Sunday, August 30

3 P's of church planting

Try reading aloud the following lines...

All atouhirty has been gevin to Me in haeevn and on eraht. Go terherofe and mkae dipsiciles of all the notians, bipatizng tehm in the nmae of the Fehtar and the Son and the Hloy Siript, ticheang tehm to osberve all that I cammonedd you; and lo, I am whih you ayawls, eevn to the end of the age.

Even with the atrocious spelling, I am fairly certain that 99% were able to read and understand the message. Why?

1) you had a pretty good understanding of the general context of the message.

2) the first and last letters of each word are correct and the mind reorders the middle letters to their proper place.

The above paragraph is what our church planting looks like more often than not. It is a jumbled mess, yet somehow, God breaks through and does something beautiful to iron out the wrinkles.

So, if the overall context is important, and the first and last letters are important, how does this translate into the 3 P's of church planting?

The three most important words in church planting are...


Prayer is the most important ingredient for a church planter. Prayer gives us the needed guidance and context for understanding God's ways. Prayer keeps us on course even though we may make a huge mess of things between steps in the church plant.

The second most important words for the church planter are passion and perseverance. If the first and last letters are needed to make sense of a word, passion and perseverance are the equivalents needed to see churches planted. When passion and perseverance are on the ends of each church planting step, a lot can go wrong in between and still come out OK.

I find it reassuring to know that if I will focus upon prayer at the center of my life and ministry, asking the Spirit to fan the flames of passion within, and persevere regardless of the ups and downs along the way, God will take care of the rest. He will reorder the "letters" in such a way that His church gets planted.

You can make a lot of mistakes in church planting but when prayer, passion, and perseverance are present there will be power.

Friday, August 28

Ministry Happens

One of my mottos is "ministry happens." I think that at least 90% of the ministry that happens in the gospels is spontaneous. Jesus was headed from one place to another and an opportunity would present itself. Jesus was willing to get off the beaten path and take the road less traveled. He didn't see them as detours or dead ends. Too often we mistake human interruptions for divine appointments. --from a Mark Batterson message entitled "Wild Goose Chase."
For people like myself who are geared toward intentional ministry, the above thought is a needed reflection. Am I too busy to take time for someone interrupting "my ministry?" Am I so geared towards that 10% intentional ministry that I overlook the 90% God sets in my path daily?

Is not that 90% as much "real ministry" as the 10% I set out to accomplish?

"Intentional ministry" people often hide behind the excuse of thinking we are too busy with real ministry. We simply do not have time for unplanned spontaneous ministry. The reality is we view our own agenda as more important than the needs of others. Their need for feedback and/or attention is secondary to our accomplishing our more important intentional ministry agenda.

Was that Christ's attitude who often left the crowds and made time to go eat at Zaccheus' house? Healing blind beggar Bartimaeus? Stopping in his tracks on his way to a resurrection when the woman touched the hem of his robe? Taking time for the children, leaving the crowds to wait? 90% of ministry happens when we seize those spontaneous opportunities that come disguised as detours or interruptions.

Tuesday, August 25

When is a group unreached?

Article below from The Network for Strategic Missions by Justin Long. Can you spot the problems and challenges in the following analysis?


One of the difficulties in measuring which groups are unreached and need to be prioritized is the challenge of measuring the definition of an unreached group:

“An unreached or least-reached people is a people group among which there is no indigenous community of believing Christians with adequate numbers and resources to evangelize this people group.”
(1982 Lausanne Committee Chicago meeting,

“Adequate numbers and resources” is the challenge. What is “adequate”? The original Joshua Project editorial committee selected the criteria of less than 2% Evangelical Christianity and less than 5% Christian...

