Those of you who know me personally or follow my posts know that I have a love/hate relationship with God’s Church. I love God and his people but every time I get too involved in local churches and ministry, I’m often left scratching my head and wondering how our modern churches are nothing like the Early Christian Church and the New Testament. Personally, I’ve been involved with, led, and work with others who are involved with grass roots, unconventional ministry models. These ministry groups often reach people who would normally never come to church and have led many current believers to deeper relationships with Christ and authentic discipleship.
However, some local churches today are often very skeptical to allow these types of ministries as they are seen as radical and unconventional. When I talk about challenging Christians to live their faith daily and to be held accountable in an effort to grow spiritually, many pastors shy away as this may hurt some people’s feelings. Translation – “We don’t want to challenge or push people to grow in their faith. We just want a nice, passive congregation.”
What these leaders don’t understand is that many people today have grown disillusioned with the “Sunday Show”. Before I continue with this rant, here’s some contextual background on this ongoing discussion – Dear Church, Are We Off Course? , Why We Need The Church, What Our Church Really Needs.
First, let’s look at Scripture and what God has said, then let us compare that with our modern American churches.
Would you be surprised if I told you that the Greek word “kuriakos” or church only show’s up in the New Testament twice? Both times it is used, it is referring to meaning something that “pertains to, or belongs to, the Lord.” The actual word in Greek used for God’s people or His gathering of people is “ekklesia” – which correctly translated means a “body or gathering of select people.” – this word ekklesia appears in the New Testament approximately 115 times and was recorded as the exact words Christ spoke when talking about His people and His following.
So Matthew 16:18 more accurately could be stated:
“Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my gathering of called people, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it” – ESV
So why does this matter? Words have meaning.
In 325 A.D., The Roman Empire adopted Christianity and unfortunately the Roman “Christian” Church was more Roman than Christian and started making some changes to Christianity for the benefit of Rome. Years later many of “The Reformers”, were all involved in civil government, such as John Calvin who set up the civil government in Geneva. The pope, who was the head of the Catholic Church, was kicked out of England during the time of King Henry VIII who proceeded to take jurisdiction over the “church” and implement government style changes. By the time the King James Bible was written in 1611, it was very important for the English Monarchy to retain control of the “church” therefore, King James made fifteen specific edicts pertaining to the Biblical translations of the KJV, and one of those edicts (edict number three) stated that this Bible was to use the word “church” in the translation and not the word “gathering.” This was King James’ specific edict for an important reason – King James had no jurisdiction or control over a “gathering” of God’s people, but he did have control over the “church” or the physical buildings used for worship in Christianity. Hmm…
Smart old King James knew that by using the word “church”, he could bring God’s believers under the jurisdiction of man. Furthermore, King James’ version of “church” were defined in ways that we don’t even find in Scripture and most certainly not what Jesus spoke of using ekklesia. Christ did not define his ekklesia to be under man’s jurisdiction because if God created it, then He is the one who should control it.
Now you’re saying, “Okay, so King James switched some words around to control the Church. Lance what does this have to do with Modern Christian Ministry and Methodology?” Everything.
Matthew 28 is the Great Commission and states:
16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
In the above Church Model illustration, who usually has all the authority? Who are usually the ones mainly involved in making disciples? Who does the baptizing? Who does the majority of the teaching?
Doesn’t this model seem more like King James’ version of the “Church?”
In the Ekklesia Model illustration, average believers like you and me use God’s word and have His authority to make disciples, baptize them, and everyone teaches each other based on the discernment of God’s word. If everyone is actively reading God’s word and interpreting it properly, there is no room for heresy or false teachings as everyone is reading directly from the source.
Now let me ask you this, which one of these models is currently being used for the amazing growth of Christianity in Asia and Africa? Which one of these models was used to raise up 128 Million believers in Communist China? Which one of these models more closely resembles Christ’s guidance to His early followers? Which one of these models to we see used over and over again in the New Testament?
In Acts 17, Paul and Silas “have turned the world upside” and were “acting against the decrees of Caesar” or the establishment of their day.
Throughout the New Testament, Paul, Barnabas, and Timothy weren’t “church builders” – they weren’t telling the people to find some building where they can be separate from everyone else in town. They weren’t telling the people to hire a seminary trained minister who can parse Greek and then install a coffee shop in their new building. They weren’t telling the people to act like good Christians, meet for a few hours on the weekend, have concert style worship, and then go home and get on with their lives until next Sunday. No!
They were building gatherings of believers who heard of all that Christ did, repented of their sins, and chose to follow Him. Many times, this meant a serious life decision that could have dire consequences but they chose to follow the Lord regardless of the earthly costs. They often met in the homes of fellow believers or patrons but not a specific “church building” as this would enormously hinder their interaction and ability to influence the community around them. Often, the entire occupants of homes became believers after hearing the Good News. (Acts 16:15, Acts 16:33-34, Acts 18:8)
Also, very few had any formal training in ministry, they simply shared the story of Christ and let the Holy Spirit move in the people.
Yet every time I bring this question up to someone in vocational ministry, I’m told that “we follow the “church model” because that’s what’s taught at seminary.” Yet every single year, more and more church buildings close their doors, less and less people attend services on Sunday’s, and more and more vocational pastors are calling it quits.
Why do we continue to use this ministry model that is not even Biblical? Why are we more concerned with buildings, programs, and “Sunday Entertainment” then growing our flocks spiritually? Why are we relying on our pastors to do all the teaching, baptizing, and discipleship?
You may read this post and think that I’m saying we should do away with institutional churches, salaried pastors, and Sunday services but that is not what I’m saying. I’m challenging Christians to look at the modern Christian Church and compare that with Christ’s early gathering of followers. I’m challenging Christians to stop relying on pastors and vocational ministers to do all God’s work. I’m challenging pastors and ministry leaders to examine their discipleship models and see how many people are growing spiritually.
We don’t need a building. We don’t need a Seminary degree. You and I are called upon to make disciples. Our missions field is our neighborhood, our workplace, our friends, our communities. God has called on us to Be The Church.
One of my friends recently started a small group at his home. He started with five people based on the ekklesia model above and then started inviting others, mostly non-believers or people who no longer attended Sunday “church”. He now has over 40 weekly participants and has had more people accept Christ and has conducted more baptisms than the average local church does in 2 years. He’s rough around the edges, not perfect, and is does not have a seminary degree. Be he has a calling, a missions field, and a passionate love for Christ. He doesn’t go to church, he is being the church.
-Esse Quam Videri