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Friday, September 17, 2010

How did Jesus design the church to work?

The year I started seminary, Rick Warren (who was relatively unknown at that time) wrote a book called The Purpose Driven Church. His ideas were simple -- and today, we'd maybe say simplistic -- but at the time, he was clearing new ground in the area of church leadership. One piece that stuck in my mind for years after reading this book was a simple diagram that Rick Warren used to talk about different groups with different levels of faith commitment in the local church. His diagram looks like the one above.

Warren spends the last portion of his book explaining how to reach the Community and the Crowd. (His strength is really in reaching out -- evangelism -- and he understood some things from his work in forming Saddleback Community Church that were pretty cutting edge in 1995.)

I percolated for years on this diagram, and somewhere along the way I began to turn it on its side. I imagined the deeper level of spiritual and lifestyle commitment in each of these concentric rings as more of a funnel ... so when I began to visualize it in three dimensions, it looked more like this:

As I worked with this diagram, I began to think about Jesus and how he conducted his ministry. I realized that many of the problems in our churches today plague us because we have failed to understand the methods of Jesus and follow in his footsteps.

In the ministry of Jesus, we see him interacting with each of these categories.

The Community is the Jewish people and the other peoples who lived on the fringes of Israel.

The Crowd is those who flocked to Jesus but did not follow him (think of the feeding of the 5,000, for example.) These are with Jesus roughly 10% of the time.

The Congregation is the group of roughly 120 people mentioned in Acts 1. These are with Jesus about 30% of the time.

The Committed is the Twelve apostles and a handful of others (like Mary Magdalene) who were with Jesus the majority -- maybe 60%? -- of the time.

The Core is Peter, James and John who went nearly everywhere with Jesus, and were with him 90% of the time.

So you see that Jesus spent most of his time with the highest level of commitment, and from this Core he developed leaders to continue this process of growth and development. In Matthew 28:18-20 and Acts 1:8 he commissions his disciples to continue this process -- to make disciples and to draw from the Community to pull people into the band of Jesus-followers that became the church.

Healthy churches still function in this pattern. The idea is that people grow in their level of love for God and for other people, and as they grow they move down the funnel. The Core become those who move out in ministry beyond themselves and quite possibly beyond their local church, as representatives and extensions of their church's ministry. (Think of Paul and Barnabas in Acts 13, for example, commissioned to go out as representatives of the church in Antioch.)

But too often in our churches, we have:

  • Failed to commission the Core -- these are to be the missionaries -- so the end of the funnel has become plugged and self-centered.
  • Neglected the Committed -- these are the elders (not necessarily in the sense of a formal position, but rather as respected "pillars" within the church) -- these need investment, discipling, equipping.
  • Focused on the Congregation -- these are sheep -- and pastors too often ask, "What do they need from me?" while the congregation sits passively waiting and watching and expecting to be served.
  • Forgotten about the Crowd -- we should be witnessing and inviting these, sharing what we have seen and experienced -- we must ask, "What do these need?"
  • Made policies for the Community -- we must be an example, leading by our actions rather than seeking to exercise legislative power over them.
Even the words we use demonstrate how we have mistaken our task in church leadership. We talk about "congregations" and we mean the whole church. So we focus on the congregation, serve its needs, and it becomes self-centered and bloated and clogs the whole funnel so that nothing moves down the line.

One key in church leadership is to find activities, events, methods that intentionally grow people from one layer of this funnel to the next. This is one reason I love Alpha -- it draws people from the Community and the Crowd into the Congregation, it grows individuals from the Congregation to a new level of commitment, and it also provides a leadership training opportunity that helps the Committed and the Core grab hold of what it means to do ministry.

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