...For our purposes we need only the AD 2000 figures as follows:
  • Latent Christians (inactive in mission): 1,351,743,000
  • Lay activists (intercessors, givers, short-timers, etc): 642,297,000
  • Pastoral workers (bishops, clergy, pastors, chaplains, etc): 3,969,000
  • Home missionaries (e.g. Americans among Americans): 925,000
  • Cross-cultural home missionaries (e.g. British in England among Somalis): 210,000
  • World C foreign missionaries (in Christianized countries): 306,800
  • World B foreign missionaries (in World B countries): 103,000
  • World A (unevangelized) foreign missionaries: 10,200
Total home missionaries (near-culture + cross-culture) = 925,000 + 210,000 = 1,135,000
Total foreign missionaries = 306,800 + 103,000 + 10,200 = 419,200

Note that this includes missionaries of all traditions and Christians of all traditions. We’ll use this as a global average. Rounded, we can see that there are 1 million home missionaries and 0.4 million foreign for 2 billion Christians,

or 1,000 home missionaries and 400 foreign missionaries for every 2 million believers
or 500 home missionaries and 200 foreign missionaries for every 1 million believers
or 50 home missionaries and 20 foreign missionaries for every 100,000 believers
or 5 home missionaries and 2 foreign missionaries for every 10,000 believers
or 2 home missionaries and 1 foreign missionary for every 5,000 believers.

“What will it take” (Momentum, September 2006) suggests we need 1 worker (foreign or home) who raises up 100 home workers who each reach 1,000 people. If we accept this as a general rule of thumb, then a people group of 1 million people needs:

* 1 (foreign or home) worker to pioneer: which requires at least 5,000 believers
* 100 home workers to fully reach: which requires at least 200,000 believers.

Now, can you spot some of the problems in this analysis? What does this challenge mean for the church? What are the implications?

Sunday, August 23

Tears of the saints

Having seen all this you can choose to look the other way, but you can never say again, 'I did not know.' -William Wilberforce

Friday, August 21

What would happen if institutional churches closed their doors?

Wayne Jacobsen needs no introduction for those livng their Christian faith outside of the institutional/legacy church system. In his What If Everyone Left the Sunday Morning Institutions? Wayne shares an interesting perspective.

Let’s say today everyone stops attending our Sunday (or Saturday) morning institutions. Would the Church lose its presence in the world? I don’t think so, and in fact I think you could argue that it would have both a greater and more effective impact. Admittedly there would be some chaos with so many support staff out of work, and dealing with buildings that would be difficult to sell, but once we got through all of that, I am convinced the church would take on a GREATER presence in the world. Our world wouldn’t have a daily reminder driving down their streets how fragmented Christianity is into its various institutions because people simply wouldn’t learn how to love each other they way they are loved by God.

Those who really love Jesus would find themselves liberated from all the machinery that consumes a huge amount of time, energy and resource and find their lives in more spacious places where they would have time to get to know and love their neighbor, their colleagues at work and people they pass on the street. Admittedly that wouldn’t be everyone’s response, but the reason I don’t fear people not being ‘committed anywhere’ is that they will get to find out just how committed to Jesus they really are. And that’s good for them and good for the world. Many Sunday-attenders have no idea they are missing out on what it means to be truly committed to Jesus. They think that attending a service and dropping some coins in the offering basket validate the depth of their faith. Yes, some would end up disgruntled and fragmented, but they wouldn’t be mistaken for those who really ‘get’ this journey and live in the increasing reality of being transformed by Jesus.

To survive, people would have to become more active in their faith, seeking out opportunities for growth, for relationship and for sharing God’s life in the world. They would lose the passivity that allows people to sit through a meeting on Sunday and live unchanged the rest of the week. New believers would be taught to know the Lord in small groups who share the life of the family together, rather than as cogs in a big machine. And we would have so many more resources to do whatever God might ask us to do, like reach out to AIDs patients, build hospitals in third world countries, feed the poor or host an outreach in a local park where others might come to know him. Leaders would emerge not by their education, vocation, or ability to draw a crowd, but because they have a gift to help people grow and live hospitably so that they actually come in contact with real people.

In summary, the Church would take on a greater presence in the world just because of the number of active believers scattered throughout it every day to make him known. And it would be more authentic as well, since it would be Jesus demonstrating himself through transformed lives, which I think is far more powerful than ornate buildings, spurious TV preachers, or the excesses and failures of our institutional leaders today...

