What exactly does being the Church mean? The answer begins with examining the way we presently view the Church. So, what is your present view of the Church?
We may know that the Church is the body and bride of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27; 2 Corinthians 11:2). We may even venture as far as to say that the Church is the light of the world, a city on a hill that cannot be hidden (Matthew 5:14). Some of us may even say with confidence that the Church is so powerful that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).
You should say those things … but you should also be living examples of them. And, you should be part of a dynamic church where together you experience the fullness of the Christian faith. However, we have many believers who know a lot and yet are not doing a lot – including not being actively involved in a local fellowship of believers – the church.
What we “know” about the Church is only helpful if our knowing turns into our doing. People say what they think, but they do what they believe. The problem most of us run into today is we are around or are a part of a church full of thinkers instead of believers, talkers but not doers.
People may say what they think, but they do what they believe.
What you DO is more important than what your KNOW – whether you know it or not!
One piece of evidence displaying what most people really think (not believe) about the Church is found in two commonly used words: “regular attender.” It is not a good thing that we have accepted – and perhaps also tragically made it acceptable – to think that there is such a biblical thing as a “regular attender” in the Church.
Think about it. What if I suggest that “regular attended” – if they are defined as “believers” who attend church services and events without being attentive to the call of Christ on their lives every other hour of their week – should more accurately be called “irregular believers”?
Maybe my suggestion that you are an “irregular believer” stings a bit? Maybe you fall into this culturally acceptable category and you have no idea what would be different if you were a “regular believer.” What would be different if you were a seriously active and engaged member of a local Christian fellowship (church)? You might be asking yourself: Now what am I supposed to do? Do I have to do a lot more stuff? I’m barely holding it together as it is, and now you are telling me that it is not enough?
My goal is to show you that God wants you to be more than a regular attender at an average weekly gathering of mostly bored adults.
When we have a personal relationship with Jesus it should bring new freedom, a new sense of purpose, an excitement about living, and a desire to be socially involved with other believers. In the Church you should find like-minded followers of Jesus and a social network that brings a sense of fulfillment as well as an expectation that there is always more up ahead.
Trust me when I tell you that being a “regular attender” is not where you will find spiritual or relational fulfillment. A distant relationship does not bring the same depth of joy, fullness of intimacy, or fulfillment of heart as oneness with a lover brings. It is time to stop dating the idea of following Christ and commit to it. It is time to stop giving lip service to what you believe and yet not allowing what you believe to impact every aspect of your life. It is time to stop being a “regular attender” which is a “irregular believer” and embrace the fullness of the Christian faith and the Church, the Body of Christ.
With “regular attenders” making up a greater percentage of the Church than passionately engaged followers, it is no wonder church is the one place most people would never look to find the life that they have always wanted. “Regular attenders” don’t typically gather with gladness and sincerity of heart (Acts 2:46). They don’t have favour with all the people (Acts 2:47). They don’t devote themselves to sound teaching or pursue relationships with people from house to house (Acts 2:42). They don’t contribute to or experience the overwhelming goodness of life found in a truly committed and involved relationship with Jesus and with His people – the community of faith, the Church.
The divine call on the life of all believers is to engage wholeheartedly in everything God intends – then we will live as God intends us to live, we will be as alive as God intends us to be. Soon, we will see that Christ is still doing today exactly what He was doing when He physically walked on the earth: creating stories that gather crowds and keep disciples up late at night revelling in the hope and awe that life with a good and loving God and community of faith provides.
But, this is not possible if you are just a “regular attender” which makes you a “irregular believer.” None of this is possible if your Christian faith only impacts 2 to 3 hours on Sunday and does not touch the rest of your life hour by hour throughout the week.
When we look at when the Church was first introduced to the world we see the following…
Acts 2:42-47 “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
If the world is looking for a solid description of the Church, here it is. But instead of just listening to the description, let’s imagine what it was really like there in those first days. Let’s imagine that you are on assignment as a beat writer for the Jerusalem Times with the task of observing and reporting about this new community of people who are beginning to create significant buzz around the city.
