…defines how we structure the churches we’re part of today.
What do I mean by that? If you see a church in the New Testament as a missionary movement that planted simple house churches that reproduced themselves, you’ll build the church differently than if your picture of the church in the New Testament is more like a Methodist or even Pentecostal church service you can visit down the street. This forces us to ask the question, what am I reading into the New Testament?
Nowhere is this more prevalent than in the area of elders*. I once read a blog by a leader within the body of Christ who had planted a church and assumed the role of an elder there. He was writing about elders and it was clear that much of what he was writing on was founded on a fairly traditional church view and based on his understanding of 1 Timothy and Titus. I (slightly) disagreed with this writer’s take on the subject and part of the reason was I’ve spent so much time trying to understand the church from the perspective of the book of Acts. I sat down to write a comment and in the midst of writing, I had an “ah ha” moment.
This may not seem like such a big deal to you, but think about it for a moment. Acts was written to show the missionary movement of the Gospel which largely involves Paul. And when we read it, we see very little structure and we see an expanding, multiplying church brought forth by the power of the Holy Spirit. Flip over a few pages to the book of First Timothy or Titus and you see established churches that Paul is asking Timothy and Titus to structure and raise up leaders within.
The problem that we have as believers is we often believe these are two different stories and the church remains divided along those lines. Many of our traditional churches have built structures and latch on to certain verses in 1 Timothy and Titus for their support. My house church friends think we have made things too complicated. We’ve slowed the spread of the Gospel down by our need for so much structure. These friends cling to the book of Acts in their reasoning. But friends, these are not two different stories. They are the same story.
There are profound implications to that thought. The ever expanding, simple, multiplying church movement we see birthed in the book of Acts needed the structural strengthening instructions that Paul laid out in 1 Timothy and Titus for the movement to continue. And the instructions and structure that Paul gave in 1 Timothy and Titus have to be interpreted in the light of the movement of the Gospel and the Holy Spirit that we see in the book of Acts. We cannot understand one without the other.
I say all of this to make this point: The church can again become the simple, multiplying movement of the New Testament once again, but it will need to learn from the wisdom of Paul. Paul knew from experience what it would take to sustain such a movement and some of his later writings were his attempt to strengthen the multiplying church movement he birthed. This included roles within each locality of elders and servants.
But if we can hold these two different examples that God gives us (Acts and the “Pastoral Epistles”) together and try to see the church in the light of them both informing each other, we’ll get a much closer idea of how God sustains the Gospel going forth through the ministry of elders and servants.
We’ll get into those details tomorrow…
*I keep promising to get into the discussion about elders. It’s coming. This post is part of a larger exploration on that topic that flows out of our larger discussions about pastors, shepherds, and the place of titles in the body of Christ.
Recently (okay…about a month ago now) Hugh Halter posted “Five Questions that Only US Church Planters Ask.” I’d encourage you to check out the post. He doesn’t answer any of the questions, but rather spends some time talking about how church without answers to these questions is the beginning of true Kingdom living. For the sake of those of you who didn’t click the link, the five questions are:
1) But what do we do with our kids?
2) But what if my spouse doesn’t like to have people over?
3) What happens when my funding runs out.
4) How can I get Christians from other churches to join my core team?
5) How should I handle church discipline? (always from reformed camps)
So, my goal isn’t to answer any of these questions, either. But I know these questions are on the minds of many church planters, and my question is, why? Why are we consumed with these questions? What’s the motivation behind the questions? You can catch my thought in the order they were asked, below:
1) Kids can simultaneously be our idol and something we consider a distraction. Society pushes us to make our children into the perfect versions of ourselves we always wanted. We want them to have all of our talents but none of our hangups. Yet, in many church environments, the kids aren’t welcomed. They are either trained to sit still and color or shipped off to another environment where they can be as loud and distracting as they want. Our kids become a distraction when we believe they “interrupt what God is doing” instead of being participants in what God is doing. Our response to both of these extremes is repentance. Repentance for believing we can find salvation in our perfect “mini-me’s” and repentance for believing our meetings are more important than our children. Once we repent, the answer to this question is much easier.
2) It’s important to be clear that God values hospitality as a character trait of eldership (1 Timothy 3:2) and that both the husband and his spouse’s character is in question. My hope is those asking these questions are proto-elders, elders in training, or consider themselves elders already. I’m concerned when these sorts of questions come up, though, because it’s clear that one person in the marriage is more committed to the mission (which includes inviting the least of these into our homes) and the other is less committed. A spouse that isn’t given over to hospitality isn’t ready for eldership and a spouse that isn’t ready is a married couple who isn’t ready. Stop. Take the time to get on the same page as your spouse. Don’t let the dream of ministry be the altar you sacrifice your marriage on. Take however long it needs to take for her (or his?) heart to change. Be patient with Jesus and your spouse and let Him bring you both together into mission.
3) My hope when someone asks this is that it’s a sincere question. I’ve seen more churches dissolve because of a lack of funding than I’ve seen dissolve because of a sin issue. In the heart of many Americans, church planting is a route to a job. We must repent of the idea that the church exists to fund us. Period. So if the funding runs out, you need to get a job. Yes, the church will get less of your time. But you’re in this because you wanted to equip God’s people and reach the lost, right? So your funding running out is the perfect time to get a secular job, meet broken people, and equip others to some of the work you’re not able to do. Read BiVo. It will help.
4) At the heart of this question is the idea that church planting means growing a fully functioning church as quickly as possible. This is called transplant growth and it does almost nothing to grow the Kingdom. Why not start with two or three dedicated people and reach out to lost people exclusively? If your answer has something to do with finances, see #3. Turn away people from other churches or better yet help them start doing the same thing you are. They are needed in the harvest as well. And you’re in this to reach the lost, right? [nods head] Good, me too.
5) Ironically, this issue is the one issue Hugh addresses. I think Hugh hits the nail on the head. Many who think this way are afraid of sin in others and want to control it. I just want to add this: Be deeply involved with the people who are part of your church. Don’t just attend a meeting with them. Go to dinner with them. Play a sport with them. Share lives 24/7 with them. You will find all sorts of things wrong with these people. They will do the same with you, most likely. And then when you’ve earned the right to talk about sin with them, tell them about sin and point them toward Jesus with love. Call them higher, like a father. And if you do, 9 times out of 10, you will win your brother (Galatians 6:1-3). Spiritual discipline is so much easier and much more helpful if you do it because you love people and are in the trenches with them.
My point is this: these issues strike at the heart of “the American Gospel Enterprise,” a phenomenon where the church is treated like a business and we try to live off the benefits. Our current system encourages us to create a distraction free bubble where the meetings are entertainment-based and not an invitation into life together. Because people want this, crowds gather for this type of meeting and bring money that can support the people who lead it. But this is not the church as Jesus intended. Where these issues touch your heart (and hurt), repent. Begin to live like Jesus and the apostles and less like the latest church planting book you’ve read. Once you do, these issues will be much, much clearer.
So, there’s my responses to Hugh’s Five Questions. No one asked me. This is in no way endorsed by Hugh nor do I expect a response from him. I would take feedback, however, so if you’re reading this, please leave a comment and let me know if I missed something.