We are living in exciting days. God is moving His Church towards another Reformation to complete the 16th century Reformation. The first Reformation focused in our doctrine of salvation (sola gratia, sola fide), but failed to apply the implications of this biblical truth in our doctrine of the church, especially “the priesthood of all believers.” We still retain the vestiges of the hierarchical, paternalistic, clergy-centered of the Medieval Church with its Christendom model of superchurch/cathedral structures.
What would happen in our churches if we remain faithful to the teachings of Scriptures? I envision that it will have at least 3 important features:
1. Church Structures. We will develop into the “servant-church” model, with a loose network of small communities/churches organized as simple Christ-worshipping, Bible study groups. We live out the radical demands of the Gospel in non-hierarchical, non-paternalistic and non-clerical ways (leitourgeia, koinonia & diakonia). Each “house church” will be a faith-community claiming a clear Christian identity and practicing essential doctrines in a neighborhood, school, or factory. Each will live out, confess, theologize, communicate and celebrate their faith together with regularity. Decentralized networks of house-churches or cell-groups serve as dynamic centers for evangelism and community involvement. Each group will have a local focus and a global vision.
2. Church Growth. The spontaneous expansion of the Church is viewed in terms of “quantity through quality,” based on radical discipleship and suffering servanthood. We will be concerned not just for short-term goals of winning converts one by one, but especially for the long-term reputation of Christ’s body in the locality, nation and the world.
Our churches must clearly stand for what our Lord Jesus called for: repent from selfishness, pride, covetousness and self-righteousness, and obey Him in love, truth, justice/equality, peace and freedom. Smaller committed Christian communities are necessary and visible expressions of these commitments.
Thus, rather than aiming to make small churches bigger (by addition), we must seek to increase the number of small churches (by multiplication). The objective is an ever-growing number of small churches, rather than a small number of ever-growing churches.
3. Church Leadership. Our church leaders will be models of “radical discipleship” and “suffering servanthood.” Though they may come from different backgrounds (like Paul and Barnabas coming from the upper class), they will heed Christ’s call to “renounce all” especially spread the Good News among the poor in the rural villages and the urban slums.
Our main leaders will be itinerant, theologically trained “servants of the churches,” who live simply and serve sacrificially. They see their nation and the world as their parish. They will have developed their spiritual gifts in the context of a committed community, and sent forth by their respective “home-base” to be transient short-term “pastor-helpers” or “church-planters” or incarnated long-term “missionaries” serving in other areas.
The overall framework of this vision is the biblical teaching that the Church is the “firstfruits” or vanguard of God’s kingdom. His new humanity is where love and righteousness prevail, where every person treats others as equals created in the image of God.
II. ADVANCING THE SERVANT-CHURCH MODEL
Jesus said, “…No one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, he pours new wine into new wineskins” (Mark 2:22).
Two of the major causes of stagnation in most of modern Christianity are the dilution of the new wine (i.e., propagating the “gospel” of cheap grace), and the confinement of it in old wineskins (i.e., in the Christendom model). Throughout church history, revivals have occurred only when the gospel is proclaimed in its transforming freshness, and when Christians have allowed it to break old wineskins.
Those who are committed to the servant-church model will try the following:
1. If put in leadership roles, they serve as models of facilitating, discipling, and training as “faithful people who will be able to teach others also” (cf. 2 Tim. 2:2; Eph. 4:11-13).
2. Work for the decentralization of Churches and Christian organizations into smaller independent units which are each self-governing with local leaders, self-supporting with their own budget, self-propagating with their own programs, and self-theologizing with their own doctrines.
3. Start house-groups, Bible study groups and fellowships (viewing each as a Church), while discipling two or three leaders in each group.
4. Teach (not impose) these groups how to spend their resources on people (less on buildings), esp. the needy.
5. Encourage these groups to network with other Christian groups, through co-sponsorship of meetings and/or projects, and formation of loose associations/alliances. For example, holding monthly prayer meetings for leaders in the local community, joint Easter sunrise services, joint Christmas programs, joint community projects.