Restructuring the Church for Explosive Growth

19 01 2008

What if there was a way to restructure the church that would -

1. Consistently train church members into devoted disciples
2. Create deep community and body life
3. Release the priesthood of all believers
4. Free up to 90% of church resources for expansion

What would you say? Let me guess – “Come on Jeremy, you hopeless idealist. We all know that only a fraction of our members will grow into fully-devoted disciples, that community might happen on accident if people find friendship, that people will only be released when given small jobs by full-time clergy and that it takes 95% of our resources to pay for our staff, facilities and ministry expenses.”

Really? Should we settle for these kinds of results? Most have because they don’t see anyone getting different results. But I contend that, no matter how adamant you may be to see these four things happen in traditional church structures, you cannot achieve results that your system is not designed to produce. It’s a systemic problem. People in the business world understand this. They have to be brutally honest about the flaws in their system using the business axiom -

“Your system is perfectly designed to give you the results you’re getting”

We have to admit that the reason we’re not making disciples, creating community or fully releasing others is because our system is not designed to produce these results. It’s designed to produce something else. Often a passive, sacrificially giving, spectator who consistently attends church meetings and services. A far cry from fulfilling the Great Commission.

Let’s do a quick thought experiment. What if we were to build a system from scratch that was simply designed to make disciples, create community and fully release each other’s gifts? What would the church look like? The church would look strangely similar to the first church. There are only three very simple structures you need to build in order get these results but you need them all at the same time. Only building one or two will not give you the desired results.

Structure One – Body Church. This is a group of people (15-25) who live life together (like a body), regular share meals (like a family) and consistently gather in homes to build each other up under the direct headship of Christ.

Structure Two – Discipleship Training Center (the city church) – This is the School of Tyrannus idea where the teachers and trainers of a cluster of body churches (3-5) hold constant trainings designed to “make disciples” “teaching them to obey everything Jesus commanded” and would be overseen by a group of city-wide elders.

Structure Three – The Apostolic Team – This is a diverse team of people with apostolic, prophetic, evangelistic, pastoral and teaching gifts that take responsibility for the health and well-being of many different city and body churches while using most of their resources to expand into new areas without ever neglecting the needs of existing works.

This strategy works, its simple and it leads to explosive growth both in maturity of individual believers as well as Kingdom expansion into new areas. It’s what Paul and hundreds of other apostolic teams did in the first century. Its why Christianity spreads virally (until it becomes institutionalized like in the West today). This strategy is the reason why every believer reading this post is a Christian today.

This strategy also requires no full-time people in the first two structures and, therefore, no permanent church positions that result in the disaster that is building churches around the gifts of one man. It gives all full-time workers deep community and support with others on the apostolic team ensuring no one becomes isolated or burnt out by working outside of their gifting. It is flexible enough to pour resources into areas that are growing fast while allowing almost instant response to threats that emerge to established works (dispatch a person or team).

I’ve only scratched the surface of the benefits but even with this slight amount of detail can someone please tell me why Paul’s strategy is not preferable to ours?

Why wouldn’t we do this?

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25 responses

19 01 2008
Marc Backes

Jeremy,

Short time lurker, now first time commenter.

Gotta say that the statement behind the questions intrigues me. If I’ve read your last several posts correctly, it’s “we’re failing miserably at creating true authentic community grounded disciples, and yet we keep doing the same thing. Isn’t it time we do something different?”..

And as the diagnosis, I think you’re pretty close. Here’s the thing though, what if it’s not the system that’s broken?

Because as I read your posts, your foundational assumption is that it’s the system that is failing.

But if it’s not the system, if it’s someting else that’s the problem, then doing a massive overhaul on the system would only place the current problem in another form…

Have I read the posts correctly?

19 01 2008
eden2zion

Hi Marc, thanks for joining the conversation.

Yes, I am suggesting we have systemic problem (this isn’t the only problem) because a systemic problem exhibits specific symptoms. For example –

* The problem exists wherever the system exists (in a similar form) with few exceptions
* Solutions that don’t address the system as a whole tend to not work
* When the system was different these problems didn’t exist
* There are elements within the system that are clearly counterproductive to the desired result

I’m certainly no stranger to these systems. I’ve served on staff at a variety of churches (7 in total) some new some old some big and some small (various denominations) and they all had these same problems. They were all built around the same system.

