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Fixing Our Churches – The Lost Love

Westboro Baptist Church picket in Beverly Hills

Westboro Baptist Church picket in Beverly Hills (Photo credit: k763)

Fixing Our Churches – The Lost Love

Acts 2:44-47 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW) 44 All the believers kept meeting together, and they shared everything with each other. 45 From time to time, they sold their property and other possessions and distributed the money to anyone who needed it. 46 The believers had a single purpose and went to the temple every day. They were joyful and humble as they ate at each other’s homes and shared their food. 47 At the same time, they praised God and had the good will of all the people. Every day the Lord saved people, and they were added to the group.

I was reading some articles about the problems that churches in the United States have. Things like lack of commitment, not teaching the Word (implies teaching a western university method with references and focused on the western academic mind), keeping the finances up with the perceived needs of the congregation, and on and on.

There actually were several articles with really good and deeply profound ideas, but I noticed that many of these articles missed what it seems to me was the core of the early church.

The early church (no matter how large or small) had at it’s core one key focus – one another. I am intrigued by the American church’s focus on either getting bigger by counting registered members or on staying small at all costs because “it is more personal”.

Both have their merits as a church that is not growing is clearly not focused on living out the great commission. A Christian church that is not reaching the unsaved and not only leading them to Christ but also discipling these new believers is hard-pressed to say it is a Christian church when it is not following the core mission it was given by Christ.

Matthew 28:18-20 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW) 18 When Jesus came near, he spoke to them. He said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 So wherever you go, make disciples of all nations: Baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach them to do everything I have commanded you. “And remember that I am always with you until the end of time.”

On the other hand a church that is so big that the people don’t know or care about one another is not showing the love that was to be the mark of the church. It simply becomes a ritualistic exercise that assumes that there is some magic power to just being in the building and performing some amount of the ritual that is done there.

John 13:34-35 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW) 34 “I’m giving you a new commandment: Love each other in the same way that I have loved you. 35 Everyone will know that you are my disciples because of your love for each other.”

Both (very commonly expressed) points are valid, but I am not sure that the size of the worship or celebration service is the problem, as a matter of fact, I am convinced that these are symptoms of a bigger problem. The problem is the focus on anything but the “community of believers”.

I am not saying that there is the absence of this concept, what I am saying is that there seems to always be something else that is more important than this key focus.

In my travels, most churches have an element of discussion on building some kind of deeply interpersonal community of believers, but it is almost always overshadowed by some other focus.

In research, discussion, debate, study and so on, I can usually find reasons for various focuses that each church model or denomination had for their focuses. These were not bad things even in the models of church that seemed to be miserably failing. To be honest, many of the models that seemed to be miserably failing seemed to have a focus that was for a particular season. The season merely seemed to change and the church simply didn’t change with it. God moved and the church decided to stay.

I know I have written a lot in the past about church models and those that know me have probably had a few conversations about church models, but I do not think that even that is the real issue and I am not convinced that simply changes models will fix the struggles of the western church in the long term.

THE PROBLEM IS NOT STRICTLY ONE OF MODEL, STRUCTURE OR CONTENT, THE PROBLEM IS PUTTING FIRST THINGS FIRST!!! Look at this verse:

Revelation 2:2-4 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW) 2 I know what you have done—how hard you have worked and how you have endured. I also know that you cannot tolerate wicked people. You have tested those who call themselves apostles but are not apostles. You have discovered that they are liars. 3 You have endured, suffered trouble because of my name, and have not grown weary. 4 However, I have this against you: The love you had at first is gone.

This message to the church in Ephesus has some interesting points:

  1. They work and endure
  2. They do not tolerate wicked people
  3. They test those who claim to be called of God and weed them out
  4. They stand up for their faith even in the face of great adversity
  5. THE LOVE THEY HAD AT FIRST IS GONE!!!

I have been taught in the past that the first love they had forgotten was the Word of God. Of course this was taught as a logical progression from the idea that the first love was Jesus, by extension that means that the first love was what Jesus told them to do and so that means the fist love is the Word of God where what Jesus wants believers to do is explained. I do believe that idea to be a part of the truth, but there is a more obvious idea expressed in the context of the time.

That period of history where the New Testament was not assembled yet, Old Testament texts were rooms full of scrolls in temples and there was little chance in Ephesus of doing things the way we do them in our modern contexts so although many of these sort of interpretations fit into our context and quality exegesis of the scripture they may not fit into their context.

So although our modern interpretations are okay, what did the text mean at the time. I wasn’t there and have limited insight into the deeper details of their context, but there is something I have been pondering: The key is what the Church in Ephesus’ first love was and how that plays out in our modern lives.

I started with the obvious question of what role love is supposed to play in the Church and in the lives of Christians. The most obvious place to start:

Matthew 22:37-40 New International Version (NIV) 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

I would have to say that the first love we were all told to have is in fact God with all of our hearts. In this passage, Jesus himself describes what the “by extensions” are. Loving others a part of loving God. Anything we do that is supposed to be about loving God has to be completely tied to loving others.

1 Corinthians 13:1-3 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW) –  I may speak in the languages of humans and of angels. But if I don’t have love, I am a loud gong or a clashing cymbal. 2 I may have the gift to speak what God has revealed, and I may understand all mysteries and have all knowledge. I may even have enough faith to move mountains. But if I don’t have love, I am nothing. 3 I may even give away all that I have and give up my body to be burned. But if I don’t have love, none of these things will help me.

Anything that is done without love (particularly expressions of God to other people as noted in this passage) is nothing and is definitely not truly expressing God. Now think about the church in Ephesus:

  1. They work and endure
  2. They do not tolerate wicked people
  3. They test those who claim to be called of God and weed them out
  4. They stand up for their faith even in the face of great adversity

But, some kind of “love” was not involved that was supposed to be. I think it is obvious that love of God is supposed to be everyone’s first love and is what is being directly expressed here. It is the details of what they were or were not doing that is still a bit unclear. According to Jesus Love for God and expressing love for others are tied together. It is possible to work, endure, not tolerate wicked people, test what people teach and stand up for faith while not expressing love for others.

I have been around people who seem to be like this. They do lots of Christian stuff, they can tell you whats wrong with how others live out a relationship with or talk about God. They can boldly defend their theology yat they do all of this with no real expressing of love in a way that the people they encounter can experience the love of God through them.

There is that idea that showing love is trying to force people to believe as their theology dictates and to argue with them if they do not is a great showing of love. The mere idea of loving someone by force is a strange concept in and of itself, but this idea of what the passage is describing is something we commonly see even now. Was the church at Ephesus a church of doers but not lovers?

This possible translation in mind, it would seem that the most important things that a church should be about are:

  1. Loving God
  2. Loving others (starting with each other which is the way others would know that we are God’s people)

If this does not permeate everything that a church does, the things that the church is doing is just a loud gong or clashing cymbal to God and to the world around them.

