When the smallest cell in the body is under attack,
it brings the demise of the whole. 

For as long as I can remember, there has always been a tension between the local church pastor and the staff of parachurch organisations. Parachurch organisasions work outside and across denominations to engage in social welfare and evangelism. My battle has been that I sit in both chairs. I am leading a parachurch national initiative beneficial to the greater body of Christ, and I am also the pastor of a local church.  

I have been part of various efforts over the last 27 years of ministry, who with great difficulty and variable success lobbied to get all local churches to work together. I thus understand the frustration of trying to work with pastors. But why do we need to work together in a location? The truth is; one local assembly can’t foster all the support and mobilise all the different types of ministries available to the Body of Christ in one locality. We need each other.

None of us have it all together but together we have it all. Michael Wood

The body of Christ is made up of individual cells (1 Cor 6:19), the local assemblies (2 Cor 6:16), and the universal Church (1 Cor 3:16). When any part of this 3fold molecular structure is sick, or in isolation, the body is weakened. It is also clear that like our physical bodies, we have to discern the complexity of the diversity of the various functions and parts of the body of Christ. We cannot reduce the body to only one part or function. All of it is important and necessary! There is thus no inside and another outside part! Whether we’re part of a local general geographic assembly or part of a group of people who meet to focus on one specific human need, we are all meeting together under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  Remove the religious dualism between vocations as worship for His glory in the secular market place, and vocations seen as a ministry to another within the Church and your vision is suddenly expanded to a glorious network of diverse functions, that can only be God’s genius! All the individuals, meetings at all locations, for various ministry purposes are all called to be His holy Priesthood, a holy Nation, His bride to be. That is the picture on the puzzle-box, perspective! It is wonderful! Each piece of the body of Christ has an exact shape and creational purpose, like puzzle pieces. Toss all the pieces on a table, and it looks terrible!

The state of the local Church as single pieces? Endangered! Paralysed! Under resourced! Poorly trained! Fragmented! We all tend to make unclarified accusations against the pieces laying around as the sleeping, unresponsive Church. We have all been guilty of pointing a finger to a wrong out there, ignoring the wrong that persists in our own heart. Evidently, He is building His congregation, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. (Mat 16:18) and at the end, there will be one final assembly, when all the dead will be judged at the white throne judgement. (Rev 20:11-15)

The question Afrika Mhlophe asked during the recent Africa Leader Forum needs more in-depth attention and dialogue; “WHAT KIND OF CHRISTIANITY ARE WE CREATING?”

We all recognise and acknowledge that the state of the nation in respect to corruption, nepotism, racism, and the enormous economic disparity experienced in SA, is because these strongholds still persist within most churches. We see the evidence of Christian Nations like São Tomé and Príncipe; DRC; Angola; Rwanda; Seychelles; Equatorial Guinea; Lesotho; Namibia; and Swaziland with more than 90% of their citizens being professing Christians are among the poorest Countries in the World.[1]  

There is hence a united outcry: REFORM THE CHURCH TO REFORM THE LAND!

There is an even greater dangerous innate disease threatening the Church. More and more people are leaving local institutional churches and pick and choose their spiritual diet on social media.  Evangelism, and belonging to a local body of believers is on the increasing decline!

According to the Pew Research Center, the ranks of the Nones have ballooned in recent years, making “no religious affiliation” the fastest-growing category among religious affiliations. Between 1972 and 1989, about 7% of Americans identified as having no formal religious affiliation, However, between 1990 and 2012, that figure jumped to 15%. Among people under age thirty. Just over 30% say they have no religious affiliation. At the same time, the percentage of the U.S. population that are Christian has experienced a steady decline, and other faiths have had modest growth at best.[2]

A recent study that was conducted by Barna Group reviewed the society’s perception in matters regarding faith and Christianity. Examining a new book called Good Faith; the findings indicated that Christianity is increasingly viewed as extremist. [3] The 2017 Pew research is more specific and reveals that most adults surveyed still do consider themselves Christians, even if they seldom go to Church.  These non-attendees beliefs on matters of sex, gender, nationalism, are widely more liberal than how it is portrayed and officiated by the formal Church.[4] It is thus abundantly clear that the Church is no longer unified on issues of doctrine, worldview, or best practise living standards. 