I think Jesus saw it that way too, which is why he didn’t leave us with the institutional instructions. Or so that’s how I see it…
How do you see it? Do you agree with Wayne's analysis? What do you think would happen if institutional churches closed their doors?

Wednesday, August 19

Best kid in the world

My wife, Linda, posted on her blog A Foreign Life some of the thoughts and feelings we have for our son, Josh. She has done so through a series of photos dating back to when we first brought Josh home to live with us. We are proud of our son, Josh and want our friends and readers to get to know why we think he is the "best kid in the world!"

Sunday, August 16

What is truth?

This post grows out of a response to the long comment chain from this post a couple of weeks ago.

Pilate asks Jesus, "What is truth?"

To me it is an ever-deepening and growing awareness of the truths of our Lord.

Truth is like a house.

We start by getting to know the house by entering through the main door into the foyer. Here we admire the prints on the walls, hang our coat on the rack, and wipe our feet on the door mat.

Just about the time we think we have figured out the house based on our experience and observations of the foyer, our host leads us into the living room of the house. There we discover even more wonders of the house as we sit in the soft chairs, walk on the plush carpet, and admire the flower arrangements on the coffee table and mantel.

With our visit to the living room we are even more sure we know and understand what the house is all about. We begin to tell our friends about all we have seen and experienced based on the foyer and living room.

One of our friends says what he liked about the house was the fried chicken and mashed potatoes he had enjoyed in the dining room.

Fried chicken? Mashed potatoes? Dining room? For one not yet introduced to the dining room and kitchen areas of the house, this sounds suspect from our foyer/living room point of view.

I begin to deny the "truth" of my friends fried chicken experience. I lovingly try to correct him in his error and restore him to the FULL TRUTH as was revealed to me in the foyer and living room parts of the house.

While this is certainly a crude and maybe flawed illustration of how we understand truth, it does reveal how many of us interpret truth based upon our experience of a portion of the whole.

Back 20 years ago, as a new missionary to Guayaquil, a national friend invited a bunch of us over for a Sunday evening parillada (Bar-B-Que). I was horrified and disappointed that the invitation was for a Sunday evening at 7:00pm. Why? That, of course, was the same time as the Sunday evening church service. What would God think of us having a parillada when we all should be sitting in church? Sunday was the Lord's Day, not a day for parilladas and friends.

I remember sitting in church that Sunday evening totally convinced that I was right and my worldly brothers were wrong for going ahead with the parillada. I had understood the truth of church through my limited exposure as something I had learned in the "foyer." Since the kitchen, patio, Bar-b-que grill and dining room portions of this truth had not yet been revealed to me, I was quite certain that my paradigm of church was right, and that my unspiritual brothers were quite immature in their worldly ways. It was up to me to correct their "dining room theology" with my "foyer theology".

Isn't truth an ever-deepening revelation as we allow the Lord to lead us further into his "house of truth?" Just when we think we have finally discovered the truth of one of God's mysteries, He leads us through a new door into another room of the house, revealing yet more wonders which add to our understanding of that truth.

It seems to me a lot of the arguing, and divisiveness going on--especially amongst fellow believers--is that we argue our case for truth out of our limited exposure to only a portion of the whole truth. Those who have journeyed through only the foyer and living room think those enjoying fried chicken in the dining room are way out of bounds.

But could it be that the riches of Christ Jesus, the author of all truth, go so much deeper than most of us have experienced to date?

What do your think? I welcome your thoughts, observations, etc.

Friday, August 14

My mom gets nationally honored for her volunteerism

What do retired missionaries do when they return to the States after 33 years on the mission field? Well, my mom began volunteering at her local pregnancy center in Seguin, Texas.

Of the 1,100 Care Net Pregnancy Centers in the United States, my mom, Pat Muse, was one of only seven honorees to be nationally recognized!

Nominating Muse for the honor was Sandy Haverstick, executive director of the Seguin Pregnancy Center. Haverstick says Muse exemplified the giving nature and examples set by the biblical character of Ruth.

