In case you missed it, I’ve been attempting to put reproducible patterns on the back of a napkin. This is what I would give to someone who was asking for details about planting a house church.
The Back of a Napkin Series:
In case you missed it, I’ve been attempting to put reproducible patterns on the back of a napkin.
The following posts describe the different parts of DNA in greater depth:
The Back of a Napkin Series:
A few weeks ago, I shared a simple question to determine if your ministry was reproducible: Does it fit on the back of a napkin?
So for the next few days, I’m going to give you a few of the truths I share on the backs of napkins, both as a challenge for me but also in hopes that they might be helpful for you.
This, for example, is the 3 Circles:
Does it cover everything from Genesis to Revelation? No. But it does hit the highlights and it’s easy to train others (even those who just came to Christ by seeing it) in how to share it.
Here’s a brief explanation:
Tomorrow, we’ll look at a napkin that will show us what to do when someone comes to Christ.
It’s a conversation that will resonate with me for a long time.
I had just moved back to Iowa after spending a few years in Kansas City. During my time in Kansas City I had been infected with a vision of Christianity as an organic lifestyle lived out with a spiritual family. Moving back to Iowa had been a step of obedience for me and my girlfriend (now wife) because we were leaving a group of people who were pursuing something near and dear to my heart.
I had a friend who also happened to be my pastor in Kansas City. He was a year older than me but he always felt 100 years older than me because of the amount of wisdom and experience he walked in. I was expressing to him the conflict inside of me about whether to permanently plug into our old church that we were part of or to pursue the dream God had infected me with during my years in Kansas City. He looked at me and said something that changed the trajectory of the rest of my life:
“Whatever you do, don’t waste your life just sitting in a pew.”
That statement resonated with me in a way I didn’t expect it to resonate. He didn’t give me a direction. He didn’t tell me what to do. But what he said was wisdom. Don’t spend the rest of your life being a spectator, consuming what is given from a pulpit but never putting it into practice.
We do that so easily. It’s so easy to get comfortable where we are at with good sermons, godly people, great worship, and a thriving church. It’s easy to consume all of that stuff and feel like we are part of something great. It’s harder to go where the Gospel isn’t, share it with people who may or may not respond, and be a part of starting something that could affect people for generations or come to nothing.
These words launched me into organic church planting. But they could be said both of traditional churches and organic churches alike. Just change out pews for couches. The point is we shouldn’t be content just to consume our church life. We have to mature into people of faith who participate in what God is doing, not just observe it.
I get it. There are some people who need to stay where they are in the season that they’re in. If that’s you, great. But the church, organic or traditional, is full of people who should be advancing the mission and serving others instead of sitting around watching.
So I say to unto you the same thing that was said to me: “Don’t waste your life sitting in a pew.”
Or, maybe a better way to say it is “I want you to plant a house church.”
Related: Wasting Your Life on Seashells
If you’ve ever worked in a business environment, there’s a common conversation that comes up. Changes in whatever market the business operates in cause the business to have to pay a little (or sometimes a lot!) more than they had been to continue selling their product or offering their service. Often this comes from taxes or regulations that governments roll out or sometimes the market changes requiring upgrades that are costly. Every time a business encounters one of these and the cost is significantly less than the opportunity to make money, everyone throws up their hands and says, “That’s just the cost of doing business.”
What they mean by that is this: There is a cost to doing business. Everyone recognizes it and everyone understands that if you want to make money, it sometimes means having to spend money. As long as there is money to be made, it’s worth the investment to generate a profit.
In the Kingdom, there is a cost to doing ministry. It’s not a regular, planned expense like it is in the business world, but they exist. For believers, the cost of doing ministry is more a question of when we pay the price, not if.
Because to truly serve others, it will mean learning how to deny ourselves. It will mean giving up things that others don’t or won’t give up. It will mean refusing to defend or promote yourself in a world where others do it all the time. It will mean speaking the truth when it’s unpopular and costly. It will mean going the extra mile when there’s no compelling reason to. It will mean laying down even your most “godly” agendas when brothers or sisters in your spiritual family need to be served.
Friends, the Kingdom of God is worth more than whatever cost is to be paid. Jesus said it’s like a treasure hidden in a field that was worth more than whatever a man owned. But we have to embrace the process of selling everything we have in order to buy the field it’s buried in.
It’s the cost of doing ministry in the Kingdom.
One of the realities that I love writing about is how Jesus turns things we’re so sure about on their heads. The poor will inherit the Kingdom. Blessed are you when people revile you. The greatest among you are those who become like little children.