The state of the Church today, thus stands in stark contrast to the early ekklesia, and body of Christ movement!  The early Church was attractive although persecuted: because of their practical caring for each other, their care of the marginalised, disenfranchised, orphan, children and, women. They held high standards of work ethics, positive attitudes, timeliness, honesty, and hard work.[5] They experienced huge exponential growth, to the extent that in 150 years, most of Asia Minor, and North Africa was transformed by Christianity and their former persecutors became the protectors of the faith when the Roman State accepted Christianity as their formal religion by 337AD.

In the book of Acts, we read of Paul’s work in Ephesus, and him starting a Bible School where he reasoned daily from 9:00 – 15:00 in the School of Tyrannus: And this continued for two years, so that all who dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks. (Acts 19:10) According to Dreyer the greatest motivators behind this growth were: First-hand authentic encounters; missional focus; willingness to suffer and a unified focus to model the life and teachings of Christ: His supernatural and moral life.[6]

CAN IT BE THAT BY LOWERING THE ENTRANCE STANDARD: WE HAVE LOWERED THE OVER-ALL STANDARD?

The ninetieth century can be labelled as the century of evangelism: Tent Meetings and large gatherings, television broadcasts, has seen millions accept Jesus as personal Saviour, by praying a sinners prayer. Examples: D. L. Moody, George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, John Wesley, Charles Finney, Billy Sunday, and in more recent years, Billy Graham, Franklin Graham, Luis Palau, and Greg Laurie. And yet, in a 1990 interview with PBS, Billy Graham himself stated he believe that only about 25% of those who come forward at one of his events actually became Christians. In recent years, studies have shown that only 6% of people who “come forward” at an evangelistic crusade are any different in their beliefs or behaviour one year later. Of course, it is estimated that Billy Graham preached to more than 200 million people, and 6% of 200 million is still 12 million. That’s significant.

Emphasis is always placed on follow-up, and local churches requested to use the occasion to draw in the net. Effective follow-up and assimilation in discipleship programs have always been a problematic concern. My personal experience is: The bate that hooked the fish is what will keep the fish.  The food that attracted the fish is what the fish is expecting to continue to receive.   If we’re not all living and preaching one message, it makes assimilation to a local church, difficult. Furthermore: the most sustainable growth, is growing local churches, that mobilise their own members to make disciples! [7]

THE EARLY CHURCH MODELLED CHRIST, NOT THE HEBREW SCRIPTURES:

Being a follower of Christ entails, a journey, an adventure of discovery as you get to know Him better, and He teaches you how to live your life, of letting go. Nowhere in the Bible are we instructed to worship Christ. Surely, we love and adore Him, but worshipping Him can make of Him an idol. We choose to worship the part of Christ we have fashioned according to our image, that we like most, and cost us the least. Becoming a faithful follower is the exercise and process of daily choosing to die to self, and abandon all in surrender to Him, again and again. 

The vision, objectives, focus, strategy and outcome of the early Church was Christ, and Christ alone! (Gal. 4:19, Col 1:28-29; 2 Cor 11:2; 1 Cor 2:2; 2 Pet 1:8; Eph 4:13)

The early followers of Christ were identified not by their buildings, and church names, but by their lifestyle. They were called “those of the way” (Acts 9:2; 24:14, 22)  