On the other hand, the structure I’ve presented in this post has worked in biblical times, in many other countries (China for example) as well as in our work here in the States. So I’ve concluded that the problem appears systemic which isn’t surprising on many counts not the least of which is the fact that the system is the thing it seems everyone is least interested in changing or challenging.

20 01 2008
ama49

I stumbled across this post and can tell you are a sincere seeker of the Lord. I can see you put a lot of effort into trying to create a church/society that is in line with how Jesus’ original church was…with prophets, apostles, evangilists, etc. (Ephesians 4:11). There is a church that already exisits that is the Church of Jesus Christ. I have a post on my website called “The Church of Jesus Christ” if you’d like to learn more about it, feel free to visit my site:

http://www.graceforgrace.com

20 01 2008
The Church of Jesus Christ « Grace for Grace

[…] post was entitled “Restructuring the Church for Explosive Growth.”  In his post he poses the question “What if we were to build a system from scratch […]

21 01 2008
Gavin

Hey man – sorry I’ve been radio silent for so long. Lots going on. A friend of mine are starting new discipleship initiatives and are planning on leveraging some of your materials. I want to comment on your city post (Tyrannus Effect) and will do so shortly. The item I want to talk about is the fact that city orientation is theological NOT methodological, as one commenter posted.

Now on to this post, you raise issues consistent with your other posts. But the reality of our ecclesiastic situation is that we cannot start from scratch. I know you are using this as a thought exercise, but the far more difficult (and timely) question is – How do we work with what we’ve got? The post before me nailed it. You said “RESTRUCTURE?” Yet, your thoughts are around starting over. The further I get in my thinking (after exploring this in life and in theology for 10 years), I am concluding that we CANNOT give up on the Church. I liken this to Moses’ conversation with God in Exodus 33 and 34. If I may paraphrase…

GOD: (to Moses) Take the people into the promised land. I promised it to your forefathers I would take them there, but I don’t want to go with this people.

MOSES: We won’t go anywhere without You.

(AND HERE’S THE KICKER)

MOSES: If I have found favor in your sight, let me know your ways that I might know you – CONSIDER, TOO, THIS NATION IS YOUR PEOPLE.

I think that our response to the current situation of the Church should be like Moses response to the nation of Israel. I think God’s heart is warmed and his ear is inclined to those who have His People’s best interest at the forefront. Regardless, if they are stubborn or even idolatrous. If they are His people, he wants them to return to Him. So, I liken the modern philosophical assumptions and the rampant secularization of our Church to the golden calf. Both are equally as idolatrous. Both are equally egregious. In my opinion, no matter how bad “The People” become, we must commit all our energy and resources to REFORMING – NOT starting from scratch.

The Church is not an institution. It is not a network. It is not a meeting place – either house or cathedral. The Church is a people, a royal priesthood, a chosen NATION. The Church will have its ebbs and flows. But the Church is the Church and when she strays she needs leaders to stand up and REFORM and RESTRUCTURE not REVOLT.

The last (almost) 500 years are characterized by fracture. People starting over. Serial expressions of Protestant fractions have created mutant movements. Some too focused on conversion. Some too focused on the Holy Spirit. Some too focused on the Bible. Some too focused on community. Some too focused on music. Some too focused on experience. The reality is that those movements are mutants without the proper context of the Church Universal and the Church Historical. Also the Catholic church that would once have had those movements to reform her, no longer has any check, any accountability. She is a Church with little conscience. What if those movements were taking place within the Church? What if those movements are free to mean because they have the context of the Church? Then the movements have context and realign the Church to a proper direction. Instead, now, we have a stagnate “Institutional” Catholic Church and we have thousands of little movements without the context and oversight of a great cloud of witnesses that have gone before us from the last 2000 years of Church history. We have a sleeping bureaucrat against a thousand mutants. And they conflict. And the Kingdom is divided and is ineffective. We need reform and restructuring. We need committed leaders for the Church. And I think we need to commit to the current Church rather than starting over. We also must come to the realization that our work may only start the Church’s turn back to God. The reform may take time. Or it may take the nailing of 95 more theses. But the reform takes place from within. (Martin Luther died a catholic). And if the Church cannot handle it, let them kick us out. But our mandate is not success. Our mandate is obedience and faithfulness.

What say you? I know I’m probably dropping a bomb on you. Can you tell that I continue to trend Catholic?

Love you guys and hope to talk soon.

Gavin

21 01 2008
Dan J.

