Church: Simple and Regional Compiled

Here is some excerpts from an article by Gary Goodell.
Church: Simple and Regional Compiled by Gary Goodell

As early as the mid-1970s, we were processing this whole idea of doing church differently. At the time I was reading books like The Problem of Wineskins by Howard Snyder, and listening to guys who were adamant that the classic small group of a dozen believers meeting in homes around a meal was the backbone of New Testament church life, and that this modality needed to be restored to church life today.

It was also during that time that we were exposed to what some were calling, the Jethro II Principle, as it refers to the counsel given by Jethro to Moses, his son-in-law, in order to help facilitate the gathering of Israel in different-sized groupings for maximum administration and care. In Exodus 18:21, Jethro gives counsel to Moses to administrate the people of God in groups of tens, groups of fifties, groups of hundreds, and groups of thousands. It is also interesting that Jesus Himself used some of these ranks in Mark 6:40, when feeding the five thousand.

Over the years, having experimented more and more with these different-sized groups we have come to startling conclusions that each group carries a different dynamic, and unique outcome. We have also learned by experience that these different-sized groups or varied-sized meetings carry with them many effective working dynamics that help facilitate the life and growth of a Regional Church in a given area.

In drawing any conclusions regarding Church: Simple and Regional it is helpful to examine the ethos of each of these groups, as they vary in Form, Focus, and Frequency.

Groups of Tens

The word eser is the Hebrew word for the number ten and represents the smallest division into which Moses put the people of God for the purposes of wise administration. This is the group where everyone talks.

These smaller groups are home-based, intergenerational meetings, where we share our lives on a regular basis, make our needs known to each other, and bear each other’s burdens. This dynamic is experienced through a weekly meeting in our homes around the joy of a shared common meal and the restored richness of the Lord’s Supper, (Acts 2:46).

These groups are not cell groups, or even just Home Groups. They are real churches, complete and autonomous. They have leaders; they receive offerings for missions, the poor, and needy. They evangelize the lost, baptize the converts, dedicate the babies, marry the wed, and bury the dead, and obviously celebrate the sacrament of communion. These smaller groups are not just extensions of the “mother ship” local community church that has a central campus around which all life swirls. They are the church.

Some Even Call This Simple Church

By “simple church,” we mean a way of doing and being church that is so simple that any believer would respond by saying, “I could do that!”

By “simple church,” we mean the kind of church that is described in the New Testament. Not constrained by structure but by the needs of the extended family, and a desire to extend the Kingdom of God.

By “simple church,” we mean a church that listens to God, follows His leading and obeys His commands.

By “simple church,” we mean spiritual parents raising spiritual sons and daughters to establish their own families.

And by ‘simple church,’ we do not mean a lower quality of church life. Just the opposite! No structure or format can guarantee quality. Smaller, participatory, family-like environments are ideally suited for today’s culture and will assist greatly is helping people to become passionate disciples of Jesus Christ.

All of this requires a new kind of training for a new kind of church. Years of sitting in traditional church has not prepared us to do church in the manner described in the New Testament.

We have been taught to come, to sit, to watch, and to listen to what others have prepared. (Someone described it as “sit, soak and sour.”) This is Spectator Church. And is no way to train believers to be priests.

By contrast, the church described in the Bible invites us to engage in a kind of Participatory Church, where everybody talks, laughs, eats, worships, in an atmosphere where all learn, all minister, and all grow.

Apart from the intimacy of lovers, there are few human actions that bind people to one-another more closely than what the Romans called, a convivium, their word for a banquet that literally means “living together.” Defenses are dropped, and believers feel grateful to be with friends around the meal. We argue and discuss and quarrel and tease and laugh. In Simple Church children watch their parents and learn about living. From the marriage feast of Cana, to the Last Supper, to His post-resurrection breakfast on the shore of the lake, Jesus loved to eat and drink with His friends. He used the imagery of the banquet for the Eucharist in which He leaves us His abiding presence. Jesus, Himself, was even known as someone who came, “eating and drinking” (Matthew 11:19).

“You must sit down, says love, and taste my meat. So I did sit and eat.”

“Shared meals construct and sustain human relationships. Inviting someone to share a meal powerfully symbolizes solidarity. Indeed, the word companionship comes from the Latin cum + panis, meaning, “breading together.” Meals are social realites of great importance. Because meals express the very texture of human associations, they often exhibit social boundaries that divide human communities. We make decisions about not only what we will eat but with whom we will eat. Patterns of table-sharing reveal a great deal about the way of life, and the norms and commitments of a particular community.

“Within the Gospels, Jesus’ meal patterns receive special attention. Many of his critics observed, “this fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:1-2; Mark 2:15-17; Matthew 1:19). They were shocked and appalled that Jesus welcomed everyone to his table. His behavior indicated acceptance and friendship with those who had been judged unfit for table fellowship: the tax collector, the Gentile, the prostitute. His open invitation, manifested the radically inclusive nature of his kingdom, a kingdom that cuts across the barriers we erect between insiders and outsiders, the saved and the damned, the elect and the outcast, barriers often most rigidly enforced at the table.”

