Here is the “third way” style of growing congregations, which I believe to be nearest to New Testament practice. Lets look at the two ways first, then at the third way.
Way 1: build your congregation
There are fellow Christians who believe that the best one can do to God’s kingdom is to employ the modern strategies of business management and controlling. There’s much talk about strategy and doing this and that, but little about being a holy character and the natural expression of this. To give feeling of this way of church planting, here’s what service is made of in phase 2 of 4 in one such program:
- Work as director’s assistent in two ministry teams.
- Member and director’s assistent in a cell group.
- Preach once in each quarter year.
- Moderate Sunday services.
- Attend director team meetings, pastoral team meetings, elder’s team meetings, deacon group meetings, LITE assemblies (leader in training and encouragement).
- Organize and lead a discoverer group series twice a year.
- Networking: 12 hours a week, ca. 9 contacts.
- Pastoral care: at least two people a week.
- Hospitality: at least once a week.
[Dr. Stephen Beck: “CITY Mentoring Programm“, accessed 2007-09-01; original in German]
Before making up your opinion about this, you might want to read related material. Beck mentions in his “CITY Mentoring Programm” the “Church Planter’s Manual”, which is: Timothy J. Keller, J. Allen Thompson: Church Planter Manual (sadly not for download). This book is published by the Redeemer Church Planting Center, a ministry of New York’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church. So perhaps take a look at their pages … .
Now, when looking at the New Testament records, it appears that the early church had no such to-do lists as the above one. No step by step plan how to spread over the whole earth. One cannot find an explicit or implicit testimonial to this in the NT texts. Disprove me if I’m wrong. If spreading the Gospel and missionary activity would be this kind of strategic work, who could argue successfully that Christianity is more than any other religion which relies on this? Like, say, the missionary activity in the LDS Church, which is actually a really good example.
Way 2: wait for God to build your congregation
There are other fellow Christians who believe that it’s basically not the task of humans to build a local congregation, but instead God’s task. They expect God to initiate the fundamental changes and steps in each single local congregation. That is, they expect God’s concrete agency in dealing with each congregation.
A problem with this way is, when looking at the New Testament records, it appears that the early church had few concrete experiences with God’s agency in a local congregation, e.g. founding and building them. One cannot find an explicit or implicit testimonial to this in the NT texts. Disprove me if I’m wrong. For example, look at Paul’s travelling plans: the only example when God interfered concretely with Paul’s plans was when he sent him to Macedonia [Acts 16:6-10 ISV]. So there is no meaning in forbidding God to prescribe concrete stuff when on mission, as God would probably not care. But most decisions will not concretely depend on God’s agency. Which leads to the third way.
Way 3: be your congregation
And be it with all your life.
“(11) And it is he who gifted some to be apostles, others to be prophets, others to be evangelists, and still others to be pastors and teachers, (12) to perfect the saints, to do the work of ministry, and to build up the body of Christ (13) until all of us are united in the faith and in the full knowledge of God’s Son, and until we attain mature adulthood and the full standard of development in Christ. (14) Then we will no longer be little children, tossed like waves and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, or by clever strategies that would lead us astray. (15) Instead, by speaking the truth in love, we will grow up completely into the one who is the head, that is, into Christ, (16) in whom the whole body is united and held together by every ligament with which it is supplied. As each individual part does its job, the body’s growth is promoted so that it builds itself up in love.” [Ephesians 4:11-16 ISV]
This indicates that, for growth and perfection, the “Body of Christ” needs the service of people gifted by God, but not God’s concrete, immediate deeds. In the average case, the “Body of Christ” builds up itself, that is, it has already all the necessary resources to do so. In practice, a local congregation is a so-called “complex system”, that is, it feeds back its own results as new input. This happens for example when on member can help another one by his gifts, and the other one in turn gets thus able to complement and help the first in another area.
Now let’s look at another passage:
“(31) So Jesus said to those Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are really my disciples. (32) And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (33) They replied to him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves to anybody. So how can you say, ‘You will be set free’?” (34) Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly I tell you that everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin. (35) The slave does not remain in the household forever, but the son does remain forever. (36) So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed!”” [John 8:31-36 ISV]
That “the truth will make you free” is in parallel to Ephesians 4:15 from above: “by speaking the truth in love, we will grow up completely” [Ephesians 4:15 ISV]. So we need “just” truth and love, which is apparently not God’s personal agency. Perhaps we can say, God does not “build” churches concretely, but he looks at the growing churches. They grow on the truth of the Gospel, without need for further concrete action on God’s side.
It is the truth that sets us free. This serves an interesting observation: Christian living is not “naturally supernatural”, instead, most of its positive effects are “natural” effects of the truth once a person came to know it. For example: I remember to have heard a story from a tribe of native south-Americans where 90% of all people dies from homicide committed by people of their own tribe (I think these were the Waorani people, but I’m unsure). Then after Christian missionaries told them that homicide is something bad and that God disguises it, this habit ended. So they got to be free from this slavery of fear, hurts and hate by the natural effect of learning the truth!
Now, of course, this is not all that has to be said here. God did not leave us “saved and alone”. Though not necessary for the growth of congregations or for holy Christian living, God’s concrete agency is important for our personal motivation, well-being and ever-new continued affirmation that what we believe is true.
Closing, I will summarize the third way in some sort of definition: a congregation grows as a complex system in an organic way; it does not need a global human-generated plan or the concrete agency of God; instead, it grows if every member serves with his resp. her gifts, that is, if the congregation lives out being a congregation, instead of planning to be one or waiting for God to make it one.
I imagine that this kind of being congregation could be really, really intense and transformational … changing peoples lives inside out and upside down. It just depends on being what we are: everybody at his and her place, being consequently what we have become so far, through the initial grace of God in Jesus which affected our lives so gracefully through the Body of Jesus Christ.
Here is one passage, however, which I was unable to integrate into this view. Perhaps you can help me do so, or disprove me from this passage:
(6) I did the planting, Apollos did the watering, but God kept everything growing. (7) So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is significant, but God, who keeps everything growing, is the one who matters. [I Corinthians 3:6-7 ISV]
Start date: 2007-09-01
Version date: 2007-09-09 (for last meaningful change)