For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up
that which is planted… Ecc 3: 1-2
In this text from the wisest man on earth– King Solomon– the Hebrew word for season is translated more precisely as an “appointed time”. There is an appointed time (or fixed time!) for everything: every purpose and longing under heaven. I believe, with all my heart, we are in a season, a “fixed time” for the church of Jesus Christ on the earth to uproot what has been improperly planted in her over the last 1900 years and plant anew. This has been my singular passion for the past five years: seeing the church return to its apostolic pattern.
To be sure, the church has been through many strategic, “appointed times” before such as with Martin Luther- justification by faith; John Wesley- personal holiness; General Booth- ministry to the poor and needy; the Moravians- passion for Christ and missions; the Pentecostal movement- emphasis on the gifts of the Holy Spirit… and countless others. Each of these God-ordained “seasons” added life and light to the world-wide church of Jesus, propelling her into a new age.
As we enter the 21st century, Almighty God is stressing to the church again an appointed time! This season the focus is on the structure of church. Not on what we believe or why, but rather on how we function as believers when we gather together in His Name. A sign that a “fixed time” is looming is that so many believers are questioning the obvious discrepancy between what we read in the New Testament and what we experience “on any given Sunday” in church in the Western world:
· We read of vibrant “Love Feats” or Breaking Bread occasions that certainly included a full meal, with lots of food and beverages for all. (1 Cor. 11)
· We read of the active participation and functioning of “each one” when the believers gathered together, everyone using spiritual gifts that all would be edified. (1 Cor. 12:7, 14:26)
· We read of believers meeting together in homes, simple churches without titles and labels. Churches that humbly met in the homes of Aquila, Archippus, or Nymphas, and many others. (Ro 16:5, Col 4:15, Philem 2)
· We read of elders shepherding their flocks but also working hard with their hands “among the people”, like the Apostle Paul. (Acts 20) We see no clergy/laity rift.
· We read of the “whole church” coming together for decision making and then, by consensus, solving major church problems. (Acts 6,15)
A Simple Gospel begets a “Simple Church”.
The most interesting and important point of this present season is that, unlike the past “fixed times” when God raised up a figure head person or movement, this “appointed time” will be marked by its nameless and faceless key figures! This season is tailor-made to be engineered and guided (notice I don’t use the word LED!) by the rank and file believer. This is where I fear the greatest danger also lies, as we look for the next Wesley, Moody or Booth to lead us in the new season! Brothers and sisters, there won’t be one!
God is emphasising the need for changing the structure of how we “do church”. Past seasons brought by God have seemingly never looked at this critical issue or were unable to bring any significant, lasting change to our church structure. For example, without doubt Luther brought back to the church the “priesthood of all believers” during the Reformation, but it was on a more individual level, not a corporate one!
As a result of incomplete reformations throughout the centuries, our church structures tend to be “top heavy”, complex, chain-of-command institutions where a chosen few lead and direct the masses. Keeping the building and programs running smoothly seem to take the major amount of time and effort of all involved. Some have suggested that in the average church in America 20% do all the work while 80% are uninvolved! (Unfortunately this 80/20 principle works in opposite fashion when it comes to local spending vs. missions and outreach. Most churches find that 80% of their budget is spent on local salaries, office upkeep and property and 20% on missions/outreach!)
The very essence of this season is its simplicity, the spirit of which I read in the NT, where fishermen and tentmakers explode upon the scene, arguing and reasoning with Kings and Queens – establishing churches everywhere they went I might add. Simple churches with no higher financial needs then gathering in someone’s home for a pot-luck meal! Simple churches with no great leadership giftedness required other than to “shepherd a flock” of some 20-30 people, and even then with the help of others (ie. elders)!
Can I ask you a thought provoking question: “If you were to plant churches amongst the Muslims of Central Asia, would you rather plant ones that required low maintenance, low visibility and low giftedness of its leaders or one that required high maintenance, high visibility and high giftedness of its leaders?”
Join with me in sounding the trumpet for this important season, stressing a simple gospel that calls for simple church structures!
Yours for the Least in the Kingdom,