It Is No Secret!

It seems that believers have forgotten that preaching and sharing the Gospel is the call upon the life of every believer. As Christians we may fool ourselves into believing that making money or being liked is more important than the preaching of the Gospel. Success, notoriety, and influence can call to us like sirens, pulling up into their unfulfilling whirlpools. Clever deception masquerades as authenticity, and temptations abound.

We live in a day and age when sound doctrine is being replaced with self-serving ideas devoid of spiritual truth. Churches across the world are dying because they no longer accurately preach and teach God’s Word. It is quite possible that we have arrived at the dreadful hour Paul warned his disciple Timothy about. A time “when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear” (2 Timothy 4:3)

Paul also predicted that there would be terrible times in the last days. In 2 Timothy 3:2-5, he writes, 

“For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power…”

Does any of this sound familiar to you? To love oneself is humanism. To love money is materialism. To love pleasure is hedonism. All three are major motivations in the world today. Even among believers.

Since its release in 2006, a self-help book titled The Secret has sold more than nineteen million copies worldwide and has been translated into over forty-six languages. The premise of the book is that you can create whatever you want by using the power of your mind. It is a self-centered philosophy that is actually nothing more than recycled Hinduism and New Age folly. Many people think if Oprah endorses something, that makes it okay and truth.

According to the book, to attract your perfect weight you just think it in your mind and then you become it! (Oh, if that only were true — I would have six-pack abs and a full head of hair!) The book also suggests that everyone has his or her own personal genie standing with a “your wish is my command” policy. I want to share with you what one fan of The Secret wrote — not to poke fun, but to demonstrate how far the world has come in creating substitutions for a relationship with Christ:

“The one thing that stuck with me was the Genie. I immediately felt a connection to this concept. I drew a Genie with a handsome face, a look of satisfaction and a perfect body to compliment it. He is there in my room on the wall and he is like the most perfect thing that ever happened to me! Be it exams, practicals, relationship problems, health problems, or just something I am scared of, I just tell it to Genie and believe that he will manage it somehow. After telling my problems to Genie and asking him to take care [of] it, I just stop thinking about it. Somewhere in my heart I feel that he’ll take care of it, and trust me, he has never failed me once! He is my universe, my personal Genie and he fulfills all my wishes, no limitations.”

When I read that testimonial, I can’t help but feel both sadness and frustration that such a simple book could lead so many people astray. Jesus Christ — not some imaginary genie — is real and alive (Ephesians 1:19-20). He is the One who truly cares and asks us to cast all our burdens upon Him (1 Peter 5:7). Hebrews 1:3 puts it this way:

“The Son is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.”

In its futile attempt to be the answer for all of mankind’s needs, The Secret fails to address the most basic reality of life: death! If the Law of Attraction really worked, then no one would ever die, because most people would like to live forever. This fact becomes painfully clear when a viewer of the Oprah show, after seeing episodes dedicated to The Secret wrote to Oprah to “announce that she had decided to halt her breast-cancer treatments and heal herself with her mind.”

It is time to return to the Word of God, the Bible. It is time to discover the truth, God’s eternal truth. It is time to believe and apply the truth to our lives in practical ways. It is time to stand up and declare that Jesus is the Truth. He is also the Way and the source of all Life. It is time to declare the truth for all the world to hear. But first, believers need to move away from teachers who tickle their ears and seek those who speak the truth. Not entertainers who are charismatic and can spin a tale but men and women of God who speak the truth in a way that speaks to today’s world and the problems people in the world face today. 

It Only Takes a Moment

Every day, we’re looking for meaning. You can see it in people’s eyes in the mall, in the products we buy and never use, in the books that crowd our shelves, in the clothes we purchase that never make us look like we dream. When we encounter the needs of the world, however, we realize we can be part of something more than an insatiable desire to consume. When we get over our pursuit of self, everything changes. The result is a feeling of being undone and this can happen in a moment. 

In each of our stories — somewhere in our journey with Jesus — there is a moment when all our priorities and concerns shift. For me it was my first trip overseas to the former Soviet Union many years ago. It was an experience of being ‘undone.’ Everything I believe came into question. Everything I had been taught was now being questioned. My safe and secure and comfortable Christian faith was beginning to be disassembled and, in fact, quickly torn down. 

