Why That Way and Not Another?

The great danger in a church is doing things because “that’s the way they’re done.”

Worse is the tendency to rely on trends, copying someone else’s success while hoping to duplicate it—copying what you read often does little more than keep the Christian publishing industry alive.

But what about you?

Why do you do the things you do?

Do you think form first, or do you struggle through function to find the best structure for your ministry?

Here’s a Story

I met Sammy Apoura via text. A bunch of my friends introduced us. These people met him while spending a couple of weeks in Kenya each year for nearly a decade.

The team included two optometrists. Volunteers did most of the work leading to the actual eye exams and the other stuff afterward. They’d put used prescription glasses on a couple of thousand people with each clinic.

They also ran church meetings as partners with local congregations. Each year they’d report seven or eight hundred converts—they served different villages on each trip.

Good stuff, but what remained after the team returned to Hawaii?

Well, Sammy was busy planting churches—that’s what followed each rush of evangelism.

The team taught him to plant microchurches within his congregation and then plant autonomous microchurches. Some of which grew and no longer qualify for the adjective “micro.”

When I left Hawaii, the new pastor no longer supported the ministry to Kenya, but it continued to prosper. The last team to visit left Sammy with four church plants. The number is currently 44 and growing.

Content-Based and Spirit-Driven Function

Early on, we discovered function in two scriptures. We found purpose in Ephesians, where Paul wrote about equipping members as ministers (which is why you should never call a pastor “the minister”).

As to function interplaying with a form, we looked at the list of functions at the end of Acts, chapter two. Then we attempted to approximate which worked better in the temple in Jerusalem (our equivalent is a church building) and which worked best in houses and which worked best in the community outside the church.

The temple part was very apparent. The apostles taught what they knew of the scripture and what they had learned from following Jesus

Functions working well in houses looked like a group discussion or simply hanging out around what the apostles had taught. Lots of food, prayer and generosity accompanied reports of miracles that induced praise.

Neighbors were impressed, and many came to follow Christ daily. That means that members did ministry outside of their meeting times.

We devised a form to take advantage of the relationship between all three locations.

Teaching in church is aimed at equipping members, not evangelizing seekers.

The house parallels the early church in that we traded home Bible studies for examining what the Spirit had said during the “temple-teaching.” Food, prayer and testimony to answered prayers were big.

Before you freak out that we didn’t run home Bible studies, remember that the early saints had no Bibles. Also, remember that one life-changing per week is about all we can take. Hear a second impactful teaching within seven days, and it will replace the effects of the first.

Interplay with the neighbors keyed off of whatever God was doing in our members’ lives. Friendship evangelism brought people to Christ in situ.

Important Functions

We taught the Word. People learned to listen to the Spirit and to obey what they heard. Others learned to pitch in to help friends, which caused spiritual gifts to emerge and get recognized.

It is all pretty straightforward.

We boiled it down to three questions which I do believe are worth copying as they wed form to function quite well:

  1. Hearing God: What did the Spirit speak to your heart while you listened to Bible teaching on the weekend?
  2. Obeying God: What will you do about it?
  3. Actuating Spiritual Gifts: How can we help you or pray for you.

Simple and Scalable Form

If you do church according to function, you can keep it simple.

Start copying someone else’s form, and you’ll find that what works well in a large church is often too complicated in a smaller place. Or you’ll run into cultural problems—what you copy doesn’t fit your community or even your gifting.

We’re looking for something simple enough to work in any church.

To be scalable, forms should be simple enough to work in the smallest setting and sufficiently reproducible to work many times over as the context grows.

The old cell church form is what we used—microchurches within the context of a congregation. And, easy to move outside our circle as an autonomous church when significant leadership emerged.

There are 15 “one anothers” in the New Testament. “Encourage one another.” “Help one another.” “Rebuke one another.” Instruct one another.” The list goes on. But most current church forms don’t allow space for these essential functions of the Body of Christ.

The key to effectively equipping your members for ministry is putting functions first then devising a form to implement them.

Is anybody there? It’s been a while since many of you commented. I’d love to hear your thoughts because I learn from them. Also, because it encourages me to keep publishing this blog. BTW, private emails are nice but comments bless all the people reading the blog!