Most mainline churches have plans and programs to involve elements of loving the community or people in “missions fields” somewhere remote and poor, but are these really the love we are to show one another. That love for one another is a key outward expression of the the church that is supposed to be evident to all. Every church is supposed to exude this kind of love in a way that love for God, love for all people and definitely love for one another is what any outsider should be able to see and experience at any church.

This kind of love is something I have serious doubts about creating via a program or a six week sermon series. First off, this is a key ingredient and not some afterthought that we add later. This is even more than mindsets and theological thoughts; this is a lifestyle that should permeate the congregation create a sustained atmosphere within the church.

The question is how do we get this lifestyle throughout our churches? One thought is asking ourselves if the model we are using is the most likely model to produce this kind of love for God, one another, and the people around us or not. I may be generalizing a bit, but just finding some building and sitting through a sermon most Sundays and maybe going to a midweek service.

Many people do more like join ministry teams or groups within the church, but instead of being a portion of the church that has deeper relationships with each other and spends time together, shouldn’t it be the norm and those that don’t the exception? Shouldn’t everyone be deeply interconnected with the other people in the church? Shouldn’t everyone there quite naturally care for and about one another.

I am amazed at how many times one or two isolate incidents of members of the church caring for one another are paraded around by church members. Doesn’t the fact these are such big news imply that these sorts of things are incredibly rare.

I know I am partial to churches either having a small group component or consisting entirely of small groups, but that is because that seems to be the only way that these things can happen on a deeper level.

We have to use models that best facilitate the growth of this kind of love for God, for each other and for the people of earth on the deepest levels.

Many of the models we western churchgoers and western churches are comfortable in wouldn’t even have room to discuss but the deepest issues of an incredibly small segment of the congregation. As a matter of fact, if we tried to discuss the problems and needs of every person in the church each week, there would not only be too little time in the service to get through them all, I doubt if there would be enough time in the week. Our services are not structured for this information, so how could it be possible for the people in the church to respond to these problems and needs if they have no way of knowing them?

So yes, my suggestions on this key issue does include small groups. I simply do not see how you can get this personal and involved in every person’s life without breaking it into smaller more personal settings. Having small groups and studies/discussions designed to lead to community is still artificial, but it also much more likely to develop in these environments and the tools are just to aid something that could probably happen on it’s own.

The church described in Acts met together everywhere and did all kinds of things together as well of taking care of one another. It wasn’t some program the Apostles came up with, it was simply the lifestyle ans those that joined were really likely to do the same.

It is very common in years past to hear great speakers saying the church is the people and not the building. There is more to that. The churches job is to love God and to love the people and there is nothing stated in the New Testament about loving the building or the address.

I guess what I am proposing is a question more than an answer. Have we as the American church lost the love? I am not asking about one church or the group of deeply spiritual people at every church that do more than the general membership of the church. I am asking if the general state of the church in America is one that exudes an atmosphere of love for God, each other and people in general that it is most likely what each person experiences most with any contact with us?

It is funny that most people I know that do not believe see us as angry at the world, complaining about politics (especially complaining about democrats), we hate homosexuals, we don’t accept those who don’t believe, we hate anyone who thinks abortions are okay and on and on.

I know these things are not true and is totally the opposite of many American Christians and so on, But what all of that does not reflect is that people know us for our love. The American church is most known in my area as the people who hate this and hate that and hate these people etc. I am not saying not to have political views or to take stands on morality etc., but no matter what we are doing love has to be broadcast as the message or we are misrepresenting Christ.

As I said before, it’s not about a program or just adding small groups, this is about a complete change of focus for the American church and many churchgoers.

If you want to fix your church experience, your church, or the American church as a whole this must be the starting point. Have we lost the love we are supposed to have? Do we love God and one another in such a way that love the core of who we are and everybody can see it? Do we love others so much that everyone knows us for our love? If we cannot answer yes to all of that we cannot answer yes to any of it and definitely cannot say we are loving God without a deep level of loving others.

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The Way My Child Receives the Kingdom pt. 2

First Church Nerd Party

(Photo credit: Richard Masoner / Cyclelicious)

The Way My Child Receives the Kingdom pt. 2

 

Mark 10:15 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW) 15 I can guarantee this truth: Whoever doesn’t receive the kingdom of God as a little child receives it will never enter it.”

Today was an interesting day which gave me an interesting follow up opportunity on my discussion with my son about his perception of what it would take for him to have the perfect church experience.  (The Way My Child Receives the Kingdom pt. 1)  Some of what transpired today and a new conversation on the issue have come together to shed more light on his vision of the perfect church.

When he and I had this conversation about a week ago he had some surprisingly well though out answers which led me to believe that he had thought about some aspects of this before. I also had some questions about his theories and answers that could also be answered through some experimentation on his part with a few different church models.

Lets back up and look at some of the circumstances surrounding this conversation as I believe these tidbits of fact are relevant.

My son is thirteen going on fourteen later this year.  The mega-church my family attends has several different children’s and youth ministries that group age groups together.  There is a junior high school ministry which is where he is usually put because of his age and grade on school.  He did start going to that age group a year and a half early because he is simply a big kid and was kinda bored with the younger group.

In the junior high school group there is a set service with worship, announcements, a sermon which all of the participants are required to sit in.  Then after the service the preteens/tweens are unleashed as a loud, screaming stampeded of energy to play various videogames, board games, billiards etc. or to lounge on couches and chairs to while gobbling their favorite snacks from the snack stand.

For a long time, my son loved this service then came the day when he simply decided that he didn’t want to go to that service, saying it was boring.  He started insisting that he come with us to the main sanctuary for the regular service.  He seemed to be a little bored at the main service, but tried his best to remain attentive.  He has repeatedly stated that he prefers the main service to the youth service.

Then, in the discussion he and I had last week, I got a glimpse as to why he did’t enjoy that service any more.  To sum it up before giving any detail, I would have to say that he flat-out outgrew the service both in regular maturity and in spiritual maturity.  Their goal was to build a deeper desire for the things of God and he grew that desire and ended up noticing the limitations of or holes in the service that would not build his next level of growth.  In seeing the holes in the junior high school ministry and not being old enough for the high school service he decided the youth ministry was just no longer for him.

Then when we had the whole “The Way My Child Receives the Kingdom pt. 1” conversation as well as a couple of conversations that followed, I caught a glimpse of some of the challenges he was having.

A key was that he was not a fan of the fact that a lot of what happened was things that people were forced to do (or at least felt forced to do) and was truly disingenuous and much of the interaction with God was manufactured and artificial.  Well with the middle school kids they are forced to sit through all of the service components before having the fun part (which is what many of them were apparently looking forward to as the good part). In further discussion with him and thought I would have to say, that I might find I hard to seek the deeper presence of God if I were surrounded by people who didn’t want to be there, but that wanted all of this God stuff to be done so we can all go and have fun.

