bits from bob....

We are Planting Traditional Churches: Is There A Better Path to the Future?

by Bob Young
©, 2013, Bob Young
[permission is given to reprint with credit noted]

In many of our church planting efforts we are planting traditional churches, even when we use untraditional means to get started. We are using biblical methods, e.g. small groups, house churches, simple churches, and neighborhood networks, but as soon as we have a viable base, we are establishing traditional churches. In using the term, "traditional church," I refer to a church with certain characteristics: (1) a building or identified location; (2) institutional organization (CEO, administration, etc.) as opposed to family or informal structures; (3) a corporate top-down leadership model (whether in a single pastor/preacher or in a pastoral board of elders) as opposed to a flattened model of responsibility, authority, and action; (4) a dispenser of religious goods both for the members and for non-members (but usually primarily for the members); (5) church function primarily focused inward, hoping to draw others "in" when they see the benefit of being "in;" (6) isolationism, with little genuine relationship with or ministry in the world outside the church; and (7) ministry focused primarily "at the top" with a limited view of the responsibility of the membership for involvement church function.

This kind of church has little hope of doing very much away from the building and actually answering the missional call to be "sent ones" into its community. The traditional church is controlled and controlling. The institutional leadership, using a top-down organization and having a tendency against delegation of any real responsibility with attendant authority, expectation, and confidence, keeps the church from functioning as an organism, living in integrated, continuing relationships, capable of functioning according to God's purpose. (What we usually refer to as accountability is really a culturally-informed way of saying, "I will remain in control and to make sure that it happens, so you will clear everything with me, take your orders from me, make sure I am in agreement before you do anything, report to me, ask for any resources from me, etc.")

We have little concept of the New Testament model that would plant new churches and then leave the church to function as God intended the church to function, as demonstration and representation of the presence of God's kingdom in the world through the functioning of kingdom people. The New Testament plan is for the church to provide its own needs. Leaders arose from within the hcurch and were appointed from within the church.

Paul left Titus on Crete (temporarily) to deal with a problem. It is not clear that Timothy was in Ephesus for a permanent or long-term ministry with the church, serving as minister or in a pastoral function. He was responsible for teaching and training others (2 Tim. 2:2). Although such is a guess, his work may be understood as a continuation of the work Paul was doing in Ephesus from the school of Tyrannus.

In modern times, we have "pastor-ized" the church to death. We have developed a view of church among the members that expects everything to be done for them. We can deny that the preacher is a pastor, but in function, he is exactly that, in large part due to the expectation of the members and leaders. He is to provide support in a host of situations, and often least in view is equipping the saints for ministry.

We have largely ignored the Ephesians 4 model of ministry and leadership. We have not asked some hard questions. We do not know what to do with the equipping roles of Eph. 4:11-12 and have not talked about what the Ephesian church (or the first century church in general if we consider the possibility of a circular letter) would have understood about the apostolic or prophetic function. Is Paul providing a comprehensive list of roles? Is it a chronological list? Why does he mention apostles and prophets if they were not present in the church in Ephesus? Should we understand apostles and prophets in this text in a non-miraculous sense? Have we placed an unwarranted limitation on the reference to apostles and prophets (by ignoring New Testament passages that refer to persons other than the Twelve as apostles and by maintaining a miraculous view of the prophetic task)?

Nee and others have noticed in the book of Acts four basic models for establishing or planting new churches. The "Jerusalem model" demonstrates how Christians went out from an established church, taking the gospel with them and planting new churches. This model does not depend upon church planters, but rather upon "workers." The "Antioch model" is probably the best known in most contemporary churches. This model describes the process by which a church, Antioch in this case, sends out a team who travel and work from city to city establishing new churches. A third model Nee designates as the "Ephesus model." In this model, churches are planted because a teaching center is established and the gospel echoes forth into the surrounding area through the influence of those taught or trained. This is the most probable explanation for the establishment of the seven churches of Revelation 2-3. Certainly, churches were established as a result of Paul's work in Ephesus. Finally, Nee mentions the "Rome model." This model describes a process in which Christians move into a city with the result that a church is established. Viola suggests intentionality on the part of Paul in his ministry is helping various Christians and co-laborers move to Rome for the purpose of establishing a church. In making this case, he is heavily dependent on Romans 16. Whether or not it can successfully be demonstrated that Rome was a "target city" for an exodus movement, one should note the similarity between the Jerusalem model and the Rome model. In both cases, Christians who became Christians in other locations were instrumental in establishing a new church through moving to a new city or town and working to plant a new church.

We can show the basic models in parallel.



[1] Note: One explanation for the fact that the Ephesian letter does not have a designated recipient in some of the manuscripts builds on the nature of Paul's teaching ministry in Ephesus (Acts 19). As Paul taught in the school of Tyrannus and trained other Christians in ministry, churches were established across Asia Minor (cf. Col. 1:5, 23). Writing back to the church in Ephesus, given its history as a center from which the gospel went forth, would allow a convenient way of communicating also with the churches of the region. Thus, whether the original autograph included the wording "in Ephesus" or not, one can see why copies of the letter without the phrase might circulate among the area churches. Even if Paul originally intended the letter for Ephesus, it was also of value for churches in the larger area.

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Last updated June 1, 2013