In our individual ‘moment’ our identity begins to change. We sense a disparity between what its and what should be. We become dissatisfied with what we have even though we often don’t know what else to reach out for. This dissatisfaction is like a “divine discontent” that causes us to be willing to leave what is as we move towards what could be. And this discovery changes everything for us. It turns our lives upside down.

And, today, in the midst of COVID-19 people’s lives are being turned upside down. Not just in Tanzania, but also in Tacoma and Toronto. God it seems, is not only in the business of changing hearts in Budapest, but also in Boston. In reality this moment, this “turning things upside down” is more than a good idea. It is more than a new movement of the Holy Spirit. It is, quite possibly, the answer to life’s biggest question: What is the point of my life?

Most of us sense a nagging feeling when our souls are quiet and our minds are still. We know that something is wrong with the world and has been for a while. When this ‘moment’ happens, that feeling become uncomfortable and, at times, unbearable. We can no longer sit by and watch the world go to hell. We must engage, interact, and be part of the solution to the problems we sense. A part of the redemption. As a result we no longer ‘fit’ into the old world, the old way of doing things. We’ve seen too much, heard too much, lived to much, experienced too much. And we can’t go back to life as it was. To the ordinary. To our self-centered existence.

Make no mistake; this is hard. This ‘moment’ of awakening is not easy. Our culture is so individualistic and wired for success that we often miss the real point of life. We think it is about self-actualization, about being the best version of ourselves. It’s not. It’s about losing ourselves as we focus outward on the Kingdom and the lost, the least, and the last who need to hear about the King and His Kingdom. 

The journey of any true believer is one of unbecoming. “You must unlearn what you have learned,” Yoda reminds us. Anyone who isn’t willing to leave family and friends isn’t fit for the Kingdom of God, according to Jesus. We come to faith with a front, a mask, a self-assurance. As lawyers, politicians, secretaries, store clerks, teachers and writers, we come proud, as if we have something to offer. But we soon learn how little we have in and of ourselves. We must deny ourselves, pick up our crosses, and walk in the way of humility, which feels a lot like death. As it turns out, this is the only way to be useful to the world and have an influence in the world for the Kingdom. As the Borg in Star Trek Voyager teaches us, “you can be assimilated” into a new way of life. However, this means that your old way of life must be broken. 

We are in a season of ‘moments.’ Don’t let your ‘moment’ pass you by. Respond to the feeling – the dissatisfaction – with what is. Reach for what is yet to be. It’s right here. And let the process of tearing down happen so that the building up may begin.

Jeremiah speaks to this:

“See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”

We must allow this work to be accomplished in us first … tear down and uproot so that then God can plant and build. 

Kingdom Voices – Part Three

Most of the indigenous churches are not under any denomination. They are independent and small. Most of the pastors of those churches have only a little training or no training at all. Not even informal training. They just jump into the arena and start leading the church. So sometimes it looks a little out of control, humanly speaking. But I think the Holy Spirit is leading them. 

My observation is that God is going to use house churches, not the denominational churches. Most of the churches will be led by people — we would say lay leaders — who take the responsibility of leading these small churches. And that brings several challenges. Because what I believe is, no church is independent. I mean, one church is born out of the work of the believers from another church. I think in God’s Kingdom, every church is connected organically and spiritually. So, how do we best bring a structural expression of that association God has already created among these churches — a structure that would give them complete freedom to respond to the leading of the Holy Spirit without any control from the above? And at the same time, how do we have them come together and work together?

In Acts 20, Paul called together the elders from the city of Ephesus. There were house churches led by a team of elders, but they all came when Paul called them to come together. So though they were independent churches led by elders, Paul somehow connected them to each other — in a kind of hub. Eventually Timothy came and led that hub and gave them direction. But Paul created a kind of structure, a free structure, a hub model that took the gospel out in a concentric way. Paul got them to focus while he enabled them to develop. We can learn from this and do the same. 