He had mentioned something I was curious about, but was still pondering and so I had not included it in the previous post.  He had stated that his service would not have video games or other distractions of that sort as it takes the focus off of God and seems to make (at least the middle school kids) less likely to seek God.

Then a lot of the observations that

He made several observations that apply to the main service also that all seem to be shaped by his newfound understanding that artificial worship is not worship at all and is thus a waste of time.  The only real benefit a person gets from attending a worship service if everything that is done there is artificially done is whatever benefit a person gets because he/she sacrificed and hour or two of their time to be where he or she thinks God would like him/her to be once a week. 

Today, while we were on our way to church a couple of our relatives called him to inform him that they were going to be in the high school service and wanted him to come.  He was excited to see them and wanted to go so I told hi he should.  He didn’t know if he could get in, but he is a pretty big kid and easily looks old enough (he is still a year younger than their usual lower age limit).

One of the suspicions I had in our previous discussions was that he had “perfect world” theories (probably mixed with a wee bit of what he thought I wanted to hear) about what a church that was perfect in his view was, but had not considered if he would actually be as drawn to that as he was thinking he would be.

By the time the service was over today I cold hardly wait to ask the question again relative to the high school service.  I was also curious what technique they use to get and keep Silicon Valley high school kids in church.

I asked about the service and the structure they used and my son happily answered.

He said they had two or three worship songs, one announcement and a sermon done by the youth pastor (who I went to bible college with and have a deep respect for).  He said this so happily so I thought through what we had discussed previously and remembered that he had specifically wanted a shorter service, with few if any announcements and basically just the worship and the sermon. 

I loved that the service structure was what he had basically wanted from God, but was puzzled by one thing:  Isn’t this similar to the structure that the younger group had that was so artificial.

When I asked him if people were forced to participate etc. he answered with a very excited “No!”  He stated that participation in the worship and sermon etc. was purely voluntary and if you did not want to participate you could just go and play video games etc.

This was interesting to me because it is probably that most of these teens that were there were forced to go to church by their parents, but once they arrived at the service they were given an option to ignore the “God thing” altogether.  In my mind, high school teens when offered a choice between listening to a bunch of this “God stuff” and singing mushy Jesus songs would almost unanimously choose video games and “kickin-it” with their friends.

So I asked, “Did a lot of people choose not to participate?”  He said an emphatic; “No!  Almost everybody sat in the service.”  I was intrigued by this.  The fact is they were not forced at all seemed to have the opposite effect on the high school age kids.  They seemed to be more involved because they didn’t really have to be.

I wondered if they took an offering.  My son said they did, but it was different.  Instead of the passing the bucket, which he said put inordinate pressure on people, during the service they matter-of-factly said that if anyone had an offering they wanted to make they should come up front and drop it in the bucket. 

I immediately thought back to our previous conversation about the pressures of the bucket passing and though everyone going up front but me would be way more pressure then sitting in my seat and just passing the bucket past me.  So I specifically asked my son if he felt pressured by the offering and he answered, “Not really.”  So there was a level of pressure applied, but it was done in a way that didn’t force you to experience much guilt if you didn’t give, didn’t want to give or couldn’t give.

I asked him if people brought Bibles.  He stated that a few people did but most people didn’t; “But, they projected the verses on screens for everyone and they used way shorter verses than in the main service.”

All and all he seemed very happy with this service which did at least somewhat satisfy much of what he thought a service should be like to be relevant to him.

So then I started to wonder about the things I have been pondering over the past couple of years like:

  • Do people even remember what is taught when in a traditional service (my personal asking of people and discussions in the days following a service has demonstrated that they usually remember little tidbits but not the large majority of what is said)
  • How deep of a personal experience with God each individual gets at a traditional service as opposed to smaller settings where you are kinda forced to connect with God and each other.
  • Do people think about how they should change because of what they have learned and make plans/goals to make those changes (another area where my own discussions with various people indicates there is some level of this normally, but it is very limited)

So I asked the questions:

Do you remember what the message was?  “He said yes and was able to regurgitate with some detail and even summarize the point of the message which was that “…even when there seems to be no hope God is there.”

Then I asked him:  “Do you feel like you felt or experienced God in the service?” 

He stopped with a puzzled look and then responded with a slightly less excited “No.”  He did explain that a few people seemed to experience God, he just didn’t.  I was intrigued with the tone of his response.  He seemed slightly troubled by the idea that this might be the wrong answer, but the tone also suggested that since it was such a good service experiencing God personally might not be as important.

I suppose he did encounter God in the fact that he worshipped him and learned from his word, but there are two things that are worth more consideration and possibly concern.

  1. If he does not know if he encountered God or not how can a gathering where we seek God be considered a success.  I do not say this as any attack on my son or his spirituality; I say this because it is a common mindset that I am constantly puzzled by.  The question in my mind is:  “If we are gathering in God’s name and we do not encounter him at that gathering, what exactly are we doing?”
  2. The similar idea that we do all of that stuff (sing, listen to the scripture etc.) and there is not further need to connect with God in that context.  If that is the case the amount of “God” in that context is limited at best.  The context is one of getting stuff about God without really getting God.  I guess this mindset (which is one I encounter pretty regularly) is one that has dominated our information driven American culture where information is king.  (The problem is that the people who had the most information about how God does things and about Jesus when Jesus actually came were the same people always fighting with Him and who ended up killing Him – Information about God is not the same as knowing God)

Then I asked him if there was something that he was going to do differently because of what he heard and experienced in the service.  He thought for a minute and said:  “No.  not really.”

This is another norm that I am always troubled by:  The idea that learning about what God wants is key and that doing anything about what is revealed to you is optional or something you just put off until it comes up as some major problem.

I see how in this context those conversations might just seem like a bunch of pressure or hyper-religious stuff, but these things are key.  This is where I have to agree with my son that having some kind of smaller group setting either in conjunction with this kind of service or in place of such a service is the best context for some of the more personal connections with God and with other believers.

In this context a small group discussion over a bagel and an iced tea or soda might be the best place to personally connect with God and to personalize what has just transpired. 

Thos groups would have to be with the people you are already comfortable with or at least the kind of people you can be comfortable with at that level.  After all that seems to be how the larger services are broken up at the church (the age groups and the reason my son connected better with this group that the younger group). 

For the purpose of this discussion we will describe these groups as affinity groups.  The tighter the affinity group (and possibly the smaller up to a point) the more opportunity to get deeper into what the verse means to you, what you will do about it and to get deeper into relating to God.

All-in-all, I think my son’s observations have proven to be correct observations.  The real test is the test of time.  After weeks and weeks of this how does he feel? As he goes through hormonal, mindset and perception of coolness changes does he still find all of this as relevant?