Three thousand people have come to faith in one day, (Acts 2:41) and more are being added daily (Acts 2:47). People are meeting every single day – not just one day a week – in the temple and in their homes. They are selling their stuff and sharing the profits.
These people are shaking things up and rocking the status quo.
Now imagine you have a friend who is a part of this new community. You ask him to meet you in the local cafe just to get the scoop. After catching up on small talk and niceties, you get right at it.
“What in the world has happened to you?”
“Well, I am hanging out with a new group of friends.”
“Anywhere really. It is not really a place but a group of people.”
“What is not a place?”
“The Church. Isn’t that what you are asking me about?”
“Church? What’s church? I have never heard of that before.”
“Well, it’s a community of people who, by God’s kindness, have seen Jesus and gather together to love one another and follow in His steps.”
“Jesus? Isn’t that the guy whom everyone loved but the religious establishment hated? And isn’t He dead? Look, I got sent over here to interview you because word on the street is that something very different – very alive – is happening with you people. And again, what is a church?”
At this point, your friend’s explanation will not include any mention of a denomination, since those do not even exist yet.
“Well, I guess you could say it’s called the First Church of …Ever!”
It is also doubtful he will offer up a specific address or location. After all, everyone knows where the southern steps of the temple are and beyond that, the Church is meeting all over the community. “Walk down any street in Jerusalem, take a left, and then turn…well, anywhere.”
And though Peter did stand up and do the talking on the Day of Pentecost, your friend will not mention a specific individual as the leader. There is a broad leadership in the movement led by eleven men, original followers of this said-to-be-dead Jesus guy. That’s a whole mess of chiefs, except that they are all letting the personality fall on one Chief – Christ Himself.
Their church then would not be described using the same adjectives as most people who attend churches today. You ask your friend to describe what is going on, and based on what we know was happening from the passage we just read, we can imagine he would say something like this:
“We are alive.” Makes sense – their whole way of living had changed.
“There are awe-inspiring things happening in our midst.” Since signs and wonders were being done through the apostles, that seems like a fair description.
“We are attractive.” God was drawing many new people to their community – and they were actually coming.
“We are aligned.” They were stedfast under leadership and in service, gathered with one mind in the temple and in homes.
“We are acts-oriented.” It’s hard to accuse them of being lazy or passive.
“Okay, that’s pretty impressive,” you say, feeling confident that you have more than enough to submit your article by the deadline. But before you can express your gratitude for his help, he interrupts and keeps going – and in rapid-fire succession this time.
“And we are biblical, blessed, bonded, caring, Christ-exalting, committed, compassionate, connected, consistent, and creative, dedicated, devoted, discerning, disciplined, driven, effective, encouraging, energized, evangelistic, exciting, engaging, faithful, focused, friendly, fun, fired up, generous, godly, growing…
“Uh, I think that’s plenty. And, besides, I’m kind of running out of papyrus sheets, so…”
But he doesn’t catch your drift or miss a beat.
“We are humble, hungry, hospitable, intentional. Inspiring, intimate, intense, joyful, like-minded, loving, magnetic, miraculous, motivated, neighbourly, obedient, ordained, others-minded, passionate, powerful, praising, prayerful, proactive, productive, progressive, pure, purposeful, redeeming, radical, real, relational minded, relevant, respected, sacrificial, safe, scary, selfless, Scripture-loving, servant-hearted, single-minded, sold out, Spirit-filled, sincere, submissive, tenacious, teachable, transformed, trustworthy, thankful, unified, unselfish, unspoiled, unwavering, wholehearted, and wise. We are a people full of wonder who worship God – you should come and join us!”
By this point the coffee is long gone – and you know you’ve obliterated your editor’s word count. But be honest: If the Church were really all these things – as Scripture says it is – you would definitely be checking it out, wouldn’t you?
