Sunday, April 18, 2010

What is Community?

Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. 1Cor 1:10

And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. Acts 2:42

And all that believed were together, and had all things common; Acts 2:44

And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favor with all the people. Acts 2:46-47

What is community? The first Christians apparently understood the community life of believers. It was ingrained in their lives. Being Jews, they had a strong-group world view. Joseph Hellerman in his book When the Church was a Family, defines strong-group perspective this way: "In a strong-group society the person perceives himself of herself to be a member of a group and responsible to the group for his or her actions, destiny, career, development and life in general." In the typical Jewish home fathers were the heads of the homes. Wives were the caretakers of the home, and children were to hearken to the words of the fathers. Family ties were strong. The family took precedence over individual desires. It was normal for siblings to make decisions not based on what they wanted to do with their lives, but what was best for the family.

This commitment to family was taken one step further to the community. Families helped other families. They supported one another. So when we read in Acts that the first believers were "with one accord", "were together", "had all things in common", it was not something that was uncommon for their culture. They had simply stepped out of one "family" and into the "Family of God". They understood the strong-group family perspective.

Jesus illustrates this clearly in the account from Matthew below:

"While he yet talked to the people, behold, his mother and his brethren stood without, desiring to speak with him. Then one said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee. But he answered and said unto him that told him, Who is my mother? and who are my brethren? And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother." Mt. 12:46-48

Here Jesus broke with the blood family and established God's family. Since people of that time already understood strong-group family culture, it was not a difficult shift for them to embrace their new family of believers. Now, the blood of Jesus was what tied the family together not their earthly family blood. For those of us in the west, this is not our culture nor is it our lifestyle. We are very independently minded and individual focused; not community focused. So for the most part you do not see much community life in Christianity. We attend our buildings on Sunday mornings and sit in our pews. Then we go back and do whatever we do. There is very little interaction outside of the building.

I am not saying there is anything wrong with a building. When believers gather, unless you meet under a tree, in a cave or under the stars, there is going to be a building or structure involved. However, what most of us do is have very little interaction with one another outside of the meeting place. Does the church recognize this need for community? How important then is community? The apostle Paul seems to make it clear that the main purpose for the saints to gather together was for mutual edification. See Hebrews 10:24-25, 1 Cor 14:26, Col 3:16. Each one of these verses speaks to the saints teaching, admonishing, considering, loving, encouraging, and edifying one another. None of this generally happens while sitting in a pew. There has to be more.

Our lives as believers need to be intertwined with one another. If we look at your standard church corner First Church USA, ask yourself what is important to these churches. Examine what they do and you will find the answer easy. Nice buildings are very important. Having a preacher or pastor is very important. Singing songs and preaching sermons are very important. But, if you eliminate even one of these things, First Church USA will struggle. It's like a three-legged stool. It will tip over if you remove one leg.

Church life is so much more than having a meeting on Sunday morning, or even Sunday and Wednesday evening. If your family is not intimately involved with other saints on a regular basis you are missing out on one of the greatest blessings God has for us as believers. Ask yourself the following questions:

Define or what is a healthy family?

Define or what is healthy community?

Can you have healthy family without healthy community?

Can you have healthy community without healthy families?

Why do believers need community?

How does culture affect community and family?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Servanthood to a Child

Alan at The Assembling of the Church has been a great influence on me when it comes to servant hood, especially when it comes to leadership. Over and over he has talked about being a servant and serving one another. We have talked a lot about this in our home with our children. When it comes to ministry it is not about us being recognized, it is about us recognizing others.

Here is a quick story that happened last night in my home. I have seven children ages five to twenty-two. My two oldest sons ages seventeen and twenty had just got home yesterday from a week in Haiti on a building project. Our house had been the drop off point for several of the team members cars.

No sooner had the team members said their goodbyes and my sons had brought in the gear from the trip, did my five year old daughter meet her seventeen year old brother in the hallway with a board game in her hands. Now picture this. My son is at least 6'3" and weighs 210 pounds and his little sister stands just over knee-high to him.