The real questions at hand are: How does any of this apply to his age group as a whole and how does any of this apply to the church as a whole.

These do agree with some of the research that I discussed in my previous post (What is Happening To The Church), but there are some aspects that could not be covered in the large group setting that my son is in now.  There would have to be a smaller context, possibly voluntary (that may exist and I simply don’t know about yet) where these tougher discussions and deeper connections would happen.

I hope these observations and discussions between my son and I are helpful to you and lead to further discussion in your context.  I can say that they have deepened my curiosity about what God is doing next in the church and what I have been doing (or not doing) to facilitate that.

I have been pondering how I receive God and what he reveals in much the same way that my son does.  How much of what he likes and dislikes is the same as what I like and dislike even though for vastly different reasons.  I have spent a lot of time recently wondering if I would grow better in the environments he has described and if I would greatly deepen my personal relationship with God in such a context.  I also wonder how much of what he is observing and thinking applies to much of our culture and possibly the whole world.  How much learning to receive the kingdom in the way that my son does needs to be sought after by me and by others.

I think in all of this I have seen some awesome potential solutions to the challenges the church as a whole is suffering from and have seen some gaping holes that could be paralyzing the church as a whole (or at least the American church).

A key focus that I was given as a new Christian by one of my mentors when I had noticed some contradictions in what I thought should have been going on and what was actually taking place. 

She stated that:  “God doesn’t show you things that are wrong just so you can complain or gossip about it.  God shows you something that is wrong because He intends for you to be a part of the solution.”

That needs to be what I and possibly everyone reading this needs to take away from these conversations.  The question “What part am I supposed to play in solving the problems God reveals to me?”

One more thought to ponder is the focus given to me via fortune cookie the other day:

ENGAGE IN GROUP ACTIVITIES THAT FURTHER TRANSFORMATION!

 

Be blessed in group activities that further your transformation,

 

W. Lawrence Hess

What is Happening To The Church

Abandoned Church

What is Happening To The Church

Matthew 22:36-40  GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)  –  36 “Teacher, which commandment is the greatest in Moses’ Teachings?”  37 Jesus answered him, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and most important commandment. 39 The second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ 40 All of Moses’ Teachings and the Prophets depend on these two commandments.”

A recent poll named “The Global Index of Religiosity and Atheism,” is stating that atheism is on the rise and religiosity is on the decline.  There has been similar research in the past few years and there seems to be more and more evidence to support all of this.

First off, before going any further in the discussion I think it important to note a flaw that I saw in survey.  The question that led to the statistic that showed that religiosity is on the decline might have produced incorrect results due to the wording and a shift that is occurring in some circles surrounding the word “religious”. 

In many of the Christian circles I run in, the word “religious” has come to represent a prideful, Bible thumping, legalist that is seen as the example of what not to be as a Christian.  If asked twelve years ago if I was religious I would have quickly said yes.  However, if asked now, if I am religious, I am most likely to quickly say no, I am spiritual.  In other words, I am a no on that question and I am a churchgoing man of faith who is devoting my life to working with others and according to this study, I would be one of the proofs that people are leaving the faith in droves. 

In other words, I believe the study is flawed, but not totally untrue due to other research I have seen.

Now, on to the topic at hand, people leaving the church in droves.  I remember repeatedly hearing one saying when I was a youth pastor and was encountering messages and trainings for youth ministry:  HE WHO CONTROLS THE YOUTH CONTROLS THE FUTURE!  I am not so sure the word control is the best word to use, but I get the point.  So, if the church of to day is to look at the future, it has to look at what is going on in the youth.

Well, according to the Barna Group three out of every five kids (59%) that are in church now will leave the church later  (see Six Reasons Young Christians Leave Church).  They did eight national studies and came up with six themes that seem to be the most prevalent reasons:

Theme 1 = Churches seem overprotective

  • “Their experience of Christianity feels stifling, fear-based and risk-averse”
  • “Christians demonize everything outside of the church”
  • “Church ignoring the problems of the real world”

Theme 2 = Teens’ and twenty-somethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow

  • “church is boring”
  • “faith is not relevant to my career or interests”
  • “the Bible is not taught clearly or often enough”
  • “God seems missing from my experience of church”

Theme 3 = Churches come across as antagonistic to science

  • “Christians are too confident they know all the answers”
  • “churches are out of step with the scientific world we live in”
  • “Christianity is anti-science”
  • “been turned off by the creation-versus-evolution debate.”

Theme 4 = Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental

  • ‘they “have made mistakes and feel judged in church because of them.”’
  • “teachings on sexuality and birth control are out of date.”

Theme 5 = They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity.

  • “church is like a country club, only for insiders”
  • “forced to choose between my faith and my friends.”
  • “churches are afraid of the beliefs of other faiths”

Theme 6 = The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt.

  • ‘not being able “to ask my most pressing life questions in church”’
  • ‘their faith “does not help with depression or other emotional problems” they experience’

I think the most pressing issue is the idea that they are experiencing Christianity as shallow and specifically the idea that they are not experiencing God in the church service.  I have to wonder:  If they are not experiencing God in the service, what are they getting in the service?  Clearly, nothing worth staying for!

It is easy to get all hyper-religious and say it is them and they must be way too self-centered and in great sin etc.  I do not have that luxury, because I have stated similar ideas in previous posts. 

Jesus Based Free-for-All vs. Super Leader/Heresy Hunter

What is Wrong With the American Church? Better Exegesis?

I am not saying it is impossible for a person to experience personal interaction with God in the average church service, but it is clear that whatever we are doing currently in most of our churches is not LIKELY to lead the youth that are in these churches now to that experience.  Without the experience of God, there is no experience.  It is just a room full of religious mumbo jumbo (consider everything else observed in the study).

Add to the ideas of:  Not being able to ask the pressing questions, that in the middle of all this church mumbo jumbo the church experience is incapable of solving real problems (like depression), the feeling that once you have sinned the church will never forgive you (in spite of what Jesus says he does) etc. the standard experience of the generation to come is not one that represents a deep personal love for God or a love for one another.

If we are not bringing the youth to a personal exchange of love with the Father and our example is not one where it is clear that we love one another (the fact they do not feel free to ask the deep questions, and feel openness means being frowned upon by the church  proves this) means we having trouble representing Christ adequately to the next generation.

John 13:34-35 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)  –  34 “I’m giving you a new commandment: Love each other in the same way that I have loved you. 35 Everyone will know that you are my disciples because of your love for each other.”

If large groups in various places and in various churches/denominations are experiencing a lack of love, then it is probable that something we are doing may have communicates love to previous generations, but not to the ones to come.

We can blame them and ignore it until they become the dominant generation and it is too late or we can assume God is moving into a new season for our church models and move with Him.

Perhaps, if a new generation is coming through that thinks and experiences things in a vastly different way, the church should do some changing to match some of these changes (within the confines of what is biblical). 