How could you not?”
So what happened? Something has gone terribly wrong; that’s what happened. The description of the first church is suppose to be the description of all churches today because the Leader of the first church is suppose to be the Leader of them all.
The problem isn’t that God has stopped being in the business of changing the world by changing lives. The problem is that we have gotten into the business of doing His business our way, not being “people of His way” (Acts 9:2).
If church, as you think of it today, was truly a reflection of the adjectives we just used to describe it in Acts 2:42-47, my bet is that you would feel differently about it. A lot differently. You wouldn’t be alone.
You might be thinking, That is the exact kind of community of people I have been looking for. That is the purposeful life I really want to live, but I didn’t know it actually existed. What you are describing is what I have been searching for my whole life. In relationships. Clubs. Teams. Work. You name it. So don’t mess with me – just tell me: Where does something like this exist? Even though I am not sure I can believe, just out of curiosity, I’m going to come and check it out.
That is exactly what God had in mind – that in this lost, dark, broken world where there are only shadows of hope, a light would enter in. That people would begin to live in real relationships with a real God. That they would be that alive, awe-inspiring, authentic … a worshipful kingdom-of-God-on-earth community.
The Church is supposed to provide others a picture of God’s kingdom – a glimpse of heaven on earth. It is not a place you are suppose to go; it is a people who are suppose to be … and you can still experience what God intends for His Church to be.
When you see life change, grace, compassion, mercy, sharing, provision, warmth, and hope – with a diligence to preserve the unity of the Spirit in a bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3) – aren’t these at least small descriptions of heaven? Yes, they are. And instead of growing dimmer over the years, the Church is supposed to be growing brighter day by day as we yield more and more to the Spirit’s grace, power, and direction. Less of us: more of Him.
From the very beginning, this is what God intended church to be. God wants you to experience a community that is alive, awe-inspiring, attractive, aligned … well, you can go back and reread the rest. God created you for this. Your heart longs for it – even if you have only seen a glimpse of it from a distance. But, once you experience this true Church you will want to do more than attend at a church building – you will want to find others who are committed to joining you in being the Church that Jesus has always wanted to build.
Do any exist? Is that possible? Yes, they do, and yes, it is!
In the Church that Jesus is building, church leaders are intended by God not to plan events but to equip people. The people are then released to do the ministry that God has called each one to accomplish in His Name
Ephesians 4:11-12 “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…”
Ephesians 2:10 “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
Leaders do not exist to provide services and do ministry; they exist to train and equip the people. So, leaders in the Church need to make a concentrated effort to stop organizing ministry for people (meeting their needs) and invest their time in mobilizing people for ministry.
A true story from a communist nation… we will call our believer Dominic
Dominic is now in his sixties, and he has been a believer, a member, and a leader of a relatively small house church for most of his life. Dominic’s passion is telling people about Christ.,
He was once brought before the Communist council in his community to be questioned about his faith and his evangelistic work. He walked into the interrogation room with a large rock in his hands and set it down on the table in front of the men who were about to question him.
Surprised, one of the men asked Dominic, “Why did you bring this rock with you?”
Dominic replied, “Before we begin my questioning today, I want you to know something. If you try to stop me from telling people about the greatness of Jesus Christ, then this rock is going to start speaking for me.”
Dominic was alluding to Luke 19:40, where Jesus says that if the disciples didn’t proclaim His glory, the stones would cry out instead.
The Communist leaders, of course, had no idea what Dominic was talking about. They conferred and decided that Dominic was out of his mind, so they released him without further questioning.
Dominic’s passion to tell people about Christ translates into a commitment to train people in the house church. When he leads someone to Christ, Dominic takes personal responsibility for helping that person grow in Christ. His goal is for that person to become a leader in the church and then eventually to leave and plant another church somewhere else. All leaders have a job outside the church to make their living and support their families.
