Reflections – What shape church? II

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?

In my first post I introduced the topic and made the following points.

  1. The kingdom is not about revolution – it is about growth
  2. It is not about structure
  3. Jesus had a pyramid system
  4. God can work through one man leadership
  5. It is all about our spiritual walk

Having established that the system is not our enemy, we may still ask if there isn’t a better way than what we know. After all people are disappointed and hurt, oppressed and deceived inside the church as often as outside. There must be something we can do to improve the organisation to give the Holy Spirit more space to work in our lives and give the Lord a little help as he tries to sanctify us.

One proposed answer is the five-fold ministry. This is a concept based on Paul’s discussions of the various gifts that are available within the church. The fact that he numbers them off, is taken as an indication of priority. First Apostles, Second Prophets, Third Teachers, then workers of miracles, healers, helpers, managers and people who speak different languages.

I believe totally in the five-fold ministry. I believe in the concept of church elders but I here I want to get to the heart of the question of whether structure matters for the life of a church. Exploring the five-fold ministry concept is often done based on the assumption that it is the only way forward. Proponents of these ideas almost take a revolutionary stance and so much damage is done to the body as a whole. This is not the Spirit of Jesus whose mission was not to “break a bruised reed”. He did not come to condemn but to seek and save the lost. All of our enquiry must be marked by this spirit.

No matter whether you have a one man founder and chairman ministry of a five-fold leadership or a council of elders there are a number of other issues that are more decisive for spiritual health in a church.

1. Be an evangelistic and not a migration-based church

In some churches the main growth comes from evangelism. In others the main growth comes from attracting believers away from other churches by the promise of greater spirituality or a more entertaining program. Evangelism-based churches are doctrinally and emotionally much healthier places. Evangelism-based churches have a cohesion that stems from respect for the evangelist and teacher, humility and first love.

As society and our work lives demand that we move around the world, many churches in international or university cities see people come and go on a regular basis and face the challenge of building cohesion and community amongst people who are not expecting deep or long-term relationships.

Churches that grow based on the migrations of the dissatisfied or wounded members of other churches start with a mess of poisoned wounds. When people’s motivation for a move is couched in spiritual ambition, then beware also of spiritual pride.

2. Understand the danger of elections

The church council is a common form of balance that many denominations have. In Switzerland, the State Church has an extreme situation where any tax paying voter in a community can be elected to the church council and influence the spiritual matters of the church. Purely democratic criteria are sufficient to gain acceptance and influence in this situation.

In other churches there might be a council that is voted in by the church members. Here again the democratic process of gaining influence with man is decisive in leading to an election. But this is so contrary to the Biblical pattern. None of the great Biblical leaders were chosen based on their popularity or suitability in the eyes of the community. God chooses and calls people for other reasons.

Therefore a church seeking to establish a group leadership needs to be keenly aware that networking skills or business managerial capabilities can be useful for service and deacons work, but they are not the most important values when choosing spiritual leaders. In God’s preparation process, hiddenness is very often a key stage. In a stage of hiddenness and intimacy with God, you will not be socialising and winning friends and influencing people so that you can get elected to a church position.

3. Embrace father-hearted leadership

It is better to have one man with a clear vision at the helm of a church who is intimate with his heavenly Father than a committee of politicians. Fathering-style leadership is what so many of us missed out. That is why we are so desperately searching in the wrong places. All our questions about doctrine, musical style, liturgy versus spontaneity, democracy versus strong visionary leadership will evaporate and pale into insignificance when we experience our Father in Heaven touching the depths of our soul supernaturally or through a kind and loving, gentle natural father figure.

When a church is founded and led by someone with a father-heart the need for elections disappears. A Father will recognise the people who God is preparing and he will call them into position. It is top down – but when the top is in tune with God’s purposes it works very well. But what if the leader at the top is not perfect? Actually Jesus addressed that question indirectly. He said “Your earthly fathers, being evil know how to give good gifts”. So there is hope!

A church with a single strong leader may initially lack diversity – a single leader can never encompass every gift. But remember, every healthy church will be networked with other churches and integrated into the diversity of the body of Christ as a whole. Members will have access to other teachers and ideas through YouTube or visiting speakers, conferences etc. As people develop a leader with a Father-heart will begin to delegate and increase the space given for others to develop their gifts. This church may actually accomplish more than a church led by consensus.

Read Part I

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