The name Jesus adopted for His new movement of followers were: ekklesia: gathering, assembly, meeting, congregation. (Mat 16:18) a non-spiritual term used by the Greeks for almost any gathering like the mob, instigated by the silversmiths for bad business in Ephesus. (Acts 19:33) Paul on occasion used ekklēsia in its real sense of an actual assembly to refer to the meetings of Christians. This usage is particularly clear in his references to the assemblies of Christians at Corinth —”when you come together as a church” (1 Cor. 11:18); “in church I would rather speak five words with my mind” (1 Cor. 14:19); “women should be silent in the churches” (1 Cor. 14:34; cf. 14:35). At other times, he refers to those people who assemble, whether the whole Church, as at Corinth (1 Cor. 14:23), or a smaller group, as in a house church (Rom. 16:5; Philem. 2). The great majority of instances of the word are in reference to a local church, hence the use of the plural for churches in a given region (1 Cor. 16:1, 9; Gal. 1:2, 22; Acts 15:41; 16:4–5). Less frequently, ekklēsia is used in a universal sense for all believers (Matt. 16:18; Eph. 1:22; Col. 1:18).[8] It is clear that Church was seen not as various legal entities, but as assemblies, congregations, gatherings of people who met daily, small or great in number, in homes, beaches, synagogues, temples, homes, schools in the name of Jesus. (Mat 18:20; 1 Cor 5:4) Will this emphasis and perspective not free us all, from our denominational affiliations and loyalties.

WE ARE ONLY ONE IN CHRIST.

We who are many are one body (Rom. 12:5); one body (1 Cor. 10:17; 1 Cor. 12:20; Eph. 2:16; Eph. 4:4; Col. 3:15); as the body is one yet has many limbs, so is Christ (1 Cor. 12:12); by one Spirit we were all baptised into one body, Jews or Greeks, slave or free (1 Cor. 12:13); Jew and Gentile made one (Eph. 2:14–15); all one in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:28); Jesus died to gather into one the children of God (John 11:52); that they may be one even as we are one (John 17:11; John 17:22); that they may become perfectly one (John 17:23); that they may all be one (John 17:21); one flock, one shepherd (John 10:16).

PRESERVE THE UNITY, AS IT IS THE PRIMARY WAY GOD EXPRESSES PROXIMITY! HIS PRESENCE!

For the purpose of unity, there was no such thing as doing something to attain unity. Unity was only attained through our unification with His death and resurrection. (Rom 7:4; 1 Cor 15:22; Gal 2:20) Once we have received this glorious oneness in Christ and His Church, we ought to fight to preserve it. (Eph 4:1-6) Unity is not an objective; it is a consequence of the manifested Glory of Christ in our midst.

THE EARLY CHURCH WAS DIFFERENT FROM WHAT MOST WILL EXPERIENCE AS CHURCH TODAY:

For example, we know that the early Church met in homes for their regular church meetings (Acts 20:20; Romans 16:3, 5; 1 Corinthians 16:19).

They took the Lord’s Supper as a full meal (1 Corinthians 11:21-34).

Their church gatherings were open and participatory (1 Corinthians 14:26; Hebrews 10:24-25).

Spiritual gifts were employed by each member (1 Corinthians 12–14).

They genuinely saw themselves as a family and acted accordingly (Galatians 6:10; 1 Timothy 5:1-2; Romans 12:5; Ephesians 4:15; Romans 12:13; 1 Corinthians 12:25-26; 2 Corinthians 8:12-15).

They had a plurality of elders to oversee the community (Acts 20:17, 28-29; 1 Timothy 1:5-7).

They were established and aided by itinerant apostolic workers (Acts 13-21; all the apostolic letters).

They were fully united and did not denominate themselves into separate organisations in the same city (Acts 8:1, 13:1, 18:22; Romans 16:1; 1 Thessalonians 1:1).

They did not use honorific titles (Matthew 23:8-12).

They did not organise themselves hierarchically (Matthew 20:25-28; Luke 22:25-26).[9]

IN THE END: ALL OUR WORK WILL BE TESTED.

