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Why the Church Sucks at Teaching
Most churches teach in ways that are contrary to core educational principles that the schools use. And most of them never preach the Gospel either. How can we fix this?
Bring Forth the Apostles and Prophets!
In Ephesians 4, Paul describes the five ministry gifts that will lead to the church:
But to each one of us was given grace according to the gift that Christ measured out … And he gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some pastors and teachers. They would equip the saints for the work of service to build up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to the measure of the adult population of the fullness of Christ. (Eph 4:7, 11-13).
In my Swedish house church, we once looked at this passage and realised that not only are the apostles and prophets extremely rare in the West, but when they still show up, we become terrified. Especially if they dare to call themselves apostle or prophet. This probably stems from the prevalence of cessationism in Protestantism, which elevated teaching as a major component of church life while prophecy and apostleship were viewed as obselete.
Today, most European churches have abandoned cessationism, and many realise that the Bible does not limit the title “apostle” to the twelve guys closest to Jesus. Yet, we have incredibly difficulties using the terms apostle and prophet. We look with skepticism when, for example, Christians from Africa are not afraid to liberally use these terms for describing their leaders. (more…)
Obeying Jesus Even When You Don’t Feel Like It
I was talking to a church leader the other day about why they quit doing public evangelism, which reached tens of thousands of people and led many to the Lord and made many join the church. The main reason was that they had even higher expectations on the fruits the street evangelism would bring, and there was even a demanding pressure centrally from the denomination that basically was never satisfied. 25 years of this created a weariness and bitterness which in turned spawned a backlash, making the church quit public evangelism altogether.
The church leader said to me that there are people in the congregation who used to be very skilled in leading people to Christ but that now want nothing to do with street evangelism. They’ll still share the Gospel if they get the opportunity, but they hardly ever get the opportunity. Their anxiety caused by not meeting expectations was cured by lowering expectations to almost zero, and so many of them blamed street evangelism for not being fruitful enough while living a life that from an evangelistic standpoint is close to fruitless.
The emotional pain from almost being forced to share the Gospel with promises for a revival that never came is strong, and understandable. But it’s not a reason for letting people go to hell. As strong as our emotional dislike for an action may be, if the Bible commands it we should do it. As we recognise this and pray for strength to do it, God can heal our emotional scars. (more…)
3 Stupid Reasons Churches Aren’t Evangelising
Evangelism is super important; without it, churches go extinct and people go to hell. Yet, evangelism seem to constantly be (apart from community of goods) the first thing churches drop when they find following Jesus to uncomfortable. It is as if evangelism always hangs lose, even though churches commit suicide if they don’t do it.
I’ve been talking to quite a lot of church leaders about why their congregations never evangelise and they typically give me three different answers. Three brilliant answers. These arguments are so perfect and irrefutable that they completely stun those who are confronted with them, as I show in this comedy sketch:
Of course, I’m joking. These arguments are horribly bad. But there’s one reason for not evangelising that I find acceptable, which I give towards the end of the video. You won’t be able to guess what it is.
Why Are People Leaving Church Without Saying Anything?
With the rise of individualism in the West there has been an increasing trend of “private Christianity” where people believe in Jesus but they never attend any church. Some of them acquire teaching and/or worship songs via the Internet at home, while others just pray sometimes. I encounter several of these “secret Christians” when I’m out evangelising, and most of them seem convinced that church meetings really are unimportant, that it’s perfectly fine to be a Christian alone.
The Bible, on the other hand, clearly commands us “not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebr 10:25). Even as the early Christians went on missionary trips they weren’t alone. Jesus commanded us to pray “Our Father” in plural, Paul emphasises in 1 Cor 12 that we’re all body parts in one body, dependent on one another.
But let’s face it, Christians who leave church aren’t doing it because they have a special Bible interpretation, but because church has disappointed them. As a house church leader I have seen several people go during the last five years, some of them to other congregations but a substantial number have become private Christians. Some of it is due to mistakes from our parts, other times we have been too radical. (more…)
Ending Cell Group Anarchy
In Biblical times, local churches met primarily in homes as a complement to their public evangelism (Acts 2:46, 20:20, Rom 16:5). For at least 250 years home churches were the norm – the earliest discovered church building that wasn’t used as a home is from the late third century. With Constantine stuff changed, basilicas and cathedrals were established, and these were the norm in the state churches.
Radical restorationist groups have often started in the homes, this includes the early Anabaptists, Baptists and the Pietist movement. When less persecuted and more established, they have often built church buildings as their state church counterparts. In the 18th century, Methodist leader John Wesley introduced the concept of having meetings in homes as a complement to the Sunday service in a church building.
In the 20th century this practice has become very popular. Realizing that meetings in church buildings aren’t designed to effectively promote fellowship and discipleship, many church leaders have welcomed cell groups/small groups/house groups in their congregations.
However, there are no fixed standards to what a cell group is and what it should do. Since it’s not viewed as a church of its own, there are usually no requirements of it to include the things that we see that New Testament churches were expected to include. For this reason, there’s basically anarchy when it comes to how cell groups look like. Here are some examples: (more…)
Church Leadership Should be Small-Scale
Why do most churches train their leaders to take care of groups of hundreds or even thousands of believers, when Biblical pastors trained groups of 20 or 30 people?
