The church in America is in stasis. Growth is offset by churches (and people) dying. We need to ramp things up if we intend to live as salt in the earth. A look at the earliest Christ-followers is revealing. We’ve become disqualifiers for ministry instead of equippers.
If you see the early church as an archetype, you must wonder “what went wrong?” The answer lays in where we place our trust… We disqualify most people from meaningful ministry by building hierarchies around education (and occasionally, proficiency). They were inclusive—everybody was a player.
I recently spoke with a pastor who juxtaposed the need to equip against the need to multiply. He told me that he hoped my desire to multiply would catch up to his desire to equip—trouble is those he equips don’t multiply. He sets the bar too high for anyone to reach. To me equipping and multiplication walk hand-in-hand. You equip people for ministry by letting them do ministry. My goal has always been to lower the threshold into leadership. Church history demonstrates that the higher the requirements for public ministry, the slower the growth of the kingdom of God. The converse is also true.
Paul’s Faith in Others
Paul displayed a model for church in his letter to the folks in Corinth, “When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up…33 For God is not a God of confusion but of peace” (1 Corinthians 14:26, 33 ESV).
The key words in this passage are “each one” and “God is not a God of confusion.” It seems that everybody can share something while peace, not confusion, reigns. But this requires both faith and courage. You must trust the Holy Spirit in people along with the availability of the scriptures. If you don’t, you will revert to Christian-humanism, hierarchy and something very different than church as we read of it in the scriptures.
Raising Barriers is Catholic and Orthodox
A friend recently extolled the early church fathers for raising barriers into leadership. I reminded him that those barriers resulted in Orthodox and Catholic church forms which do little to evangelize in the forgotten corners of society. What they have is valuable–to those they access. But their lack of simple disciplemaking systems and their high threshold to leadership renders them incapable of reaching far and wide. To disciple the nations, we need to release ordinary, unschooled people to carry the good news into their unique communities. We must commission members to “go” rather than invite people to “come.”
Paul Pushes the Boundaries of Trust
Paul extends trust even further when writing to the church at Rome, people he had not yet visited. He writes, “I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another” (Romans 15:14 ESV).
We know our righteousness is as filthy rags in God’s sight, so people filled with goodness only get that way by an act of the Holy Spirit.
As to possessing all knowledge, these folks had written scriptures and they were taught by the Holy Spirit who would, “guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13 ESV).
Finally, Paul’s confidence in the ability of people he had never met to instruct one another can only be because they possessed both the Word and the Spirit of God.
My questions concern church forms which arise from our views of equipping the saints for works of ministry. If you trust the Word and the Spirit, you are more likely to view every believer as a player. If you see things otherwise, you are doomed to hierarchy and professionalism. You will disqualify, rather than qualify others for ministry.
How do you feel about what you just read? Others would benefit from your opinion…