unknowingly is violating one of the most fundamental truths of the church. What I want you to see, without getting too much into the whole subject of antichrist, is that he wants the place that rightfully belongs to Christ. In the Christian community Christ’s rightful place is the center of our attention. True worship is Him actually being the focus and center of attention. The unhealthy attention that we often see given to people’s personalities is a subtle way the enemy uses from keeping Christ’s image and person from being the center of community.
Recently there was a Christian brother who fell in a very public way. It was a situation where he admitted to certain sins [adultery] and it was very public. While I wont use his name, he was a very influential leader in charismatic circles. He held the title of ‘arch-bishop’ [I don’t understand why we do this stuff!] Well as usual when word got out about his fall, people began to expound on why this happened. Some explained that they thought it was because he wasn’t ‘accountable enough’ [he was archbishop to more than 200 churches!] We never seem to think that if we allow individuals to be exalted above measure, that this itself is a violation of the principle of New Testament leadership. Jesus said whoever exalts himself will be humbled. Many times in Christian circles we don’t realize that we are doing this!
We often blame the fall on ‘lack of accountability’. True accountability is submitting to each other in love. It is not some unnatural structure that we create. I have heard it taught in the way that if some outside person is our ‘covering’ and they call us once a month and yell at us, that some how this is being humble and being accountable. You can’t be accountable without true friendship and relationship. We often jump to the conclusion that when one of our brothers fall that it’s a result of a lack of accountability, when it just might be that we allowed them to be lifted up to a place where the Lord had to humble them. [I don’t want to judge this man, I didn’t even realize I was going to share this but during my prayer time early this morning I continued to pray for him and some other brothers who have fallen, and then I felt the Lord permitted me to share this!] When we allow leaders to attain honorific titles in violation of scripture we are unknowingly placing them in a position where Christ must humble them.
Let me mention here the interesting phenomena of Christians [charismatic and others] seeing the ‘need’ for believers to revert back to ecclesiastical structures. During the Jesus movement of the 70’s, as well as the charismatic movement, there were well intentioned brothers who felt like the freedom of ‘simply following Christ’ and the working of the Spirit were not enough to keep the movements from going off track. They sensed the need to have ‘structure’ for the new believers. Jack Sparks, a brother who felt this way, eventually reverted all the way back to Greek orthodoxy and is an orthodox priest today in California. Others like Bob Mumford and Ern Baxter became involved in the discipleship/shepherding movement which placed an overemphasis on the concept of covering and being in submission to authority. These men were well intentioned, but it is my feeling that there is a degree of arrogance and elitism that causes people to believe that somehow through establishing ‘structure’ that they can safeguard the new Christians who where coming to Christ at this time.
The whole phenomena of reverting back to previous church communities is nothing new. You had the ‘oxford movement’ after the reformation where many Anglican scholars became Catholics after studying the church fathers and other early sources and felt that the earliest Christian witness was Catholic. You had cardinal Newman later on also becoming catholic, or a Frances Schaffer jr. leaving evangelicalism in order to become eastern orthodox. In all these scenarios these are good men who are finding refuge in ‘structure’. While I consider all of these faiths to be Christian, I believe the error of this type of thinking is we seem to believe if we add structure to new believers this will keep them from going off track. The ‘structure’ of the New Testament churches was nothing like this. Their safeguard was in keeping Jesus pre-eminent in their lives and living together in Christian love and brotherhood. When a Paul or other Christian leader saw them getting off track [Galatians/Corinthians] the answer was not more structure, but simply refuting the error and re-presenting Christ. It was ultimately being able to trust God to finish the work that He started in them.
EXAMPLES FROM PASTORS AND BELIEVERS FROM AROUND THE WORLD.
I recently did a study on the whole phenomena of the house church movement. Many of the stories I encountered while doing research went along theses lines. You would find various groups of believers who felt disenfranchised with their roles in modern church systems; they felt like they were professional spectators. The whole concept of church became to them a place where you go to hear lectures. The only one who finds fulfillment in expressing themselves are the professional clergy [and a few rebellious prophets who could muster up the nerve to stand up and speak!] but the overall sense was these people were simply filling roles of listening to preaching week after week without ever truly functioning. Many of these people left their churches to form house/cell type churches. There were also many traditional pastors who saw this same restricting style of contemporary church and also left the whole concept of professional pastor and simply became a bi-vocational leader in a voluntary based movement of believers.
Some of the movements I studied were tremendous in their ability to rapidly spread throughout regions without the drag of salaries, buildings and all the other usual things associated with full time ministry. I find these movements to be exciting and biblical. The whole idea of average believers advancing the kingdom of God without all the trappings of modern religion is truly getting back to the heart of New Testament Christianity. Many of their stories shared a common theme of being seen as rebellious or not willing to submit to authority because of their willingness to break out of restricting mindsets in order to advance the kingdom. Many of the pastors who also left traditional church roles found freedom in not having to raise huge amounts of money for salaries and buildings, they testified of a freedom that came with their not having to sermonize on tithing and other money raising efforts. There was a real sense of effectiveness in the reality of the ‘church’ being vibrant groups of believers who can rapidly expand across a region without having to stop and build structures and set in order clergy and all the other trappings associated with modern day church. While I personally don’t advocate one form above another to the degree that some house church enthusiasts do [it can be just as bad to focus on the ‘house’ in house church as in the building in modern church] but I do see in this movement a return to the simple reality of Christ moving and expanding through his people [true church growth].
As you read the New Testament you never get the feeling that Jesus or the apostles were going to areas to start some type of meeting that they would get people to attend. They were being sent out to spread the great message of Gods kingdom. All the sermons in the book of acts focus on Jesus and his great work for us. After people in these various regions came to the reality of Christ they were then considered to be the church. The actual reality of Jesus living in them through his Spirit is the entity that God recognizes as legitimate to carry out his works. There was no magical element of organizing under a particular form that would then become the ‘church’. They were church by virtue of the fact that Christ dwelt in their hearts by faith.