"Pat Muse exemplifies Ruth for the Seguin Pregnancy Center. Pat has been a trained peer counselor for four years. Pat has personally counseled 92 clients in their first visit to the Seguin Pregnancy Center. Of those 92 clients, Pat led 23 women to the Lord," said Haverstick...

Probably the most impressive description of Muse according to Haverstick is her ability to promote the Christian based organization.

"Pat shared the gospel with one of our clients. The client accepted Christ that very day. The client was so impressed with the blessing that she received...she scheduled herself to come the very next week during Pat's shift so that her boyfriend could receive the blessing also. The boyfriend heard the gospel while visiting with his girlfriend from Pat and he too became a Christian. The client and her boyfriend are now the happy parents of a little boy." said Haverstick.

Muse, who remains humble in receiving the award and recognition, says lending a hand to others is two-fold in that she too benefits from the ministry.

"I started volunteering at the Seguin pregnancy center in June of 2005. I just felt that's where God was leading me...Women and girls who have a need in their life to find out if they're pregnant can come out for counseling and a free pregnancy test and we're just glad to be of help to them...For the ladies that are pregnant we just walk through that pregnancy with them and be of help wherever we can...We have a program called earn while you learn, where they can buy most anything their baby needs wiht the points that they earn while they do the studies with us," said Muse...

Muse is expected to be presented with the official award later on this year.
Way to go, mom. We're proud of you!

Wednesday, August 12

How bad theology ended up edifying new believers

This past Sunday morning, my daughter Anna and I were invited to visit one of the new church plants in Balerio Estacio, a new area of the city without water or sewage where thousands of people have built makeshift cane houses and barely survive on a few dollars a day. The meeting was supposed to start at 8am. By 8:30am Anna and I found ourselves hopelessly lost in a maze of unpaved, rutted dirt streets. With the help of our ever present cell phone, we finally managed to work our way back to the one semi-paved street in the jungle of humanity and were rescued by one of God's "angels" who had walked up and down roads for 30 minutes looking for us!

By 9:30--yes, they started an hour and a half later than announced, anything new or strange about that?!?!--about 25 adults and another 15-20 kids had gathered in the tiny living area of the cane shack which serves as their meeting place. With that many people in a single room with only a tiny open window for air, my only thought was how I might politely trade seats with someone already sitting by the window! Thankfully someone got inspired to suggest that two of the sisters take all the kids over to another house a couple of blocks away and meet with them there separately. This seemed like a good idea to the brethren, and that is exactly what was done! Whew, we now had a little more air to breathe!

I had been invited by this group of new believers to share with them una palabra de Dios (a word from God.) For these kinds of gatherings, I never know what the Lord may be up to, so usually go prepared with any number of different Scripture passages, teachings, words of encouragement, etc. depending on where I sense the Spirit of the Lord dealing with the group. This day was no exception.

Early on in the meeting, a woman asked for prayer for the sick child she was holding in her arms. She had been up all night with her screaming son's unabated cries of pain. All night she had rocked and held him, praying to God to heal her 4-year old son. It was obvious she was exhausted and in deep anguish. My first thought was to wonder what on earth she was doing there meeting with us, when her child obviously needed medical attention. Silly me, what BETTER place could she go than be in the midst of true believers gathered in Jesus name!

Before I could utter any words of consolation, or even pray, a sister spoke up from the adjoining room (we simply couldn't fit all 25 in the tiny room with the window) that Jesus had brought to her mind the passage in John 11 where Jesus said, "This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God..." For some reason, this seemed to prompt the mother of the sick child into an unsolicited confession...

It's all my fault. Several weeks ago I stopped coming to these gatherings with you all, and now God is punishing me. I know Jesus won't heal my child until I start meeting with you again. So, here I am. Please pray that God would forgive me for not coming to the meetings, and pray that He would have mercy and heal my son.

Bad theology? Quite definitely. But when combined with the John 11 word, only set the stage for an unforgettable time the Lord had in mind for all our edification.

Before praying, I simply said, "let's see what God has to say about this situation with the sick child."