1 Corinthians 9:19-23 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)  –  19 Although I’m free from all people, I have made myself a slave for all people to win more of them. 20 I became Jewish for Jewish people. I became subject to Moses’ Teachings for those who are subject to those laws. I did this to win them even though I’m not subject to Moses’ Teachings. 21 I became like a person who does not have Moses’ Teachings for those who don’t have those teachings. I did this to win them even though I have God’s teachings. I’m really subject to Christ’s teachings. 22 I became like a person weak in faith to win those who are weak in faith. I have become everything to everyone in order to save at least some of them. 23 I do all this for the sake of the Good News in order to share what it offers.

Some of these things are relatively easy to change some would require massive shifts.  I do think a HUGE starting point is to be more open and candid and take a massive step away from the angry and inflammatory rhetoric that has become the public face of American Christianity.  We have to stop the overly vigorous debate about whose theology is better because it will not matter if you win the debate and get to preach the supposed best theology to and empty room.

What we need to do is open our minds to what is best representing God to this new wave of thought that He has allowed to rise up.  It is not that what we have built in concept has not been an awesome solution to the problems that were confronted during the years these models became en-vogue.  Those problems are no longer the focus because the model was successful so new problems arose that have to be met with different solutions.

From a more personal perspective (supported by some empirical evidence) I do think that some kind of small group experience, which can be tied to a larger worship service or could also not be, would seem a better venue to deal with many of these issues.

The more personal experience and the more close knit culture of small groups can be more conducive to a more open and caring experience.  There is more room to discuss the harder questions and although the answers may not be perfect the idea that God is interested and personal interaction with God and other believers is a better foundation than attaining of mere information. 

After all, the people who had attained the most Bible information in Jesus’ day had all the information to know Him better than anyone else and yet they fought and resisted Him at every turn, persecuted Him, ridiculed His work, and eventually had Him killed.  It is no good to know the Book of God if you still end up not knowing the God of the book.

There was a study and the resulting article from the Barna group from 2007 that suggests my focus on the small group models might be at least a good step towards looking in the right direction.  House Churches Are More Satisfying to Attenders Than Are Conventional Churches suggests that a far greater amount of attendees at house church models were satisfied with the leadership, the faith commitment of the people involved in their gathering, the level of community and personal connectedness they experience, the spiritual depth they experience in their house church setting.  This was a study of all age groups, but look at how many of the same areas surveyed are tied to or at least related to the reasons teens stated they were drawing away from the traditional church.

If you look at what the results show is taking place at these groups, you can also see how the individuals participants in the group have more potential for personal experience with God and each other that in the traditional setting of any size.

  • 93% have spoken prayer during their meetings
  • 90% read from the Bible
  • 89% spend time serving people outside of their group
  • 87% devote time to sharing personal needs or experiences
  • 85% spend time eating and talking before or after the meeting
  • 83% discuss the teaching provided
  • 76% have a formal teaching time
  • 70% incorporate music or singing
  • 58% have a prophecy or special word delivered
  • 52% take an offering from participants that is given to ministries
  • 51% share communion
  • 41% watch a video presentation as part of the learning experience

I am always astonished at the resistance that ideas like this get from traditional church is the only way people who have made an assumption that a building with a seminary trained pastor and a big cross on the front is the only way God will reach people properly and effectively in our culture. 

Well, first off, statistically that is simply not true.  Think through all we have discussed here.

Second off, there is no example of a church of that kind in the new testament.  There is the idea of a pastor and teaching etc. but the only clear models were in homes and the Jewish believers in Israel still went to the temple as a cultural norm.  The non-Jewish converts met in homes.

I am not saying to put the wrecking ball to your building and abandon traditional ministry.  I am just saying that to say the house church or small group people are somehow unbiblical or somehow less Biblical is an outright lie.  They are from a literal perspective doing a better job of following the example of scripture than those of us (I myself still attend a traditional church with my family) that still attend a traditional service.

Philemon 1:1-7 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)  –  1 From Paul, who is a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and our brother Timothy.  To our dear coworker Philemon, 2 our sister Apphia, our fellow soldier Archippus, and the church that meets in your house.  3 Good will[a] and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ are yours!  4 Philemon, I always thank my God when I mention you in my prayers because 5 I hear about your faithfulness to the Lord Jesus and your love for all of God’s people. 6 As you share the faith you have in common with others, I pray that you may come to have a complete knowledge of every blessing we have in Christ. 7 Your love for God’s people gives me a lot of joy and encouragement. You, brother, have comforted God’s people.

Consider the statistics above and the observations of Paul about Philemon and the “church” that met in his home.  It was successful and Paul himself, inspired by God (as anything that appears in the Bible is inspired by God) calls the meeting in Philemon’s home a “church”.

We are so busy looking at keeping things the way we think is best (the way we as individuals are comfortable with) that we fail to seek what will work best for the next wave God is bringing into dominance throughout the planet.  It is a failure to love God as it is a failure to love what He is loving how he is loving it.

So do I believe droves of people are leaving the church?  Absolutely!  Do I think we can stop the bleeding?  Absolutely!  Before the problem started I believe God had already laid the foundations of the solution.  I just suspect that some of us Jonah’s are resistant to the kind of work God is calling us to next. 

 

Spit up on the beach and ready to minister as God wishes,

W. Lawrence Hess

Wrestling With The Real New Testament Church

The wrestle of Jacob, in an original high-reso...

The wrestle of Jacob, in an original high-resolution format. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Wrestling With The Real New Testament Church

I was just looking at a website named the Church Task Force and I stumbled across some very interesting observations on the church planting ministry of Paul (see http://churchtaskforce.org/resources/pauls-methods). 

I will go over some key notes from the page for thought but I recommend going to the site to get a deeper look at this information (http://churchtaskforce.org/resources/pauls-methods).  Here is a summary of what caught my attention:

The Galatian Churches

  • Three churches planted in an average of four months each
  • Left largely on their own after that for months—without any leadership in place
  • Local leadership teams emerged from within the startup churches
  • Pastors were appointed within six months of their salvation, on average

The Macedonian Churches

  • Three churches planted in an average of two to four months each
  • The newly planted churches are left on their own for a time without formal leadership
  • They function on their own in a relatively short period of time (months rather than years)
  • Whole households were being converted, not just individuals

The Churches of Achaia

  • Paul is planting multiple churches regionally, this time from a base camp in Corinth
  • In a relatively short period of time, these churches are able to stand on their own
  • The church planters leave the region after the church is planted
  • Whole households were being converted, not just individuals
  • Paul enlists additional workers from among the new churches

The Churches of Asia

  • Paul is planting multiple churches regionally, this time from a base camp in Ephesus
  • In three years, Paul not only plants the church in Ephesus, but the many churches of Asia are birthed
  • Paul was enlisting, training, and sending out additional workers
  • Paul established multiple pastors in Ephesus

In looking at this information I started pondering the concept that seems to be such a huge topic in the North American church culture as of late:  “How do we prevent heresy?”.  I have sat in classes and seminars on the subject of preventing heresy.  I have sat in many sermons that focus on that topic.  I have listened to long radio shows and debates on the topic.  I have listened to the rantings and musings of people who believe it to be the entirety of their ministry to hunt heresy (a ministry that can sometimes make me think that they must sound exactly the same as the people who felt that their ministry was to hunt and burn witches did).  