The Mutually Edifying Meal

One of the best passages to help us prepare for a Simple Church meal is the classic Hebrews 10:24-25 text, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (NIV)

Here are a few notes to help understand this passage:

1.”Consider…” from katanoeo (noeo) = to think + kata = an intensifier. Defined, “To think deeply about, consider, contemplate, observe.” Jesus uses the same word when he says, “Consider the ravens…consider the lilies” (Luke 12:24-27). This is work that we must do ahead of time. This is preparation done in prayer before we meet.

2. NIV says “Let us consider how…” The Greek really says “Let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works.” We are to be observing and thinking deeply about the others in our Simple Church in order to be able to effectively “stir them up to love and good works.” Each one is unique. What works for one may not work for another. I must think deeply about each one.

3. “Let us consider how we may spur one another on…” To spur on comes from a root word that means, “to make sharp” as with a sword. (Proverbs 27:17, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”) This means,”to stir up, incite, provoke, motivate.” Again, what motivates one will not motivate another. Every parent and every coach knows this.

4. “Let us consider how we may spur one another on to love and good deeds…” How do we know if our meeting has accomplished what God wanted? We know if people leave being highly motivated and spurred on to love God and others, that they will be able to express that love in good works throughout the week. The kind of meal is summarized in two words: Eating and Blessing. Both activities are designed to “spur one another to love and good deeds.” Both of these prophetic acts are designed to strengthen, edify, and encourage the church.

Eating the Lord’s Supper: “They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad (exuberant joy) and sincere (uncluttered simplicity) hearts,” (Acts 2:46). Church takes place around the dinner table. The meal is the time to talk about what God is doing in our lives. It’s the time to remember Jesus (I Corinthians 11:24). Some Eating principles might include:

Some Simple Eating/Blessing Principles might include:
• Tell how He blessed you in the last week.
• Tell what you are learning from His word.
• Tell how He used a brother or sister to encourage you.
• Tell about God sightings.
• Tell Holy Ghost stories.
• “Forget none of His benefits” (Psalm 103:1 – 2).

Blessing one another during the meal:Speak blessings to one another over, through, and in the meal. Bless others about their God-given identity (who they are) and about their destiny (what God created them to do). Toast one another by sharing how Jesus is seen in them. Endeavor to strengthen one another through the meal.

Consider blessing one another in the following ways:
• Friends to friends.
• Husbands to wives.
• Wives to husbands.
• Parents to children.
• Every believer to every other believer.
• Use passages of Scripture (Colossians 3:16).
• Use all types of prayer.
• Use song(Ephesians 5:19).
• Use prophecy (1 Corinthians 14:3).
• Use the laying on of hands.
• Do all at the direction of the Spirit.

Ultimately, The goal of New Testament Church meeting is the building up of one another. That is the main reason we gather. Not worship, not evangelism and not teaching. The main reason the church gathers is for the mutual edification of one another.

To really spur/motivate one another to love and good deeds requires forethought and sincere preparation katanoeo, which means “thinking deeply about each other.” One must learn to listen to God on their behalf in order to bless, edify, and encourage them. This is the stated New Testament purpose of church!

Again,only two activities are necessary: Eating and Blessing.Other things may flow out of these acts of Eating and Blessing, but this is the starting place. As one brother said, “I’m so drawn to the idea of the table being a central part of life together as believers. It’s natural, it gives a way to share our lives in a common, informal manner.”

The worship of an early Christian house church was centered on the dinner table. They didn’t all sit facing forward like in the typical church building we think of today. Rather, they were at someone’s table, and the center of their activity was the fellowship/communal meal.

The term communion actually comes from this experience of the dining fellowship. We need to remember that dining is one of the hallmarks of early Christian practice, almost from the very beginning. All the gospel traditions tend to portray Jesus at a meal and the meal was a very important part of His activity. Paul’s confrontation with Peter at Antioch was over dining, and within the context of the letters, especially I Corinthians, the role of dining in fellowship was central to all of their religious understanding and practices.

As people start blessing each other while they are eating; even the new ones begin to catch the principle of blessing. And as they watch others do this and then learn to listen to the Lord for themselves about others, they quickly give their blessings to strengthen and encourage each other in the Lord.

New Testament scripture substantiates this principle in numerous ways:
• Love one another (John 13:34, 35).
• Be devoted to one another (Romans 12:10).
• Honor one another above yourselves (Romans 12:10).
• Live in harmony with one another (Romans 12:16).
• Stop passing judgment on one another (Romans 14:13).
• Edify one another (Romans 14:19).
• Instruct (admonish) one another. (Romans 15:14)
• Accept one another (Romans 15:7).
• Have concern for one another (I Corinthians 12:25).
• Carry one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2).
• Forgive one another (Ephesians 4:32).
• Submit to one another (Ephesians 5:21).
• Agree with one another (Philippians 4:2).
• Teach one another (Colossians 3:16).
• Encourage one another (I Thessalonians 4:18).
• Build each other up (I Thessalonians 5:11).
• Live in peace with one another (I Thessalonians 5:13).
• Be kind to each other (I Thessalonians 5:15).
• Spur one another to good deeds (Hebrews 10:24).
• Confess sins to one another (James 5:16).
• Offer hospitality to one another (I Peter 4:9).
• Serve each other (I Peter 4:10).
• Show humility to one another (I Peter 5:5).
• Have fellowship with one another (I John 1:7).
Groups of Fifties
The Hebrew word missim is the number fifty, again taken directly from Exodus 18:21, and is the second administrative grouping of the people of God. This is the group where everyone worships.