As these communities spread throughout the earth they would have more mature leaders in their midst who gave guidance and direction to the flock in a voluntary way, but the concept of one professional minister who was hired to perform religious functions for the community was absent from these New Testament ecclesias. The whole mindset of ‘church-planting’ was simply the natural outgrowth of people coming to know Christ. There wasn’t a separate calling to start churches apart from the great commission to go and tell all people about this great gospel of Christ. Apostles had a special gifting to help build these communities, but in no way is this separate from the calling to preach the gospel. It is simply the proclaiming of Christ to communities of people that holds the power of ‘church planting’. And the thing that we’re planting is Christ in the hearts of people. I think if we can get back to seeing things on these terms there will be less of a pressure to go and make something happen, and more of a balance on Christ in us, the hope of glory!
ARE CHURCH BUILDINGS EVIL? [OR THE GUY WHO WANTED TO CAST DEMONS OUT OF ME!]
Many years ago before I really understood the truths of ecclesia and the communal aspect of the church, I was introduced to the belief that the ‘church building’ itself was wrong. I don’t personally adhere to this belief, but let me share the story. While ministering as a new believer in Christ and learning ‘the ropes’ of ministry, I remember driving past a brother who was a street minister from Mexico. It was unusual in the way he was conducting his street meetings. He would get permission to use an empty lot and then set up actual church pews in the lot without walls or any type of cover over it [even if it rained!]. Well one day on my daily rounds of visiting people and witnessing for Jesus [because this is what ministers are supposed to do, right?] I stopped by this brother’s lot and figured I would bless him with some lunch and listen to him preach [I felt sorry for the brother because no one else was attending his meetings]. After he spoke I had a chance to fellowship with him. After hearing his thoughts I realized it was on purpose for him to have no walls or cover over the pews [these were actual church pews that were out there in the open!].
He shared with me the verse in Hebrews [13:10] where it says that those who worship at the sanctuary have no right to partake of the altar of Christ [the cross]. He saw this as meaning that all Christians who meet in buildings [the sanctuary] were lost! Well, even as a young believer in the lord I was smart enough to know that this verse had nothing to do with ‘church buildings’. I showed the brother that in context the verse simply meant that those Jews [remember who the book of Hebrews was written to] who were not willing to leave the old covenant system [the sanctuary] could not move on with the new covenant truth of Christ and his cross. The sanctuary represented the whole concept of law and Judaism. This verse had nothing to do about the inherent nature of church buildings! Buildings themselves are neutral ground; it’s the style of one person functioning [the pastor] at the expense of the rest of the body that I see as less than ideal.
Well after seeing the obvious error of the way this brother was reading this verse, I began to ‘expound unto him the way of God more perfectly’. When he finally understood what I was saying [you could tell by the look in his eyes that he saw the truth] instead of repenting of his distorted view, he became irate and began to cast demons out of me [hey, I didn’t think there were any in me!]. The reason I share this example is because there are those in the house church movement, while not as extreme, seem to view the church building itself as an evil thing.
My personal view is the church building can become a hindrance when we view it as part of a system that makes up ‘church’. We seem to see the whole concept of the church building and the pastor as the weekly speaker and all the other things associated around this structure [like tithing to the storehouse] as ‘the system’ that God instituted to carry out his work in the earth. Remember Gods inherent authority resides in no human system or mode of religious worship. His authority resides in the church, the actual people of God in any given community on earth. So if there are believers carrying out Gods purpose, whether they have the whole system that we deem ‘local church’ or not, is irrelevant. Remember what we said about Jesus and the 1st century religious mind? They were finding fault with Jesus and his disciples because they were not following the religious protocol of the day. When we embrace certain mindsets that see ‘local church’ as the limited system of Sunday worship and all the other usual things associated with it, what we’re unconsciously doing is vesting authority in a style, or form of religious worship while by-passing the true legitimacy of Gods people. Its not to say that Gods people who function in the whole system of Sunday church are illegitimate [that would be making the same mistake as the brother who wanted to cast the demons out of me!] but this shows us how we unconsciously make the same mistake as the 1st century Pharisee by seeing as illegitimate those who don’t follow certain protocols.
It was a common thing during the 90’s to speak about the ‘changing of the wineskin’ in order to receive the new wine [the new move of God]. Many of theses thoughts were helpful in causing us to re-think the way we ‘do’ church. I also remember a common theme being ‘God wants to pour out his Spirit, but the wineskins are not ready’ in some of these examples the ministers actually meant that we don’t have big enough buildings to put all these new converts so God is ‘withholding the new wine until the new buildings go up’. At this point you should begin seeing how once again this is confusing the reality of Christian community with ‘the church building’. I find it interesting that the pouring out of the Spirit at Pentecost was not delayed because of the lack of facilities to put all the new converts in.
Also the great missionary journeys of Paul were not delayed ‘until the new wineskins were in place’. This shows us how we’ve come to view the people of God as being dependent on the present system. Could it be that God withholds His Spirit because the ‘new wineskin’ could refer more to believers seeing themselves as the actual church that God wants to fill? If we are not rightly discerning Christ’s community as a self-sustaining society of people then the church really isn’t able to contain the new wine. If we are so limited in our thinking to view the new wineskin as larger facilities, as opposed to a rethinking of what it means to truly be Christ’s body, then maybe the holdup has more to do with a change in the way we view ‘church’ then it has to do with bigger church buildings!
WHAT IN THE WORLD IS ‘THE LOCAL CHURCH’?
Growing up as a catholic boy [though not a good one] I remember when I came to know the lord I started reading through the bible and found how the bible contradicted many of the religious beliefs I held to as a boy [this is not to say Catholics are not Christian]. Later while attending a good Baptist church I naively believed that good Baptists must have it right because they do read the bible! Well now I see that none of us have everything right [including me!] but some of us are closer to truth than others.
One of the traditions I saw with my Baptist friends was their whole concept of ‘local church’. They seemed to see it as the actual process of ‘going to church on Sunday’ and all the things associated with that particular form of worship. Many of them found fault with the Catholic Church and her traditions, but could not see how their own limited view of ‘local church’ was just as religious as some of the Catholic teachings that they so often criticized. Till this day I still cant see how so many of my brothers in Christ view a particular form of modern church service as ‘the local church’. Some brothers view it to a degree where they really do harm to the rest of the body of Christ.
