Copyright © 2007 by Galen Currah, George Patterson and Ed Aw
Dr. Patterson found in
Dr. Currah recently visited a strongly Islamic region of
Two unbiblical extremes plague new, little churches. One is big, usually urban, congregations that seek to impose practices and forms that are not well suited to little flocks; another is the independently minded little flock that is often led by an insecure power seeker. The NT model of inter-dependent “clusters” of little flocks can effectively avoid both tendencies if you mentor new shepherds in ways that enhance their “fold” of little flocks.
Teach a New Testament model of inter-dependent flocks and co-operating shepherds. Perhaps you could assign texts like the following and have apprentice shepherds report to you what they discover about inter-church relations:
13:1-2. ‘Now there were in the church at
Acts ; . ‘All the residents of
‘The churches of
2 Corinthians ‘And not only that, but he has been appointed by the churches to travel with us as we carry out this act of grace’.
1:2. ‘To the churches of
1:1. ‘To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at
4:15-16. ‘Give my greetings to the brothers at
1:5. ‘This is why I left you in
Revelation 1:4. ‘John to the seven churches that are in
There is no evidence that Christian churches met in chapels before the third century. Rather, the church consisted of a cluster of many little congregations that shared elders and deacons. A congregation typically was made up of an extended family, their servants and close friends. This allowed apostles, elders and deacons to discuss common needs often and make decisions together. Thus, it proved difficult for outsiders to impose rules on them and to contaminate their doctrine.
A biblically informed ecclesiology (theology of the church) must recognize that the New Testament uses the term “church”, “assembly” or “community” in several ways:
· The Universal church that consists of all believers and only believers, living and dead, past and present. Its only head is Jesus Christ, her God, Lord and Savior.
· The local church that consists of living believers who love one another while obeying the commandments of Jesus. It is served by apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers.
· The regional cluster of churches, made up of cells and congregations that enjoy frequent fellowship and are served by apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers, some of whom may be appointed as overseers, elders and deacons.
As church-planting coaches, you and I can help our apprentice evangelists and shepherds to form regional networks and to hold occasional celebrations. When they are challenged by outside forces, give them some guidelines and let them make decisions together. In this way, you will avoid many of the political and doctrinal attacks that can discourage workers and stop church reproduction.
Several advantages derive from forming and maintaining clusters of churches that maintain communication and take common action as a regional church. For examples:
· Workers learn from the start their power from God to plan, agree and cooperate without unwanted external control from outside church authorities, and without need of written constitutions, by-laws and rules of order.
· Clusters capitalize on the loving relations that develop between trainers and their apprentices, maintaining respect and cooperation long after formal mentorship has been completed.
· Elders and shepherds can encourage believers to move between congregations and cells where their gifts of the Spirit might be needed, since little churches may prove to be too little to have all the gifts that it may require.
· The members of little churches enjoy a genuine sense of the size and importance of their movement and social and ministerial relations.
· Elders plan and coordinate the formation of churches that serve ethnic, class, caste, economic and linguistic communities without requiring any one such social group to adopt the customs of another.
· Where churches suffer persecution and violence, even though some leader may be arrested and congregations disbanded, the movement continues and the others undertake legal and advocacy action in behalf of their fellow believers.
Finally, small house churches and cells seldom include members having the spiritual gifts needed to carry out all the ministries that God requires in the New Testament. However, they can perform these ministries by cooperating closely with other small bodies. Obeying the New Testament ‘one another’ commands (teach one another, confess faults to one another, admonish one another, etc.) applies, not only within house churches or cells, but also between them.
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