Dominic’s church has now planted more than sixty other churches in his country, with nearly every one of the leaders personally trained by Dominic. He does not organize ministry for people, he does not minister to his people – he mobilizes people for ministry. His life and leadership are a picture of what it means to be a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ today.
This is the same model we see in the life of Jesus. He spent more time with 12 men than with everyone else put together. In John 17, where He recounts His ministry before going to the cross, He doesn’t mention the multitudes He preached to or the miracles He performed. As spectacular as those events were, they were not His primary focus. Instead forty times Jesus speaks to and about the men in whom He had invested His life. They were His focus.
When He came to His ascension, Jesus had no buildings or programs to point to and no crowds to boast of. Indeed, most of the crowds had walked away. Just 120 unschooled, ordinary people were gathered – a small group with a small band of leaders.
And He had given them one command as their commission: make disciples. Do with others what I have done with you, Jesus has said. Don’t sit in a classroom; share your lives. Don’t build extravagant places; build extraordinary people. Make disciples who will make disciples who will make disciples, and together multiply this gospel to all people.
This is the simply command that was to drive the Church. And this is the simple command that is to drive each of our lives.
When Jesus was planning His Church – the one that He is currently building – He made some powerful and phenomenal statements. One of them is found in John 14:12
“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.”
This is a specific time when Jesus was talking with His disciples about the coming of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit would be sent after Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into Heaven. He would be “another Comforter,” Jesus being the original Comforter or Great Shepherd of the sheep.
We read verses like the one quoted above and slide right past it often without giving it much thought. However, Jesus is speaking to His future Church leaders and is laying a foundational understanding of the Church and what it will be able to do and accomplish. So, what did Jesus mean?
Was He saying that the anointing of the Holy Spirit on us would be stronger than it was on Him? Yes! But the key is why it would be stronger.
The Spirit’s anointing on us is not stronger in quality than it was on Jesus. After all, He was sinless. And, as a result, His relationship with the Holy Spirit of God was totally unhindered. So how will the Spirit’s anointing on our lives enable us to do greater things than Jesus did?
We will do greater things, not because of the quality of the Spirit in select ones among us, but because of the quantity of the Spirit spread throughout all of us. Remember, Jesus is talking to and about His Church – the people of God. The Spirit of God does not rest on just one individual, as we observe in Jesus. No, the Spirit of God rests on every disciple of Jesus who has been born again and baptized in the Holy Spirit. And, because of this empowerment of the Spirit (see Acts 1:8) all across the community of faith, we can see greater things than anyone ever saw in the ministry of Jesus.
Let’s speak for a minute about the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity (Father, Son, ad Holy Spirit). He was released upon the Church on the Day of Pentecost – the birthday of the Church at the very beginning. This story is told in the book of Acts, chapter two.
But, let’s step back a bit. When a person is born again the Holy Spirit comes to live inside of us. We say, “would you like to receive Jesus and be born again?” We say, “Jesus now lives in your heart” after a person becomes born again. Neither of these statements is true. When we are born again it is the Holy Spirit who comes in to live within us.
Jesus appears to His disciples post-resurrection. The story is recorded in John, chapter twenty. The Word states, “…when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” This was the point in time when the original disciples were born again. Until this time Jesus had not died and so there was absolutely no way to be forgiven and born again. There had been no shedding of blood and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness (Hebrews 9:22). After His death and resurrection there is now a way to be forgiven and receive eternal life. This was their born again experience.
Jesu, at a later date, says to His disciples, “I am sending the promise of My Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:49) This promise was made through the prophet Joel (chapter 2). This would be when the Holy Spirit comes upon them on the Day of Pentecost – the birthday of the Church as we read in Acts, chapter 2. So, the Holy Spirit is “in” us when we become born again and then comes “upon” us and empowers us when we are baptized in the Holy Spirit. They were to wait for that second encounter with the Spirit before heading out into “all the world to make disciples.”