When any system of church or worship is embraced to the degree of seeing others who don’t embrace it as lost or in rebellion, then we unconsciously are saying that all others are illegitimate. While the practice of Sunday church and the other expressions of it are o.k. with me [to a degree], I still couldn’t see how bible believing Christians could view this form as ‘the’ legitimate form of church that Jesus established 2000 years ago. The ‘church’ in the New Testament are all the communities of believers in any area where they reside. She is not some limited form of worship or specific social group that someone joins. How arrogant would it be for me to teach that the meetings or expressions of my own ministry were ‘the’ local church, and then tell people if they do not put 10% of their money into this expression that they would be under a curse! This really is wrong at the heart of it. Its o.k. for Christians to associate in this Sunday church way, but its not o.k. to view this form as ‘the local church’ to the exclusion of all the other varied forms of ‘church’ that exist in a living organism [the real ecclesia].
I recall reading an article from one of the leaders of ‘youth with a mission’ [ywam] this is a great organization. This leader is seeing many of the truths I’m expressing in this book. He went on to explain how in the early years of ywam that they would lead many college students to Christ, and these students would naturally form on campus Christian associations/bible groups that would flourish naturally as any living organism should. But they would then tell their students that in order to not be in rebellion they needed to be ‘part of a local church’ [not realizing that they already were ‘part of the local church’ by virtue of the fact that Christ was dwelling in them and having expression through them as they met together]. Well the brother explained how they would then send them into ‘the local churches’ [which really meant lecture hall/church building environments in order to hear sermons]. And how these young groups of students would stagnate by being told to be under this type of authority. So what they viewed as being in submission to authority and being ‘under a local church covering’ was really a violation of the true expression of church that already existed in the on campus meetings. The brother also shared how they felt constrained to send the students to ‘the churches’ in order to appease the egos of the men who led the churches. This little example shows us how the mindset of viewing one form of religious expression as ‘the local church’ can actually hinder ‘the local church!’
One night I attended a fellowship group where a bunch of Christians ‘unofficially’ met together to eat and share and just have a good time [much like the early atmosphere of the Lords supper/love feast]. During this time of fellowship everyone just shared, sang and enjoyed themselves in a very relaxed atmosphere. The place we were at is a beautiful environment out in the country that is dedicated to the body of Christ. This place is not considered ‘a local church’, though every aspect of our meeting fit the criteria of ‘local church’ to the tee. On our way back to Corpus Christi the friend I was with had recently read some of our books and sincerely asked me about my views on the ‘local church’. This brother is a mature older prophet in the Corpus Christi area with a proven track record of faithfulness to the Lord.
He couldn’t understand why I saw very little distinction between the ‘local church’ and para-church ministries. Well as we were driving back into town it was late in the evening and all the lights of C.C. could be seen, it was a great view of the city. I explained to my friend how what we just experienced at the ‘para-church’ ministry was a real expression of ecclesia and Christian unity. Two or more were gathered together and Christ was present. As we drove back into town I explained that today [it was Sunday] many various groups of believers met in many different locations and that this was also an expression of the Body of Christ. And as we looked over the city I told him that my understanding of all the various ‘churches’ that met together in all the different locations were in Gods eyes one church. That the New Testament doesn’t show them to be 100 different separate entities that we call ‘local church’, but that all the believers who gathered in this day were ‘local church’ [ecclesia] even the ones who met at the Christian camp [actually the style of meeting at the camp was more in keeping with the 1st century model].
God sees his church as one entity, not as many different entities all with their own separate identities. There are many church buildings going up in our city [nothing wrong about this], while driving to work not to long ago I noticed how one of the churches is building within a few hundred feet of another church. They are both good churches, but God simply doesn’t see these brothers as separate entities. It would be like the kids living in your home, they might be in different rooms right next to each other, but they don’t ‘operate’ as unique entities apart from the other siblings [at least I hope not!].
I was fellowshipping with a friend and sharing with him some of the thoughts in this book. During our discussion he was struggling with the concept of ‘the church’ being a free society of Christ followers [a brotherhood] as opposed to the normal way we see church today [the whole concept of Sunday church as the ‘church’ we go to]. While trying to explain myself [or should I say ‘defend’] I noticed that there was a picture of the last supper on the wall. I then used it as an illustration of ‘local church’. I showed him how this ‘supper’ was one aspect of Jesus sharing of his life with the disciples. Jesus lived and walked daily with his disciples for three years and is now going to leave them for their benefit [even though they don’t see it yet!].
During this final meal he rightfully is the center of their attention. He has already taught them the principle of calling no man on earth ‘father’ or ‘master’ or ‘rabbi’, because they are all brothers and their master/rabbi is Christ himself. So the atmosphere of them all being equal at this supper with him being the focal point is an intentional lesson for them. He then does the unthinkable, he gets up from the table and puts on a servants garb [towel] and begins to wash their feet! He tells them he is giving them an example of what it will mean to be a leader in the church. He shatters the gentile idea of leadership [being at the top] and once again shows them that the last will be first is a real mindset that is to be lived out in Christian community. True ‘local church’ is the common sharing of the life of Christ [the Eucharist is a picture of this] in Christian community where we all are equals [this means all, do you see how there was purposely no man or office that was predominant here, apart from Christ] and where leadership is identified by a servant’s heart!
THE SPIRIT OF COMPETITION IN THE MODERN CHURCH
Over the years while working with brothers who were addicts or ex-cons we would spend a lot of time just fellowshipping and spending time together as friends. Jesus was actually accused of being a friend of sinners. This accusation seemed to imply that it was all right to view people as a thing to be ministered to, but to actually befriend sinners was a violation of the religious world of separation between sinner and saint. The religious mind views people as a resource pool to accomplish ministry goals. People are viewed as being expendable. I have often seen the example used where if people are in the way of accomplishing religious goals then you must avoid them. While the principle of not allowing critics to stop us from accomplishing God given goals is important, yet we must put in perspective that the actual city/building that God desires to build is the community of people herself. Many times while working with these friends of mine we would run into or have experiences where other pastors would interact with them in efforts to ‘get them into their church’. Some would visit one church or another and then later tell me how the one pastor would be offended that they went to the other ‘church’. They seemed to be able to see right through the church games that these men were playing.
