Thu, 07/26/2007 – 17:40 — David Watson
There is an ongoing discussion around the world about the structure, nature, and function of church. This “ekklesia” discussion is about 2000 years old. Much of what we see and hear today has deep roots in Catholicism, including ordinances, leadership, structure, doctrine, theology and more. Attempting to sweep away 1500+ years of tradition will require more than a broom. And any discussions in this area are often like trying to empty the ocean with an eye dropper.
If you are interested in the Biblical material that I use when teaching about the community of believers we call church, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. This is not an exhaustive study, but is a good beginning point. One of the problems in discussing church is determining at what point in it progress are we examining. A seed does not resemble a sprout, which does not resemble a sapling, which does not resemble a mature tree that can produce seeds. Does this mean that a seed, or spout, or sapling is not a tree? Each contains the genetic material necessary for the process of becoming a tree, though they might not be identifiable as the tree.
The problem with taking a snapshot of a process is that which precedes the snapshot may or may not be in evidence, and that which the process may become may or may not be evident as more than a hope or promise. Church is not static. It is an organism – the body of Christ. It is in flux. It changes. It grows. It can become geriatric. And individual locations of church die. Some entities that are called “church” are zombies; that is, dead, but don’t know it, and walk around moaning and with blank stares, wanting to make everyone else like them.
Another problem is that many church planters see themselves as gardeners instead of planters. The John Deere planter I used on my farm did a great job of planting seeds. But it had nothing to do with the growth of the seed. The farmer was responsible for the healthy growth – the watering, nurturing, fertilizing, pruning, weeding, spraying for insects, and etc. The farmer didn’t do all these jobs, but was responsible to see that people were hired to do them. But even with all this, the farmer did not impart life, and could not create the crop no matter how desirous he might be to do so.
Church Planters plant the seed of the Gospel that, if nourished by caring leaders, may become a mature, reproducing church. Many different workers will be involved in this process. Some will be short term, and others will be around long term. All of this is orchestrated by the Holy Spirit. When Zerubbabel was called upon by God to reestablish the Temple of God, God said,
Zec 4:6 “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty. (NIV)
Church Planters and other church leaders need to remember this. If we plant the right seed, we have the potential to get the right tree. If we nourish the growth of the right seed, as well as those who monitor and lead it under the tutelage of the Holy Spirit, we may have the honor of seeing a reproducing church emerge.
So, church starts with the right seed. The right seed is love for and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ that results in obedience to the whole counsel of the Word of God. As the Gospel Planter models and equips his disciples to be obedient, the Holy Spirit guides the process and a group of disciples will grow into a self replicating church. It is a process, not a product. The process does indeed produce a product, but the church planter is usually not around to see the final product, which may take years in developing, and because it is organic, not mechanical, it will change and exist in flux. One snapshot of this group of disciples may not look like church. The next snapshot may become the icon for church. Then before we know it the icon may be so old and faded it’s hanging in a museum somewhere.
So, what are we aiming at? What do we want to see as a result of our church planting efforts? I want to see …
A group of baptized believers in the Lord Jesus Christ who live in community and meet regularly to:
• Love God with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength
• Worship God in spirit and in truth
• Love one another and help/nurture one another to become all God has called/commanded them to be
• Practice Biblical community as found in the “one another” passages of the Bible
• And depart their gatherings to practice their faith in conspicuous obedience to all the commands of the Lord Jesus in such a way that people’s needs are met through ministry, individuals are saved, families are transformed and in turn transform their communities
There is no such thing as simple church, house church, cell church, mega church or traditional church. These modifiers divide rather than unify. These are expressions of church at different stages of the process and/or are different forms the process may take. Only the fruit of each tell us if it is truly church or not. Zombies come in all sizes and shapes. So do living, vibrant, obedient communities of believers who work and live together to minister to each other and their communities, find and save the lost, and live to obey the God who created them and saved them.
Bottom line for me: I don’t care what you call it. I don’t care what form it takes. I just want to be there when it happens.
26 July 2007