When we examine the robust church of the Book of Acts and the New Testament, we see a community in its nascent form that had much more effectiveness than the contemporary church.
Unfortunately, even a perusal of Christian history will illustrate the fact that, since the first century, much of the activity of the Body of Christ took place outside the context of the local church.
The contemporary church is often so weak, to many people, she has been reduced to a Sunday morning church service and perhaps a mid-week service to hear a sermon and utter a few prayers. Furthermore, the solutions to present-day local church challenges is a lot more complex than saying “the answer is a heaven-sent revival” or “we need more prayer”! Of course, we can always say we need continual flows of revival and renewal fueled by fervent prayer- but even if we experience renewal, it doesn’t take away from the fact that we need several things to refurbish the present day “gutted” local church.
To make it easier for the reader to have a handle on both the present-day challenges of the church and my proposed solutions, I have collapsed the issues down to 10 key points.
10 things the local church must do to restore its fullness:
1. Restore leadership development
The early church developed its leadership within the context of the local church. They did not ship a potential leader out to a “biblical college” to learn the scriptures since they realized that character development takes place only within the cauldron of the complexity of human interaction and problem solving.
To grant somebody the oversight of a local church merely because they received a “master’s degree” from a notable seminary is ludicrous! Jesus said that believers would be “perfected in unity”- which implies that maturity comes when the glory of God is manifest in our love for one another as we strive for unity in the Body of Christ. (In the same way the primary goal Father God has for us in marriage is “holiness” not mere “happiness”!) Consequently, lead pastors and elders need to rethink leadership development and reframe it to fit the New Testament pattern which is home grown leadership.
2. Restore theological development
“What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem” was a question 2nd century church father Tertullian asked when the church started flirting with Greek philosophy and mimicked their Greek philosophical schools and academies in their attempt to apply the Scriptures to Hellenistic culture. One result of this shift (towards Greek Philosophy) in the second and third centuries is that the local churches eventually shifted serious ordered learning and theological education away from the local church and depended upon “The Academy” to educate their future leaders.
If we want New Testament results related to theological training, we will need to go back to the way of Christ and His apostles. Jesus did not start an academy to disciple the 12 — He did life with them and modeled leadership in the context of challenging ministry that took place within the context of His community of followers and through His community of followers to the multitudes surrounding them.
The learned religious leaders of the first century were shocked at the knowledge, power, and ability of Peter and John and were amazed at the fact that they were uneducated (they had no formal rabbinic training) and untrained but recognized that they had been with Jesus (see Acts 4:13). Unfortunately, almost 2,000 years later, we still have the same mindset regarding theological education. Most denominations require lead pastors obtain a seminary degree — which often means they live apart from the life of a local church while receiving their formative training in Scripture.
What’s the solution? Should we do away with the academy altogether? I think we should do away with the practice of qualifying pastors and church overseers with mere knowledge accumulation credentials and perhaps partner with the academy so that both work hand-in-hand to develop theologically trained leaders for the sake of His Kingdom. Furthermore, I am a strong proponent of church-based theological education which can also be accredited and provide effective biblical teaching while a prospective leader is serving in their local church. To me, this is the best way if said local church has the proper teachers and theological resources, if not, they should partner with a theological school to nurture future leadership. (For resources on church-based theological education go to BILD.ORG.)
3. Restore biblical counseling
Nowadays, the average church ships people dealing with emotional issues out to a “professional therapist”, in spite of the fact that said therapist may have not have the shared values of the church and may lack a biblical worldview. I am not against the use of Christian professional counselors and therapists if they partner with the church responsible for shepherding them biblically, however, the local church has forgotten the fact that the Gospel alone (that is preached in the local church) has the power to heal the brokenhearted, relieve the oppressed, and save one’s spirit, soul, and body. (See Isaiah 61:1-3, 53:4-6, Luke 4:18,19.)
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© 2019 Joseph Mattera / http://josephmattera.org/