The purpose of this empowerment and enablement is that we can the be a witness for Him in every nation in the world. Acts 1:8a states, “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be My witnesses…” As we – the Church – move in this power “great and greater things will you do.”
This is the meaning of Jesus’ comment to His disciples in John 14:12 …“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.”
The Church is an amazing organism that is to take the Gospel of the Kingdom (Matthew 24:14) to the ends of the Earth and demonstrate that this Gospel is true by doing powerful miracle, signs, and wonders (see 1 Corinthians 2:4-5).
This is the Church that Jesus is building.
Jesus said, “Go into all the world and make disciple…” (Matthew 28:19)
This was His last command to His people before ascending into Heaven and sending the Holy Spirit to empower us to do what He has commanded (Acts 1:8).
Jesus said, “If you love Me you will obey My commandments…” (Matthew 14:15)
So, we can say, as individual believers and as a church family, that we love Jesus. We can raise our hands in worship during a service and tell Him how much we really love Him… But, words are cheap and we are deceiving ourselves. If we are not obeying His command to “go into all the world and make disciples…” then we really don’t love Him. We are deceiving ourselves and really not fooling anyone.
The Church – the people who call themselves disciples of Jesus – have only one task. Want to guess what it is?
It is not coming together to hear a good teaching from God’s Word.
It is not to pray for the needs of people.
It is not to minister to the needs and hurts of those who come to our local church.
It is not to sing with others as a love offering to the Lord.
It is not to fellowship with other believers.
It is not to live perfect lives – a high standard of ‘holiness.’
It is not to give our tithes and offerings for the continuing work of the Church.
It is not to have our own needs met by others – especially the pastor.
It is not to be seen so as to maintain a good image in the community of faith.
It is not to have a ministry and/or be recognized for your ministry.
The Church has one task and one task only – to go into all the world and make disciples; baptizing them; teaching them; and releasing them to become the labourers in the many nations that need workers in the harvest field.
Matthew 28:18-20 “And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Matthew 9:37-38 “Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.”
All the other things may help us to become mature, strong, and reproducing believers. But, they are just a means to an end and should never be considered an end in themselves. We have only one task – Go as workers into harvest fields around the world and make disciples; work with them until they are strong and are themselves released into the world to make more disciples. It really is simple – reproduce ourselves in the nations of the world.
Let’s note something. The Church – that is you are I – are called to “go into all the world.” Yes, you are to build relationships locally in your neighbourhood so as to show the love of Christ to non-believers. Yes, you are to share God’s love with people you meet at home, at work, and at play. But, God has also called you to “go into all the world.” So, you must also plan to take what are often called “mission trips” to areas where the Gospel of the Kingdom has never been heard and the Name of Jesus is not known.
Oh, it is good to go to another nation and help building projects reach completion. But, this is not what changes lives – your life or that of non-believers. You are called to build people and not build buildings. So, you need to regularly “go into all the world” and share the love of God and the Gospel. Otherwise, you have not obeyed the Great Commission – the commandment that Jesus left for His Church to obey. You may rationalize that you are doing what He said to do but your neighbourhood and city (town) is absolutely not “all the world” and building buildings is not “making disciples.”
We need to change what we are doing as the Church. We need to focus on the expansion of the Kingdom and reaching every people group (ethnicity) in the world today that have yet to hear and embrace the Gospel of the Kingdom. Nothing less will do if we truly are Christians and belong to His Church.
There is a neat story I have been studying now for a number of weeks
Last time as we spoke of replanting the church we briefly talked about the need to involve an apostle as they are essential and foundational to the effective and successful replanting of a local congregation.
Paul the apostle wrote, “And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues.” (1 Corinthians 12:28)
With an apostle as the lead in the replant (or a new church plant) you are working biblically and beginning to pour a new foundation for the replant or repairing the old foundation if it is still viable and functional.