Rev. Vasantharaj Albert

Vice-President of the Non-Denominational Association of Independent Churches (NAIC)

Just a thought to add to and interact with the above…

It could be that the elders were “elders of the city of Ephesus” and that they had oversight of the ‘Church in Ephesus.’ That these elders were not ‘in charge’ of individual house churches but were in oversight of all of the work of the Kingdom (and thus the church) in the city. That Ephesus was an apostolic center from which the gospel spread out into the surrounding provinces and regions. The churches were, to my understanding, led by regular believers who taught from the Scriptures and led the house church to which they belonged. The elders were in oversight of all of the house churches as ‘THE church in Ephesus’ and this eldership was most likely composed of members of the fivefold ministry – apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors (shepherds), and teachers. 

If you interpret Acts 20 as the Kingdom Voice quoted above did then each house church would be led by an “elder” which really is the old, traditional pattern we now have of the Church with each church being led by a pastor. Changing the words does not change the structure or give new life to an old wine skin. 

Each house church being led by a regular-type believer who has some leadership motivation (Romans 12:4-6) is my understanding of the biblical church. The ‘elders’ were in oversight of the Church in the city which would be comprised of hundreds if not thousands of small house church. 

This would make a lot more sense and incorporate the fivefold ministry into the life of the church (read: house churches in the city). 

Kingdom Voices – Part Two

There are folks who say, “Yeah, you know, this Kingdom stuff’s good. But when do we get people to the church?” Jesus established the church to get people to the Kingdom, not the other way around. The church is not the destination; the Kingdom is. And some folks in church as an institution struggle with this wider bandwidth of church expression because it doesn’t fit the categories that we’ve developed. We want to wrap it in biblical language and theological stuff, and we develop the classification of clergy versus laity and who can do what.

I’ll that it a step further and challenge our language. When we talk about planting a church, there’s no such thing. It’s the church, not a church. So when people tell me they feel called to plant a church, I generally say, “I doubt it,” you know, just to mess with them a little bit. Just to get their attention. Now, if you want to plant the church, I’m all over that. If you want to plant a church, that typically means you’re going out to plant a worship service. And a church grows up around it, and then you have a bunch of consumers again. 

Reggie McNeal                                                                                                                                                                    Missional Leadership Specialist, Leadership Network.

It seems to me that we are in a “Covid season” when God is shaking everything that He can shake so we will examine openly and honestly everything that we do and why we do it. Thus tossing out anything that is not biblical and definitely anything that is not encouraging effective soul winning and disciple-making.

The Scripture states: “So don’t turn a deaf ear to these gracious words … one last shaking, from top to bottom, stem to stern. The phrase ‘one last shaking” means a thorough house cleaning, getting rid of the historical and religious junk so that the unshakable essentials stand, clear and uncluttered” (Hebrews 12:25-27 The Message Version).

And, as the “Covid season” comes to an end – and it will – we will then not be able to return to what was. Church as it was will be finished. Business as usual will no longer work. And, in fact, the Church will be much smaller as God pulls together a powerful remnant and removes the goats from the sheep, cultural Christians from true believers, followers from true disciples. 

Kingdom Voices – Part One

A series of thought provoking short articles that I have recently come across. Although I may not agree with everything the authors state I found the articles caused me to do some deep thinking with a new perspective as I wrestled with what I read …

Meeting people at their point of need — that’s discipleship. That’s what I see as discipleship. Discipleship means reading the Bible, understanding the Scriptures, and living the scripture out alongside Jesus. It’s not, “Okay, so here are some of the things that I’ve learned from the Bible. Now let me go do it.” No. It’s, “How do I live my life with Jesus, in my context, in the power of the Holy Spirit?”

In India as a new Christian, you’re ostracized. As a new Christian, you face all kinds of persecution. As a new Christian, you have so much unlearning to do, and you can be misunderstood. So you accept these truths: I cannot do this by myself. I cannot go and talk to people in another caste. I cannot abstain suddenly from going to the temple. I cannot stay away from eating the temple food. How do I handle these situations? Who do I turn to? Jesus. He’s walking on the road, and I have to walk with Him, and when I do, He will bring these answers to my life. 

Somebody beautifully explained what following Jesus looks like. They said that the disciples, the ones that followed closer to Jesus, were the ones that had more dust on their feet because they were always running and trying to catch up. Their feet were dirtier and dustier because they had to keep up with the Master. So I think discipleship is in a way like that. You’re following your Master so closely because you want to live life with Him — in the journey that He’s taking you on, not on your journey.