I invited them to open their Bibles to Romans 8. What followed was an incredible time of sharing together the truths found in these verses. One could visibly see the lights being turned on in the faces of these new believers as God's truth and purposes was revealed verse by verse...

* no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus...

Jesus was not condemning her for missing the meetings. She was completely liberated from condemnation. It is the Devil who condemns, not Jesus.

* you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, [instead...]
* you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, "Abba! Father!"
* we are children of God

We are CHILDREN OF GOD. Does God not take care of his own children?

* and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ...

Not only are we children, we are fellow heirs with Christ--ROYALTY!

At this point we paused and brought the child to the middle of the room. As many as were able, laid hands on the boy and we began to pray as uncondemned heirs with Christ, unfearful adopted sons, crying out boldly to Abba Father for his healing...

* ...waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body...

After the last person had prayed, the little boy jumped out of his mother's arms, and ran out of the room to play with the other kids. There didn't seem to be a trace of sickness in his body! I turned to the mother and said, "I think your son is better, don't you?" She just smiled, as all of us began to feel the awesomeness of our God and the truths of His Word--who we really are in Christ Jesus.

* the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words
* He [the Holy Spirit] intercedes for the saints according to the will of God
* God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose
* those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son

As each truth was presented, it almost became too much to take in all at once. Everyone began talking at once. It seemed too good to be true--and yet these things ARE true! Impromptu testimonies and stories were shared...

* these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified
* Christ Jesus...who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.

Both the Holy Spirit AND Jesus intercede for us before the Father? That's exactly what it says! If we have both Jesus and the Spirit praying for us, why worry about things? Everything, everything--good and bad that happens to us--everything is under His control! Everything is used by our Abba Father to work good in shaping each of us into the image of Jesus.

* if God is for us, who is against us?
* Who will bring a charge against God's elect?
* God is the one who justifies
* how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?
* Who will bring a charge against God's elect?
* Who will separate us from the love of Christ?
* all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us
* neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

How can I describe the joy that radiated in people's faces to realize who they TRULY are in Christ Jesus? One after another people began to share with one another... "I did not know these things. How great is our God! I am royalty! Laughter...more laughter! A few tears! I knew Jesus loved us, but didn't know it was this much! How much we love you, Jesus! This puts a whole new light on everything! I am not poor, I AM RICH!"

Let's sing some more...

The Lord's Supper observed and led by one of the new believers...

Let's EAT!!! (and we did, a big plate of rice with a piece of chicken for everyone)

More singing...

And more singing...

What fun!

So, can even bad theology be used by our loving Abba Father to bring about good and edifying his children? You bet!

Saturday, August 8

Influencing others through our own example (No. 11-20)

The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. -Phil. 4:9

Setting an example is not the main means of influencing others,it is the only means. -Albert Einstein

Continuing with the series starting with #1-3 here, #4-6 here, and #7-10 here, below are ten more areas we are trying to model before those we disciple/mentor.

11. Keep the Sabbath. This is one of the Ten Commandments that is most abused by many Jesus followers. To set aside a day of the week for rest seems unproductive, unfruitful, akin to laziness. If we do set aside a day for rest, it is usually spent attempting to get caught up on all the stuff piling up and needing attention. Of the 20 points shared so far, this one seems hardest for me to live consistently. Yet when I do observe the Sabbath as intended by our Creator, by setting aside a day for rest and recreation, I find my mind, body, spirit and soul are refreshed. I find much needed renewal and recharging for another week of service.

12. Less is more. Speak less in order to say more. Teach less so that more is retained. Learn to use less to accomplish more. Spend less in order to save more and give more. We are bombarded daily with information and stimulus. If we want our message to get across, we must package it in such a way that less is more. As stated in my previous blog entry, sometimes in order to do more, we must do less. Wisdom is about learning this difference.

13. The event is not the event. More often than not, the event we plan and carry out is not where the real Kingdom action takes place. While we may plan our programs, the real work of God often takes place on a completely different level. We have our purposes for doing things; God has his own. When all the dust settles, what remains is what God intends, not necessarily what we set out to accomplish. The event itself ends up as a "side show" to what God intended all along. Learn to seek God's hand at work on the fringes of our planned events and programs. Often spiritual fruit comes not from the event itself, but from small things that surround the event.