The goal of these well meaning pastors was to get people to go ‘to their church’ which in many of these scenarios simply meant attending a building to listen to someone preach. If the many ‘churches’ are simply competitive lecture halls from which men find personal fulfillment by having people come and listen, then in these scenarios the struggle or guilt that we put on people to make them come is an actual violation of the true church, which after all is made up of all these various believers in our communities. I am not saying that in all of these types of situations that there are never legitimate expressions of church, but the actual spirit of this type of thing goes on a lot in the average city. The people can fall into mindsets of where their simply being viewed as tools to accomplish religious goals. In the New Testament the mindset of ministry and ‘church planting’ had nothing close to this sort of attitude. The New Testament Churches were simply communities of people who gathered around the reality of Jesus. In these communities church was a daily way of life, it was not focused around meetings at all.
This is why I take issue with the strong house church emphasis that actually sees a pattern of ‘house church’ as the only legitimate expression of church. This is the same mistake as the building centered approach. They are both focusing on the wrong thing, where the people meet. The focus in the New Testament is not on where or even how they meet, but the emphasis is on the reality of all the believers in any given location as being the corporate expression of Christ in all types of situations. The fact that Christ lives in all of us is the great mystery. It’s really insignificant in my thinking on exactly how we meet. Now I know that some styles are better than others. For instance a meeting where all the believers function by sharing and caring for one another is much more edifying, but the daily reality of Christ manifesting through us as we interact in community is the true church. This obviously includes our meetings, but like I said earlier the New Testament thrust was preaching the gospel to people. It wasn’t on setting up meetings at all. The meetings were a simple outgrowth of true church life. When we loose the reality of this we digress into this competitive approach that causes pastors to compete with one another in a childish way. Paul told the Corinthians that their sectarian attitude to gather around the personas of men was a sign of their immaturity.
I can’t believe how immature we are in our thinking. I was having a discussion with a mature leader in the church and when I shared some of these truths he actually said ‘my pastor knows how to spot wolves who try to come in and harm us’ [or something to that effect] the feeling I got was he was feeling threatened. Now this was a mature believer in his 50s[I’m 43 as I write this book]. The reason I say this is because it seemed so unnatural for a mature saint to even use the term ‘my pastor’. In the body of Christ there are many different gifts, some are apostles others prophets, some evangelists, but out of all these gifted ones it would be highly unscriptural to refer to any of these in this way. Just try it, do you feel comfortable saying ‘my prophet’ or ‘my apostle’ then why do we think ‘my pastor’ is not indicative of our immature thinking. I am not advocating the doing away of this term [pastor] but this language should cause us to rethink our immature ways of seeing church. Church is not an endless series of religious meetings whereby people ‘attend’ in order to listen to bible words being spoken. The practical instruction and teaching that are operating in any healthy group of people will allow there to be room for the functioning of all the people in the group. This codependence that we’ve developed with the emphasis on one persons persona is in direct violation of the function and flow of New Testament thought.
The phenomena of one person being the primary voice and expression in the group [ecclesia] are an immature result of not rightly discerning Christ’s body. When people are together at social functions there is usually at least one person who has had a few drinks. You can identify that person by the way he acts. He wants to dominate the conversation, if you try and talk back he’ll cut you off because he derives enjoyment when the conversation centers around himself. He actually feels good about being the predominant voice in the group, to the exclusion of every other voice! I don’t know if we realize it or not, but in many modern church scenarios this is what the world sees. They frankly don’t want to ‘go to church’ because it has become an environment where one person is doing all the talking, and a lot of times it’s about him! People are tired of this. Our conversation [more than one person speaking] should revolve around the person of Christ as opposed to the persona of any one person.
Grasping the biblical truth of leaders choosing between effective ministry or ministry for the honor of men is a hard pill to swallow if you are involved with the ‘honor of men’ mode at the present time [if you are now reading this and it describes you!]. What I want us all to see is that it takes true courage to walk in truth in every generation of believers from the 1st. century until today. There were many well-meaning Christians during the time of the reformation who were serving God as priests in the Catholic church. Many felt it to be a disruption to go on in the new truths of the reformation [justification by faith] and simply remained faithful to God in the majority position of their day. These priests were still Christians [for the most part] and many of them sincerely followed Christ to the best of their ability without embracing the new truths that God was bringing forth in their day. I mention this because there are many well-meaning brothers in Christ who see the things in this book as truth, but choose to stay in the majority system of contemporary church and will continue to be used by God to a degree. The real question for us is do we want to be a part of ‘modern reformation’ or just be faithful to the system [after all our brothers have been doing it this way for years!].
GOD’S PEOPLE ARE NOT SIMPLY ASSETS TO AN ORGANIZATION!
Getting back to the story of the children of Israel in the book of exodus. If you remember the story God took his society of people, who were many [big numbers] and he brought them through stages to lead them into a place where they would become a self-sustaining entity on their own [with God as their king!]. They were living in Egypt and being ruled over by taskmasters. The bondage they were under was an expectation to produce a certain amount of building materials in order for the cities of man to be built. The cities represented the images and personas of men. In the process of God delivering them from this bondage of image building he raises up Moses [a type of Christ]. Moses God given prophetic authority begins to confront mans authority [pharaoh] and begins a process of freeing the people from this mindset of being ruled over in order to produce things so the images of men would be glorified [ouch!].
As Moses confronts mans authority, he at the same time leads the people on a journey. The journey is exciting and life changing, but it also has many risks and pitfalls. The children of Israel’s response determined how long this journey would take. The more they complained about this new walk and all of the difficulties involved with it, the longer it would take before they could enter a place of rest and true self rule [under God]. During this season of testing and trial in the wilderness they actually longed to go back into a system of being ruled over because the old system provided a sense of stability and structure that they were comfortable with, despite the fact that they were slaves in it! In process of time they [their children] eventually do enter into the promised land of self-rule.