It possibly represents one of the best ways, if understood geographically, to gather several smaller groups together in a given area for the effective expression of cooperation and participation. These groups are not meant to replace the whole body, but rather make possible a type of meeting in which all ages, including children, can participate.

Form
The central principle behind this meeting seems to be best defined as “a spirit of prophecy,” (Revelation 19:10). Even before the advent of the Holy Spirit, when prophecy rested on a choice few, Moses yearned and longed for the coming day of maturity when all God’s people would become ministers and speak on God’s behalf. “Oh, that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put His Spirit upon them,” (Numbers 11:29).

Focus
Here are some distinctions of the missim group;
• This meeting is based upon the full priesthood of all believers with mutual edification and mutual upbuilding for the purpose of personal strengthening, similar to the model that is found in I Corinthians 14:26.
• This meeting is centered on interactive and creative worship through prayers, songs, dance, mime, drama, art, exhortation, etc., (Ephesians 5:19).
• In this meeting, even the children might have a “song,” with these meetings not having to be led by a set worship team of musicians or singers. When the word worship is mentioned, please keep in mind that it is not referring to just singing songs with lyrics and music. Worship must become more than the music that fills our meetings, or only the musicians or composers or singers will be released. What about the artists, the poets, the mimes, the stand-up comics, the actors or even the chefs and the inventors?
• In this meeting, each one could have an appropriate word to share, and the reading of the Scripture and the sharing of truth could be both planned and/or spontaneous.
• In this meeting, God can and will speak through many individuals. These expressions of revelation can be what the Spirit is saying to the group, or even what the Spirit is saying through one individual to another through edification and encouragement.

Frequency
This expression can be done by gathering several smaller house churches into a larger setting, a bigger home, a large backyard, park, beach, and celebrating a child-like party with believers who already enjoy a weekly gathering in their homes literally as often as the time, energy and weather permits.
Groups of Hundreds
Mea, the word for a number of hundreds in Hebrew, once again shows the prudent administrative potential available as a group reaches this size. This is a gathering with a larger expression than that of tens or fifties. This is the group where everyone listens and learns.

This is where group dynamics have to shift. If everyone in a group cannot potentially do what a single member does, the group dynamic changes. The larger the group meeting then, regardless of the actual size, requires a different set of dynamics to make that meeting the most meaningful.

Form
In these larger meetings the emphasis is on the direction of church in the Region or the network of churches in the Region (Acts 13:15-41; I Timothy 4:13). In these larger gatherings, the gifting of the apostolic and prophetic leaders is essential. The regional apostolic team cast the vision for the benefit and the equipping of the whole region.

These larger meetings are not usually led by a single leader, but by regional teams, generally formed by the collabration of the local five-fold ministries in the region. Apostolic/Prophetic leaders, as hinted in I Corinthians 12:28 and Ephesians 2:20, tend to be very successful in linking those Christians within a geographic region, a distinct locale, or a specific county.
Focus
Each meeting then, has its own optimum style and works to release a certain size-directed effect or dynamic. Experimenting with these or hybrids, or combinations, or mixtures of these meetings, really does catch the heart of God for doing church differently.

The Ten-sized group meeting best allows for the church to keep its foundation as relationship-centered. A Fifty-sized group meeting best allows for a gift-centered emphasis. And a Hundred-sized group meeting best allows for a vision-centered emphasis.

Actually, these meetings are more about how they each feel, and how that dynamic changes as numbers go up or down. You literally have to feel the group, and sense how the dynamic has shifted, rather than concentrate on a fixed ratio or size.

The small group is about home, about fellowship, and the dynamic of family. It feels like the family where everyone matters, and everyone is a part. Any time it feels bigger than that (that sense of family) it automatically shifts into more the gift-centered dynamic where the multiple imput of others must be facilitated as the size grows. Many times the shift is so automatic it moves on its own Q & A format, and can no longer linger in the home-style, face-to-face fellowship that a family enjoys around a meal.

As gatherings continue to grow in size, they require more of a strategic adjustment as they move away from the individual-focus of the small group. Eventually they move into the gift-focus of the medium-sized group, and then to a more apostolic/vision-focus as the team facilitates the larger-sized gathering.

Different sized-meetings, different venues, and different dynamics all play a part in what I continue to refer to as doing church differently in the third millennium. Church: Simple and Regional