Pursuing a Philosophy of Ministry which unites the three
At a recent conference on reaching ‘neo-pagans’ with the Gospel, I was chairing a break out session on apologetics when a Christian leader in the room said the following: “We [the Evangelical church at large] do not triangulate very well between church, school, and home.”
I haven’t been able to ‘shake’ his statement. In fact, it has been stewing inside of me since the day I heard it—even functioning as a catalyst that keeps generating tough questions about the way we ‘do church’. This has forced me to ask the question, “Do the prevailing views of ecclesiology and philosophy of ministry held and practiced by Evangelical churches conform to Scripture?”
While discussing these topics over dinner with my friend Jesse; my dear brother in Christ made the following observation, “Without really questioning her methodology, the church has settled into a Western consumer model wherein she ‘packages’ her message for each age group—and in so doing inadvertently feeds into the disconnect between church and home.”
The simplicity of his statement rocked me. He was right; the church has assumed the child-training role by default. The sad state of affairs in the Christian home has been ‘normalized’—and the church has taken up the mantle that should belong to the parents.
I practically blanched white as I penned the following words—I see a remote comparison between America’s welfare system and the church—both attempt to function as a surrogate parent to the broken family without really re-building the family.
Paul David Tripp has written a book which does much to help us recover an understanding of just how strategic God intends the home to be. In his book, “Age of Opportunity,” Tripp indicates that the Christian home ought to function as a seminary.
The Lord has not altered His plan—as the fathers’ hearts are moved in love for God so also the children’s hearts are moved, and then trained up in the Lord by their parents. It’s tragic when parents are so quick to abdicate this precious privilege—passing it off to the church without a sense of loss.
If we are to ‘measure’ our effectiveness by Scripture, then we will have to align ourselves fully with what God’s Word says about the home. What takes place at church must be designed to help equip parents to make the home a training center. Anything less is to pull in another direction—and to sow to the current disconnect that exists between church and home.
All of our Christian education efforts—whether in Sunday school, or Christian school, or home school must dovetail back into God’s redemptive purpose for His people—to present every man complete in Christ (Col 1:28-29).
The local church should embrace a full congruency of purpose with the home so that the home is viewed as the training ground for young people. Church, school, and home ought to operate in harmony and synchrony like cylinders firing in perfectly timed sequence.
Each part of this triad (church, home, and school) should support and strengthen the other two. Each has a role that it can do better than the other two. In Scripture we see a division of labor; but a unity of purpose between the three.
The church occupies a role which defines true community. Believers are bound together in a covenant community of regenerate, baptized members. She is the pillar and support of the truth (1 Tim 3:15b). She is to instruct her members and build them up in the faith. She brings believers together in corporate worship. In her meetings, the Word of God is proclaimed that Christians might learn to know the Lord, love the Lord, and learn to do His will.
The church exists to know Christ, to worship Christ, and to make Him known. She exists to be conformed to Christ and to fulfill The Great Commission. The church fulfills her divine mandate ONLY if her individual members are moving toward maturity in Christ.
The role of the home and the role of Christian education are vital to the process of Christian maturity (of presenting every man complete in Christ). Though one in purpose; each of the three parts of the triad occupy a unique niche. For instance, grounding people in biblical worldview probably takes place best in the school and in the home rather than being accomplished by preaching in church.
Now regarding the mandate to bring its members to maturity; we cannot say in truth that a local church has ‘kingdom values’ unless she is utterly committed to the task of presenting every member complete in Christ. Only if she is animated by this purpose of presenting every member complete in Christ is she fulfilling her N.T. function.
It is precisely at this point that so many Evangelical churches prove that they have imbibed neutralizing influences from our culture. The loss of focus needed to bring individual Christians to maturity is tied to the loss of the church’s sense of purpose as set forth in Scripture.