They obtain their own national identity [the nation of Israel] apart from simply existing under another’s identity [Egypt] and God begins leading them with the assistance of prophets and judges and elders [a type of plural leadership flowing freely in society]. During process of time they reach a stage where they see how all the other nations are ruled [watch out!] and decide that they too want a king [man] to rule over them. Wow, after all that God brought them through to deliver them from mans control you would think they wouldn’t have done this! Well God actually says that by doing this they are rejecting his leadership for the leadership of men. He even warns them that this type of ‘mans rule’ will take of their best men and use them for the self-advancement of his dynasty. God says this king will even demand the tithes of the people in order to fund his kingdom [wow]. I guess when God says that the things that happened to Israel were for a sign for us so we don’t make the same mistakes; he really means it [1st cor.10]!
Many times in our present understanding of church we view people as assets to our ‘organization.’ ‘Wow if I could just get that talented person as a staff member in our church’. This way of viewing people as things that can help our organizations grow is the ‘Saul’ mindset ‘he will take of your best men’ mentality. People have intrinsic value, they are valuable in Gods eyes because of the simple fact that Christ died for them and has purchased them with his blood. People are not objects or tools to be looked upon as assets to an organization. If you were to adopt a child [a very noble task] hopefully you would do it because you loved the child and wanted to be with them. If this child later found out that you did this in order to gain some type of benefit [like a tax deduction or something of this nature] your child would be devastated. So when we view Gods children [the true church] as objects that will help advance our ‘churches’ [organizations] we devalue them.
I am not saying here that all present models of leadership in the church are ‘mans rule’, but a large degree of it is. There is so much image building that goes on in the church that it’s not even funny. Much of the collecting of tithes is simply a process where one leader is in competition with the other in order to ‘out build’ him, and a lot of times the people begin to simply be weekly attendees of our meetings who we deliver messages to and then hope to bring in a huge offering so the image of ‘our church’ can gain a degree of respect in the community. Like I said before, there is nothing inherently wrong with ‘big churches’ or ministries, but we must be careful that as we build we are not doing it at the expense of Gods true heritage [the people of God!].
If we can grasp the concept of Gods people actually being the vehicle that God uses to express His image and purpose in the earth, then we will stop viewing them as being simply a resource pool to accomplish ministry goals. My own prayer time has evolved as I began to see these truths. I used to spend a lot of time praying for the success of ‘my ministry’ but as I’ve come to see these truths I focused my prayer time more on the actual purposes of God to be made manifest through all the people we relate to. I began praying for God to accomplish and activate his purposes directly through his people. I began viewing ministry as not so much ‘something I am building for God’ but as the expression of his Son being developed and manifested through the people I relate to. If the people you influence over your life are truly impacted by the person of Christ, then in essence you have had a successful ministry. Many of these approaches to ministry will obviously not have the same amount of outward ministry things to look to [like buildings] therefore the concept of not building for the honor of men must be fully grasped by those who take on this style of ministry. This way of seeing and doing ministry also allows you to be free from having to raise large amounts of money in order to accomplish ministry goals. God truly can and will use any believer to expand his kingdom in the earth as you begin to see ministry this way.
Jesus simple way of sending the disciples out and telling them not to worry about purse or scrip [money. I like the way the message bible puts it ‘don’t think you need a lot of extra equipment for this, you are the equipment. No special appeals for funds, keep it simple’ Mark 6] shows us the simplicity of all believers being able to carry out ministry by virtue of the fact that Christ is in us. This is what I tried to stress earlier, that as you begin to view ministry as a simple function of Christ revealing and manifesting himself through his people, then this is something we all can do all the time. No big process of raising money [no special appeals for funds] but simply being a Christian in society and interacting with God and fellow believers in all types of situations makes the presence of Christ manifest [where 2 or more are gathered there am I in the midst]. It is common today to view ministry as a function of professionals and the need for them to raise money for projects causes there to exist in the Christian community a mindset where good Christians are always appealing for funds in order to accomplish some project. This actually projects the image that ministry is some type of a separate function apart from us. This really violates the whole concept of ministry being a natural outgrowth of believers being in right relationship with God [John 15].
WHAT MODEL OF CHURCH GOVERNMENT DO I ESPOUSE?
Over the years when dealing with these types of issues I have found it difficult to break through the ‘normal’ way and pattern of thinking that most Christians have. For instance some times people will ask me the question ‘what type of church government do you believe in’? Most Times in their minds they’re really asking me ‘what type of order, or pattern of Sunday church do you espouse’. While I also understand that they are including the concept of government that applies to the broader association of the various denominations, to me they are still ‘seeing’ church government as a particular order imposed by the ‘separate entity’ of their denomination. Let me try to make this a little clearer [hopefully].
If I were to explain to someone the reality of natural human life, I would go through the process of showing how life starts between a healthy relationship of 2 people coming together by Gods design [I hope I don’t have to get to detailed here!]. As children are born they will go through various stages of development and life. They will encounter many different situations as they proceed along this thing called life. One of the many things that most children will have [though sad to say, not all] is a home environment. This home environment is just one of the many things that make up their lives. In this home/house they will at different times and in different settings be taught all types of things, both by example and through actual instruction [I thought I told you to clean up your room! 2 days ago!].
In this home environment you might have a special day where you all come together in the family room for devotional time [this day varies with my younger girls but I try to do this on a weekly basis]. While this devotional time is important, it is only one small aspect of their entire lives. If you were to refer to this one day of teaching as ‘the life/the church’ I would correct your thinking and say this small area of Christian activity, though important, is only one aspect of their lives. Life itself is the actual organic reality of them being human beings who were birthed and grew up as real human beings. The sum total of all their experiences have shaped them, but they themselves, by virtue of the fact that they were born and actually [really] exist as human beings, is life. Life does not describe the home/house environment only. Or just one specific way in which we do our devotion time. It consists of the fact that they are truly alive!
So getting back to the question of ‘what type of church govt. do I believe in’ I often answer ‘none’, to the surprise of the person asking the question. I then go on to explain that I view ‘church’ as the actual living/organic entity of Gods people. God’s people are Gods people by virtue of the fact that they were born into his family; they are children of God, really! They are ‘church’ because of this fact. They will experience many good [and sometimes bad] things along the way. Most of them will find a ‘home/house’ environment to go to in order to associate with other believers [what we often describe as church] during these times of fellowship there will be certain days in which instruction is given [normally Sunday]. And they will experience many other types of situations throughout their Christian experience. So when someone asks me what type of church govt. do I believe in, I usually see the question to mean ‘what type, or style of Sunday church meeting do you espouse’. I try to make an effort to explain that I believe in the ‘actual church govt.’ that is I believe that all the people of God, all the time make up the church everywhere they are [remember Jesus answer to the Samaritan woman].
