For a long time now church has been set up a certain way. The model has been rather simple…You have a head Pastor and you have some people or aka-congregation. As it grows sometimes churches add elders, sometimes deacons, and sometimes trustees. And as they grow again they also add Pastors; youth, children’s, worship, community group, associates, business, etc. Of course there are various models, various doctrinal beliefs, and various ways of praxis. But overall, most churches, more specifically the western ones are structured in similar ways. As we look closer we find that churches defined in these systems are sermon-centric. That is, the culmination of their service is on a sermon. Even in Anglican churches this is the case, even though part of their focus or culmination is the Eucharist, they too fit into this sermon-centric model, albeit not in it’s entirety. This emphasis on the Pastor is disturbing. To some of you this might be shocking, to others perplexing, but let me explain before you jump to conclusions.
Week in and week out, what do we find in our churches? Generally speaking, some worship, some announcements, and then a sermon. This centralized focus is what Pastors and lay people alike find as the most vital part of a Sunday service ( Do keep in mind what I said about Anglicans though). This is all great and all, but how effective are these sermons? Do you remember what you heard last week, do you remember two weeks ago, what about three? Statistically it has been said that people only remember one sermon a year, that is .019%! I would say that is less than what churches would want. But the focus still remains. The idea of modernity in relation to this is: if I know it, and I speak it, and then you hear it, then you will know it, and ultimately do it. Your spiritual growth is centered around this .019%, well if you only listen to sermons anyway. This seems ridiculous, or insane to me. Doing the same thing over and over and over, and getting well, the same results.
What have some Christian churches done in response to theses statistics; some have started small groups. Small groups statistically have the big picture of 100% attendance, and what is the reality, 30%. Well, the percentage is higher, but a goal of 100% that only receives 30% is an F in any school. This does not fit the bill either, moving on.
Statistically speaking again, it has been said that churches add only one Non-Christian a year (Don’t confuse Christians and the merry-go-round…of Christians church hopping ), is this effective? Are we not suppose to be living in such a way that we reflect God, so when others look at us, they don’t see us, but see God. This God that we are luminous of then, becomes something others want. But one convert a year, with a whole congregation of believers, I imagine the ratio percentage on that is sickening. Well what is wrong with all this? What can we change?
First of all let me state, I don’t entirely believe that any church model is inherently wrong; if the people were reflecting God in the world and carrying out his mission. Yet, the models before us generally speaking once again, are not producing this, and therefore something needs change. Or maybe just some tweaking. What I intend to propose is a Biblically grounded model that is not perfect and still needs chiseling, but begins to direct or shape the way. Once again let me reiterate, this isn’t perfect, has flaws, and still needs much work. This is quite simply a foundation to begin with.
Ephesians 4 is an amazing passage, verses 7 and following though are something so overlooked in this controlling paradigm of church as I have been describing, that it’s sorrowful. When Jesus ascended, he left five gifts of leadership to the ecumenical church. The gifts of Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Pastors, and Teachers(4:11). What are these gifts there for? To equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the unity of Christ (vs12). How long is this process suppose to continue, till we attain fullness (vs13). When will this take place? When we are in the new perfected world. What does this mean? That all, and again all, should be discipled there whole life. Everyone should be discipled by someone else, even leaders. This discipleship process is lifelong…moving forward into the chapter…these leaders are suppose to equip the people to go out and speak the truth in love and the church will grow (verses 14-16). Is or are churches set up with this five fold headship. Many of the churches I have been in, have one or two of these, but few have all five. Why are we not seeing this, to be whole, the five of these gifts need to be present.
Are these gifts, what are called Apept, or Apest, a hierarchy? 1st Corinthians 12:27-31, suggests ” God has appointed first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all Prophets? Are all Teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a more excellent way. “. This part from Corinthians 12, is saying that no part is better than the other, but we are all in need of each other. But at the end we see that some gifts are stronger than others, but when combining this with Ephesians 4, the greater gifts are leadership, and why are they there to equip all the others. The higher gifts are meant to serve the others. They ultimately do not seem so high, if their ultimate job is to serve. They might be higher gifts, but all gifts are needed for the body. “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3). Let’s return now.
This Apept is extremely vital for the church to grow. It is also very vital for the church to be equipped and discipled. Are these five fold gifts at your church? Or is there one head Pastor doing it all? What I am suggesting by these questions, is that church leadership, or headship, should have these five, and these five should not be a hierarchal system, but an egalitarian. And this egalitarian leadership should be utilitarian towards the rest of the church, so they are equipped to go out and live for Jesus.
Moving forward…many of our leaders today are not equipped to even equip others. Jesus prepared for 30 years to do 3 years of ministry. The disciples were with Jesus for three or so years before they really were sent out. Yes, they did a little here and there, but overall were not on their own till after Jesus left. And how were they sent out? 2×2. Not alone, not one Pastor leading the way, but in pairs…these leaders were discipled intentional for a good period of time, to often we have kids jumping out of bible college into ministry, when their equipping has not even begun. 1st Timothy 4:12 does exist, but many of these bible grads are not Timothy’s, though there are exceptions.
This brings us to the congregation. Many believers are going out into the world, and have no discipleship and are making Jesus look like something he is not. People need intentional discipleship, that Equips them, this is not only community groups, and sermons. They need dialogue, discussion, character development, ultimately daily commitment. Let’s look at Acts 2:42-47 ” And they devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing their proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”.
This passage is so powerful it speaks for itself. This was not sermon-centric, this is centered around family, around community, around commonality and solidarity. Their love was so deep for each other, they sold possession to help others in need. Their character was being shaped daily by the leadership who was serving them and equipping them to be the beacons of light in their world, and results: they were adding to their number daily. They had peace with all people, not hatred from all people, but peace. They were not hypocrites, they were who they said they were. Why? Because their lives were bing poured into, through fellowship, prayer, teaching, and simply sharing life together. Israel was a community of people, not some who just met once a week and heard a message. The apostolic age and the new testament church is the model that we should follow, coincided with Ephesians 4 for leadership. This is costly, but Jesus said to those who wanted to follow him, it would cost. “Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me” (Matt. 16:24). If your character is going to be shaped, it will come at a cost, but the cost is worth it.
If churches would ask good questions, intentional ones, they may come to some scary conclusions. Jesus did not say come listen to me give a sermon, he demonstrated how to live, and spent three years with 12, discipline them to go out and to equip others…if Jesus’s model was not sermon-centric, don’t you believe yours should not also? Teaching is important, but it is not everything. I can talk to you about being a Christian or I can show you. ” But someone will say, ‘you have faith and I have works.’. Show me your faith apart from your works and I will show you my faith by my works” (James 2:18).
PS. As I said earlier I don’t have this figured out, this is a beginning, please join the journey and share in a dialectic with me, it would be greatly appreciated.