14. Servants recognize and appreciate the work and efforts of fellow servants. There is a shortage of appreciation and honest recognition amongst brethren. While we truly work for the Master, a bit of recognition and appreciation (what Jesus calls 'loving one another') goes a long way.

15. People are more important than programs. When we make people the program, they know it. People are not programs. They know when they are being used for someone else's ends. Make sure the people in our lives know they are more important than any of the programs or efforts that unite or engage us mutually.

16. En boca cerrada no entran moscas. Flies don't enter closed mouths. Until you have something constructive or edifying to say, it's best to keep one's mouth closed. A good percentage of our troubles come from the things coming out of our mouths. Weigh carefully your words before speaking them and avoid a lot of later regrets and damage control.

17. Transform relationships by transforming vocabulary. What we say to others and how we address them makes a huge difference in the way other disciples respond to us. Some "magic phrases" that go a long way: Thank you. You are right... I'm sorry... What do you think? How might we do this better? Well done! Tell me about it... What are your thoughts about the matter? Let's think on this together... How did you manage to do it so well? Good job. How can I help you? May I suggest... Where can we improve?

18. Busyness does not equal fruitfulness. Staying busy all the time is not a virtue. Much activity does not equal much fruit. Going back to #12 above, doing more of the right things gets us a lot farther than just a lot of activity in our life. We need to know the difference between being busy and tending to what is truly important.

19. Examinadlo todo; retened lo bueno. Paul's exhortation to "examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good..." is excellent advise for all Jesus followers. God is the author of all truth, regardless of where it is found. We have the tendency to "throw out the baby with the bath water" simply because some truth or good idea is found outside of our little world. If someone out there has discovered something good, some truth, something that is working well for them, we don't need to fear THEM as much as we need to hold fast to the good they have found. All truth is God's truth. The enemy is not about truth, justice, goodness, or well-being. Where these things are found, we ought to jump on others band wagons and apply God's truth to our situation.

20. God is in control. As crazy as things seem to get at times, we rest in the truth that our Lord is Sovereign and that nothing, absolutely nothing, is out of His control. All things work together for good for those who love the Lord. There are no "accidents" with God. He makes everything in our lives, both good and bad, to make us more Christlike. Even when we "blow it" and mistakes are made, HE IS IN CONTROL. Rest in the Lord, wait patiently for Him. Joy comes in the morning. Scripture overflows with the truth that OUR GOD REIGNS. He is Lord. He is Lord of the big things in our life, as well as the small things in our lives.

Any comments, observations, questions, etc. about any of the above? What do you think?

Wednesday, August 5

In order to do more, we must do less

I recently received this timely email from fellow church planter Gail Graves...

Greetings all in the name of Jesus. I am reviewing notes from my time of prayer and fasting in the first 40 days of this year. I came across a note that I wrote down that applies to Christian workers who work hard. Some times we get so busy that we hardly have time to pray. Here is the note, "In order to do more, we must do less." You can decide who the source of this message is for yourself. I have spent most of my adult life working hard and encouraging others to work 'for the night is coming.' Most Christians need to work at it more and put more effort into the Kingdom. If some did less, it would be nothing at all. But for those of us who are focused and work hard, the note may be for us. "In order to do more, we must do less." All, all, all the battles of the Kingdom are won in prayer. Of course we must put feet to our prayers, but still the battles are won in prayer.

Your brother,

Sunday, August 2

Local Church Membership and City Church

David Rogers has done an excellent job addressing Local Church Membership and City Church. I reproduce his article below and invite you to join the discussion going on here of a topic few seem willing to tackle. What do you think about David's questions at the end of the article?

