Does our ministry practice throw sand in the gears of the Kingdom?

I’m often asked by people in non-organic churches, particularly pastors, why I don’t care for such things as hierarchical leadership, buildings, denominations, ministry as business methodology and other such non-biblical encrustations. While I try to be gracious when I speak of such issues, particularly in Viral Jesus, there is nevertheless, I believe, a need to talk about such strategic issues.

The assumption is often that these issues are my personal pet peeves and that such issues are a matter of personal preference, somewhat like choosing what shirt one was wearing that particular day. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Another assumption is that I am such a stickler for biblical literalness that I can’t seem to distinguish between what is required biblically (such things as holiness and prayer) and what is optional, such as cultural expressions and technology. The main assumption is that issues like buildings, clergy and ministry as business are just cultural expressions based on our culture and time. The argument goes that having clergy or doing ministry as a business project is no less biblical that talking on a telephone or using a computer. For the record I use both telephones and computers. Again, this is a false assumption and in my opinion, a false analogy.

So why do I care so much about such issues? There are two interrelated issues that create concern on my part. The two issues are frictionlessness and the lordship of Jesus. I will address each separately, but they are deeply related and I am aware of the relationship.

I was watching a Ted Talk the other day and was struck by Jennifer Pahlka’s use of the word “frictionless.” I thought, that’s it, we need an ecclesiology that is frictionless; one that doesn’t get in the way of Jesus’ agenda, which is the spread of His Kingdom. The way the church functioned and the way they did ministry in the New Testament was frictionless; it did not interfere with Jesus’ agenda, it was built exactly for that purpose. The old saying form follows function holds true in ecclesiology as well as building automobiles.

When we do what seems to us as innocuous, like focusing ministry in a building, there are all sorts of unintended consequences. In effect we have taken a Kingdom expanding ministry and forced it to be stuck in place and time.  New Testament ministry was apostolically and prophetically centered (besides the main focus on Jesus the Lord). It was a ministry done “out there,” in society. It had no barriers of place or time. And it was always moving outward. If the best place to meet seekers is in a parking lot at 3 AM, then apostles do exactly that. They can plant a church right there among people who would never darken the door of a church. But the second we have “worship service” at 11:00 AM on Sunday, and do the majority of ministry in a designated building, biblically designed apostolic ministry grinds to a halt. It is like throwing sand in the gears of the Kingdom. Our ministry practice ceases to be frictionless. It starts to get in the way of Jesus’ well thought out and frictionless ministry practice. In other words, the rapid and effective flow of the Kingdom out into society is greatly compromised. Building are just one example of sand in the Kingdom’s gears, there are many others which I explore is Chapter 5: The Crumbling of a Viral Jesus Movement, in Viral Jesus.

The other issue I have with non-biblical ecclesiology is how such behavior compromises the lordship of Jesus Christ. Let’s take ministry as a business project as an example. Biblical ministry behavior was based on Jesus actually making the command decisions. One great place to see this in practice is Acts 16:6-10 another is Acts 13:1-3. Note in Acts 16, as Paul and friends move through Asia minor, how Jesus himself directs them in where to go and what to do. Note such powerful phrases as: kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia and but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to, and concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. This is ministry directed by Jesus himself and discerned through prophecy.

In place of such spiritually powerful and effective ministry, we decide that American business practice and its use of human planning, like time bound and quantifiable goals, will make us more effective. All it does is strip away control of the ministry from Jesus the Lord and place it firmly in our foolish human hands. Again I discuss this in Viral Jesus. We have replaced supernaturally powerful, Jesus directed ministry for humanly powerful, man directed ministry. Just remember whoever makes the decision is the lord. If we make decisions we are lords, if Jesus makes the decisions He is Lord.

So my concern for the foolish later historical encrustations in the Church (Christendom) are not merely issues of personal preference, they are strategic and they are spiritual. I believe it would do us well to discuss this openly and graciously so we all become more effective at following Jesus into the harvest. That was one of my goals for writing Viral Jesus.

  • What other ministry practices besides using buildings and ministry as a business do you think interferes with the frictionless spread of the Kingdom?
  • Why do you think the church began to adopt these non-biblical practices?
  • Do you believe, like I do, that God intentionally built such things as ecclesiology and ministry practice to be frictionless and led by Him, or are you not persuaded by my argument?
  • How can we have Jesus led ministry if we don’t practice prophecy? How can we determine which prophecies are from the Lord and which are fleshly if we don’t study and practice discernment of spirits?
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