In the church replant I am involved in (In the United States) as soon as the replant began we rewrote the constitution so as to remove the non-biblical governing structure as well as other elements and approved the new apostolic structure. With this major change and a number of other important but more minor changes we are working to repair the old foundation upon which we can then replant.
In a major Canadian city where, as an apostle, I am planting a new work for the Lord we are slowly considering what the foundation should look like as we build relationally and see new people come to the Lord. We are not in a hurry to pour the foundation. We are simply relating to young university and college students working to find the “lay of the land” and sort through who we are and who God wants us to be. Then we can begin to determine the foundation. But it will be apostolic.
In neither of these two cases is there a functioning pastor. Please note, the term “pastor” does not appear in 1 Corinthians 12:28. In the early Church the lead in the team was never a pastor. In fact, in each of the many churches represented in and written to in the New Testament, none of them were lead by a solo ‘pastor.’ They were all led by apostles, James in Jerusalem, Timothy in Ephesus, Apollos in Corinth, and on the list could go. Paul clearly states, “First apostles…” and then the apostle builds the teams that he needs. The first team are usually other fivefold ministers from outside the local assembly. This way, right from the start, the church can have the fullness of the ministry of Christ (more on that in a minute). And, as people are brought into the Kingdom, the apostle can raise up a local leadership team of “elders.”
The outside, trans-local team consists of five different ministries. When Jesus was ministering in Galilee before His death and resurrection He fulfilled five different ministries. He was the apostle of our faith; He was a prophet without honour in His own hometown; He was an evangelist as he shared the Gospel with people like the woman at the well in Sycar; He was the Great Shepherd of the sheep; and He went about teaching everywhere He went. Upon His ascension into Heaven He gave these five ministries to a number of different people.
Ephesians 4:10-12 “He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…”
So, to have the fullness of the ministry of Christ in a local church plant or replant we need to bring these five ascension ministries into the local church to minister to the church from within their calling and anointing. If we have a solo leader we do not and cannot have the fullness of Christ’s ministry.
The word “pastor” appears here in Ephesians 4:11 and no where else in the New Testament. And, this reference is to a fivefold ministry team member who is a pastor. It is not referencing a local pastor as God’s plan for His Church never included a local pastor. The word “pastor” simply does not appear in 1 Corinthians 12:28 or anywhere else except here in reference to the fivefold ministry.
When a church is planted or replanted with an apostle as the leader – the church will be apostolic. The people will be taught to win the lost and “… go into all the world and make disciples.” The pastoral care for these new believers will be done by the believers themselves. The fivefold pastor will come in and teach the new believers how to love, care, accept, forgive, and love one another. There are 59 “one another” verses in the New Testament and no one person can fulfill all 59 for each and every member of the church. However, as Paul comments in 1 Corinthians 12, the body can minister to the body. So, the fivefold pastor comes in and teaches the people how to be pastoral and they then care for one another.
Meanwhile the main emphasis of the local replant is not “pastoral care” because they are not led by a pastor. The main emphasis is apostolic- the sheep are cared for and ‘pastored’ by each other (with a local elder in oversight) so that they are healthy and strong as they “go into all the world.” They will be the “sent ones” or an apostolic people as God designed the Church to be and not a ‘pastoral people’ who simply sit, receive and maintain what already exists.
For a replant to work the key leaders must be strong. There are many historical and traditional forces at work in a local church. There is a theological foundation upon which the church was founded. There are cultural and relational issues that need to be considered. So, a strong leader or leadership team will be needed to face the reality that the local church has reached the “retire” stage and is well into the downward decline towards death.
However, with strong leadership and a sensitive and proper understanding of what was and what is change can happen and the church can once again become healthy and start to grow. As well, the leader needs to have a new vision of what can be. These are the ingredients that we have to work with as we replant the local church. We build on who we were, we take an honest look at who we are right now, and we cast the vision for who we can be with God’s help and guidance. We do not abandon our heritage and theological tradition. We build upon it recognizing God’s faithful over the previous decades and aware of His guidance in the present.
