Last week’s article focused on how the church used metaphors of the dominant culture to view itself. The metaphors turned into organizational structures and models that influenced the nature of the church, its assembly, and outreach.
We concluded with the question: is there a better model to follow? I think there is—but it will not come from studying business models or social structures or psychotherapy groups. When I was growing up I would hear preachers talk about the pattern and the correct model to follow when it came to church. Usually they presented another institutional structure that seemed to miss the point somehow. We still seemed preoccupied with event rather than relationship. We talked about proper structure and titles forgetting what Jesus said about wearing titles of any kind: that is, don’t! We seem to forget Jesus’ hierarchical model was an upside down pyramid: leaders are slaves of the whole. The better model is based on a person: Jesus. In one sense he is the model. Our pattern is Jesus and his life.
So how did he function? When we look at Jesus and his disciples we notice a small group on the move—constantly engaging the community around them. Did they organize? Of course they did. Judas was the treasurer. According to Luke 8:1-3 they received funding and donations from a group of women who traveled with them. Many times the twelve would perform some service function from feeding the 5,000 to organizing the Passover meal for the group. There is also an indication they used some of their funds to care for the poor. But emphasis was not on the organization. Organization tended to be simple, relational, and organic. When the early church grew in Jerusalem the major organizational challenge was to care for the poor—little else. Jesus led this group of disciples as Middle Eastern Shepherd: going before them, loving and caring for them, teaching and serving. He led the way by demonstrating mercy to those in pain and associating with the outcast. His style was merciful, face-to-face, relational, familial. There was no CEO mentality found in Jesus’ model. He wasn’t a leader who used servant-leadership principles: he was a servant!
His outreach and mission was to enter into the worlds of others. He ate with tax collectors, prostitutes, sinners. He didn’t invite them to Synagogue services! He went to where they were. Do we really grasp this? Do we get the implication? He invaded their turf! But he didn’t just preach. He listened, he told his followers to do good deeds: to be salt and light, permeating the culture around them. He was engaged in conversation—read the gospels and see how often he was engaged. When he gathered and assembled with others—it was over a meal. If you read the gospels you might be surprised to see how often Jesus was eating with people of all kinds! Jesus was serious when he said in Matthew 11:18ff:
For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and “sinners.”
In Luke 15 he is criticized for welcoming and eating with tax collectors and sinners. “Now tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear him. But the Pharisees and teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’” In Mark 2:13-17 the religious people condemn him for being at a party in Levi’s house. In Luke19 he is condemned him for associating and eating with the sinner Zacchaeus. That’s the way he reached out to folks.
Our model for church is Jesus. Our pattern for being the people of God is the Son of God. Our example for organization and outreach is the ministry of Jesus. The book of Acts is merely an extension of Jesus’ ministry through those he left behind.
So what now? How do we appropriate this information? How does a church embody Jesus—how do we follow the pattern of the servant Son of God? What’s the better mousetrap? Perhaps we should start from the beginning. Seek first to embody the spirit and priority of Jesus: people over preferences—organism over organization—mission over method.
Here are a few pragmatic suggestions: band together with a small group of believers on a regular basis for conversation about Jesus and the scriptures. Small home groups are a good place to start. But don’t just be a discussion group—be a ministry group. Organize as Jesus did—go out and serve others. Reach out to those who society has left behind. There are plenty of opportunities wherever you live. Talk it over with your small group—then mobilize. Most importantly: keep your eyes on the character of Jesus. Our identity is rooted in Jesus, not an organizational structure or institutional model.
We don’t need to build a better mousetrap. We just need to use what God has given us. Let’s return to simple church: gathering to encourage each other and to reflect on our Lord Jesus, and then going out to serve.
May you grow into the character of Jesus. May you as the people of God reflect the image of God. May we give up our infatuation with models and institutions and fall in love with Jesus and may his love for the world be expressed through us.