On previous occasions, I have argued in favor of the view that the New Testament Church is expressed (in addition to in other ways and on other levels) on a citywide level (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here & here). At the same time, I think there is good evidence that a plurality of individual house churches existed within at least several of the cities of the New Testament world. What is not so clear is the degree of autonomy with which each of these individual house churches functioned. Did each house church, for instance, have its own separate elder or elders? Were there always a plurality of elders at the house church level? As far as I can tell, with the possible exception of the “angels” or “messengers” of the churches of Revelation 2 & 3, every mention of citywide churches and elders in the New Testament assumes a plurality of elders at the citywide level. What is not so clear is whether or not each individual house church had its own elders, or, if they did, whether they were always plural, or at times singular.

Some of the passages that have a bearing on this question are the following:

Hebrews 13:7 Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.

Hebrews 13:17 Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.

Hebrews 13:24 Greet all your leaders and all God’s people. Those from Italy send you their greetings.

Titus 1:5 The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.

Acts 14:23 Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.

Acts 20:17-18, 28-30 From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church. When they arrived, he said to them: … Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.
It is evident (at least, to me) that the church today is not organized exactly as it was in New Testament times. As Baptists, we claim to be restorationists in our ecclesiology; that is, we claim to base our ecclesiology on a desire to return, as much as possible, to the New Testament model, and do the things we do, as churches, according to biblical criteria.

In New Testament times, for example, there were no denominational divisions. As I understand it (at least according to the biblical ideal), neither were there racial or social divisions within the church. The “church of Ephesus” or the “church of Corinth” or the “church of Philippi” was composed of every single person living in each of those cities who was an authentic believer in and disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ.

In a lot of ways it is probably unrealistic to be consistently restorationist in our approach. Sometimes, in order to go back to the way things were in New Testament times, we would have to sacrifice other elements in our ecclesiology that serve as good safeguards for possible abuses. However, in keeping with a consistent restorationist mindset, I believe we should be aware of possible inconsistencies in our ecclesiology, and continually ask ourselves if there are not ways we could reform ourselves even more than we already have in order to come closer in line with the New Testament model.

For example, it is evident from what we read in the Bible that New Testament Christians met together with each other on a regular basis.

Hebrews 10:24-25 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

It also seems to me that some believers within a particular city were considered as being associated with or belonging to a particular subgroup of the church of that city, very possibly (as I see it) one of the individual house churches that jointly made up the church of the city (see Romans 16, et al). It seems likely (at least, to me) that the believers also met together on occasions with the believers from other house churches within their city (Acts 2:46; 1 Corinthians 11:20; 14:23).

However, can we make the jump, on the basis of biblical evidence, that each believer considered themselves to be members of individual congregations on a house church level?

As I understand it, a key to answering this question hinges on the use of the phrase “your leaders,” which occurs three times in Hebrews chapter 13. The author of Hebrews apparently distinguished between Christian leaders who might rightly be regarded as the leaders of the individual receptors of the epistle of Hebrews, and other Christian leaders who were not specifically their leaders. Verse 17 appears to me to be particularly significant in this regard. As I understand this verse, certain leaders were expected to “watch over” certain believers and to “give an account” for them. This implies (if I am understanding this verse correctly) that there were other believers over whom they were not expected to “watch over” or to “give an account,” at least not in the same way as those particular believers who looked to these men as their leaders.

Acts 20:28-30 appears to allude to a similar dynamic. The elders of the church in Ephesus were admonished by Paul to “keep watch over … all the flock of which the Holy Spirit [had] made [them] overseers” and were to “be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.” Although it is possible to interpret this as referring to a broader group than just the believers in Ephesus, or to the hypothetical members of the particular house church in which each elder served, it makes more sense to me to see the responsibility of oversight and shepherding as a specifically local responsibility. It is a separate question whether or not they each exercised this responsibility individually, or if they exercised it collectively (e.g. if all of the Ephesians elders jointly exercised collective oversight over all of the church of Ephesus).

An additional factor that I believe plays into this is that, logically speaking, in order for someone to effectively “watch over” someone else and “give account” for them, it would be necessary to have a personal relationship with them, and to have a pretty good idea of what was going on in their life. In a smaller group, this would normally not be a problem. However, once a group reaches a certain size, the more and more difficult it becomes for a “leader” or an “elder” to truly “watch over” and “give an account” for every member of the group, or for even a team of “leaders/elders” to do so effectively.