Hi Jeremy
I have been following this thread for a while. It is something that I have been thinking about for quite some time. I see the logic of what you are saying (Body church, discipling and apostolic leadership) but I have a bit of difficulty with what you are doing with the structures esp. structure two. How would it work? I would have seen discipleship training taking place within structure one. I get the impression that structure two is more of a leadership training structure to ensure a common core of beliefs.
On another note, having been a member of a group that had been considered a cult, I must warn of the dangers of this kind of structure turning into a cult. The cult I was a part of functioned very the way your structure is laid out. Close small groups that almost lived together, strong teaching to the point of almost unanimous understanding of the “important points”, a strong apostolic team/structure. Although I think you are on the right track the potential for going off track scares the life out of me.

24 01 2008
Mike Edwards

Dan

Isn’t structure 2 another way of simply describing the New Testament process of making disciples?

How would you define a cult?

What would cause a new testament church and disciple making movement to get off track in your estimation or better yet–according to the Scriptures themselves?

Thanks
mike

26 01 2008
eden2zion

Hi Aaron,

I read the post on your blog. Obviously our differences are theological and agreeing on WHAT you believe comes before we can cooperate on HOW to live that out.

That said one of the advantages the LDS has is a structure conceived only a couple hundred years ago and they did remove some of the issues created by the Constintinian (read:pagan) church structures placed on the church around 300AD.

26 01 2008
eden2zion

Hey Gavin,

Welcome back! I missed your insight on my posts.

You make an excellent point about not neglecting the church as it stands. Simply reading my post it may seem I’m suggesting people leave their churches and start from scratch. I think there is room for reforming what IS but that would be on a case by case basis (and I’ll post some ideas on how to transition an institutional church soon). And I love your point about the city orientation being theological and not methodological. Very intriguing. I need to explore that much more.

However, with specific reference to the Catholic church (big “C” Catholic) you’re the one that is going to have to tell me how to have any impact on that behemoth. My limited understanding of their structure would suggest the only way to broach reform is to appeal to the Pope (as Luther did) and if he refuses, to either submit or follow our convictions (as Luther did).

I consider myself as an excommunicated Catholic (to your point that we should “let them kick us out”). At the council of Trent we were declared heretics and Pope Benedict recently reiterated our status (Time magazine covered this a few months back).

That doesn’t mean I don’t love the Christians within the Catholic church (or much of the truth and beauty in their liturgy). I went to Mass on Saturday and prayed and sang with them and during the Eucharist honored my excommunicated status and did not partake. I listen to those Taize chants you recommended every morning while I pray.

But if you can get me an audience with his holiness or a seat at the next council I’ll do everything I can to encourage their reformation. But we can’t ignore that all of this has already been done and rejected and that’s what led us to the place we find ourselves today.

26 01 2008
eden2zion

Hi Dan,

Great question about whether or not discipleship training can take place in Structure 1 (the body gatherings). I used to think so. And people learn a lot from the body working together and living life together but my experience is, if they were not trained before coming to Structure 1, the body is inadequate to consistently train and deepen disciples (especially new believers).

I saw people I neglected to train (assuming the body would naturally grow them) fall away after 2+ years of living with the body and its the biggest regret of the past 5 years of my ministry.

I was confronted by a missionary about 8 months ago who forced me to read the Great Commission again and deal with some things my model ignored. Namely, that Jesus told us to “MAKE” disciples (signifying a process) that he told us to “teach them to obey everything” which requires training. That the early church “devoted themselves to the Apostles teaching” and that Paul says in 1 Cor. 9 that we are to “go into strict training”.

So I began to dedicate myself to training disciples through taking them through a defined process and then the Body becomes the perfect supplement to their training, where the relational and more organic stuff is worked out.

And let me say I’ve NEVER seen people change so quickly or dramatically as they are now in our community BECAUSE we have a clear, intentional training process.

On the cult thing I feel ya.

That fear should not get in the way of us following Paul’s methods (the early Christians were seen as a cult during Paul’s day) but I agree we have to be careful not to allow that kind of authoritarianism that characterizes cults and convert people into lovers of Jesus and NOT to members of the apostolic team (“I follow Paul, I follow Apollos” type thing) no matter how strong their gifting.

1 02 2008
Gavin

Man, what an elegant response. I’m not sure that appealing to the Pope is the only way, but your point is well taken.

