Renew Rusty Denominational Structures


Pastors recently asked how they and their people could start new churches when their denomination’s policies cause snags. Two of them faced meetings with administrators who have belittled their vision for reproducing churches. We People of Yes! hear such complaints often in workshops on church planting. One rogue griped, “The last great bulwark against the spread of Christianity is the church!”

Today’s churches display evidence of both normal spiritual health and abnormal rust. One indicator of normal health is that churches or cells multiply. Wherever the apostles made disciples in the way Jesus said, churches multiplied. This has not changed. Today churches multiply where the same kind of disciple-making takes place. But to our knowledge, no historical denomination in the USA is currently growing rapidly; rather many are declining. Some show growth only because of new ethnic churches. It is their rusty traditions that keep churches from multiplying in the normal way. Healthy churches multiply in fields where such restrictions are not yet in place, where their bureaucracy is too weak to enforce restrictions, or the oil of the Holy Spirit has not been diluted with legalism, rationalism or emotionalism.

Apply the following Rust Removers.

1.  Examine your most cherished traditions in the light of the apostles’ guidelines for the Lord’s work

We sometimes need to challenge denominational or inter-church leaders, in love, to compare their policies with those of Scripture as they relate to evangelism, church planting, and providing for leadership. Let this comparison be the subject of prayer and an open forum. This approach works well where the denominational core is sound, and where its leaders had embraced its encumbering traditions only because that was all they knew, not because they were power-hungry or needed such policies to keep themselves in control.

2.  Help missionaries to follow all aspects of Jesus’ Great Commission

In Matthew 28:18-20,our Lord commands us to make disciples of all nations by teaching them to obey all of His commandments. Yet few missionaries, including those with extensive Bible knowledge, actually know what the commandments are that Jesus laid down. They ask new believers to do all kinds of things that may have some spiritual value but are not the foundational activities that our Lord Himself requires. He commanded many things thatone can summarize in several basic commandments that the first New Testament church obeyed in their most basic form from the beginning. Following Pentecost, according to Acts 2:37-47, 3,000 new believers were practicing the following in obedience to Christ’s commandments:

  1. They repented in faith and were born of the Holy Spirit.
  2. They confirmed this conversion at once with baptism.
  3. They broke bread in the homes.
  4. Their love was evident in their fellowship and generosity.
  5. They embraced the apostles’ teaching (disciple-making in its beginning form).
  6. Theyprayed.
  7. They gave.

Those who ignore these foundational commandments of Christleave a power vacuum in a new church. New believers become confused as to who has the final word, while big egos seek control and rush in, usurping Jesus’ place as King in His kingdom.

3.  Challenge Christian educators to restore biblical discipleship

Educatorsmust include New Testament discipling principles in leadership training curriculum, including Jesus’ basic commandments (above). Too few recent seminary or Bible College graduates know how to make disciples in the way Jesus said. They approach it rather as an intellectual exercise, teaching rusty procedures to Sunday school teachers and the new pastors whom they train on the mission field. Biblical discipleship builds upon Jesus the Rock, upon a relational foundation for all ministries, which requires, before all else, loving obedience to Christ’s specific commandments. He said, “If you love me, obey my commandments” (John 14:15; compare John 15:14; Matt. 7:24-29 and 28:18-20).

4.  Train national workers in pioneer mission fields in how to make disciples of new believers in the way Jesus said

Show new shepherds how to build on the Rock. The first few weeks of a newly born church’s life in a pioneer field are crucial. A new church needs a sound foundation, built on loving obedience to our Lord Jesus Christ’s commandments. Denominational policies, however, often keep new churches in pioneer fields from baptizing new believers and from celebrating the Lord’s Supper. Such policies deny Jesus’ deity by ascribes more authority to man-made rules than to Jesus’ commandments. Such policies blur Jesus’ authority for a church’s activities, thereby opening the door for abusive control by whoever assumes they have the right.

