Jesus said we should make disciples and he also said he would build his church. After traveling to different places in America and overseas, I have witnessed different expressions of the Church. There are many other ways to have church that I have not personally witnessed. Does the church model fit the traditions and culture of the community? If yes, it is a viable expression of a Jesus community. The only limit to the different ways to be the church is our creativity.
If someone asks if the best type of church is a mega church, a house or micro church, or a traditional community church the answer is YES. Jesus loves the Church, and he is building it in many ways.
It is human nature to think the best expression of church is the one we grew up in. Or in some cases we may be inclined to think that we are used to is the worst way to be the church.
A good approach is to rightly discern the Lord’s body (1 Corinthians 11:27) and realize we are not all the same, but we are all important. In our attraction to a certain type of church, we must be careful to not criticize those who do it differently.
The Apostle Paul and his partners probably did not have a specific blueprint for raising up churches in the different parts of the Roman world he traveled to. They knew for sure that they wanted to spread the message of Jesus to new communities and make disciples.
He found some interested people at a place of prayer by a river and others in the marketplace. His background was Jewish so naturally he would be drawn to the synagogues as a starting place. He met with a group at an empty school in the heat of the afternoon in Ephesus.
His method was to preach Jesus and look for natural organic ways to gather the people into community together. If Paul were here today, he would be meeting in coffee shops, cafes, or wherever people would get together.
Most of the churches Paul planted were small churches that met in homes. Our tendency in the West is to superimpose our model onto how we thought he did it. He functioned like most disciple makers do in developing nations do today, as organic communities. The Western model on the other hand, is to place people to a foreign environment, the church building, and see that as the primary way of doing and being the church.
That has been effective but with COVID and the large number of people who are resisting being involved in a tradition church, another approach is needed.
Paul, like Jesus, saw discipleship as relationship and modeling the Christian life. Jesus spent most of his time pouring his life into the twelve. Preaching to the masses did not seem to be his primary tool to make disciples. That model is in contrast with the church being built around a Sunday sermon. That is helpful but almost useless to make disciples. Discipleship does not happen well from the pulpit.
In order to be creative with new church models it is vital to ask What is a church? What is the minimum ecclesiology that is required to be considered a church? Does it have to have a children’s ministry? Is a full worship band a minimum? What things are Biblically vital and what things are tradition and expendable?
This could start a war in many churches and groups. Some of the things that are important to some people just don’t matter to others. There are cultural differences between countries but also within countries. There are subcultures that might be called people groups right next to totally different subcultures in the same neighborhood.
A great example of this is the subculture of Harley motorcycle riders. My wife and I were shocked to learn that this culture existed right under our noses. We first rented a Harley to see if we liked riding. We learned immediately that Harley riders have a “Harley wave”. I thought of it as a secret handshake!
We stopped the Harley at a café with many bikers present and we discovered that strangers began talking to us as if we were related simply because we were on a Harley. I wanted to say “its only a rental!”
We did get a Harley and rode it for a season. It connected us to people we would otherwise not be connected to. Sometimes the only thing we had in common was our motorcycles.
It makes me curious how many other subcultures or people groups are out there waiting for someone to cross the bridge into their world. The Bible paraphrase called the Message records Paul’s method very clearly.
“Even though I am free of the demands and expectations of everyone, I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people: religious, nonreligious, meticulous moralists, loose-living immoralists, the defeated, the demoralized— whoever. I didn’t take on their way of life. I kept my bearings in Christ—but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view. I’ve become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God-saved life. I did all this because of the Message. I didn’t just want to talk about it; I wanted to be in on it!” (1 Corinthians 9:19-23)
Jesus loved the world, so he entered our world and culture where we lived. He didn’t make us first adapt to a culture we didn’t recognize. The message of the gospel is made to invade every crack and crevice of our world.
Back to our question, what is a church? What things determine whether or not a gathering of people is a church? We have identified three elements that if present, make the gathering a church.
- Are those gathered growing up in their relationship to God?
- Are those gathered growing together and loving one another?
- Are those gathered reaching out to those away from God?
If those things are present, it is a church. There may or may not be worship music, children’s programs, or other traditional programs. The only limitations are the culture, creativity, and courage of those present.
The future belongs to those who innovate new ways to follow Jesus’ command to make disciple making movements in the many and various pockets of people who are waiting to hear the message of forgiveness and new life.
Our role as church leaders is to create a trail off the map to new territory. We must build a bridge from where we are in the church now to where we need to be in the future to release and encourage new ways to express the love of God to a world that hasn’t heard it in their own language and culture yet.