To be clear, I’m talking about a Catholic (historical and universal) culture, where Christians hold common rites, practices, celebrations, symbols, etc. For instance, holding Divine Hours with Christians of all types. Celebrating Sabbath. Observing the Christian calendar. Not only does that cultivate Christian Catholicity, those are tools of Discipleship. And notice my idea of Catholicity does not mean going to Rome or to Canterbury, but rather understanding the current form of the Church (fragmented and disoriented) and restoring “Catholic” practices (again, irrespective of Rome or Canterbury) for the unity of the Church and for the sake of a city. These practices within a Christian culture promote a global and historical understanding of “Our People” and also are a practical method of uniting people for change within a city. Relevant to your City Church post, what if Christians within a city held common disciplines, shared common rites, shared a common culture? Like all great civilizations, there should be a sense of identity with “A People.” Christians would function as a integrated sub-culture within a geographic area. And that is the beginnings of the Kingdom (word very intentionally used) of God in a city. A Kingdom. Civitas Dei (City of God). A people functioning as a people within a city. I think it is high time that we thought of Christianity in terms of “A People” and not just a collection of individuals. I willingly submit to the Great Saints. I connect to my Hebrew ancestors. They are my heritage and my identity. And I also have people that I love in the (capital “C”) Church, with whom I should be connected – not fragmented. We may not gather together every Sunday morning, but we should look to have a voice to the People of God to restore our heritage. Why not develop relationships within a Sunday worship gathering and foster relationships to spread these ideas of “Strategic Catholicity” and Discipleship? I think the strategy has merit. It deals with the status of Church in a realistic fashion. The strategy goes to our people, as opposed to having them come to us. It treats the institutional worship gatherings as an asset (though it remains broken).

In my opinion, these Catholic practices should function to unite in identity and in effort. That kind of solidarity is not just a soft, religious luxury as we hyper-modern individuals believe. That kind of solidarity is the stuff of “A People.” And if a movement is necessary to restore that kind of Catholicity to a fragmented people, I don’t know a better way to foster a movement than with a renewed sense of purpose, discipline and collective identity. I think these Catholic practices are not just useful for personal discipline and devotion, they are necessary for Christians to establish their identity amidst the mainstream culture and unite those Christians in purpose.

Could you imagine a nation without art? music? Could you imagine a nation without a common calendar of holidays? a common way of celebrating? Those nations would dissolve if they did not have those unifying rhythms and icons. Yet, we think Christianity can do just fine with just words to hold us together. But those words tear us a part. We focus on our theological differences, as opposed to having a Catholic Culture that allows those differences to create unified diversity. We must get beyond the words and get to the practices, the stories (and I could make a Ricouerian argument about words in context and with symbols, rites and stories, but I won’t), and the rhythms that hold us together. We’ve been naive to thing that we can demystify and sterilize Christianity and still function as a People.

Just some thoughts. I would continue, but it’s 3:00am and I’m getting tired.

Gavin

Also, see C. Pickstock’s After Writing: On the Liturgical Consummation of Philosophy. Worthwhile.

28 06 2008
The Challenge that will Transform the Church « From Eden to Zion

[…] mentioned this challenge in several of my past posts especially here and here but I just discovered that it was posed by an episcopal priest named George Martin  in the […]

11 09 2008
Tyler

jeremy

i am quite curious, from your knowledge what is the structure the church has grown under in china? where did you get the information on their structures?

i also have a question regarding explosive growth and freedom. have you seen this type of growth ever happen where there is full religious freedom? i have heard it said that where ever there has been religious freedom in history people have gathered together in large numbers.

i tend to wonder if the primary reason for these explosive growth moments is not exactly what God has designed. i wonder if we are trying to create things that only God can do. i am not saying we should not reorganize our systems but is the reason the church has exploded in China because of their systems or because God is doing a new thing in a new place?

i don’t know, that is why i am interested in the dialogue. i really enjoy your thinking and tend toward deeply agreement.

11 09 2008
eden2zion

Hey Tyler, Welcome!

Man, you’re opening a can of worms. I’ll be brief.

I don’t think what happened in China in new but old. They are simply using New Testament methods that we’ve evolved out of (devolved would be more accurate).

I don’t think the structures in the N.T. were the result of persecution but instead the result of strategic apostolic architecture (we tend to return to them during persecution but that’s because we’re like the Judges generations).

Our decision to build institutions instead of the body and to be passive “worshippers” instead of aggressive disciplers (as our primary activity) was never God’s intent but is the direct result of developing unbiblical church models (yes, I do think there are clear biblical, prescriptive models for church in the N.T. laid out especially in 1 Corinthians and Ephesians).