I have listened people describe how we are to micromanage the growth of the new believer and keep them on the straight and narrow path to theological depth.  Things like; memorizing immense amounts of Bible passages, telling them to force themselves to read the Bible some very substantial amount of time each day no matter what, telling them to throw out all their music and do nothing that is not “church approved” ever again, telling them who to associate with paying close attention not to associate with somebody our church has deemed a heretic, telling them how almost every pastor or preacher they have ever heard of is somehow a heretic (making it look like Christianity is about nitpicking every word a believer speaks and anything deemed wrong will get you excommunicated), and so on. 

The message is one that sounds far more like the message of the Pharisees than the message of Jesus or any of the Apostles.  It also sounds completely different than anything that called itself church in the New Testament.

John 13:34-35 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)  –  34 “I’m giving you a new commandment: Love each other in the same way that I have loved you. 35 Everyone will know that you are my disciples because of your love for each other.”

I suppose that making and enforcing rules can be a part of loving someone but if that is the majority of the way you relate to someone, then I would have to say that calling it loving them is a reach at best.  I sometimes find it similar to the logic of dysfunctional parents who think that by verbally, emotionally or physically abusing their children they are somehow showing them love.

I do have a couple of huge concerns with the rule making, heresy hunting model of church.  The first of which relates to the concepts seen here:

John 10:27-28 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)  –  27 My sheep respond to my voice, and I know who they are. They follow me, 28 and I give them eternal life. They will never be lost, and no one will tear them away from me.

Romans 8:14-17 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)  –  14 Certainly, all who are guided by God’s Spirit are God’s children. 15 You haven’t received the spirit of slaves that leads you into fear again. Instead, you have received the spirit of God’s adopted children by which we call out, “Abba![a] Father!” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 If we are his children, we are also God’s heirs. If we share in Christ’s suffering in order to share his glory, we are heirs together with him.

These models are focused so much on the interpretations of a few educated men that the sheep rarely have time to respond to the voice of Christ directly (they are probably too busy trying to figure out and follow all of the church rules).  Rather than being guided by God’s Spirit, they are more likely to follow someone who they have come to believe is following God’s Spirit and hope for the best.  In the case of church communities that have learned to focus on heresy hunting etc. they are almost entirely driven by the fear of heresy that there seems to be more time looking for errors to point out and piously correct than they are spending time exhorting or loving one another.  It is as if there is no Holy Spirit or voice of God in some experiences I have personally encountered.  

I know that not all churches are like that in the United States and that and I do understand that there are times and places for all of these things.  Sometimes you have to confront people and there is a precedent for such things:

Matthew 18:15-19 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)  –  15 “If a believer does something wrong,[a] go, confront him when the two of you are alone. If he listens to you, you have won back that believer. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others with you so that every accusation may be verified by two or three witnesses. 17 If he ignores these witnesses, tell it to the community of believers. If he also ignores the community, deal with him as you would a heathen or a tax collector. 18 I can guarantee this truth: Whatever you imprison, God will imprison. And whatever you set free, God will set free.  19 “I can guarantee again that if two of you agree on anything here on earth, my Father in heaven will accept it.

But, I am not convinced that anywhere in this passage there was a mandate for a Christian police force whose duty it is to find errors of any kind in any believers they encounter and nitpick them into submission.  As a matter of fact it seems like the only time something like this is in extreme cases where something egregious is taking place and is sustained without conviction. 

In context the verses before this describe a shepherd leaving the 99 sheep to go get the one lost one, but nothing about telling the other sheep not to talk to that sheep or about the other sheep refusing to have anything to do with that sheep.  Because that is not what sheep do with each other.  They simply do not have enough understanding (they are not smart enough) to handle it.

I also get the responsibility of a pastor/church leader to keep heresy out, but I have to wonder if the flaw is in the model.  I believe in pastors and teachers etc. but I think the current model in which the pastoral staff is the arm of God and the voice of God (exclusively for many church members) is flawed at best.

As I discussed in the previous post “Jesus Based Free-for-All vs. Super Leader/Heresy Hunter” I think this idea is not necessarily unbiblical, but I do feel that there is clear evidence that this has never been the best type of leadership model for God’s endeavors.

In the case of Moses and the Hebrew people that came out of Egypt, God wanted to speak to them directly.  The problem was that when God began to speak they were afraid of Him and decided to run away.  Then they pushed for this style of leadership in spite of the fact that God had wanted each person to individually draw near to Him and hear His voice.

Exodus 20:18-19 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)  –  18 All the people heard the thunder and saw the lightning. They heard the blast of the ram’s horn and saw the mountain covered with smoke. So they shook with fear and stood at a distance. 19 Then they said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we’ll listen. But don’t let God speak to us, or we’ll die!”

Not to restate my thoughts on the “Jesus Based Free-for-All vs. Super Leader/Heresy Hunter” post, but at the time when they were supposed to be close to God and hearing His divine voice and while their leader was actually up listening to God and talking to God to protect them, they soon became busy in worshiping the calf god they had erected.

Another example of God wanting to deal with the population directly and the people rejecting it for a single leader to go between is:

1 Samuel 8:4-9 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)  –  4 Then all the leaders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. 5 They told him, “You’re old, and your sons aren’t following your example. Now appoint a king to judge us so that we will be like all the other nations.”  6 But Samuel considered it wrong for them to request a king to judge them. So Samuel prayed to the Lord. 7 The Lord told Samuel, “Listen to everything the people are saying to you. They haven’t rejected you; they’ve rejected me. 8 They’re doing just what they’ve done since I took them out of Egypt—leaving me and serving other gods. 9 Listen to them now, but be sure to warn them and tell them about the rights of a king.”

The people decide that the church leadership, which really had limited access to all the people, are not doing a good enough job (which is actually true if you look at passages that precede this one).  They decide they want a king to judge and rule as go between for God’s will and the people.  In this passage wanting such a leader was described by God as idolatry and rejecting God, yet He instructed Samuel to “Listen to everything the people are saying to you.” 

Again it is as if the people wanted it so badly that God decided to help mankind (particularly the Hebrew peoples) fully understand that this model does not work through painful experience.  He let that model stay in place for quite a while after that also.

The spiritual leadership had a choice between leading the people to seek and listen to God themselves and the people kept trying to force the leaders to go before God instead and just fill them in.

