Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Normative Elements of Paul’s Strategy

The four core elements of Paul’s strategy I believe are a normative and helpful pattern that can be followed even today. If normative element or pattern can be understood as an element or pattern that can and should be followed regardless of time or place then the question of “can this pattern be followed?” must be asked of each of these four core elements.

1.Paul along with his companions went to where the people were in order to preach the Gospel and gain converts.
Paul worked with a team, he had trusted people with him working, and this was the pattern passed on to him from Barnabas. He also targeted areas where the Gospel had yet to be preached to gain converts and build a new foundation in Christ Jesus for churches. Is this a pattern that can and should be followed today? Absolutely! Paul was not dogmatic about only going to an area that the Gospel had not been preached but that was his preference and norm. Gaining converts was the goal then and should be the goal now.

2.These new converts were gathered into churches so that they may be instructed in the faith and the administration of the mystery – the church.
Understanding that the church is the people is the key in understanding this core element of Paul’s strategy. People who came to faith in Christ were gathered together as churches for instruction in the Apostle’s teaching so that they may be thoroughly equipped to repeat the whole process of winning the lost to Christ. The Apostle’s teaching gave them guidelines for daily living as a church and understanding of what the church was for, namely spreading the gospel. Should this pattern be considered normative? Yes. We are built to live in community and we are exhorted not to give up meeting together in the Scriptures. Growth also does not happen by accident, serious ordered learning is necessary in order for the church to function in a healthy way and to be successful in its mission of evangelizing the world.

3.Elders were appointed from among them after prayer, fasting and the laying on of hands.
Leaders grown up from within local churches were entrusted with shepherding the flock of God, the church. The strength of this strategy is invaluable and its benefits innumerable. These men were the church’s and the church was theirs, they loved it and were loved by it because they belonged to it. The elders were charged with overseeing and shepherding the church. Is this a pattern that should be viewed as normative? Yes. True plurality in leadership is the Biblical pattern and has been all but forsaken in today’s church. The top down model of pastor/elder/deacon is a man-made and flawed model. However, a team of elders is in keeping with Paul’s strategy in evangelizing new areas as well as overseeing established congregations.

4.The new churches were entrusted to the grace of God to continue the work of spreading the Gospel.
Paul encouraged the churches through his letters to be his imitators as he himself imitated Christ, he did not stay to micromanage the churches he established but rather encouraged them in their faith and love for one another. Paul knew full well that the church itself belonged to Christ and that he was the Chief Shepherd of it. He left each church with appointed leaders and teachers so that they may grow in faith and continue the work of the Gospel of Christ. Is this a pattern that should be considered normative and worth following today? Definitely! A church is defined as an autonomous group of believers baptized into faith in Jesus Christ and commissioned by him to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth. It is not only a normative pattern but God’s own design.

Can these core elements be considered normative and followed in the twenty-first century church? Can the church of today be imitators of Paul even as he imitated Christ our Lord? Absolutely!
This pattern, modeled by Paul should be at the very core of our churches, ignoring it puts us in danger of ignoring a divine directive given by Christ himself to “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20)

Friday, January 22, 2010

Centrality of the local church in “missions” and the Pauline strategy

Acts 2.2; 3.1
May 2008

David Hasselgrave, in his book Planting Churches Cross Culturally: North America and Beyond, gives us a terrific definition of “missions,” the mission of the church.

“The primary mission of the church and, therefore, of the churches is to proclaim the Gospel of Christ and gather believers into local churches where they can be built up in the faith and made effective in service; thus new congregations are to be planted throughout the world.” (Planting Churches Cross Culturally: North America and Beyond p. 17)

Mr. Hasselgrave hit the nail on the head. The local church is absolutely central to successful mission work. This model, suggested by Mr. Hasselgrave is totally in line with Paul’s strategy found in Acts 13:1-14:28.

Paul, sent out by the church in Syrian Antioch, preached the Gospel in Salamis, in Paphos where the Proconsul Sergius Paulus was converted and Elymas the Sorcerer was made blind, in Pisidian Antioch where a church was established, in Iconium where a church was established, in Lystra where the people mistook Barnabas and Paul for Zeus and Hermes and a church was planted, and finally in Derbe where another church was planted. On their return trip to Syrian Antioch Paul and Barnabas stopped at each one of these fledgling churches to encouraged them and appointed elders to oversee each flock. This model is reflected in the quote from Mr. Hasselgrave.

Paul’s mission was to preach the gospel and plant churches, he gave each group a foundation to build upon and if they followed his model, people from within each congregation would be rise up to preach the gospel in other towns and plant churches there. It is a cycle of organic growth.