According to Paul, all our work and ministry will be tested, with fire. (1 Cor 3:9-16) in the end, all will be shaken, and only that what is of the Kingdom will remain. (Heb 12:27-28)

Let’s presume all churches and ministries has the same goal, making every person a follower of Christ! A recent study was completed to determine the spiritual maturity of members. Spiritual growth was categorised between Exploring Christ – interested but not committed; Growing in Christ – expressed their belief in Christ but not yet adapted His lifestyle; Close to Christ – they can discern His voice and guidance but struggle and Christocentric – fully surrendered. According to this research, it is not the church programs that inspire growth; it is: We learned that the most effective strategy for moving people forward in their journey of faith is biblical engagement and exemplary Leadership. Leaders:  

1.         They get people moving

2.         They embed the Bible in Everything

3.         They created ownership

4.         They pastor their local community

The crux of spiritual growth is not how busy people are with religious activities, but how engaged they are with Christ. How close is a person to Christ? Are they fully surrendered to His will and His teaching? Do they prioritise faith in their daily lives? Are they growing in their love of God and others? To answer these questions, leaders need more than numbers; they need to see inside people’s hearts. In 2004, Willow Creek Community Church completed research that would eventually become the REVEAL Spiritual Life Survey. Based on those initial findings, as well as data from more than 150,000 congregants in 500 churches, the REVEAL team discovered a way to see inside the hearts and minds of congregants. [10]

The outcome of the study reiterates the importance of scriptural Reformational type churches, who allow themselves as individuals but also communities to be continually reformed into the likeness of Christ.  The study reveals that it is possible, and it reveals what Christ-centred growth looks like. Thank God, there are members of the Body getting it right! There are wonderful, Christ-centered, spirit-filled, holy, consecrated, relevant local churches out there! We simply need more such churches! The study also highlighted, the changes some churches have to make.

Bringing me to the primary reason for writing this essay!

The local pastor is a dying superhero. He has to pray for the sick, but when the sickness returns, still love and help the individual to keep their faith. He has to discipline doctrinal error, moral and ethical failure, and manage egos who want to take over. While on the other hand, trying to mobilise people into ministry who barely have time to read the Bible and pray daily. He needs to be a financial, marriage, parenting and relationship consultant. He has to preach a TED talk calibre of brilliance every Sunday and compete with the best communicators on the planet’s podcasts, YouTube videos, and TBN broadcasts. The current trend is more and more people are leaving institutional, local churches, finding better food online. People do not want to engage in messy relationships of commitment. He has to deal with social justice issues and represent the Church at the local CPF, SAPS trauma Room, Pastors fraternal. He has to be a seasoned, respected mediator, psychological counsellor, and executive coach. Then he has to ensure the Church is relevant to every age group, interest group, ethnicity, and local human needs and wants. He has to manage all of the above while being trendy, physically and spiritually fit. But also, remaining a loving husband, and a relational parent to each of his children. He has to disciple at least 12 people, and be available 24/7! But the most difficult of all, he is expected to be true to the traditions of his employer and conduct weddings and funerals.

The members of the local Church on the other hand, are stuck in the extremity of doing life. It is increasingly difficult to find able volunteers to be mobilised in hospital visitation; youth outreach, feeding the poor, reaching the lost. The challenges of a diminishing economy and material greed is driving us further away from God and family! The antichrist of this age is convenience.  

HOW WILL WE INTRODUCE PRAYER, EVANGELISM, AND DISCIPLESHIP TO THE LOCAL CHURCH? 

The Bible always has made the distinction between priest and kings. The priests thrive when people blossom and discover and function in their diverse callings and roles. The kings succeed when profits are made to enable and pay for the needs of the growing population’s happiness.  We need to pray that God will both raise-up godly, Christ-centred kings and priests, that will influence culture to resemble heaven on earth. 

I believe the next move of the Spirit in the Body of Christ is the raising of Kings and Judges. 

Kings and Priests. Zech 4:2 “What do you see?” So I said, “I am looking, and there is a lampstand of solid gold with a bowl on top of it, and on the stand seven lamps with seven pipes to the seven lamps. Two olive trees are by it, one at the right of the bowl and the other at its left.” 