This is funny to me because it reminds me of responses many of us give when first pondering ideas like this:

  • “Someone has to lead the people and make sure they don’t go nuts.”
  • “If the pastor or leadership doesn’t correct them heresy will slip in. “
  • “If the pastor or leadership doesn’t correct them, who will?”

Here is the interesting part; how well did that work for Moses.  In the first trial run the group completely abandoned God, completely rebelled against the very first thing they did manage to hear from God before they ran off, came close to being wiped out by God and wound up attacking each other.

There is a real mega-problem with the idea that things are so humanly driven by the heresy hunting, church police:

Romans 7:18-23 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)  –  18 I know that nothing good lives in me; that is, nothing good lives in my corrupt nature. Although I have the desire to do what is right, I don’t do it. 19 I don’t do the good I want to do. Instead, I do the evil that I don’t want to do. 20 Now, when I do what I don’t want to do, I am no longer the one who is doing it. Sin that lives in me is doing it.  21 So I’ve discovered this truth: Evil is present with me even when I want to do what God’s standards say is good. 22 I take pleasure in God’s standards in my inner being. 23 However, I see a different standard at work throughout my body. It is at war with the standards my mind sets and tries to take me captive to sin’s standards which still exist throughout my body.

The human driven model assumes the person doing the policing is being somehow perfectly led by God to do all of this correcting (be they a pastor, church leader, radio/television personality etc.).  The person describing himself here is The Apostle Paul.  He is saying himself that it is a huge task keep on the straight and narrow path.

Moses never made it into The Promised Land because of public disobedience stemming from frustration he had form the job of being the person who went to God for the whole group. 

My point is that even divinely inspired leaders are people with a sin nature.  They are only successful if the leadership constantly focuses people on God and points them to dependence upon God DIRECTLY.  Any “go-between” is flawed by nature and is in fact taking God’s place.

The idea of being the only way God communicates to another individual who has direct access to God through Christ’s death burial and resurrection is one that seems to stunt that person’s growth more than it could ever help.  I am not saying that there will not be times where God speaks to an individual through a person so blessed as to hear from God to do so.  What I am saying is that it’s hard to develop a personal relationship with God when you keep sending someone else to do all of the relational things.

ON the other hand; I do have many of those concerns of heresy and other craziness if people are left totally to their own devices.  I suppose for most of this article so far, I have been preaching from a soapbox a bit.  The truth is I am not completely sold on the idea of people completely doing whatever they feel the Holy Spirit has led hem to do with no intervention from people who are more advanced in understanding and may just simply have more common sense.  History has shown that if unchecked, all kinds of crazy can arise in any group of people and lead groups to do just about anything (some doing crazy things while quoting scriptures).

So all of those that read this that were taking notes to write their blog or radio show to blast each detail (possibly heresy hunters), I do not totally disagree with your position except for one glairing issue:  There is no New Testament example for having the kind of legalistic oversight that so many of us would like to see in order to avert potential crazy.

The prime example is Paul.  He went places, taught people as much as he could in a short time, appointed leaders, and pretty much moved on.  The time spent in an area varied from a couple of months to spending three years in a base camp traveling from there or sending out other trained leaders to do the same kind of ministry he had been doing.

The evidence in his ministry is that he empowered young leaders with little training to lead the church.  He left young churches, with little guidance to depend upon the Holy Spirit to guide them. 

Did heretical practices arise?  Absolutely!  Several of the letters he sent in the hope of directing them towards truth are still available as a large part of what we now call the New Testament.  Which brings me to my next point, when they started, they did not even have access to the level of information we have now:  If the letters were sent to and addressed to them later how could they have had them earlier?

So Paul discipled new believers and empowered them to depend upon God completely.  He taught them verbally (and I assume quite well).  They continued to meet and seek God and amazing things would happen.  He would give a little more training to those he was sending out as leaders and leave them in God’s hands also.

The difference between the model we see most often in North America (the one I have been most comfortable with myself) and the model we see as an example in the New Testament could be best summed up as trusting God to lead the church considerably more.  Paul relied on the Holy Spirit to do much of the day to day correction of the whole church at any given place and only seemed to intervene if there was a prolonged and way out there problem/practice that could no longer be ignored.

I am forced to ask myself (and in reality to ask God/the Scriptures) if so much day to day correction of so much detail and doctrine is necessary or if it is a better practice to allow individuals, groups and whole churches to drift a bit under the assumption that the Holy Spirit is in control.  Is it possible that what I perceive to be a group of heretics may be deeply spiritual believers that are growing and hearing from God, but are in the process of learning this or that particular lesson slowly.  In that case would declaring them heretics possibly make the group more likely to be stubborn and dig in slowing the process of their learning.  All of my self-righteous Bible thumping would be reminiscent of satan trying to tempt Jesus by quoting scripture (see Matthew 4:1-11). 

I know I have used the term “heresy hunter” as a negative term and it is intended to be.  The truth is I have been trained to be a politer “heresy hunter” and that is who I have been.  If these posts seem to be on the attack, it is most probably an attack on my own mindsets. 

The truth is I am not saying that the church should abandon all structure and do whatever people think the Holy Spirit is telling them.  It is something somewhat on an opposite note that I am saying:  Us heresy hunters have to stop telling people that the way we structure the church with all these checks and balances and careful heresy hunters posted at every turn, is the way it is supposed to be.  That way is not really spoken directly for or against in the New Testament.  The people who are doing church with less structure and less checks and balances however, are using the actual examples found in the New Testament and have at least a reasonable argument for that model of church (which in some ways is stronger than the argument for our super-structured model).  Especially when the best argument against the less controlled model (as seen in the New Testament) is that there will not be enough people in the right positions to keep it under control. 

IF PEOPLE ARE KEEPING A CHURCH FROM GOING OUT OF CONTROL IT IS DOOMED ANYHOW!  GOD MUST BE THE ONE KEEPING HIS CHURCH FROM GOING OUT OF CONTROL!   People do play a part, but that part must be leading people to the conviction and guidance of God not the guilt of my quoting scripture at them and relying completely on me to tell them what God is trying to tell them.

I named this “Wrestling With The Real New Testament Church” because there seems to be two related Christian currents I repeatedly encounter everywhere I go.

  1. More and more people seem to be unhappy with the North American Church Model (and I keep hearing reports and statistics that describe the same about the “Western Model of Church”) and looking for a more personal relationship with God, less rule oriented model.
  2. There seems to always be some person (often who thinks a lot like the way I think) saying that all of that is somehow evil and watering down how the church is supposed to operate.

On number two the evidence seems to point to one fact:  The Western model may actually water down God a bit by putting the focus too much on the intellect of a few really educated people when God really has always wanted personal relationship with each member of His holy family.  The New Testament, the reasons for and content of some of the Pauline epistles, and history shows that the more open model is at least Biblical, but I also have to wonder how heresy is kept out (sounds a bit like I need more faith actually reading it).