So, it’s not just head knowledge. It’s not just compassionate acts of service. It’s not just a formula. No. It’s a way of life that is totally surrendered. I don’t know how else to say it. The way Paul says it is, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20 ESV). This is the life of a disciple. And that’s what we try to engage our new believers in, telling them, teaching them. “Yes, you come to conferences, you study God’s Word, you have to understand who Jesus is — His nature, His teachings, His principles, His idea of life.” In all of that, you learn, you understand, but the head knowledge has to translate to the heart. And even then, both the head and the heart have to completely surrender and live that crucified life. That’s discipleship for us. 

Becky Stanley

Director of Children’s Ministries, 

India Gospel League

Frustrated But…

I work with a large number of churches and a variety of ages in many different countries. And, of course, every church is unique and faces its own unique challenges. And the believers are all at a different place on their faith journey. This is what makes Church and ministering interesting and dynamic. Everything is fluid and everyone is, or should be, in motion. 

I noticed one constant in the midst of this every changing and fluid environment. And it both bothers me and even frustrates me somewhat. The people regardless of age tend to have a fair understanding of the basics but certainly are not encountering God in any real sense. They are not experiencing His presence, His peace, or His power. They are not relating to the Holy Spirit who has been sent by Jesus to be our guide and counsellor. And, the supernatural – especially the gifts of the Spirit – are certainly not in operation within the church assemblies or out in the world among the lost where we have been empowered to be witnesses (see Acts 1:5, 8)

From a recent on-line chat I received the following from a leader in a Central Asian country….

“I will tell you briefly what is happening now in our church with teenagers from my point of view. I studied for four years at the theological university. And against this background, if I lead and teach teenagers, then it is all connected with mental knowledge. The university teaches history, archeology, apologetics, and so on, but does not teach how to listen to the Voice of God. Among adolescents and young people, we have very little room for the Holy Spirit to lead us, because a lot of importance was given to ordinary knowledge. Knowing a lot is not bad. But as if we began to rely only on ourselves and on our knowledge. We do not have people among youth and adolescents who prophesy or manifest the miracles of the Lord through themselves. And even the point is not in prophecy, but in the general understanding of the Holy Spirit and understanding where God directs. As a church, we wish we could spend more time with the Lord. Young people also have a similar situation.”

Not to be critical, but it causes me to wonder what it is that the main leaders on the weekend gatherings are teaching. Not just in this one church but in all churches as her words could have been spoken by leaders in most churches in most nations. Are we experiencing teachers “who are simply tickling our ears” as Paul warned Timothy. Are leaders simply comforting their people without also challenging them? Are we teaching rather than equipping? (See Ephesians 4:11-13) 

It leads me to so many questions…

      • Do people understand that the Christian faith is not a set of rules and regulations (not a religion) but a relationship with the living God? (See Romans 6:23 and John 17:3)
      • How can a person have a relationship with God if they are not aware of what His voice sounds like and thus think they are not hearing God on a regular basis? (See John 10:3, 4, 16)
      • We are called to fellowship with the Holy Spirit and yet most believers don’t relate to Him at all and, if they do, they see Him as a power and not as a person. Are we not teaching people how to fellowship with the Spirit and what that really means? (See 2 Corinthians 13:14)
      • We are called to seek and save the lost as Jesus did (see Luke 19:10). We are sent out to the nations to make disciples (see Matthew 28:18-20). Yet believers are self-focused and not burdened for the lost. Why?
      • The gifts of the Spirit that are released with the experience the Bible calls the Baptism in the Holy Spirit (see Luke 24:49 and Acts 1:5) are not seen in the lives and ministries of most Spirit-filled believers. I wonder why. What is missing in the local church that even Spirit-filled churches are not flowing in the gifts?
      • Why is it that information – informing believers about their bibles so they are knowledgable – is the emphasis and the focus? Why do we aim at the head and not the heart? Why do we focus on information when what the faith is all about is transformation (a heart encounter)?

I have so many questions …

It seems that the born again churches are becoming more of a religion that a relationship with God and with each other. And, really the same could be said of the born again, Spirit-filled churches. 