The phenomenon of apathy concerning the maturity mandate of Colossians 1:28-29 is not an isolated malady. It is symptomatic of blindness as to WHY the church exists in the first place. At salvation the regenerated person is united to Christ—that union is to be realized and lived out in a vital vertical dimension and in a dynamic corporate dimension (Gal 2:20). This is not an experience reserved for pastors and missionaries—this is the normal Christian life! Our problem is that we have normalized nominal Christianity to such a degree that N.T. Christianity looks like fanaticism.
Local churches have, by N.T. standards, experienced a very unnatural process of numerical growth. Rather than growing by conversion; they have swelled their ranks by transfer membership. By means of preaching engaging sermons and providing interesting programs, churches have attracted professing believers.
An honest profiling of this growth reveals that many Evangelical churches are full of uncommitted folks who like things that way—they wish to remain in attendance; but uncommitted. We as church leaders have acquiesced to this status quo arrangement. It is our silence and passivity that have normalizedspectatorship, non-commitment, and anonymity. Doing church has been ‘dumbed down’ so to speak to mesh with the lowest common denominator desires of the uncommitted.
Now here is where things get serious. The core values of the uncommitted, i.e. spectatorship and relative anonymity, are antithetical to true discipleship. Please let this sink in—man’s sin nature which eschews self-denial and self-sacrifice is ethically opposed to the most fundamental elements of true discipleship—death to the self-life.
The question is will you let core values of the nominal Christian set the standard for the church? Having adapted ourselves to the member-transfer model of church growth; we have inadvertently established a détente with flocks of sick, emaciated, and stagnant professors of Christianity.
If members of a 1st Century N.T. congregation were to witness the way we do church they would no doubt be intrigued by the excellence we pursue in our rituals; but wonder where mutual edification took place. If they stayed long enough; they would see our local churches today as strange hybrids; as deformed creatures that have mutated away from the church pattern set by the Apostles.
In N.T. churches, meetings revolved around mutual edification. Members practiced mutual admonishment for the purpose of preparing their brothers and sisters for another week of spiritual warfare and ministry (Rom 15:14; Heb 10:23-25). Compared to the mutual edification practiced by the N.T. church; our ‘fellowship’ is merely Christianized socializing and visiting with no real aim.
If things are to be turned around; we will have to discover afresh that discipleship is absolutely essential to maturity. Through discipleship truth becomes life. Through discipleship truth becomes exceedingly relevant; then self-confrontational; then incarnational. Through discipleship spiritual multiplication takes place. How can churches justify the absence of true discipleship?
In my own Evangelical circles an expository pulpit is one of the highest values that we embrace in church life. In fact it is regarded so highly that at times it becomes an excuse for our failure at triangulatingbetween church, home, and school.
In essence, like Israel of old—we have said, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord” (Jer 7:4). As if—because we have an expository pulpit—we may pronounce the whole church in a state of relative wellness.
Such is not the case. There are undeniable symptoms of spiritual debilitation in our midst: a secular view of marriage and family; an absence of true community among believers; a failure to commit ourselves to The Great Commission—with an equal failure in both evangelism and discipleship (2% of Evangelicals practice personal evangelism, barna.org).
Sermons alone do not produce mature members. Richard Baxter (The Reformed Pastor) imbues this point upon his readers—that there must be vital points of contact and confrontation between biblical truth and the members of the flock if genuine growth is to take place. Pastor Baxter sought to complete a yearly circuit to each member’s home in order to build up flock and bring them to maturity. He attributed his success in no small part to this willingness to individually disciple the members of the flock.
Church members will not move to maturity by listening to sermons alone. Believers must learn to study for themselves; apply what they learn; meditate upon the truth; love the truth; and instruct others in the truth.
It is but a pipe dream to imagine that by some mysterious kind of spiritual osmosis these things can be learned by hearing great preaching. To move from a hearer of the Word to an effectual doer of the Word involves great singleness of mind and intentionality (James 1:25).
