BUILDING THE CHURCH AROUND THE PERSONA OF CHRIST, NOT MEN.
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In the early days of ministry I remember listening to some tapes on apostles and how they build Gods church. Later I came to see ‘church planting’ as apostles [or evangelists, or just Christians] going to areas and simply preaching Christ to groups of people. After the people believed there was a natural development of family and community that took place as Christ’s Spirit develops the body of Christ. So the New Testament churches are simply bodies of believers in these location’s who came to know Christ. God’s authority and the works of his kingdom are simply a natural expression of Christ’s Spirit through his body. As time progressed in church history people later developed all sorts of offices and institutions that they incorporated into the church. Eventually people began viewing the institution or 501c3 entity as a separate thing called ‘church’.
With this mindset people began seeing apostles and ministers and people who plant these entities as ‘CHURCH PLANTERS’. Church planting then began to be looked at as C.E.O.’s who are starting corporate entities with all sorts of projects to do. The entity itself became the focal point of all ministry and authority in any given community. The actual people [the real church] simply became servants to the entity’. The 501c3 itself became the thing that we saw as having the actual conferred authority of God upon it. The people who did not conform to the ‘system’ in many different generations of Christians were seen as being rebellious or not coming under the authority of the church [system separate from the people] though many of these people were truly Gods corporate community [church] they were looked at as in opposition to the church because the understanding of church evolved [or devolved] from the original meaning. We then put expectations on church leaders to build big facilities and to try and fill them up.
I want to make a note here; I am not against the modern phenomena of mega churches. If they are growing as a natural outgrowth of healthy evangelism it is a good thing. Where we often miss it is when we begin seeing the goal as having the big thing and then pressuring the flock because they’re not helping us obtain the big thing. Well the original tapes I listened to from the brother who was teaching on apostles eventually visited Corpus Christi and he spoke on his vision to build a 7 thousand seat auditorium and having 100,000 dollar faith and then a million dollar faith and having faith to build it and that people will want to hear him speak [the money stuff was spoken at a different time, but this is the context]. While this minister meant well he simply was not speaking New Testament language. True apostolic church planting is the natural outgrowth that takes place in communities of people when they come to know Christ. When we as leaders begin seeing the entity [501c3] as the goal, and the people as the tools, or fellow helpers and financial supporters of the entity, we’re then relegating the body of Christ to simple servants of the system. Sort of like the children of Israel in Egypt. They were multiple [big numbers] but they were under constricting styles of leadership that caused them to build the cities of man [Pithom, Raamses]. God raised up prophetic leadership [Moses] to bring them out of bondage so they themselves would become a self functioning society on their own, without being subservient to another system.
The unhealthy focus of ‘church’ that centers around the high-powered personas of men is in direct violation of the spirit of the New Testament. Church today too often has become a community of people whose ‘common bond’ is found in the personality of the pastor. All healthy groups of people in society will have stages of growth where they go through the process of leadership bringing them from dependence to independence and finally to interdependence [the stage where I don’t need you to survive or find my identity through you, but I need you as a coequal member in order for us both to function in a healthy way]. The New Testament ecclesias were groups of believers whose leadership [elders] functioned as mature guides and facilitators of this corporate experience. This leadership style is far removed from the present mindset of church leadership, which patterns itself after the predominant personality of one individual. While its O.K. at certain stages of group development to have periods of time where one person is the main influence in an individuals life [like a mentor/big brother], but if this relationship between mentor [pastor/leader] never grows to a stage where the ones being mentored do not eventually develop to the point where they are no longer dependent on the mentor, then you have the danger of the leader and his personality becoming the central figure that the disciple organizes his life around. We unconsciously repeat this cycle in the church without realizing it.
The simple truth of the churches of the New Testament having no central office where a person [no matter how well meaning he is] is the primary figure of the community should cause us to rethink our present mindset of church and ministry. It is inherently dangerous for any group of people to hear and see and be centered around the giftings of one person [the exception being Christ]. The gifts of the Spirit that freely operate through all of Gods children are powerful. God designed a safety mechanism in the church [body] to prevent the power of these giftings from causing people to become to oriented around one individual. The method God chose was ‘body ministry’. That is Gods pattern of all the people of God corporately sharing and giving to each other would prevent the unhealthy focus on one persons personality. Any group of people, no matter how well intentioned they are, put themselves in an unhealthy position when they violate this principle. We often confuse the New Testament doctrine of leadership and replace it with the charismatic individual. We don’t realize that we are violating the intent of scripture when we do this! All biblical leadership should bring people to a point where ‘He must increase and I must decrease’. Leaders need to be the ones who take the bold initiative to ‘wean’ people off of our personalities.
Children in a natural home environment will go through stages in their relationship with their parents that hopefully bring them to a point of independence. Though they are your children when there 12,25,or 55 yet the way you relate to them will be different as they mature. The mistake we make in present models of church leadership is we think it’s healthy to relate to the people the same way throughout their entire lives. If you hear me preach or function in some prophetic gift week after week for 30 years, and my primary relationship with you is this way, then its only natural for you to develop an unhealthy view of me. It’s inherent in the gift of the Spirit to cause people to be drawn to the persona of Christ, when we violate the principle of body ministry [that is where all the people give and receive from each other] we unconsciously set up an unnatural environment where people are eventually drawn to the wrong persona [the person who they see functioning in the gift all their lives]. Many well-meaning pastors do not realize what a basic violation of scripture this is. Our goal should be bringing people to a point in their lives where they need us less and less as they develop a greater trust in God.
