What if the Restoration Movement actually set us up for the next leg for “church” in America? I am going to give you three reasons why I believe the underlying foundation of Churches of Christ can set us up to thrive in the coming years but it won’t be easy (it wasn’t easy for Jesus or the early church either).
Here are a few things we know about the early church. Ask yourself how many of these things are true in church today.
- They were growing exponentially. (Acts 2:41, 4:4, 14:21, 21:20)
- The leaders were unschooled, ordinary people. (Acts 4:13)
- Ordinary people were doing the work and in leadership (Acts 8:1-8).
- The Holy Spirit was active and obviously involved…even leading the church in many ways. (Acts 2:1-4, 12:3:2 and many other passages)
- They fasted (Acts 13:2, 14:23)
- They were in the Word to live the Word through obedience to the teachings (Acts 5:29, 17:11).
- They were planting churches (Acts 14:21-258:1-8).
- The “they” who were planting churches were sometimes apostles but other times were ordinary people. (Acts 11:19-21)
- They were making disciples not just converts (Acts 6:7).
- They were being persecuted because they stood out & suffering was a regular part of the church’s teaching (Acts 14:22).
- They had a public message rather than just a private message and many other places. (Acts 2:46, 17:16-34)
- They met in private places – homes (Acts 5:42).
- They met and proclaimed Jesus in public places – lecture halls, the temple, etc. (Acts 19:19)
- They caught the eye of the government (Acts 25).
- They were a threat to the kingdom of darkness with regular wins over the principalities and powers in spiritual realms. (Acts 19:11-12)
- They were constantly in prayer and had faith God could do things impossible for us. (Acts 4:23-31)
Does this list resemble church as you know it?
If it does – wow…I want to hear about that. If it doesn’t, what if it did? And what is stopping us from embracing this Holy Spirit driven, obedience to the Word living operating system, everyone participating vision?
There are several reasons churches of Christ are positioned to make the needed shifts:
First, the Restoration movement philosophy points us in this direction. Everything above is from the Bible. Everything above is from Acts. Everything above is from the church we aspire to be. Will we be determined enough to live up to what we say we believe? Will we take Restoration philosophy “all the way?” Our philosophy lends itself to being open to the things that could actually drive growth.
Second, in Churches of Christ there is no denominational hierarchy to prevent any church from making this happen. Your church leaders, even the members alone, can determine to go this direction and do it. Even if your eldership isn’t on board, what would stop you from trying in a new context/expression of church? I don’t mean to advocate being divisive but if following the way of Jesus leads to division then my question is, what is it that is actually divisive? The unity plea has often kept us from doing things that ought to be done. It is often personalities and tradition that is the real source of division, not someone advocating living more aligned with scripture. The prophets were divisive but not in a sinful way. Sometimes God’s priorities divide people.
No one can tell you or your church “No” and it have any teeth.
Third, we have always said we belong to the Lord – we are the Church *of* Christ and that means that Jesus is the ultimate leader. Just as Peter called Jesus the chief shepherd…we acknowledge it is Jesus who is in charge of His church. What if we lived by His example? By that I mean – making disciples, becoming servants, being obedient to God, becoming suffering servants and so much more? I believe the church would grow.
The great news is, we have precedent to do radical things in the name of realigning ourselves with the Lord. If you haven’t ever read the Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery, I hope you will take a couple minutes to read it. There are a few points I would quibble with but what if we took this same approach…figuring out what needs to die in order for Christ to more fully live in our churches?
What does that church look like?
I already described it above!
If you try to live out what is in Acts, who is going to tell you you are wrong and that you must stop that you would actually take seriously? News flash – not every complaint needs attention. Some need to be ignored, especially when they are egregious.
I said above that we could be set up to thrive.
What might stop us?
First, the barrier of definitions. It might be our definition of church doesn’t actually match what we find in Acts. We might define church as an one hour a week gathering. Is that what we find in the Bible though?
Or how about how we define kingdom success and the metrics we use to analyze if we are successful or not. What does success look like in the kingdom? Or – what are the marks of a thriving church…that when you hear about what is happening at another church, you wish you could say the same about yours.
Our view of a successful and thriving church may include:
- Growing programs
- Growing budgets
- Growing buildings
- Growing staff
- Growing baptisms
Is it possible all that happens and you aren’t actually thriving? Or is it possible you have all that (most don’t have all of that) but there is an even better way to thrive? Here is one example, in scripture…all over the New Testament…a church that is successful is one that is suffering for the Gospel. You will never hear that in a church growth seminar but it is all over the New Testament. Think on that one for a while…why is it the case that suffering pairs with a thriving church and why are we lacking that today? The answers you get to those questions will tell you a lot about our issues.
Second is our investment level and focus. We have poured billions of dollars and billions of hours of time into the current form of church. It hurts to walk away from it. It really, really does. It is a wilderness wandering experience. We have been on that journey for two years now and it is not for the faint of heart.
Third, change feels like a judgment on self. When you change course, it feels like an admission that the way you were doing it was wrong or sinful. Please don’t think that or think you hear me saying that. It isn’t automatically the case. We can move forward and bless and honor our past rather than curse it or regret the time we were in it.
Many other reasons come to mind. The real question that actually matters is this – what is holding you back if you are feeling called to something else than our traditional expression of church? Not everyone feels that call, and that is fine, but for those who do…we need to find our way forward, together.
God might finally invite us in on what He is doing! We might finally see spiritual breakthroughs like we have never seen before. We might see miracles that we long ago thought had stopped. God might just give us a part in his world changing mission! What a glorious day that would be.
Are you in?
If you are in, tell me you are in and let’s work on this together. Here are a few ways we can team up. First, feel free to reach out to me and we can encourage each other. Second, you can join our Backyard Church church plant Facebook page where we will be posting resources. Third, you can join our discipleship facebook page to get more resources as well. Four, join the email list for a weekly update of what is going on.