Thus, it seems to me that each believer ought to have spiritual leaders they consider to be their leaders, and that the elders/leaders of a church ought to be clear about who specifically comprises that part of the flock of God of which the Holy Spirit has made them overseers. As far as I can tell, the Bible does not give us specific instructions about exactly how this is to be accomplished. However, it seems to me to be a valid inference that special care should be taken to see to it that no one “slips between the cracks.” Each individual believer ought to have some spiritual leader who knows them personally, watches over them, shepherds them, and gives account of them before the Lord.

It would also seem that each individual elder ought to have someone who shepherds them. I think it is likely due to this concern that very early in church history a system of leadership hierarchy developed, and a distinction was made between the role of bishop and elder. The responsibility of the bishop was to watch over, shepherd, and give account of the other elders.

The problem with this was that it eventually became a recipe for tyranny and corruption within the church. As early as the late first century, Ignatius of Antioch made the argument that the unity of the church hinged upon cooperation with and submission to the local bishop. I think he was almost certainly sincere and well motivated in his thinking on this point. However, what he was not able to foresee was that legitimate appointment and ordination as an elder/bishop through a pure line of apostolic succession did not necessarily safeguard someone from doctrinal error and moral corruption. Wishful thinking, perhaps. Subsequent history, however, was to reveal that faithful adherence to the teachings of Jesus and the apostles through the written records of the New Testament canon is a better safeguard for the orthodoxy and orthopraxy of the church than ordination and apostolic succession.

As best as I can understand it, one of the main reasons (if not the main reason) behind the Baptist distinctives of local church autonomy and local church membership is to guarantee the freedom of the individual believer, within the context of a system of mutual accountability, to seek out and attempt to follow the will of God as revealed in Scripture on their own apart from the coercive imposition of an episcopal hierarchy. However, this does not necessarily mean adopting, at the same time, a philosophy of “to each his own.” As Christians, we are called upon to be mutually submissive one to another, and hold each other accountable in our walk with the Lord. And within this system of mutual accountability, those who are recognized as leaders or elders have a special responsibility to watch over, shepherd, and give account of those other believers of whom the Holy Spirit has made them overseers.

At the same time, I think it is evident that the one another admonitions of the New Testament were not meant to be carried out at only a congregational or local house church level. In a very real way, we are expected to love, exhort, teach, encourage, and hold accountable all of the members of the Body of Christ, to the degree this is possible, even if they are not members of our particular congregation or house church. Evidently, the degree we are able to do this in any practical manner will depend on the level of personal relationships we are able to develop with other believers. And, we can never expect to develop a truly close, personal relationship with all of our brothers and sisters in Christ spread throughout the world. I do think, however, that we have a responsibility to do what we can, especially at a citywide level, to get to know each other better, and to carry out a more meaningful dynamic of body life and mutual accountability among us as the Body of Christ in our locality.

Several interesting side questions to this are the following:

1. Does it necessarily follow, from what I have written here, that every believer should be a member of one and only one local congregation at a time?

2. Is there a biblical basis for condemning church-hopping?

3. How do we, in the current modern-day denominational church system, best watch over, shepherd, and keep account of all the believers in our city?

4. What about our present-day large congregations, which are much larger than the New Testament house churches? Is official membership in a mega-church really a sufficient safeguard of mutual accountability and the watching over, shepherding, and giving account for each of the members of that congregation? Should not the church also be organized in such a way so that each member has at least one “leader” who knows them personally, and feels personally responsible for watching over, shepherding, and giving account of them?

What do you think? Does what I have written here seem biblically faithful to you? Why or why not? How would you answer these side questions from a biblical perspective? Are there other issues that what I have written here bring up that apply to the way we, as Baptists, and as Evangelicals, “do church”?

I think David has made a good case. What do you think?

Saturday, August 1

Manglaralto Prayer Retreat

Some of the faces we write about in the M Blog in a more relaxed setting.