Reflections – What shape church? I

What kind of structures help to create an environment where people can grow and experience the power of the Holy Spirit? How should the church be led to manifest the will of God on earth as it is in heaven?

Two and a half years ago, the Lord initiated an exciting process in our lives where we came into contact with people who are really grappling with the questions of what the church should really look like. All my life I had lived in an awkward tension between my love for Jesus and some negative experiences that I had with religious church leaders.

After too many wasted years I began to seek the Lord again earnestly and he healed and delivered me and restored my first love. Jesus began to lead me into situations and relationships where I got the chance to explore the question of what church leadership form is best.

So I got involved with house church and apostolic-prophetic reformers and deliberately exposed myself to teachers and movements which I knew would stretch me and take me beyond the comfort zone. I heard terms like pyramid structure, studied the five-fold ministry and earnestly sought God to deepen my understanding of his plan for church. Within one year I found myself connected to men of God from around the world who were all moving in slightly different streams but all displaying fruits of the spirit and fruit in ministry. I also began to experience clearer guidance and greater anointing.

Now is the time to reflect and I am going to share some of what I am discovering.

1. The kingdom is not about revolution – it is about growth

Jesus’ parables of the kingdom were all about growth – we have to build on the insights of the past. We need to view church history and past experience as a rich source of lessons and understand that people respond better to loving teaching and demonstration than to dogmatic railing.

The church so far has not failed. Christianity HAS been tried and although not perfect yet, it is going in the right direction. Some see only decline and sickness in the Body of Christ – I see a wonderful outpouring of confidence, faith and love that is changing communities and salting the earth.

2. It is not about structure

In some circles alot of energy has gone into teaching about structure. There are all kinds of theories about natural and spiritual structures. Have you heard the criticism of the top-down pyramid structure? In business it is the simple idea of vertical hierarchies being replaced by networks – the flat organisation. Some people in the church caught up with this idea and made a spiritual version of it: we have to tear down the pyramid structure. The pastor is the evil dictator stopping the work of the Holy Spirit and preventing the people from rising up to maturity. My conclusion having observed some of the fruits of these ideas closely is in a word – Nonsense!

It is better to have a church led by one man with a clear position and vision that people can align with to reach the lost and fulfill the great commission than it is to have a crowd of people rallied around an leadership who, by denying structure, escape accountability and make communication very difficult. Worse still is the pretence that the group is being led by the Holy Spirit, when in fact it is operating according to the natural principles of trust based on familiarity and allegiance.

3. Jesus had a pyramid system

Jesus gave us no clues to the form that church should take. He did not instigate a five-fold ministry. He sent out his disciples in pairs – 12, 70, 120 and then 500 and 3000. There was a clear pyramid structure with the impartation of authority based on heavenly selection.

And he did not set exams or vision and gift tests. No one went to college to get a degree in Pastoral studies or PhD in Homiletics.  People were not elected to positions in Jesus’ ministry. He heard from his Father who he should make his disciples and then he worked with them by a process of teaching and practical demonstration. It was one man leading a group. Yes he was the Son of God, but nonetheless he established what reformers call a pyramid system with top-down leadership and it was very effective.

4. God can work through one man leadership

By the way: The pyramid was most effective when people were at their weakest after the crucifixtion. Jesus had effectively appointed Peter as the Leader. So when they were most afraid and disappointed, they all followed him to go fishing and Jesus met them on the shore of the lake. Imagine if they had all gone off in different directions…

Moses is another example of an imperfect leader in a pyramid system, being more effective for God than a committee leadership. If the leadership depended on the leaders of the children of Israel they would have been back in slavery immediately. And the one time a group decision was made – they ended up with a golden calf.

There are countless more examples in the Bible and throughout history that show that a single person who is walking close to the Lord and full of faith can inspire many and have a greater impact than a network of doubters.

3. It is all about our spiritual walk

The goal of our faith is the salvation of our souls. The God of Peace himself is sanctifying us to make us complete in Spirit, Soul and Body. So what role does the church really play? What context will provide an environment where we can be ONE as Jesus and the Father are one so that the world will see?

Do we need a council or no council, elders in charge or the pastor having the last word? Who needs a pastor anyway? Can’t we just have lay-people sharing what the Lord gives them?

The spiritual walk is something that each of us must walk. Choosing the straight and narrow is a personal decision that no one can make for you. Retreating to be alone with our heavenly Father is not a group activity. You have to do that on your own. So is it enough to have a preacher exhort you to walk the walk and live the life?

And if a church is led by one man, how do we ensure that it is not stunted by his inevitable limitations and blind spots?

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Reflections – What shape church? II

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