One of the biggest transition that I have wrestled through for the last 1.5 years is that of how to do church and is there a correct way? I am not convinced of “the” correct way. As Joe Miller says “the bible is really silent on how the church should function”. I think I agree more with Joe and here is why. If we look through the Pauline Epistles and Acts we can’t see “one way” to do church or how the church should meet or function. There seems to be a great amount of diversity on how people met. If we are honest it would be hard to make any clear case either way. From single elder led meetings that was one of many meetings in a particular area (there seems to be multiple houses in Romans and Ephesus while there may have been only one in all of Corinth at least when Paul wrote Corinthians 1). I think some place had women leaders (Philippi as the church met in Lydia’s house who would have been the most mature disciple in Phillipi), to some places where women not being able to teach due to the mess it was making (Ephesus).
So I am thinking this. I have come to the conclusion that it is the individual need, temperament, cultural setting and preference. I believe some people enjoy the weekly clear biblical exposition, while others like it more emergent. Some people like the big churches with worship leaders, good youth programs and simple, clear, biblical but practical sermons. Some people like the big weekly atmosphere with the tight nit small groups. Some like young energetic funny pastors like Driscoll and Chandler while other folks like the more detailed old school fellas like MacArthur and Swindoll. I think some people like strong doctrinal preaching while others enjoy a more interactive participatory. I think some people love churches that are heavily involved in overseas missions, while some people likes to see their church focus more on their local community. Some people like heavily evangelistic churches while others like churches who feed the poor and clothe the naked more. Some people like to meet in houses because they are convinced if Paul was here that is what he would do, while others feel the church that is growing and bursting out the seams is blessed by God (I neither agree or disagree).
Some people like the church with all the bells and whistles; from coffee shops, to work out facilities where they fell safe and believe that the church should do such things. While others believe that such a thing is why Jesus turned over the money changers table. Some people believe it is oppressive to keep women out of teaching ministries while others believe you are liberal loving heretic for such a stance.
I will tell you where I stand brothers and sisters. I like it simple and that is maybe because I am stupid. I am not convinced that we should meet in homes but if in a building it should be rented and for celebration style gatherings (unless that building is used to help rebuild the city more on this later). I think homes with 15-30 members with independent/interdependent shepherds/elders that come together once a month for celebration or maybe have to come together more frequently for some matter (maybe in March they meet weekly to teach a certain doctrine) seems to me to be the best way to meet. I think the Church that meets in America has way too much money wrapped in single use infrastructure (in the 100’s of billions). I think we should drink coffee at Starbucks and meet more nonbelievers than build one in our local church. I think we have way too much money wrapped up in staff positions, while I do believe an elder/teacher can receive a stipend due to the fact that he may have to take a job that allows him to provide oversight and lose out on potential income. I don’t believe a man who has the DESIRE (I Timothy 3) to provide oversight and walk in his gifting should be negotiating a salary, nor expect one as Jesus instructed “freely you have received freely you give” or Paul “it is better to give than to receive” our hearts should be to provide oversight for free and even at our own expense if necessary (that is why most men don’t want to go plant in rural or impoverished areas, the suburbs take much less faith and getting donors before one provides oversight is a sign of that).
I think many churches today to be complicated business entities who live for the entity and not the “Church” (the people who meet collectively). Many pastors are CEO’s and elders are “board of directors” they provide more business direction than care for the souls of those entrusted to them. They spend more time in “business meetings” than meeting with the saints in their homes or for lunch or for dinner. We know them as figure heads more than loving shepherds. Someone leaving their church isn’t really a concern for them because another person will come to take their spot! Many are sheepless shepherds which bibilcally speaking are no shepherds at all.
I think most of this falls away when we being to meet more simply! When we have shepherds caring for less people (in a lot of churches there are 6-8 elders for ever 2000 members, that is about a 300 to 1 ratio and I am being generous). Most elders have no clue if their members are maturing and I dare to say that most don’t even care. They provide more oversight to the entity anyway and the measure of a maturing church is numerical growth and church income not strong marriages, growing disciples, maturing parents, and loving disciples. Those things are left up to the expository sermons and conference numbers. However, in the simple church you don’t have more than 30 per elder. And since the elder/shepherds know those placed in their care they can recommend them for eldership and they do life with these individuals as they have more time to care for their souls. In most churches the Pulpit provides more shepherding than the Shepherds themselves.
Another plus for the more simple church to me is the level of flexibility provided. You don’t have to put on the “World’s Greatest Show” week after week. One can be led by the Spirit to pray the entire meeting. Or to provide counseling, or to go out collectively and beautify a park, or go over a sick members house and clean up for them and love on them and serve them. Or they can go to a nursing home that Sunday, or to a women’s shelter. However in the more traditional setting, one must put on the show, because it is the glue that holds the entire congregation together and sick members get put on prayer lists not visited. Going to a shelter or a nursing home is an event not part of the gathering and to miss income for a week can really throw a loophole in the “church budget”.
The last plus for the simple church is the flexibility to move economic resources and the trust given to the individual Christian to give his/her resources as needed. The first is a genuine plus for me. When we have a member lose his/her job, or if we have a member who needs a car fixed, or if they need help burying a love one or a doctor bill, or some other financial crisis, money isn’t earmarked for salaries, mortgages, building funds, or some other reason. So the red tape that many believers experience goes away. We can raise funds on the spot or over a given period to meet that need, not to mention since we know each other and are a family we ACTUALLY KNOW the need! The second is another big plus for me. Christians should be given the freedom to meet needs as they make disciples and pray for God’s direction with their finances. The more traditional setting has way too many fixed costs and things such as “tithing to the local church” or in more theological jargon “giving where you are being fed” are the norm. A great deal of the money (8-90%) is wrapped up in these fixed costs. And a saint on a tight budget who has a sick relative or coworker or sees another need has to say “I have given to my church I will have to send you to them”. And when the individual comes to that church the money is already spent or is locked up in “reserves” when saints don’t give as much during certain times of the year (Summers and Christmas).
So I really like the simple structure. There are many drawbacks. But a dependency upon the Spirit is where the simple church has to fall back on. Unlike the traditional church which has pragmatic pillars that support it, the simple church has to trust that the people who come will stay, the resources it needs will be provided and the growth will come through genuine loving disciples not “good church ministries”.
I close with this. The simple guys shouldn’t be so cocky to say they have it right and the the more traditional guys shouldn’t write off the simple guys as some incompetent emerging liberals who despise “church leadership” though we do despise “church authority” but so does Jesus (Matthew 20 and 23). I think both can play a huge part in the Sovereign plan of God to build His Church. So I think maybe we should spend more time loving and praying for one another versus “biting and devouring one another” as Paul says in Galatians 5.