As God is daily communicating and interacting with his people by his Spirit this is an actual real existence that we share both with our creator and all of our brothers and sisters in Christ. This type of ‘church govt.’ is what I espouse. The ‘ordaining’ of elders in the New Testament was simply the recognition of more mature/grounded spiritual leaders who the early Christian communities could look to for guidance and direction [or correction] as they experience and live out ‘church life’. We have such a legalistic mind that as Christians we have changed church govt. to describe a certain form, or way of doing religious meeting while it originally referred to God ‘governing’ His people through the ‘govt.’ of Jesus being at the right hand of glory!
THE CAT CHAPTER [I DID THIS FOR MY KIDS!]
Whenever I have this type of discussion I usually receive different responses from well meaning Christians in defense of the old way of seeing church. Some feel it is total rebellion to even dare question the system [my pastor knows how to spot wolves mentality, which usually means me!] sometimes people try to devalue this message by saying ‘oh, that brothers one of those theologian types’ which I assure you I’m not! [never been to bible school, never been ordained [by men]]. Some feel that this way of seeing ‘church’ is impractical. I believe that seeing all of Gods people as the actual entity in earth that God has ordained to advance his kingdom is the most practical thing you can do. I personally have been active and involved as a believer in all sorts of practical charitable outreach. I do this by virtue of the fact that I’ve been ordained by God to go into all the world and make disciples. Whether you realize it or not, so are you!
All the ‘ministry’ stuff I do is not some higher calling that I have in which others need to recognize and support in order for them to get some type of reward simply because they support me [by the way we do not accept financial support]. This mindset creates a false barrier that causes Christians to see ministry as something separate from themselves, that somehow relieves them from their own personal responsibility to spread the kingdom. We sort of give the attitude that if the ‘average Christian’ simply supports the pro’s that he’s fulfilled his obligation. I often tell people that I am no different than them. God requires all believers to reach out and touch society around them in real practical ways.
No one is to simply be a book writer, or radio speaker or any other ‘thing’ we see as ministry. But we are all responsible to reach out in real practical ways, touching the lost world around us. Our real message as Christians is that God so loved the world that He gave His only Son. The message that the world needs to hear from us is that God is not mad at them, or trying to make them conform to some church standard. But God has already embraced and accepted them through Jesus Christ. Our message is one of total reconciliation and forgiveness. We all bare a responsibility to give our lives away for the sake of others. This whole book is to emphasize the reality and responsibility we all share in the great commission. The great truth of God ‘legitimizing’ all of us bares with it a great responsibility to touch the world. Jesus said to whom much is given much will be required.
This book hopefully opened your eyes to some degree to how much has been given to you. Much is now required. All the ‘ministry’ things that I personally do, working with homeless people, ex-cons [or present ones!], doing radio, personal outreach/evangelism, all of these areas are a natural function of trying to hear God and respond. I’m not saying I do everything right, I’m sure I don’t [really sure!] but I try to view ministry as simply hearing and doing the works of Jesus. If the verse in Mark says to ‘make no special appeals for funds, travel light because you are the equipment’ then my first reaction to God calling me to do something in ministry is to simply act. This is a forgotten doctrine of the old traditional church; I think they used to call it ‘obedience’. So my response to God should be ‘Lets go’.
Now I realize practically there are many contemporary building based churches that are hearing and responding to God, and that many of these pastors are obviously not going to personally fund everything they do. But I’m trying to show how we often respond to God’s call on us by perceiving that ‘God wants me to start a ministry’, once again falling into the trap of seeing ministry as some type of entity [usually a 501c3] that God wants us to start. God isn’t telling the ‘entity’ to do it, He’s telling you! [Or me] do you see this? So all the ministry stuff I do is without a board, no 501c3, and no separate entity at all. Just do it! [I should make a note here, in the early days I did incorporate and had a name, Corpus Christi outreach ministries, but this now is simply the name of our radio program. It’s more humble to leave it like this then to tell everyone ‘you’re listening today to John Chiarello’]. Now the principle of team work is important, after all this book is about the Church, Gods corporate people, but what I want you to see is you are free to do kingdom works without starting some ‘thing’.
I have also sensed at times that when I share this simple approach I take concerning ministry, that it will offend others who have gone the more traditional route. Sort of like a feeling of ‘how dare you think that you can just do these things on your own, who is your covering!’. This attitude is what I was trying to express earlier when I shared how the mindset of the 1st century Pharisee was offended at both Jesus and his disciples simply doing kingdom works because they were sent by God. There seems to be a lack of understanding of the true nature of our sonship in Christ. While God doesn’t want Christians to be rebellious or out of order, we often use this type of language in order to challenge true believers who are walking in the will of God.
If you think about it all of the commands in the New Testament are given to believers in order for us to actively participate in kingdom works. Jesus says when he returns that all nations will be judged on whether they fed him when he was hungry, or visited him when he was in prison [actual things that Christians should do]. He gives instructions on when we invite people for a meal to invite the down and out because they cant repay us [no political lobbying here!] but how many times have we actually done these things? We seem to read the new testament and confer the responsibility of these things on ‘the church’ as in if she were some type of separate institution that if we just give money to that we will be relieved of our responsibility to act!
Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for this type of thinking. Jesus also taught that there would be people who at the judgment would be rejected because they never knew him, these people primarily focused on ministry as being ‘performance’ [have we not prophesied in your name type mentality]. This shows us that true ministry are the works done as a response of the compassion of Christ being expressed through us. Ministry is primarily not a function of religious performance. In American Christianity we often view ministry as a time were someone will be performing in an audience type atmosphere. Either a great sermon or fantastic singer, while there are times where these types of gifts edify, we often view ministry in these ways not realizing that for the most part this is simply ‘performance’. [I don’t want to sound mean here, but I really don’t know how else I could say this!]
