You children, I am writing you because your sins have been forgiven for his sake.1Jo 2:12-14
You fathers, I am writing you because you have known him who has existed from the beginning.
You young people, I am writing you because you have overcome the Evil One.
You children, I have written you because you have known the Father.
You fathers, I have written you because you have known him who has existed from the beginning.
You young people, I have written you because you are strong—the Word of God remains in you, and you have overcome the Evil One.
In the following lines I would love to submit something to you that I am chewing on lately.
I believe that the pandemic we are in at the moment is a great chance for growth of the church, not in numbers, but spiritually.
As John writes in above verses, we have babies (verse 12: teknion), small children (verse 13, paidion), young people, and fathers. We know that this is true in physical life, but also in spiritual life.
In Luke, Jesus reminds the disciples of what was written about him and the time after his resurrection:
Here is what it says: the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day; And that repentance and remission of sins will be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.Luk 24:46-47
In reading both scripture passages together, it becomes apparent that the message of the forgiving of sin is for spiritual babies.
It also becomes apparent that Jesus and the bible foresaw that the church will concentrate mostly on this message.
We can find it in Hebrews as well, when the writer tells the church that he has to concentrate on milk, on the basic teachings again, because they had not progressed above that level. Speaking with John, they had remained in the state of spiritual babies.
Reading Eph 4:8-13, I see grace giftings and functions given to aid all believers grow up through the stages John is alluding to and become fathers.
It is my impression now that by our traditional church setting, we have succumb to two things:
- we believe that most people are not willing or capable to grow past the stage of baby or little children.
- we therefore implement a church model that perpetuates the teaching of milk, and thus makes true the first statement.
It is interesting that the disciples where only called disciples prior to Pentecost. We do not find the word in the story from then on, nor in the letters.
Jesus makes a statement that a disciple will never grow past the spiritual state of the master. He is talking about the pharisees and their followers, not, as we seem to understand, himself and his disciples. He himself started to call his disciples apostles very soon after he called them. It is only the writers of the Gospels that call them disciples.
Jesus is the master, and from Pentecost on, the master lives within us. We are disciples of Jesus, and will obviously never grow past him.
But there is no hierarchical structure in the church after pentecost. Even when modern translations talk about leaders, the Greek often talks about those that were examples and therefore highly valued, and Jesus himself calls leaders to serve, and not to lead.
I humbly submit this to you: churches with a hierarchical leadership will keep their members at the state of little babies by not acknowledging their being brothers and sisters, but seeing them as disciples.
We might even believe that we do not have hierarchies in our church, when de facto we do. We still have ex cathedra teaching, and decisions have to go by the leadership, and within leadership, it is the apostle, the man of God making the decision.
Going back to the words of Jesus about masters and disciples: all this model can produce is copies of the leaders. It will not bring forth the multitude of individual giftings and expressions of God.
Of course, all other models would be very risky, just about as risky as Jesus, after just 3.5 years, leaving it all to his apostles. Of course, he gave them the Holy Spirit, and the same Holy Spirit dwells in all our church members.
By not having the faith of God in the abilities of our church members, we deprive them of the opportunity to grow, and especially, grow past us into their own calling.
Jesus sending out the 12 and the 70 is a premature example of the faith he had in them, even before they had the Holy Spirit indwelling. His ascension is the final proof of his trust in mankind.
What does this mean?
I believe that we need to change the model of the church dramatically.
I would propose that we only preach to people that are spiritual babies: unbelievers and newly born. Of course, there will be the occasional teaching on advanced stuff for everybody.
The main focus should be to enable each and every one to flow in their gifts and to mature their own spirituality. This cannot be done preaching at them. This is done involving them in the work, coming alongside with them.
But it mainly is done by stepping out of the way and let them do things.
It is interesting that God in John used the metaphor of the human life stages as they appear in family life: baby, child, youngster, father.
We trust our children more and more and they can make their own decisions more and more along the way. We never wait until they are perfect in our eyes to do something, but slowly lead them into the ability.
Most things they learn not by us talking to them (apart from language), but by them observing us. This is, by the way, one reason our school system has such poor outcome.
We do not behave like little children around little children most of the time. Yes, speaking some baby language with them helps in the formation of the first sounds, as they imitate our movements. But most of the time, we just talk like adults when we talk to adults in the child’s presence.
Being who we are where we are at is the best example we can give, much better than any teaching or preaching.
And who are we?
We are the mirror-reflection (image) of God. Each of us reflects a part of God, an expression of God.
Being ourselves on the path to our full capability of this mirror reflection, with errors and detours, growth and change, is the best example we can give.
This is how we learn such complex things as language, walking, social skills, and godliness.
This has nothing to do with sitting in pews, singing songs together and listening to a sermon.
I strongly believe that we have to change the whole appearance of the church. It has to be participatory, but not in the sense that we need somebody to clean the building or do Sunday school for us.
People in the church do not work for us, nor do they implement our ideas or the ideas we as leaders have approved.
The whole purpose of the church is to lead everybody into the fulness of working for and alongside Jesus, using all their giftings, in their individual form and manifestation.
I believe that, in the future, we will have many more mentoring talks with people than traditional Sunday morning gatherings. Fellowship will be important, but not at the center of the church. Sundays will become the celebration of God’s goodness, the gathering of his revelation from everybody, the energy giving uplifting of each other. Not the preaching ground.
Teaching will happen in small groups or between two people during the week, informally or organized, as true community.
I would love to hear back what you are thinking about this, and how we might proceed from here on. I do believe that the model will be different in different cultures, but that the basic adjustments will be the same: away from the idea of a platonic hierarchical church where a selected few are chosen to teach others to a community of saints that work together in their individual talents and giftings to mirror the Christ.
Even though we think we are doing exactly that, we seem to be standing in the way of most as we not even encourage them to grow. We do in words, but our actions speak so much louder.
We see ourselves as the gatekeepers of true faith and correct interpretation, while we should be the encouragers of faith and individuality in unity.