The fact is that although you may wrestle with how to respond to the various movements arising that embrace a more Holy Spirit led model of church with less structure, checks and balances neither you or I can accuse them of being wrong or out of God’s will.  How could relying on God more be unbiblical?  It may be a bit more tricky to figure out and thus a bit more messy, but to demand more people lead is how Israel ended up with kings that ended up dividing and losing the nation, the temple, the ark, the people, and so on.

I clearly have embraced this movement and consider myself to be a part of it, yet I still attend a “traditional” church (those are finger-quotes in case you didn’t know) also.

 

Be Blessed

 

W. Lawrence Hess 

The Church of Only What is Needed? PART 2

Bible

Bible (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

The Church of Only What is Needed?  PART 2

Please read The Church of Only What is Needed? before reading this post as they are deeply tied together.

  • In such an environment, what would and could you use to have a church service of some kind?
    • I would obviously focus on small groups with only trusted and safe. 
    • Probably would be whole families which deepens the spiritual growth experience and commitment
  • What would it look like?
    • The groups would be discussion based on the scripture and may or may not include singing as worship and prayer (if safe to do – apartments & condos etc.) 
      • Bibles would not be brought to the group.  Attendees would write down just the verse for that week and bring it with them
        • safer – traveling they don’t carry bibles just a sheet of paper.  Single sheets are easier to hide if authorities come.  If caught the Bibles are still safe
        • Writing down the passage will be better for studying and remembering the passage.  If Bibles were taken by the authorities the people will remember more details about the scripture.
    • A focus on taking care of one another as community must be instilled in the group from the start.  Can be as simple as asking a couple of questions:
      • What has happened as a result of the changes you have made in your life from what you learned?
      • Do you have any needs or problems you want to share with the group?
      • Can any of us in the group help any of the others with their needs?
  • Where would you have it?
    • The groups would meet at a different home each week (which would keep it less obvious and also allows participants to share the hosting duties.
  • Who would lead it?
    • There would be no actual leader there can be a facilitator each week to create a structure (By not having an actual leader the loss of a leader cannot have the effect of killing the process)
    • The absence of the need for a leader means the process is based on a group of equals seeking God and the Holy Spirit has to completely be the leader.  (reliance on God is by design more important than human leadership)
  • What would you bring?
    • The written scripture is the only thing that participants would have to bring.  They may bring food & drinks etc.
  • Then comes the big question so many Christian’s find most important (which in this context seems a bit secondary at best): How do you ensure there is no heresy?
    • The focus of all studies has to be obedience to what is in the scriptures.  Every study has to end with a question like:  “What do you need to do differently because of what we learned in this study.”
    • The group has to be taught to confront any instance of somebody mentioning something or trying to add something to a study that is not in that particular passage.  The lifestyle of the group has to grow to the point of asking similar questions about everything any participant or the group as a whole does.
  • How do you ensure the way you have the church is Biblical?
    • As everything is based on the scriptures and more specifically obedience to the scriptures the group would be completely Bible based and would base any changes on revelation from the Bible.
  • How do you “Go forth and make disciples” or spread the Gospel?
    • The spreading of the gospel will be done through relationship.  Family and friends who are interested or want to participate will be organized into new groups to do the same kind of studies and fellowship (by being a new group there is no information on other groups etc. for spies and also the new believers will have their own growth and reliance on the Holy Spirit)
  • How do you keep the church members as safe as possible?
    • The previously mentioned safety measures and the fact that group members do not have information on the other groups to begin with, keeps the danger to all the groups at a minimum.  (if one group gets broken up or were to drift into heresy etc. the other groups will not be affected)

Acts 2:42-47 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)  –  42The disciples were devoted to the teachings of the apostles, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer. 43A feeling of fear came over everyone as many amazing things and miraculous signs happened through the apostles. 44All the believers kept meeting together, and they shared everything with each other. 45From time to time, they sold their property and other possessions and distributed the money to anyone who needed it. 46The believers had a single purpose and went to the temple every day. They were joyful and humble as they ate at each other’s homes and shared their food. 47At the same time, they praised God and had the good will of all the people. Every day the Lord saved people, and they were added to the group.

The model I have come up with her fits into both the house church model and would work well along side our more traditional western church model.  A model like this would work in our context and helps us get to a bare minimum for church.

So let’s look at what I have found in my model to be the bare minimum for Christian fellowship.

  1. People meeting together
  2. Scripture
  3. Guidance from the Holy Spirit
  4. Obedience to God and the scriptures
  5. Caring about and for one another
  6. Simple facilitation that probably rotates (simple guidelines maintained normally by the group but ensured by that week’s facilitator)

Matthew 28:18-20 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)  –  18When Jesus came near, he spoke to them. He said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19So wherever you go, make disciples of all nations: Baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. 20Teach them to do everything I have commanded you.  “And remember that I am always with you until the end of time.”

John 13:34-35 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)  –  34“I’m giving you a new commandment: Love each other in the same way that I have loved you. 35Everyone will know that you are my disciples because of your love for each other.”

Hebrews 10:24-25 New International Version (NIV)  –  24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Everything else that is included in many of the church models I am familiar with and the one I attend is not evil.  The problem is that these things are not necessary to have true Christian fellowship as demonstrated in the Bible. 

These kind of simple fellowships based on study of the Bible as equals, caring for and about one another, obedience, and accountability to stay within what is found in the scriptures is the model that we actually see in the Bible.  The New Testament church never really looks like the western churches we have built when you look in the Bible.  That does not mean that the western church is somehow evil etc. it is simply just not mentioned as good or bad.  But the model here is based on what is seen in the scriptures.

Our version of the church could have this also (as the church in Jerusalem where the members met in houses and at the temple) or as the gentile churches of the New Testament where there would have been no visits to the temple just house churches with no available highly educated leaders (church planters like Paul etc. would get the first believers started, teach them as much as they could and leave). 

The New Testament church model allows for a model with a large congregation with small group components as a major focus as well as for small groups as the church without any large group meetings of that kind.  The one focus seems to be that the key to the examples we have in the New Testament is that the small group component is the part of the structure that is not optional.

I suppose that “The Church of Only What is Needed?” would have to be the small group very similar to the model I came up with.  There would be little need for money and other resources and it would build fellowship and obedience based discipleship for all participants.  Reliance on God and accountability to the Holy Spirit would be focuses and the trusted insurance against heresy.  The absence of human leadership in the sense that we are used to means that only God would get the glory and God would be the one ultimately looked to for all guidance.

The “The Church of Only What is Needed?” would only need people, Bibles, a heart for obedience and some simple guidelines.  God’s faithfulness and love would be the guiding light for all else.

This is just some food for thought on this topic on the church models and need for professionally trained pastors.  What are your thoughts?