The one that we have to keep coming back to over and over again as we talk about ministry in the New Testament is that the greatest in the Kingdom are those who serve. Because Jesus is a King who became Lord by laying down His life, He invites us to greatness through the laying down of our own lives.
It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that one of the roles described in the New Testament that function in the church is the servant. You haven’t heard of it? Let me explain.
If you’re reading this blog, you most likely speak English. Our English translations suffer from a problem known as transliteration. Transliteration is a phenomenon where a translator copies a word from one language to another (in this case, Greek to English) without translating the word. A great example is baptism. Baptism comes from the Greek work “baptizo,” which literally translated means “to immerse or dunk under water.” Translators chose to render the word “baptize” instead of “immerse under water” because it wasn’t politically smart to call into question a king’s sprinkle baptism.
In much the same way, the church has handled the role of “servant*.” You’re probably more familiar with the transliterated word we use more often: “deacon.” But in many places throughout the New Testament, you could essentially switch the word servant out with deacon and be talking about the same thing.
Why is this important? Well, there are two reasons: 1) In some traditions, deacons hold positions of power and authority. They are the ones calling the shots in the body of Christ. But according to their actual name, they aren’t designed to be in control. They are designed to serve. 2) In at least one church I was part of (and a number of others I’m aware of) the deacons were more of a sanctified volunteer team. They were patterned after the seven described in Acts 6 and did no more than help with physical needs that cropped up at the church. While this is a form of service, servants are called to more than just ministering to random needs that pop up.
Probably the best way to describe a Servant is to show some prominent examples of them from throughout the New Testament.
Paul- (Colossians 1:23, but see also 1 Corinthians 3:5, 1 Corinthians 4:1, 2 Corinthians 6:4, 2 Corinthians 11:23, Ephesians 3:7.) My point in bringing up Paul’s multiple uses of this word to refer to himself is not to say that he wasn’t an apostle–clearly he was! But that maybe, just maybe, Paul considered his apostolic calling a function of his place in the body as a Servant. Is it possible that we shrunk down the role of Servants within the body? Is it possible that they are truly greater in the Kingdom like Jesus said, instead of just ministers in training that tend to physical (and in our minds, less important) needs? Also, we’ll find as we go that it’s difficult to find a Servant stuck in one place for very long.
Phoebe– (Romans 16:1) Depending on which translation you read, this verse may or may not be translated as “deacon.” (NLT does, for example.) Regardless, Phoebe was a Servant of the church who was likely entrusted to deliver the book of Romans to the church in Rome. We don’t get much insight into how, but Paul describes her as someone who helped the church at large, but especially him. It was common to have itinerants who brought letters such as Romans from one place to another who also encouraged believers as they went. What’s rare here is that Phoebe is a woman. Interestingly, where Paul gives instructions for Servants in 1 Timothy 3, there is a section devoted to Servant’s “wives,” but that word can also be translated “women.”
Stephen-(Acts 6:1-5) I’m sure many of you have been waiting for me to get to Acts 6. I don’t like starting here because this is where we draw all our images from. Stephen and six other men were entrusted with the “diakonia” or the “service of the food.” Much of our current theology for Servants comes from this passage. But look where Stephen goes from here: Quickly he becomes a bright light in the church, preaching the Gospel and performing amazing signs and wonders among the people. He was such a threat to the religious establishment, he became the first martyr after Jesus. My point in showcasing Stephen is that he transcends what we think of when we think of Servants.
Phillip- (Acts 6:1-5, Acts 8:4-40, Acts 21:8) Again, Phillip is never called a Servant in scripture, but he was one of the seven that was trusted early on with the “diakonia” or service of distributing the food. After the stoning of Stephen, Phillip became a raving evangelist, breaking open territory for the Gospel among the Samaritans and the Ethiopians. We know that he won many people to Jesus because he’s the only man in the New Testament that is called an evangelist. Again, even though he started serving as part of the food program, he did much more than that. We’re tempted to think it was a promotion. In reality every part of his ministry was a function of him taking on the role of a Servant.
What am I trying to say by pointing out what the New Testament says about Servants? A few things:
1) Our assumptions about this role are usually wrong. This isn’t a position of power or privilege, nor is it a junior ministry position. Rather, it’s willingly laying down our lives to serve Christ and His body.
2) There is enough evidence in the New Testament that this role had women operating in it that we should probably be comfortable with both genders operating in it.
3) Paul the apostle, Stephen the first martyr, and Phillip the Evangelist were all Servants. Whatever our thoughts about “deacons” or Servants are, we need to be careful not to minimize the place of becoming a recognized Servant. I believe in the age to come, it won’t be the titles of apostle or prophet or teacher that will be appeal to us. It will be the title of Servant.