She is looking up at him with her big blue eyes and says, "You want to play a game with me?" I looked at my son and could see the fatigue in his eyes. They had slept outdoors for seven days in the rain and mud. He hesitated a moment, but with a big grin on his face he said, "Sure!"

I can't add much to that. He thrilled his little sisters heart. The younger ones really miss their older siblings when they are gone. The question I have to ask myself is, "Would I have done the same thing as my son?"

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Where are the Equippers?

Where are the equippers? I started this journey of questioning what was going on in our churches years ago. I had traveled all over the country with popular Word of Faith preachers. We went to small country churches, large metropolitan mega-churches, and every church size in between from the east coast to the west coast.

The one trend I noted was that each church was run by a charismatic, choleric, CEO type pastor. I observed the top down, pyramid style of leadership. The "buck" stopped at the top. There seemed to be ministry going on. The churches in the big cities had outreaches to the inner city and all sorts of programs for everybody to plug into. The music, especially at the big mega churches was performed by worship teams that were made of gifted musicians and singers.

However, when I read my bible, I found a disconnect in what I saw in the churches across North America and what I saw in the bible. Nowhere do I see one man running churches in the NT. Nowhere do I see pyramid type government practiced in the early church. When the saints gathered it was to share a meal for the Lords supper, have fellowship, provoking one another to love and good works and exhorting one another. It was highly participatory gathering. Sure there were leaders present in the meetings as elders. But there was no such thing as a senior pastor, a teaching elder, or youth pastor.

All the bible speaks about, concerning the local church, are elders (Acts 20:28, 1 Pt 5:2), who are overseers (bishop) and feeders (shepherds) of the flock. It was not an office but a function. There is no evidence that churches ever hired a pastor from some other location and paid him a salary. That is the definition of a hireling. Paul (Acts 20:33-35) was very clear in his charge to the Ephesian elders to labor as he did to help the weak.

The distinction I want to make is that elders were local in nature and not brought in from the outside. Their qualifications are clear from Titus and Timothy. Elders should be men who are older and mature, but how many "younger's" have you seen pastoring churches. It does not mean that younger men are not gifted; it just means they are not older. Elders are men who must be apt to teach or instructive, and be able to feed the flock.

We are all familiar with Eph. 4:11-12: And he gave some, apostles; some, prophets; some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ… Some call these, the five-fold ministry gifts. Many call them titled offices of the church; but many say there is no such thing as apostles and prophets anymore. I have personally yet to read anywhere in the bible that says the gifts of apostles and prophets have gone the way of the dinosaurs. Regardless of whether these offices, titles, functions, gifts exist partially or in total, let's get to the heart of the matter. Whoever or whatever these men are, they are supposed to equip or perfect the body of Christ.

In the Greek, this word perfect or equip, implies a complete furnishing. It is a strong word. So, what is the best way to equip someone? An example would be my grandfather. He was a farmer. His father was a farmer. My great-grandfather equipped my grandfather to be a farmer. How did he do that? It happened as they went about their daily lives of planting crops, putting meat in the smokehouse, and vegetables in the cellar. My grandfather did not sit in the living room of his farm house and listen to three-point lectures on raising cotton, castrating calves, and smoking bacon. His father equipped him to be a farmer by providing him the practical skills and knowledge to be a farmer. It was one on one mentoring. I believe that was Jesus' technique with his disciples.

Another example is when I was flight instructing. When I took on a new student I would spend hours with them. This included discussions or "ground" school on techniques, regulations, and navigation. This was followed by a flight lesson and then a debriefing of the flight. What's amazing; is that on each flight, I actually let the student fly the airplane. Now you may say, "Of course, how would you learn to fly an airplane unless you were allowed to touch the controls?" Sure, that is self-evident, but apply that to your typical church life and the typical layperson sitting in a pew listening to a sermon every Sunday morning. Ask yourself, "When does he or she get to touch the controls?"