The key ingredient in all of this is outreach or evangelism. For a dying church to become healthy the members must take their eyes off of their current situation and look to the community in which they are located. This is not always easy as the main focus of those remaining is usually to “man the ship” and keep it afloat. So, they focus on internal matters and ministering to each other. If this remains the key emphasis then the church will continue a slow but gradual decline into the grave.
The leaders must refocus the members of the church so that they come to understand that the church exists to serve and win those who do not know Jesus. The reason they are in the death cycle is that they have ceased to relate to and interact with their surrounding community. And, they have lost their love for the lost. This focus and love must be reestablished as quickly as possible in the replanting process.
So, in a replant the emphasis must be The Great Commission. The believers must come to understand that they are ministers of reconciliation and ambassadors of the Kingdom (2 Corinthians 5). They must come to see themselves as people who can influence and impact their community one life, one person, at a time. They must begin to reach out to their unsaved neighbours, friends, and family members with the Gospel of the Kingdom by building relationally with them. Only as this passion for the lost – based in love for Jesus and obedience to His command – is reestablished as an important part of the DNA of the local church family is there any hope that the replant will be successful. As long as the focus of the people remaining is inward the replant will not be successful.
What this means is that the local church must stop being pastoral in its approach and become apostolic in its basic nature. The word “apostle” means ‘sent one.’ So, the church needs the foundational ministry of the apostle so that the church becomes apostolic.
Ephesians 2:19-20 “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone…”
The ministry of the apostle is to teach God’s people to be outwardly focused so they become ‘the sent ones.’ The apostle will be in touch with the people in the community whom the church is working to reach. Knowing what they believe, how they think, and their perspective on life and the church. He will be aware of what the Holy Spirit is currently doing in a local community and how the people of the church can plug in to the community ‘where it is at.’ He will train them in living a life that is focused and centred on others who do not know Jesus. As a result, he is a foundational ministry to the replant. The Scriptures even state that he must come “first” in the planting or replanting of a church.
1 Corinthians 12:28 “And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues.”
The apostle will equip the saints for the work of the ministry. The ministry of the church is to the unsaved. He will lead them in becoming Great Commission minded and active.
There is such a thing in Christian leadership and church life as replanting a church. In the western world there is a need for new churches. In some cases existing churches must multiply and plant new churches from scratch. In other cases, existing churches must and should be revitalized – in essence, they must be ‘replanted.’
The work of replanting or revitalization an existing or dying church is very challenging. Maybe even more challenging than planting a new church from scratch. In a replant the leader is often confronted with mounting debt, falling attendance, a damaged reputation in the community, spiritual lethargy, and long standing turf wars that have distracted the leadership from the true work of outreach, care, and evangelism.
To replant a church requires a strong leader with vision, steely conviction, and foremost patient reliance on God’s faithfulness.
It is undeniable that churches evolve over time. Over the life of a church, neighbourhoods can change, leadership can expand and even fail, theological trends can take hold, unity can be lost, and splits can occur. Throughout all of this turmoil, congregations (local churches) frequently become inward-focused and often obsessed with maintaining the status quo. If not dealt with this will lead to the death of the local church.
Well-meaning members lose sight of their roles as servants and become increasingly focused on controlling the very church they are called to serve. When a serving heart is replaced by a controlling heart, division is bound to ensue. And, when selfish division lies unchallenged, areas of ministry and service become turfs to be defended, and brothers and sisters in Christ become opponents and obstacles to individual accomplishment. This would describe accurately a church I am currently working with in the United States that has now reached the point of needing to be replanted.
When a church reaches this stage in its history and life-cycle it is time to either shut the doors and walk away or it is time to replant.
The typical life-cycle of a local church is as follows… A replant would need to begin between “retire” and “old age.” Any later and it is too late. Note the key describing the letters beside each stage…