By Ryan Shaw
A second critical area we seem to be at odds with the Bible is how we gather believers together.
The concept of a “Church” needs to be carefully considered by every believer. We have generally gone along with the cultural understanding in our settings without asking the Biblical questions about “Church.”
We may say that society has changed over the years and the present understanding for most of us of “Church” is correct for our modern day. This may be right and true although it overlooks the fact that our current form of “Church” is often the very thing hindering the fluid spread of the gospel.
This is true in nations where the gospel of Christ has been plentiful for a long time as well as places where it has yet to take any kind of root. Could our general “form” of doing “Church” actually be a stumbling block to the fulfillment of the Great Commission?
The New Testament concept of “Church” is extremely different than what we typically see on Sunday mornings.
First, there were no buildings. A “Church” met in individual homes and these home groups together made up the church of Ephesus or Philippi. We find no exhortation to the importance of having a building for the sake of recognition or any other reason.
Second, there was no paid clergy. Lay elders and deacons were appointed for shepherding purposes but they were nothing like what we understand a “pastor” to be today. Today, a pastor is the all in all leader, a foreign concept to the New Testament. Leadership in the early church was group-centric with all bringing something to the meetings.
Third, along this same line there was little preaching and teaching by one individual. The Epistles of Paul, Peter and John and eventually the four gospels were letters sent around to the house churches. Each group read them aloud, giving special attention to various items.
The effectiveness of the early church in spreading the gospel far and wide is that the model was easily reproducible. It didn’t cost a lot of money or require super-spiritual leaders (which we know there aren’t any anyway).
It says in Acts 19 that the gospel was spread all over the “Asia” region in a two year time span. How was this possible? Some assume this was done primarily by Paul himself. This doesn’t coincide with Scripture, however.
What seems to have happened is that Paul set up a “church planting movement” school (my terminology) using another school’s building (even the great apostle didn’t have his own building for a training school.)
Those trained in Paul’s principles of church planting went out all over Asia preaching the gospel with power and gathering the new believers in simple home group churches. These home group churches were not satisfied with their little group, however.
They rapidly reproduced themselves so that when their house church reached 20-30 they formed another group elsewhere. In this manner of quick, mobile reproduction, the gospel was able to be “gossiped” all over the Asian region in a matter of two short years.
This model is crucial for our mission purposes of spreading the gospel in areas of the world presently hostile to the gospel. It goes by many names today but few are really aware of its significance. Some titles are “Church Planting Movements,” “Disciple making Movements” “Living Churches” and more.
The concept is picking up steam as Message Bearers recognize its importance and clear Biblical example. Movements to Christ have been staggering using this model. Not always holding meetings in homes, however. Sometimes under a tree, in a Mosque or Buddhist Temple.