19 10 2008
Kiwi and an Emu.

[…] Restructuring the Church for Explosive Growth. […]

23 12 2008
Kevin

I appreciate you writing your thoughts here – I found this particular article (Restructuring the Church for Explosive Growth) very interesting. The first structure was very clear. But concerning this structure I would like to ask what you would recommend doing or what you do to effectively disciple this group.

As far as the other two points I would just ask if you could go into a little more detail of how to go about building these two structures.

Thanks

23 02 2009
jesusgetstheglory777333

Here is some teaching material, on practical information to help restructure and pinpoint giftings: http://newbreedmovement.wordpress.com/

29 06 2009
Larry

I’d like to address you question, “Why wouldn’t we do this?” I’ve been involved in trying to see the church transition into a biblical model for years, and I finally realized it just isn’t going to happen. The Jewish leaders of Christ’s day crucified Jesus to protect their SYSTEM. The Catholic church was not about to be changed by the Reformation. And, the protestant church today will not give up their SYSTEM either. You can’t pour new wine in old winskins or sew a new patch on an old garment.

Pastors love their position of power and prestige. Frankly, pew sitters like being pew sitters. We have designed a SYSTEM that requires virtually nothing from the “disciples.” Most church leaders wouldn’t even qualify as disciples, nevermind the pew people.

Then there is that “tradition” thing. Since we’ve done this SYSTEM so long, in most peoples eyes, it must be valid. Again, the traditions of men that nullify the Word of God.

The only solution IS starting from scratch. Jesus never wasted an ounch of time on the religous leaders of His day, trying to persuade them. And it is a waste of time trying to persuade them today.

“Why wouldn’t we do this?” Because we don’t want to. We will protect our SYSTEM at all costs, even the cost of souls.

2 06 2013
weather

Spot on!

26 11 2009
Erasmus Stokes

Q: Why don’t you Mormons pick up your Bible and read it in with faith you will be amazed as I was. It is not a dead book like you guys are presenting it on your blogs. Dare to believe God He will answer your prayer. Set down that Mormon kool aid. That Bible you redicule will change your heart, mind and spirit but only if you read in faith. Unbelief is the only unpardonable sin.
Hebrews 4:12 (Holman Christian Standard Bible)
12 For the word of God is living and effective (A) and sharper than any two-edged sword, (B) penetrating as far as to divide soul, spirit, joints, and marrow; it is a judge of the ideas and thoughts of the heart. (C)
Cross references:
Hebrews 4:12 : Jr 23:29; 1Pt 1:23;
Hebrews 4:12 : Is 49:2; Eph 6:17; Rv 1:16; 2:12;
Hebrews 4:12 : 1Co 14:24-25;

26 11 2009
Erasmus Stokes

Ps 28
1 LORD, I call to You;
my rock, do not be deaf to me. (A)
If You remain silent to me,
I will be like those going down to the Pit.

26 11 2009
Erasmus Stokes

Psalm 28
2 Listen to the sound of my pleading
when I cry to You for help,
when I lift up my hands
toward Your holy sanctuary. (C)

God is alive and His Words are precious!!!

26 11 2009
Erasmus Stokes

Psalm 28
7 The LORD is my strength and my shield;
my heart trusts in Him, and I am helped. (H)
Therefore my heart rejoices,
and I praise Him with my song. (I)

We need this living God and His Precious Word elsewhere God invites us to taste His Word and see because it tastes better than honey

26 11 2009
Erasmus Stokes

Psalm 33
4 For the word of the LORD is right,
and all His work is trustworthy. (E)
5 He loves righteousness and justice; (F)
the earth is full of the LORD’s unfailing love. (G)
6 The heavens were made by the word of the LORD, (H)
and all the stars, by the breath of His mouth. (I)

When we study God’s Word from Genesis to Revelation we discover as in v4 God is both right and trustworthy.

When you look at man we see broken words and promises. That is what I experienced with my lds promises. But because they failed that does not mean God fails. God is both right and trustworthy.

I came to God on Oct 14th 1985 at 4:20 in the afternoon my new testimony agrees with the Psalmist. Quit denying God’s Word it is pretty dangerous.

15 10 2011
oikoskrk

Great blog!
I think you would appreciate mine too.
Been relational housechurching and planting for 30 years now.
My blog is about Jesus, church and life in general.

http://notesfromthebridge.wordpress.com

Christopher “Captain” Kirk

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