A few weeks ago I took a trip to the New York City area, before I left I gave specific instructions to my kids to not bring home any more cats! I told them that they all ready had enough pets and I didn’t want them to have any more. My daughters have been involved with a lot of pet rescues where they find strays and get them fixed and get all their shots and find them homes. The only problem is some times the home they find is mine! To be honest they have done pretty well. I also now have two dogs living with us [it’s a long story]. So when I arrived back from my trip I was greeted by the whole family and I noticed there was a strange looking kitten, I wasn’t really sure if it was new or one that I just didn’t remember. Well as the puppy is playing with the kitten my daughter says ‘oh, daddy did you see the new kitten, she belongs to the puppy’ in essence they were telling me that they really didn’t get any new pets, but that one of the pets got a new pet! This is what you would call living up to the letter of the law while violating the spirit of the law. This is what we do in our understanding of church and ministry. The whole intent is to build and edify people. They are the valuable object to God. In our efforts to ‘build ministry’ we often devalue them [most of the times unconsciously]. As we re-examine our ideas and concepts of church it is my goal to lead us to a place where people are valued again, even if it’s at the expense of the institution!
Let me end this chapter with one more ‘cat’ story. One day one of our cats was killed by a car. My kids were upset so I violated the rule of not bringing any more cats home and went to the local shelter and adopted this real cute kitten. Well being I was the first voice that this kitten would hear [from my family] she became closer to me than normal. After a few more bad experiences with cats getting out my kids took 3 new stray kittens [recently rescued] and put them all in their room for months. The litter box, food and everything they needed was in this little isolated closed environment [watch out], well they stuck my little kitten in there too!
After a few months I told my kids that this isn’t right. I haven’t seen my kitten for so long, she used to play with me and really liked me a lot, being I was the first voice she’d grown accustomed to. Well my kids warned me that she isn’t like that anymore, she’s been with the little scared strays in the room for so long that she’s picked up the scared attitude and is afraid of people. Well I couldn’t believe that she would have forgotten my voice, I know its been a long time since she’s heard it, but after all I am her ‘daddy’ and she was a special kitten to me. Well I finally broke this little secluded environment that they were living in and went into the room. Sure enough all the cats were scared of this type of forced intimacy. I was just to close! They all had this scared look and ran under the bed. I couldn’t believe that even my little kitten was so affected by the natural fear that these strays had, that she too thought it necessary to hide from the face of her father.
Well after a few seconds my little cat came running out from under the bed and into my arms, as if to say ‘yes I remember you, your that first person that rescued me that day a long time ago, Its been so long since I saw you that I had forgotten your voice. I have been living with these unwanted strays for so long that I was afraid to approach you anymore’ well I think this is what happens to Gods kids sometimes. They start out at ‘the day of rescue [salvation]’ with the joy of hearing His voice, but after living our lives out in unnatural environments [closed rooms] for so long we forget what it was like to truly hear his voice and to commune with him. Often times there needs to be an intrusion into our closed environments before we can recognize the voice of our father once again. [NOTE; when I told my girls I was going to put a story about our cats in the book, they said ‘wow, our cats are going to be famous’ we just cant seem to get away from this desire to legacy build!]
Leadership is primarily the function of helping people ‘get out of their rooms’. It is the process of leading people away from feeling content and satisfied in our little rooms of fellowship and doctrine, which cause us to feel superior to our brothers and sisters in Christ. The end result of this little book shouldn’t be ‘now that I see these things I have found a ‘new’ room to dwell in [the room of the doctrine of ecclesiology/house church] but the result should be seeing ourselves as free in Christ and being built up as co-equal members of Christ’s body, Paul said knowledge puffeth up but charity buildeth up [edifieth]. As we all come out of our peculiar rooms of various doctrines [some of which are true!] we don’t advocate the belief that doctrine is not important but want to bring people to a place where we find our identity in the person of Christ as opposed to the doctrines of men.
I would like to end this little booklet in an unconventional way. I want to simply share some thoughts from my own personal mission statement. Also I want to speak directly to all of our friends who either listen to us on radio or who I relate to in some way in the kingdom. Over the years of sharing these truths I would often have people who have heard us or read one of our books and after seeing certain truths would express their concern about their church, or so and so’s church. I without fail have always defended the church or pastor. The reason is I feel that the truths in these books are not to be used to personally come against a particular church or pastor. I do believe we all need to examine our motives and readjust our thinking when it comes to why we do the things we do ‘for God’. Its possible to be involved in church building and without realizing it, to be building monuments that will burn up in the day of judgment. All true church building consists of unselfishly depositing into other people for their growth and benefit. Ministry is not a ‘career choice’ as if someone were choosing between auto mechanic/fire-fighter/pastor. Ministry is a gift that God deposits in all his people for the mutual edification of the whole body. What we fail to see in many present forms of church is how we are simply empowering a few individuals at the expense of the people in the pews.
I have seen many well-meaning men go into ministry and immediately feel a sense of fulfillment because they are flowing and speaking and giving out of themselves to others. The writing of this book as well as the radio programs I do give a sense of fulfillment in that we are all created to give ourselves away. But in many current situations the main speaker is finding fulfillment at the expense of the rest of the body. God designed the church to be a place where all of Gods people would find fulfillment in giving themselves away. The unnatural act of submission that we often teach is not true biblical submission. We often tell people if they are not satisfied with their passive role as listeners that they are in rebellion. While in reality true rebellion is not developing into the mature functioning person that God wants all of us to be. My purpose is not to give Christians excuses to ‘not go to church’.
The mindset of ‘I can worship God on the golf course’ mentality. But to cause us to radically rethink what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. The Pharisees of Jesus day were involved in all types of religious activities, but Jesus said their main motivation was to simply attain a certain status amongst their fellow peers. He said that’s what they were in it for and that they already received their reward [the honor of men]. Why do we want to build big ministries? Is it truly for the glory of God or are we unconciously enjoying the natural success that comes with the adventure of any big project? I’m not against big projects in and of themselves, but we must examine our motives for doing the things we do. True New Testament Church planting is simply depositing Jesus image into the people we relate to over our lifetime. What legacy did Paul leave behind? Was it some huge earthly institution? We find him at the end of his life living in a rented house, receiving visitors and declaring the kingdom of God [Acts 28; 30-31] he left behind a legacy of gentile communities who believed in Christ!