It seems that we are missing the mark and are no longer the true Church that Jesus said He would build (Matthew 1618).

It seems that we have focused on the ‘teacher’ and ‘pastor’ and ignored the ‘evangelist, ‘prophet,’ and ‘apostle.’ Thus we have become unbalanced, focused on self and not on the lost; doing things in the flesh and not in the Spirit.

I believe it is time to take a look at what we are doing and to make a number of radical and deep changes in the life of the church. But that is a topic for another blog…

Something Is Missing!

Everyone in the world is searching. Each of us is searching for something that gives meaning to life. To bring purpose to our work. We all know this; we’re familiar with this emptiness, this longing for more.

We’re looking for a story to make sense of, a role to play that has meaning. Despite our best efforts, activities and adventures barely touch the tip of the iceberg. We sense we were made for a great purpose, some cause to make the world a better place. Maybe it’s as simple as the realization that our lives aren’t a total waste, or maybe it’s something more. Whatever the case, most of us despair of ever finding it. It feels so distant, so unattainable.

We begin life with a simple understanding — that our lives are tales worth telling and we have an important part to play. Children understand this: what it means to live and love without condition, to be delighted in. Their lives are full of reckless abandon and no one has to tell them so. They don’t need to be reminded of the crucial roles; they know intuitively. Without prompting, kids know how to dream up adventure and slay dragons. To embark on epic journeys and live out idyllic scenes. To spend hours in the backyard with nothing but their imagination.

As children, most of us needed no prompting to play, to engage in the grand experience of life.

But as adults, many of us do. Somewhere along the journey we lost our way. We get caught up in the pursuit of trivial things. For some, it’s money; for others, sex or fame. Some get stuck in the cruel cycle of moralism, endlessly striving to be “good enough.” Whatever our fixation, we obsess over it. We give our lives to this pursuit of a promise that eludes us. And we wind up years down the road wondering what happened and why we feel so empty. This happens at age twenty, forty, or even sixty. Emptiness knows no boundaries.

We would do well to remember that this is strictly an adult problem. Children do not wait all year for two weeks of vacation. They don’t spend their lives doing things they hate so they can earn the right to do what they really want. They live life to the full, children do, and somehow we have to regain that innocence.

Something is missing. Something important. Something necessary to making a difference in the world. And most of us are afraid to find out what it is. Because we know. It’s the secret we’re afraid to admit; this will cost us our lives.

Jesus told us this… if you want life, you must die. If you play it safe and protect life you will lose life. God has created us to move into areas that are unfamiliar. To step out of our comfort and security and touch others with His love. To “go where no man has gone before” as Star-trek so kindly reminds us. 

As believers we should be willing to go wherever there is pain without explanation, hope amidst despair, redemption in spite of tragedy. That’s where God wants us to be. And, that is where believers — disciples of Jesus — want to be. But to ‘be there’ we must let go of living life on our terms and the whole notion that as followers of Jesus it is okay to be safe, secure, and comfortable. 

Once you have experienced an adventure outside your comfort zone and touched a life or lives with the love of God there is no going back. Your life will be changed forever and there is no returning to how life use to be. Your paradigm will have shifted. Your focus has gone from you to them, from church to kingdom. Your worldview is infected with a contagion that spreads to ever facet of your life. You simply will no longer be able to go back to who you were. You will have changed.

This is what the Christian life is really all about. An adventure beyond what we can imagine. And, a purpose to live out that is greater than ourselves. But to live this adventure we must first leave this life — self-centered and egotistical life — dying to self and then learning to serve others outside of your personal comfort zone. To ‘get a life’ as Jesus sees life.

Just a thought!

Cleaning Out the Clutter

We are called, as disciples, to “go into al the world and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19). This includes going and staying. “Staying” in that “all the world” includes family, friends, and neighbours. “Going” in that there are over 6,000 people groups that have not heard the name of Jesus and are not aware of the gospel of the Kingdom.

To think about “going” and “staying” in terms of winning the lost and discipleship we need to grapple with decisions about our priorities and our focus in life in general. Even with a sincere desire to be radically obedient, it is not always easy to make decisions about what matters most. 