I talked to an associate pastor some time ago, and he shared with me the burden of him having the pastoral responsibility for families in his church. Since that meant 80 people, he had constantly work to do, and he felt pressured for not spending enough time with each family. There were two other pastors in the church, but they were also overloaded with work concerning the youth and the congregation as a whole (which includes over 400 people). I asked the associate pastor if he could delegate some pastoral care to cell group* leaders, but he was unsure whether they would accept the challenge. Many Christians just expect the pastor to do the work for them.
It’s biblical to delegate. Exodus 18 tells us about how Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, saw how Moses was being worn out with all the judging work, and so he recommended him to appoint God-fearing men to help him out, some having responsibility for a thousand people, other for one hundred, fifty and ten (Ex 18:20-21). When the apostles realized that they didn’t have time to help the poor, they appointed some other Spirit-filled people to do it (Acts 6:1-8). Leadership isn’t about doing everything yourself, but to inspire and give mandate to others so that they too can serve the Kingdom of God.
The Biblical church had various different types of leadership roles: apostles planted churches and had most authority in doctrinal disputes, evangelists preached the Gospel publicly and trained other disciples how to share their faith, prophets heard the voice of the Lord and brought important messages to the church, and teachers taught theology. And then we have presbyters, or pastors. (more…)
No more boasting about human leaders!
We’ve all met these kinds of people, haven’t we:
Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. (1 Corinthians 3:1-3a, NIV)
Yeah, those worldly Christians who can only eat spiritual baby food. It’s comfortable to believe that Paul is talking about people that weren’t like me, that haven’t read the Bible as much as me and that are way more sinful than me, right? But what is it really that Paul is adressing?
You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere human beings? What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. (3:3-6)
Oops. I’ve read this countless times, but today I realized that I’ve been a worldly baby for a very long time. I’ve put a lot of pride in human leaders and traditions – whether its John Wimber, Shane Claiborne, Anabaptism or something else.
And of course, I do think that they’re all more Biblical than, say, the Lord’s Resistance Army in central Africa, but I have gotten more uncomfortable with identifying myself too much with one denomination or theological stream, because I see the Spirit moving in so many of them. Isn’t it ironic that many Protestant denominations have got their name from individuals – Calvinism, Lutheranism, Mennonitism – precisely what Paul warned us for! We should not focus on the gardeners, but the one who makes the church grow, God Himself.
That being said, leaders are of course not useless: (more…)
The Ministry of the Apostle
“Pastor” comes from the Latin word for shepherd, and is commonly used as a description for the person leading a congregation. You know how many times the term is used in that sense in the Bible?
Once: Ephesians 4:11.
The other ministries Paul lists there – apostles, prophets, evangelists and teachers – are much more described and discussed in the Scriptures. Still, in many churches and denominations today, pastors are much more common than apostles and prophets (and often evangelists as well).
Let’s focus on the ministry of the apostle. The Greek word describes someone who have been send, a clear illustration to Matthew 28:18-20. Looking at the lives of Peter, James, John, Paul and the others we see that their ministry simply is about missions and church planting. It’s a translocal ministry that equip local churches and start new ones so that the Gospel may reach the end of the world.
Catholics and Orthodoxs have tried to replace the ministry of the apostle with church tradition. Protestants have tried to replace it with the Bible. In both cases, apostleship is viewed as something cessational and temporary, a ministry that gave us the foundation of our faith only in order to disappear after that. This is contradicted by the simple facts that:
1. Apostleship is never described in the Scriptures as something that would cease or decline; on the contrary, more and more apostles pop up the further we read the New Testament (Rom 16:7, 2 Cor 8:23).
God Bless John Wimber!
John Wimber, the founder of the Vineyard movement who went home to the Lord in 1997, is one of my heroes in faith. As a man dedicated to combine signs and wonders with evangelism and social justice, he is of great inspiration to me. The text below is taken from an article by Jon Panner which can be found here.
“Remember your leaders who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:7-8).
A president of an evangelical seminary once introduced John Wimber with these words: “John Wimber is the greatest theologian of the 20th century.” I nearly burst with laughter. John looked at me, winked, stood up, shuffled slowly to the microphone and opened with, “Really, I’m just a fat saxophone player trying to get to heaven.”
At moments like these, he seemed like our collective grampa. His Santa Claus demeanor reassured us, “Kids, I’ve read the end of the book. Guess what? We win!” (more…)
Sam Lee: A Pentecostalism Promoting Social Justice
Although I don’t agree with everything Samuel Lee writes in his book “A New Kind of Pentecostalism”, I think this part of a review by the author himself is pretty awesome:
As a Pentecostal pastor, I have been in this movement long enough to say with assurance that I have seen many Pentecostals who pray in tongues and who experience and perform miracles and manifestations and yet are full of arrogance, racism, ethnocentrism, or denomi-centrism. They exclude others; they are overflowing with prejudices, yet they claim they are “filled” with the Holy Spirit. I wonder to which Holy Spirit they are referring.
The Pentecostalism that I promote is about humility and is not a commercialized, Hollywood-esque Christianity, where the hairstyle of the preacher and his/her wealth attracts the attention or where leadership becomes a pyramid system in which the superstar preachers become the new living icons and idols of the Pentecostal believers. I would love to see a Pentecostalism in which people learn to depend on God and on each other through love. I desire to see a Pentecostalism in which the leaders are servants and preachers of humility and grace. (more…)