If that’s the case, wouldn’t it be better if we adopt that title now?
*In training our house churches on this subject, I’ve chosen never to use the word deacon. That’s a personal choice, but Deacon comes with so much baggage, it’s easier for me to use a totally new word that says exactly what it means.
How we build the church is based on how we view the New Testament. Nowhere is this clearer than the realm of elders. Some emphasize Paul’s epistles and get a seasoned, often stationary church. Others emphasize the book of Acts and it’s emphasis on minimalist structure and get a church that disappears quickly under pressure. The truth is neither of these views is correct apart from the other. But often we chose one perspective over the other, instead of seeing how both work together to accomplish what God wants.
Let’s look at some thoughts about elders from the book of Acts:
- Paul would plant churches and leave without appointing elders, but would often times do that later (see Acts 14:23). This is interesting to me, because many today stress the fact that a church without a pastor or elders is not a church at all. But Paul started a number of churches where he either didn’t appoint them on purpose or he got chased out of town before he could. My personal opinion is Paul often wanted to let new believers mature before appointing them as examples for the church to follow. But make no mistake–churches existed where elders didn’t.
- Elders were shepherds (Acts 20:28). Whoever eventually became an elder had the task of feeding and caring for the church the way a shepherd feeds and cares for a flock of sheep. This verse and another like it in 1 Peter 5 are the primary reasons I believe the gifting of shepherds and the role of elders overlap considerably. Often these are the people ingrained in the believing community and caring for those in their relational sphere.
- Elders were given the task of overseeing (Acts 20:28). Paul tells the Ephesian elders that the Holy Spirit has appointed them as “overseers.” An overseer is not a leader, a public speaker, or a visionary person. An overseer literally watches over what is going on in any given circumstance. Note that the overseer is never told to give orders, tell everyone what to do, or to monopolize the teaching or instruction of the church. Their task is to watch over what is being done. One of the great needs of the church in this hour is more overseers who can provide a safe place for new believers to grow and test out their spiritual muscles that are beginning to develop.
Now, let’s look at some thoughts from Paul to Timothy and Titus:
- It’s a noble thing to aspire to be an overseer (1 Timothy 3:1).
Part of the reason for this is that these were the believers first threatened with death when persecution came. This wasn’t a position of privilege that you needed to die to yourself before you decided to take. It could be a death sentence. And while some (especially in the house church movement) believe that it’s not good to be a leader, Paul encourages believers who desire to be godly overseers.
- There is a list of character requirements for elders (1 Timothy 3:2-7, Titus 1:6-9).
Character was the primary qualifying factor for elders of the New Testament. They couldn’t be a new believer and they had to be able to teach, but the overwhelming majority of qualifications were centered on how much Christ had transformed their character. Central to the idea of elders was that they were a mature follower of Jesus that new believers could look to and pattern their lives after.* **
- Elders were appointed (Titus 1:6). Paul makes it clear these guys were appointed and we saw that both in Acts and in these apostolic instruction manuals for Timothy and Titus. It was an apostolic function to appoint elders. Often they weren’t appointed until after an apostle left, but the church knew who they were because of this appointment. This is different, however, than a hierarchy where believers lord position over other believers.
When we look at the New Testament, there is a distinct pattern that emerges. Churches were spreading rapidly in the book of Acts through the ministry of men like Paul. Young churches would spring up and these churches wouldn’t have mature elders in place initially. Elders weren’t crucial to a church being established, you could have churches without elders.
But elders were necessary for the long term good of the churches that were established. These individuals were examples to the flock through their godly lifestyles but did not control every aspect of church life. They simply oversaw the life of the church and were helpful in the discerning of complicated issues that would arise. As overseers, they were to warn and admonish the body when particularly dangerous individuals were troubling the church.
I see elders as essential to the movement of the Gospel. I consider them localized replicators of the DNA God inserts into his church. Our failure to have them will eventually impair the movement of the Gospel God is raising up. But the elevation of elders to the supreme place of importance, over and above the rest of the saints as the only leaders impairs the movement of the Gospel as well. But when elders can be raised up that function as spiritual parents, allowing their children to grow and mature beyond them, beautiful movments of the Gospel can take place.
And that, my friends, is what we’re hungering for….
* 1 Peter 5:3 emphasizes the role of elders being a godly example. We haven’t looked at 1 Peter 5, but more and more, it is becoming my central text when understanding eldership in organic churches. More on that soon.
** The New Testament has a distinct pattern of calling believers to pattern their lives after other believers who live godly lives, not just Jesus. More on this in another post.