Chapter 3 is the vision of the High Priest, chapter 4 is the vision of the Zerubbabel the governor building the temple hence the conclusion Priest and Kings. “What are these two olive trees on each side of the lampstand, and what are the two olive branches that pour out golden oil through two gold tubes?” In the end, the answer is given: v14 “These are the two anointed ones, who stand beside the Lord of the whole earth.” 

The Kings were tasked to build the physical building, the priest to build the spiritual building.  The two roles and functions were connected to the Lampstand by golden pipes to supply oil to the lampstand, the church through natural means.  

We are entering the final phase of God reforming His people in the Earth. Today the Modern Kings are people called to business and supply towards the physical buildings, and Priest are still called to build God’s spiritual house.  Business men seek profit, Priest seeks people. But evidently the two supplement each other, the church supplying people with Christ-centered character, values, mindset and habits to work a much-needed commodity to the workplace. Business people supply the funds, a much-needed commodity in the church to do the work of the ministry.  

And have made us kings and priests to our God; And we shall reign on the earth.”

Rev 5:10

May we focus all our attention to serve the smallest part of the body of Christ, the local Church! The local Church, whether in a home, school hall or cathedral, is on the brink of extinction! How many called ones, feel a call to pastor a local church? How many burned-out pastors, have given up, lost their way, and given up on their faith?

The church in Acts were supported and nourished by a team of travelling apostles and prophets. None of the early apostles, seem to have pastored one local church only, they were concerned for the Kingdom of God as a whole. As a local pastor; I like to sincerely suggest that travelling ministries and national initiatives first recognise what the local Church is doing, then take hands to partner and support what is already happening in the local Church, we will see greater cooperation from local pastors towards the national, and international focus.

Finally: Unless the Lord builds the house, They labor in vain who build it; Unless the Lord guards the city, The watchman stays awake in vain. It is vain for you to rise up early, To sit up late, To eat the bread of sorrows; For so He gives His beloved sleep. Ps 127:1-2 I am reminded of Bennie Mostert’s words: The ten fastest growing churches in the world have one thing in common: they pray more than all the others! Prayer that is focussed on listening and obedience is the ingredients God is looking for to bring transformational Revival, starting in every local Church in South Africa!

References

[1] Nag, O. (2019). African Countries Where Christianity is the Largest Religion. [online] WorldAtlas. Available at: https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/african-countries-with-christianity-as-the-religion-of-the-majority.html [Accessed 17 Aug. 2019].

[2] Nicolaou, C. (2019). A None’s story : searching for meaning inside Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, & Islam (eBook, 2016) [WorldCat.org]. [online] Worldcat.org. Available at: https://www.worldcat.org/title/nones-story-searching-for-meaning-inside-christianity-judaism-buddhism-islam/oclc/964290564 [Accessed 17 Aug. 2019].

[3] Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project. (2019). Being Christian in Western Europe. [online] Available at:

[Accessed 17 Aug. 2019].

[4] Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project. (2019). Being Christian in Western Europe. [online] Available at: https://www.pewforum.org/2018/05/29/being-christian-in-western-europe/ [Accessed 17 Aug. 2019].

[5] Schor, A.M., 2009, ‘Conversion by the numbers: Benefits and pitfalls of quantitative modelling in the study of early Christian growth’, Journal of Religious History 33(4)Pg 478. 

[6] Dreyer, W.A., 2016, ‘Historiese perspektief op kerkwees’, in ‘Praktiese ekklesiologie – Kerkwees in die 21ste eeu’, HTS Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies, suppl. 10, 72(5), a4378. http://dx.doi.org/10.4102/hts.v72i5.4378 

[7] Rainer, T. (2009). Surprising insights from the unchurched and proven ways to reach them. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan.

[8] Ferguson, E. (1996). The Church of Christ. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co.

[9] Viola, F. and Barna, G. (2012). Pagan Christianity?. Carol Stream, Ill.: Barna.

[10] Hawkins, G. and Parkinson, C. (2011). Move: what 1,000 churches reveal about spiritual growth.. 1st ed. Zondervan.

Praat saam