Here are some of my own personal thoughts from my mission statement.
1 spend time making quality friends, all ministry takes place in this type of atmosphere.
2 true leadership is relating directly to groups of people in cities, not starting some type of organization.
3 the apostle Paul had relationship with believers in different locals, but he didn’t own them.
4 don’t try to produce only one type or way of church, but allow Gods natural process to work in various ways.
5 relating to areas/groups of people regularly is building the body. Either a church building, home or any regular place of contact can be the format for building the house of God.
6 planting churches in the New Testament sense was not the concept of setting up regular meetings in which Paul would preach to them week after week as a pastor, but planting churches was an apostle going to a location and making believers of the gospel of grace, and then trusting the Spirit in them to continue his work. Paul did speak of recognizing and ordaining elders in these cities, but it wasn’t a weekly church concept.
7 in the book of acts the focus wasn’t on setting up meetings, but sharing Christ with groups of people and relating to them as a family of children of whom you will always have relationship with, but allow them to mature and grow up on their own and eventually become independent.
8 the focus isn’t meetings but ecclesia. That is the actual people you disciple. when Jesus sent them out 2 by 2 it wasn’t to start home groups, but to bring the kingdom to regions. Don’t sacrifice the freedom of touching people directly. Jesus and those he sends simply speak, do, share and communicate with people. His great commission to go and make disciples and baptize. Direct authority to do kingdom without having to start or set up a movement. The movement itself is ‘Jesus family’ [ecclesia]. You will meet with people, but the focus is the people not the act of meeting. Learn to relate to people without having an agenda. Simply be free to love people.
9 look at Jesus and the 12. Later in acts, even Paul when going to a region, he holds meetings for a limited time [though the longest was around 2 years] preaches Christ, has a give and take with the community and then leaves. No ‘starting’ of anything, but a revolution in the hearts and minds of people. Later when re-visiting these communities, these are the ‘churches’ of the New Testament. We must see and operate in this simple way. This simple way is New Testament church planting.
10 his yoke is easy and burden light. Go into all the world and preach the gospel. Don’t loose the simplicity of doing Gods will. He requires nothing more than to go and touch and share and love. The people you touch are the ecclesia.
11 in these friendships the main truth will be Jesus and his grace, these friends will be encouraged to continue in Jesus and his grace. Prayer, bible study, fellowship and their journey with God. Be available to baptize and communicate with them, but allow God to grow the seed.
12 you never get the sense/feeling from Jesus or Paul that they were going somewhere to recruit people to their ministry. The sense was bringing this great message and kingdom to people! The people continued in the apostles doctrine and fellowship with each other and later Paul would come back to see how they were doing, not to start some type of ministry, but true long term friendships in the kingdom.
13 the freedom isnt 'house church’ or ‘temple worship’ but the kingdom being amongst us now! Obeying Jesus command to love! This command is free from all forms and structures of ministry, and allows us to daily love in action, always sharing in word and deed Jesus. A willingness to baptize those who believe and share and love and relate on a friendship basis. Jesus style.
I would like to note here that at the present time [2000’s] there are many worldwide Christian movements that are actually doing many of the things that I mentioned in this book. There are many ‘ex-pastors’ who have left their former roles as the central figure of the people they were pastoring and have continued to serve the body of Christ in a bi-vocational way [not getting paid to pastor!]. While I am not advocating this for every pastor who might read this book, I share this to emphasize that these thoughts are presently being practiced on a large scale worldwide [I do a lot of research!]. When people are confronted with new truth there is a tendency to discredit the messenger, so I wanted you to see that there are many thousands of believers who are walking this path right now. There are also many brothers who have seen these things before I did and I appreciate the role they played in helping me to see new truth. In many cases the believers who have left there former churches to live in simple community have been ostracized and looked upon as backslidden rebels. This has created in some a resentment in those who are technically correct in their seeing the church as the community, but many wont hear their voices because of the barrier of resentment that they pick up from them. So you have some who remain in the old way of seeing church and justify it by the fact that some who moved on have a bad attitude. We are all responsible before God to respond to truth when confronted with it, regardless of how much we resent the messenger! I personally believe that after reading this little book that your level of responsibility has gone up. You must ask God how He personally wants you to respond to the truths presented to you.
A few weeks ago I had a dream that I felt was prophetic, over the years I have had many interesting dreams and visions. I have never shared any of them in book form, but have spoken about them through our radio program. I dreamt that I was going to a Christian university, when arriving at the university there were many scholarly people dressed in suits and ties. There were many classes going on and discussions taking place about theological subjects. As I continued on my tour of the university there was a classroom where all the professors were gathered in a circle examining something. As I got closer I saw in the middle of these scholars there was what looked like an Indian warrior, he was crouched and just sitting there as something to be examined. He was severely scarred, not just normal scares but sort of a grotesque mutilation. He was there as something to be examined [I thought of the verse in Isaiah where it says he was marred more than any man, that he was wounded to beyond the point of recognition]. Later when I woke up I felt part of this dream spoke to the danger of us as Christians being able to learn and study truth, while never fully embracing the mystery in Christ. We have a tendency to build people up with all sorts of doctrines and never arriving at the point of fully grasping Him. My goal is after reading this book that your focus will not be ‘now I am going to go do the things in this book’, but that you would be able to see Him to a greater degree. Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith.
Let me close with this, the apostle Paul told the Corinthians that he was given authority by God to build them up and not to tear them down. He actually regretted being so hard on them in his 1st letter, but later said he was glad he made them sorry for a season because it would later bear good results. While I'm not comparing myself to the apostle, I do see a similar situation in some of the teaching we do. Its seems to upset people initially but after a while it will produce good fruit. My intent in examining our whole idea of church and ministry is not to give people ammunition to fight against their church, but rather to cause us all to embrace a more biblical concept of church and ministry. I personally do not advocate the total deconstructing of all present day church practices. I personally believe there is room for both building based churches [the church building] and the house church movement. My appeal is for us to look at all these issues and come to our own conclusions on how to embrace these truths at our own pace. I thank the lord that he has been patient with me as I walk this journey and I want to give you all the same room and grace he has extended to me. May God bless you guys until the next book!