The Great Commission is a clear word of instruction. 

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.’”

Jesus has told us frankly that obedience – and thus sharing the Gospel and fulfilling the Great Commission – is the result of our love for Him.

“If you love Me, you will obey Me” (John 14:15)

That God has a special concern for the lost is beyond debate. Even so, His special concern is not always our special concern, even as we are striving, in love, to be obedient!

Consider the priorities that inform our living and the decisions we make in daily life. Typically, those priorities are clearly reflected in our conversations and gatherings; our priorities are reflected by the way we use our time and money. To illustrate the struggle of determining priorities, imagine a group of believers in a regular, traditional church or even a house church. 

What occupies our attention? What are we most concerned about? What are the most frequent topics for discussion when we gather? What do churches care most about? What matters most to individual believers? What is the mission agenda of the church? Of the individuals believer? In other words, where do we place our focus?

Generally the conversation centers in and around the needs and the lives of the believers. Their current medical struggle. Their job. Their family members. Their current pressures and concerns. Their finances. Their upcoming vacations or business trips. At times, they might be concerned about issues the local church is facing. But those times are few unless you are in leadership and thus the issues are of “personal” importance to you.

Seldom will you hear believers talking about the non-believers they are building relationships with in the hope of, one day, sharing the gospel of the kingdom. Oh, they may mention the name of a person to pray for who is not saved but that is not the same as seeking prayer for your witness to that person and the relationship you are attempting to build with them. Unless led by a mission-minded leader you will seldom hear the conversation turn to those “people groups” who have yet to hear the gospel and won’t hear it unless someone is send – which means someone must go. 

So, our concerns are often not in line with the concerns of the Father nor the concerns of the Head of the Church, Jesus. 

Here is my point: We need to clear out the clutter of our own lives until the needs of the lost become and remain our primary focus. The lost need to hear, to understand, to believe the gospel, to be baptized, and then be gathered into house churches and discipled. Responding to the needs of the lost is our God-given task. As we obediently answer God’s command, nothing can be more important than the needs of the lost. So, we need to remove the “self” clutter and focus on the needs of the lost – especially the need to be born again.

The kingdom truth: The need for the lost to hear the good news always exceeds the needs of the believer and the local church. 

Words That Have Lost Their Meaning – Part Two

Another word that has lost its meaning is the word “missionary.” Missionary is not a Bible word, but it is a word that has come to define the response to Jesus’ command to go out with His message. A missionary or a missionary group is an individual, a family, or a team committed to proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom. It is often a word used to describe a person who proclaims the gospel to people who have never heard and people who have little chance of hearing. Often workers who share their faith are required to learn other languages and cross cultures; often, that is required even in our home countries due to the diversity of nationalities and languages now present in almost every nation.

In reality, the word should not be used. However, often it is used in reference to a leader in the Bible who is actually in the role and calling of an apostle. Paul and Barnabas being two examples. Words that could be used in place of the word ‘missionary’ could include “worker,” “sent out ones,” or “overseas workers.”

However, truth be known the real word to be used should be “disciple” or “follower” because all true believers are called to “go into all the world and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19). Going  out to proclaim the gospel does not make you a missionary. Nor does it make you a “worker.” It simply means you are being an obedient follower or disciple of Jesus. Could we call them “sent out ones?” Yes! Because the church was always meant to be apostolic. The word apostle means “the sent one.” So, when apostles are part of the ministry team and the foundation of the local church, then the church, under the leadership of an apostle, becomes apostolic. The people come to understand the need to “go into all the world” and so become apostolic (sent out ones) in their nature, in their thinking, and in their actions.

The root idea of “mission” is the sending activity of God. In one sense, certainly, Jesus sends His followers to their families and friends and neighbours. In a deeper and true biblical sense, Jesus ultimately sends His followers to proclaim His grace throughout the entire world.. starting in Jerusalem, through Judea, on to Samaria, and then to all the people groups, especially in places where His grace has not yet been proclaimed. Scripture is clear in helping us to understand that, in this sense, every believer is a sent out one. The command to be on mission is a command common to every follower of Jesus. It is a command to be both local and global. 