I know that it’s difficult to embrace these truths, even if they are true! I myself had a hard time seeing the reality of the present day mindset of ‘pastor/minister’ as a basic violation of the intention of God for the church [body] to be an environment where people are centered around the persona [identity] of Christ. Many times well-meaning pastors become the central personality of the group in an unintentional way. Out of a sincere desire to ‘protect’ the flock they unintentionally become the central attraction of the local community. They feel that if there were too much freedom the people could go off track. This possibility does exist, but the primary method of preventing people from going off track is to allow them to develop into mature saints who need not be dependent upon us. The example of the parent/child relationship. It would be ‘safer’ to allow the child to never leave the home and for you to always be the child’s main source of comfort and identity, but it would not be right! So likewise in the church leadership needs to re-examine our proper roles and responsibilities. If we have embraced roles of ‘pastor’ that truly violate this most basic principle, then it is incumbent upon leadership to recognize this and to make the proper course corrections as God would direct.
I really want to emphasize the truth that the church is a community of people whose environment tends to the exalting of the personality of Christ at the expense of the personality of the individual leader. God intended the Church to be a place where gifted individuals WOULD NOT come to the forefront in the minds of the group, but would recognize the fundamental nature of servant leadership and willingly take the position of humility. [John 13, 1Cor. 12:22-25]
We don’t seem to understand that the way modern Christians relate to leadership in the present day is in many ways a violation of the spirit of the New Testament. Today it is common in any city to have many churches who all have their own pastors with believers attending the church of their choice. While all of these people [both the pastors and believers] are for the most part well intentioned, they unconsciously develop a mindset that Paul rebuked in the Corinthian church. The church at Corinth [all the believers living in the city!] got to a point where they began identifying themselves by the people they followed. Some said they followed Paul, while others were following Apollos. The actual seeing of the individual leader, and identifying around him was rebuked by Paul.
Now I know that we don’t realize this, but for us today to have many thousands of believers in many cities actually saying ‘he is my pastor’, to the point where all the believers have one main personality that they look to and identify with is not the intent of leadership in the New Testament. The biblical model of believers in any location is to have a plural group of elders that are viewed as trusted community leaders; this is more in keeping with the intent of the New Testament. If you later were to visit these New Testament communities and found them saying ‘he is my elder, or I go to elder so and so’s church’ this would be seen as division resulting from having too high of a view of Christian leadership. I know it’s difficult to realize we have done these things, and I’m not advocating getting rid of all the good men who serve as pastors today, but if we begin to see the basic violation of scripture in our present models of leadership this will allow us to take a more humble approach and hopefully facilitate a greater spirit of unity in the Church.
What I want you to see is how we in the church have a view of ‘local church’ that causes us to have a misplaced loyalty that is inherent in Christ’s brotherhood. Because we view ourselves as ‘members’ of so and so’s church, as opposed to truly being one body in Christ, this breeds a spirit of disloyalty to our fellow brothers in Christ. We tend to hold to the view that if your not a part of ‘my local church’ [meaning the individual meeting I attend] that somehow I am truly not responsible to you. While in reality I really am supposed to have the same care and concern for you as my brother in Christ, regardless of whether or not you attend my ‘church’ [group I meet with]. In the New Testament there are references to the ‘church in your house’ and things of this nature.
Where we usually ‘miss it’ is when we think that somehow these statements violate the concept of our oneness in Christ. When the bible speaks like this, it is not saying that all the believers in one location have separate ‘churches’ that they belong to. It is simply saying ‘that part of Christ’s body that meets in your house’. It would be wrong to view statements like this and then develop an ecclesiology that ‘sees’ a hundred different independent ‘churches’ [entities] in your city. While there very well might be a hundred different groups of believers in your city, you should be committed to these believers just as much as the people you meet with every Sunday. While God recognizes different groups of believers in each city, He also lays down guidelines for our mutual care and concern that we are all to have for one another. Our dividing over ‘who’s church I attend’ creates a false mindset of a lack of loyalty to our brothers because ‘they don’t go to my church’.
I just read a verse in Isaiah [55: 8] ‘My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord’. I want you to see that when we view things from our own perspective [our thoughts] we often violate Gods ways [his thoughts]. Many times when dealing with issues that would personally affect an individual’s present mindset, or the lifestyle that he’s living [like when I deal with the subject of tithing, or the lack of the full-time paid minister in the New Testament story]. People will often reject the truth of scripture [Gods thoughts] simply on the grounds that they are already practicing ‘church’ in a certain way [their thoughts] and have no desire to ‘give up’ their present practice of doing things. Many times it’s simply a matter of personal survival. ‘If you are right John, then it will affect me too much, and I am not willing to ‘die to the way I see things [my thoughts] because it will entail too much pain [I think they used to call this ‘bearing our cross’]’.
So while I don’t want to personally condemn any brother for his views on church and ministry, I want us all to see how we are subject to preferring our own views to Gods [even me!]. It’s a natural tendency of the sinful nature to presume ‘our thoughts’ [our way of seeing things] are ‘Gods thoughts’. It’s when we take this presumption to the extreme that we get into trouble. We get to the point of seeing others who don’t hold to ‘our thoughts’ as violating scripture [Gods thoughts] and then we unconsciously fall into the category of the Pharisees where we condemn those who don’t ‘see things our way’.
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