If we are to recapture the vision of bringing each member to maturity; the vision to do so will have to be constantly articulated and modeled by the leaders of the church. Every leader, whether home fellowship leader; elder; associate pastor; or senior pastor should be able to articulate the vision of bringing every member to spiritual maturity. He should be able to do this with great specificity and personal application—explaining precisely how it is to be implemented; the specific opportunities available; as well as why it is our very purpose for meeting.
Church leaders must keep casting the vision for spiritual maturity until it is understood and embraced by church members. Central to this articulation will be a clear explanation of the working relationship between church, home, and school. The church must reiterate the function of her own role along with the the role of home and school in presenting every man complete in Christ. Our philosophy of ministry must reflect nothing less than God’s plan for His church.
“But speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the Head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love” (Eph 4:15-16).
God’s plan for the maturity of the Christian involves every believer fulfilling his individual part; there is no room for detached spectatorship. Of course this flies in the face of the common practice of so many professing Christians who prefer to operate in an insular bubble; an ‘obese’ comfort zone that detests accountability, transparency, and accessibility to other believers.
Ephesians 4:25 states that we are ‘members of one another’. This has huge ramifications for maturity. Being members of one another has implications that are inseparable from the very purpose why church exists—for the union we have with Christ is the basis for our union with other believers—this is the very fabric of true community. The church cannot reach its goal of maturing the individual without a sacrificial commitment to mutual edification.
Doesn’t it make you want to ask uncommitted church-attenders the following question, “Is it your purpose in attending this church to strive to reach maturity and to exert yourself in order to bring others to maturity—the very individuals who will be joined with you for all eternity?”
Pop culture has shaped how professing Christians relate to one another in church. The vision to function as a supernatural community is completely missing in most Evangelical churches (Jn 17:21-23). It is all too common for professing believers to be completely ignorant of the truth that we are members one of another.
I fear that churches have been overly accommodating to the member-transfer model of growth. Pews are filled with professing Christians in a state of arrested development. The seriousness of the problem cannot be overstated.
All one has to do to slide into hell is to live a life of spiritual neglect (Heb 2:1-3). The opposite destiny requires a much different course of action; in order to finish the Christian life well; it will take person’s entire resolve (2 Tim 1:8).
Certainly pastors who have coddled and pampered the rebellious will have to give an account of that action before the Lord. Do we fear that some of the uncommitted would vacate their pews if we preached the full burden of the text—preaching in such a way as to drive home the application—leaving no room for escaping the consequences of disobedience?
After Jesus performed signs in Jerusalem; the number of His followers greatly increased. Jesus never colluded with the numbers game. The Scripture says, “But Jesus, on His part was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men” (Jn 2:24). Have we forgotten the biblical doctrine of man?
Let us remember that uncommitted professors loathe accountability; they refuse to take up their cross and deny themselves. Those who refuse to follow Christ by denying themselves will ultimately refuse to willingly suffer for Christ (Rom 8:17). Consider the price that pastors and churches are paying in order to keep their pews filled with uncommitted professors of Christianity.
Do we really understand what is at stake? As Christianity is increasingly marginalized in our nation persecution in some form will be unavoidable. With the passing of each year it will be more difficult to practice true Christianity in a nation that views the Faith with suspicion; or worse as mindless prejudice. If Christ tarries; the church will suffer. Are we preparing the Bride of Christ to suffer for the sake of her Head? (Col 1:24). I think not.
It is shameful that we are not preparing the church of Christ for suffering. Deepening one’s faith; devotion; love; and sacrifice in preparation for suffering is the very last thing on peoples’ minds.
By contrast, the N.T. Church functioned as a war room; a pentagon; a boot camp—a place of accelerated learning in which what was gained would be immediately put to use. Believers exhorted one another in preparation for another week in the ‘trenches’ of spiritual warfare and ministry; and in many cases persecution. They continually spoke to one another about their common hope in Christ and the coming Day of the Lord. They came to church to encourage; to edify; to build up; and to admonish their brethren.