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Many of us have watched the episodes of How Things Work. Kids love them, and many adults equally captivated by the processes at play. There was an historical version of this on public television in past years, though I doubt many thought of it that way at the time. James Burke’s The Day the Universe Changed is just that. It was a story of history and how it was driven by ideas. Though one might not always agree with his conclusions, there remains a great quantity of valuable information that ties together history, philosophy, and theology.

Likewise church history can, and should, be examined with regard to its functionality. My concern about (our missing) ecclesiology is reflected here. My goal here is to attempt to expose some of our current thoughts and attempt a challenge to resolve the issue. I won’t pretend any solution, but will only say that institutionalization is not always the best particular method.

The issue that I would like to confront here goes to one of the results of our liberal system of governing our nation and ourselves. The method is this: If it needs done, start a new organization and ask for money. It seems that when people seek the Lord’s leading they often jump out on their own with no direction from church leadership, from friends, or even with the capacity to listen if those persons were engaged in their “calling.” At this point I could rant about the parachurch groups, but often it is the church itself that spawns them. The church contributes by not reinforcing accountability, but not having an accountability and relationship system in place to practice what it might be preaching, and by mis-emphasizing individualism in salvation and spiritual growth.

By mis-emphasizing I only suggest an idea that is not foreign to many of us — that we are saved into a body. There are no cowboys in God’s kingdom. But how do we avoid this in ministry? The only solution is one of action — put yourself into a place of accountability. Then, if you are ready to branch out, try this: 1. Place this ministry under the leadership of your local church. 2. Find people to interact with who both agree and disagree with you on strategy. 3. Do all your planning as a team. (And first understand that it is a team; it is not your committee.)

For the past several decades, ever since Ray Stedman came out with BODY LIFE, many fellowships have placed a valuable and profitable emphasis on small groups and home Bible studies. There are, of course, failures in this arena. Some have turned them into touchy-feely groups and others have let them dry up into programs that lack the necessary intimacy. Still, it is not difficult to find many that work and work well. But what of leadership in these groups? How are leaders trained?

So what do I think will solve these issues? Certainly not a mere program. Hopefully pastors who are in fellowships antagonistic to these ideas will take it upon themselves to form a core group within the fellowship that will reach out to make the necessary difference. Hopefully they will also choose elders/deacons/leaders who are first spiritual people, and then mature people. Hopefully they will do more than meet and organize, but also study and pray confess sin together. Hopefully pastors will take even their less-accommodating leaders (you know, those who think they own the church) through similar spiritual challenges.

I wonder — if such relationships are established in a fellowship and the Spirit moves in someone’s heart to do a work — I wonder how much positive energy and enablement can be given to fulfilling ministry and growing the Kingdom? I am optimistic about what might be done, though not always about our ability to change our way of doing things.

More on: The Church

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