The word “pastor” is another word that has lost its original meaning and almost any meaning in today’s world. The word ‘pastor’ appears once in the New Testament and it is in regard to the fivefold, trans-local ministry of 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…”

This ‘pastor’ travelled as did the other four of the fivefold ministry team. However, as soon as we hear that word today we do not think “trans-local” but local … the leader of a local church. This was never the plan in the early church as seen in the New Testament. It was also not the plan the Lord had when He stated He would build His Church. The local churches in the New Testament were all led by apostles … James as leader of Jerusalem is an example. The spiritual oversight of the local assembly was in the hands of a group of elders, not a solo pastor. The work was done by the saints as they were equipped by the fivefold ministers. So, there was no need for a local full-time, paid pastor nor a part-time bi-vocational pastor.

Let’s admit it… there are 59 “one another” versers in the New Testament and no one man or woman – no pastor – can fulfil all 59 of these commands for every person who is a member of the local assembly no matter how big or small the assembly is. So the five-fold pastor comes in to a local assembly and teaches the people how to care for “one another” and thus fulfill the 59 ‘one another’ commands. 

There are many other words that we use as believers that have lost their original meaning or all meaning … but these are the ones that really bother me personally and that, I believe, are preventing the Church from the needed changes that will take it in to an effective, fruitful, and productive future. 

Words That Have Lost Their Meaning – Part One

I recently spoke on a Saturday morning to a group of believers in Eastern Canada. Near the end of the morning of teaching I asked them if they were glad that they had come to church. Everyone said that they were glad to have invested the time. Of course, they did not come to Church; they are the church. They came to an assembly of believers in a building set aside for assemblies. We are the Church. God’s people are the Church.

It got me to thinking about how we use words that have really totally lost their original meaning and now refer to something other than what the word first referred to. And, that maybe it is time to, once again, redefine the words we frequently use as believers.

The Church is the called-out, baptized, gathered-together people of God. Church is defined by community-belonging, it acts on Jesus’ call to be people on mission, it will reproduce itself (which will result in both new believers and new communities of faith), it will finance itself, it will provide care and support for those who make up the church, and it will choose its own leaders and polity. The categories and activities highlighted in Acts 2 are a helpful guide: a church will be committed to worship (usually inside of homes), and missions which lead to a fulfilling of the Great Commission from across the street to the ends of the earth. The Church includes fellowship, education, equipping and strengthening the believers for ministry, and a lifestyle of discipleship which is an interchangeable term with evangelism. When did Jesus disciple His disciples and when did He evangelize them?

Because I work with house churches in a number of nations …A house church is typically a small body of ten to thirty believers who meet together in homes. Organization of house churches can vary significantly, but leadership is normally fluid and adaptable. When a house church grows to a certain size, it will typically divide into smaller groups (thus multiplying and planting another house church). House churches were the norm in New Testament times, and they are the norm in many settings today. 

The issue I see with house churches is that when a house church is birthed or joined by  a number of traditional Christians from mainline denominations they really expect the house church to simply being a smaller version of the traditional congregation that they recently left. Thus they expect all of the elements of the traditional church service including having a “pastor / teacher” who shares a teaching / sermon each time they meet. This is not a true biblical house church. 

With churches in general – both those that meet in larger buildings and those that meet in homes – I think we have a major problem. We seldom see the Church functioning as it should be. Most churches are not “equipping the saints for the work of the ministry” (Ephesians 4:12). They are teaching believers but it is simply more information to be remembered in the head and does not touch the heart. Thus there is just information and not life-transformation. Believer’s lives are not being changed. People are not being equipped for ministry – enabling them to better touch the hearts and lives of others who do not know the Lord. The ministry is not shared equally among the many but is the work of just a few – who are often seminary trained. And, in leadership, there is simply the ministry of the “pastor” and not the fivefold ministry – thus not the full ministry of the Lord who was an apostle, a prophet, an evangelist, a paster (Great Shepherd) and teacher. 

So, words like “Church” and “House Church” can mean so many different things depending on who is speaking and who is listening. I believe it is time to define the words that we are using. And, to define them biblically. Then to make the changes necessary to come into line with the true meaning of the word “Church” and other words that we use regularly. 

That would be a first good step to actually becoming all that the Lord wants us to be. 

More next time…