5.  Train pastoral students to apply the Word to all ministries

Graduates from our Evangelical seminaries and colleges often use the Bible almost exclusively as content for their teaching and preaching. They neglectthe Bible as the norm for church practices. They overlook the guidelines of God’s Word as they plan how to evangelize, how to confirm repentance, how to organize a church, how to deploy missionaries and how to worship. A workshop on biblical guidelines for these activities could help them become better ‘doers of the Word’.

6.  Clarify biblical authority for church leaders

Who has the highest authority? Those who have been in the church the longest? Have the most Bible knowledge? Can preach the most eloquently? Have the highest academic degrees? Give the most money? Hold the highest offices? Use the church’s bylaws most adeptly to manipulate others? Scripture recognizes none of these as a qualification for leading God’s flock. A true leader in God’s kingdom brings believers into obedience to the King. One does not lead if one onlyteaches. One truly leadsby enabling believers to put in practice the things that Jesus and His apostles require. Wherever acongregation leaves most ministries for its pastors to do, leadership is obviously lacking. One truly leads by establishing Jesus as the Head and highest authority in the church, so that believers practice what He and His apostles said, doing soin childlike, loving obedience.

7.  Caution ordination councils and ordination policy makers to respect the biblical requirements for becoming a shepherd

Paralyzing rust often accumulates on ordination requirements, especially on those exported from the West. Shepherds who have God’s pastoral gift and who fulfill all biblical requirements are commonly prohibited from leading their flock in obedience to Christ in baptism, Communion and other vital activities. Gifted shepherds too often fail to meet human requirements that have no significant bearing on their competence as shepherds. Such man-made rules keep in power an elite clergy who have paralyzed church planting throughout history. Some evangelicals today are as guilty as any earlier generation. Therefore, missionaries must adapt requirements for new pastors to both local culture and to Scripture, and provide realistic tools to prepare them.

8.  Encourage modern prophets to remove rust, to apply Scripture in the power of the Holy Spirit

We should teach examples from Scripture and history of reformers that God used to bring His people back to the moorings of His Word. Let us welcome these prophets as God’s gift to the church. He promises such spiritual chiropractors in Ephesians 4:11-12 to every church or cluster of cells that interact as a body.

Reformers also occasionally need Pain Relievers such as the following.

Be forewarned that seriously following Jesus entails suffering.

What missionary who has participated in a church planting movement, has been free from painful conflict with colleagues or superiors? If you simply do what Jesus says, then you will surely step on some Christians’ toes. Receivingpainful blows from our Christian brothers proves devastating, so be ready for it!

Use gentle, positive diplomacy while slaying cherished, sacred cows.

Avoid inflammatory rhetoric or any appearance of attacking others with a critical spirit. That would solve nothing. If possible, instead of demanding change—the word ‘change’ threatens traditionalists and those in power—speak about adding something new, as an experiment. Sometimes, reformers can avoid rust by quietly disregarding abusive rules. When word gets around later that you failed to conform, some will rebuke you. Accept their rebuke graciously. Consider the truism “It is easier to ask pardon than to get permission.” Do not ask for their consent to obey Christ, lest they say no. To ask for their permission would be to acknowledge their right to veto obedience to Jesus! Just do what Jesus said and let critics toss their darts. Became adept at ducking.

Stand firm in your position on your church’s biblical heritage.

Most denominations have a great history. They started out following sound, biblical guidelines. Remind traditionalists of this fact. Help them to see that if they let pastors build on these same roots, there will be less pain for all concerned.

To your knees!

Let us all honestly confess to God that many of the charges Jesus made against religious hypocrites apply to us today. Experienced and respected leaders often bring down top-heavy bureaucratic Goliaths, if intercessors back them up.  Sometimes, God softens the most adamant traditionalists who later confess to him and publicly that they have exalted traditions that eclipsed biblical discipleship. We admit that the kind of disciple making that Jesus modeled and commanded is hardly recognizable in many churches; it has been crowded out by clerical privileges, clergy-centered events, doctrinal biases, systematic theologies and cultural practices.

Lord, give us convictions of steel to obey our Savior in love, above and before all human rules! If 1000 reformations are needed to lead our people in obeying Him, let it be!



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