It seems to me that in an age where travel has become faster, easier and more accessible the movement to spread the Gospel and plant churches has nearly ground to a halt at least in New England. Church growth has been redefined as growing existing churches in size, adding to their numbers and programs rather than growing the universal church through Gospel preaching and church planting. Not that new churches aren’t being started; however, new churches are started as a result of splits in local congregations, not from a desire to grow but from a desire to change. Boredom and frustration with tradition has become the primary motivator to start new churches not the increase of the Gospel.

If the local church were to lock on to the mission as modeled by Paul and suggested by Mr. Hasselgrave to take the gospel to the areas surrounding it then support of the idea of sending career missionaries to do the same work in foreign lands would be greatly increased. As it stands now our understanding of what missionaries are to do is limited by our understanding of the mission of the church. If we understand our mission locally and follow that same mission globally the gospel certainly would spread with greater success into the outermost parts of the world. This is the mission of the church; we must be faithful to follow the example laid out for us in God’s word – preach the Gospel and establish churches.

This understanding of our mission is a great threat to our flawed ideas about success and church growth. Even so, the paradigm needs to shift in order for the church to be obedient to God’s Word. Local churches must shift from bunkers and safe havens to training grounds and educational centers where the people of God can grow and learn what they need to know in order to continue the work of the Gospel so that they, in turn, can be Christ’s witnesses in their own Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and even to the ends of the earth.

Unfortunately our local example does not reflect this ideal scenario of planting a church, teaching and training its people to plant another church and teach and train those people to plant another church and so on. We have to start over. Our paradigm must shift. We must let go of our traditions and grab on to the original mission of the church – to spread the Gospel and plant new churches, teaching those new converts and congregants to follow the example set for them.

Friday, January 15, 2010

How should today’s Church use the principals and patterns found in Acts?

Acts 1.1
April 2008

There is one main principal that is present in the book of Acts that I think the modern Church should embrace not in function only but also in form. That main principal is that of spreading the Gospel and the expansion of the Church. I believe that most modern Church leaders would agree with that function but the proof of our belief bears out in the forms that we adopt in accomplishing this task.

The problem lies with the desire to create “mega-churches” with the idea that if we build it (a mega-church) they will come to us. Meaning, that if our structure and programs are attractive enough to the non-believer than they will come to us to find salvation or at least involvement in something that is bigger than them and perhaps more meaningful. The idea of “you all come to us to hear the Gospel” is contrary to the patterns set forth in the book of Acts. I also believe that the idea of large, impersonal, “corporations” are also contrary to these patterns. I am well aware that some of these “mega-churches” are quite effective at spreading the Gospel and have no problem expanding but I believe that the further we get from a small, mobile, and personal Church reaching into our local communities the more difficulty we will face in actually spreading the Gospel and expanding the Church. Most “mega-churches” have had to embrace the small group movement in order to survive, I believe that this is where the Church really lives and moves and has its being.

I believe we have lost sight of the intentions of the early disciples to actually go into local communities with the Gospel and establish Churches there. We have traded this vision in for a much safer model of sharing the Gospel on our home turf. The pattern set forth in Acts was to go into communities that didn’t have the Gospel and give it to them at all costs. This was not easy or comfortable for them but they shared as the Holy Spirit empowered them as should we. I believe that this pattern supports the idea of many starting more mini-churches and not just a few mega-churches.

The bottom line is that the patterns found in the book of Acts suggest a more locally based, more personal, more outwardly focused Church than the modern American church is leaning towards.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Here's A New Idea!

So here is what I am thinking... I have been asked many times about the Antioch School and what it is all about, how it works, etc. So I thought maybe it would be a good idea to blog about my experiences and post some of my projects. I'm not sure it will be earth shattering but it may be a good way to at least give a snapshot into this wonderful leadership development paradigm.
A lot has changed in my thinking about the church, what it is and what it is for. The truth is, it is kind of hard to explain. I feel especially bad for my dear wife who has tried hard to stay right with me without having the benefit of reading many of my papers or participating in any of our class discussions. My aim is to help people understand what exactly is happening to me and to the church. I hope it helps!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Take Me Out to the Ballgame!

Here are a few photos of my trip to Fenway last Saturday with Uncle Scotty.

We sat in section 23 - Awesome seats, under the deck...

Feeling artsy before the game...

Me during BP before the game...

This Gate A... Couldn't you tell?

We took the Downeaster out of Portland. This definitely the way to go for a day trip to Boston!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Oakwood Road Church

Oakwood Road Church Building

Worship at Oakwood Road Church led by Caleb Keller

Jeff Reed Preaching

My Travelling Companions

At McHose park in Boone, Iowa

The Invaders from Meredith