What is ‘essential’ for a church?

A few weeks ago, I raised the question in this email “”what are the Biblical essentials for a church?
As part of figuring out what these biblical essentials are, I suggested considering 3 levels
Biblical essentials (you must have these to have a ‘church’, & they all have sound biblical basis)
Very important things (but not essential)
Other helpful things

There wasn’t much response to this question …. I guess there are a few possible reasons for this, including –
It is obvious – all Christian leaders (& especially all ministers) know what the biblical essentials are – so the question is unnecessary?
It is difficult, & unclear – and there don’t seem to be many (or any?) essentials.
We’re busy – someone else can figure the answer to this out (a good reason)

Of these, I don’t think #1 is correct (unfortunately). The others (#2 & #3) seem to be the reason.

I’m still fascinated that there is not common agreement, or clear teaching, on what the biblical essentials for a church are. It seems bizarre that ‘we’ pour all this time, energy & $$$$$ into creating/building/growing churches, and we have thousands of highly-trained professional ministers (in NZ alone) who preach wonderful sermons every week and work really hard trying to create a great church, yet there is not clear understanding of the essential biblical ingredients for a church. And, there is no common agreement among ministers about what these biblical essentials are. Am I the only one, or do others find this strange & disturbing?

I wonder if one reason for this (maybe the main reason) is that there is a big difference between the ‘biblical essentials’, and the things ministers consider essential or very important to keep their church running & give it any hope of success. Pragmatism becomes the guide – it is easier & more expedient for a minister to teach more widely about the things they consider important for their church. Thus, in many churches you will find relatively clear specific teaching on issues that the leader thinks is important & which support what they are trying to achieve, even if these have little biblical basis. For example, this is seen in some Pentecostal (& other churches) teaching on things like tithing, covering, alignment, and ‘building the house’.

For other churches, church tradition is used to decide or reinforce what is essential in a church – hence ministers, sacraments, buildings, elders, sermons, worship etc are perceived as being essential. Unfortunately, the church isn’t what it should be or could be (either historically or currently), or what we hope it will be, and if we keep doing the same-old-thing, we will get the same-old-results. This might be sufficient for some churches to survive, or even grow slightly (when they become the popular church & christian-consumers swap churches to join them), but it isn’t enough – the church isn’t having a major impact on the world.

So what are the ‘biblical essentials’ etc for a church? Some of the responses I received are listed here –

From BM
1) Essentials: Two or more followers of Jesus who commit themselves to one another for mutual encouragement and mission.
2) Very important things: Fellowship, prayer, fasting, reading of scripture, healing, deliverance, evangelism, pastoral care, eldership, friendship, discipleship.
3) Other helpful things: Christian literature, church history, study aids, musical instruments, doctrine, theology, core values.

From DC

  • ordained ministers -Not greatly important (anyone who is called of God can lead. A church may not ordain them because they disagree with God, just like they might choose to ordain people God disagrees with)
  • weekly meetings – Reasonably important – fellowship is good.
  • Sunday meetings – Not even remotely important.
  • corporate sung worship – Nice, Biblically it was done often (well, the singing of hymns together, not necessarily “worship”), great to do. But not sure that it rates as “important”. In fact, I think many of the Biblical references are “They sung a hymn” and it’s left at that.
  • sermons – A time for people to learn and hear the word is important. Not sure that a sermon is important in itself though. A discussion can do sometimes do as much as and I expect can often do a lot more than a sermon. I could be wrong of course.
  • leadership structure – Some structure is important.
  • buildings – Only important when the weather is bad. And then, anything with a roof and walls is suitable so long as you have the right to use it. Can be someone’s garden shed……. What matters is being there together for the service of the Lord.
  • communion – Biblically important.

The overall conclusion seems to be that there are virtually no biblical essentials for a church, other than it being two or more Jesus-followers relating together in an interconnected way so they function as a body.

I read elsewhere that it changes our perspective if we switch from saying ‘the church is the body of Christ’ to say ‘the body of Christ is the church’. With this perspective, we start with the ‘body’, which is some Jesus-followers who are connected together if a functional/organic/beneficial way, and then call this body (& other similar bodies around it) the church. (rather than calling religious organizations ‘the church’)

Maybe things would be simpler if we eliminated the ‘church’ word from our vocabulary, and talked about things like being a Jesus-follower, being a functioning part of a ‘body’, how to apply the ‘one-another’ scriptures etc.
Eliminating the ‘church’ word shouldn’t be a problem – because it isn’t a specific biblical word (ie it has Latin roots, not Greek), & we use it ambiguously (I can count a dozen different ways we use this word) – but this is probably another article waiting to be written.

Blessings
David Allis

Three Quick Things

Here are 3 quick things …. FYI-IMHO (for your info – in my humble opinion)

1. I’m now an ex-Apostolic ex-minister. We joined the Apo church in 1985 & I was ordained in 1996 – so the Apostolic Movement has been part of our lives for a long time. I’ve always believed that we shouldn’t leave a church or denomination unless we are kicked out, or it becomes apparent to both sides that it is best all-round if we leave.
In the last few years it has become apparent that my beliefs and values don’t align well with NZ Apostolics, and that I am asking questions that they don’t think need to be asked (or they think are already answered).
I got a nice phone call from one of the national leaders a few weeks ago, in which he gently asked “why are you still in the Apos Movement – with your obviously different values etc”. We had a nice discussion – he was careful to ensure he wasn’t pushing me, & I made it clear that I didn’t want to cause them any problems … & so I offered to resign.
It doesn’t really make any difference to us – we are still committed to helping establish the Kingdom, particularly here in Devonport, and acting ‘missionally’.
I guess I can now add these two ‘ex’ things to the long list of things I’m ‘ex’ – now when people ask who I am, it seems easier to say what I ‘used to be’ (ex-engineer, ex-missionary, ex-Bible College Principal, ex-director of alternative education schools, ex-church health consultant, ex-minister etc)

2. The BOOK to read this Christmas – the MUST read for the holidays – IMNSHO (in my not so humble opinion) – is “Everything Must Change” by Brian McLaren. This new book is GREAT. It addresses the big issues in the world – the subtitle is “Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope”. It is easy to read, but raises important challenges to individual disciples, faith communities, and the global church. It’s available from Amazon, Epworth Books in NZ, and hopefully other good book stores. It would be a great book to read & discuss in a small group, where you help each other address the challenges the book raises (it even has group discussion questions to help you).
This book is unique – it addresses issues & concepts in a very readable way. The title is accurate – everything must change ….

3. Christmas Challenge – this Christmas, can we (you, I) care for the poor as much as we do for the rich? Is it possible for us to spend as much on the poor at Christmas as we do on the rich? (our selves, friends & family) ….
We Jesus-followers are called to love the poor, give to the needy who can’t repay etc etc …. (If you’re not convinced about this, let me know & I can point you to the multitude of Bible verses on this topic)
Can you / we / I … spend as much on helping the poor this Christmas as we spend on giving to the rich.
OR … if you / we / I don’t have enough $ to do it that way around, what about trying to only spend as much on the rich as we’ve already spent on the poor ….. (ie give to the poor first …)
As we celebrate Christmas, which is typically linked to over-eating & indulgence, can we remember, AND do something about, the people starving in the world, including the 30,000 children that die of starvation every day (including Christmas day).
Personally, we’ve been trying to move further that way … our children & relatives are getting used to being given goats & pigs & toilets & orchards for Christmas (we gave our son John a ‘john’ (toilet) J )… through the gifts for the poor programs of World Vision & Tear Fund … a couple of years ago my mother-in-law said the goat she was given was the best present she received (she got a photo of a goat which was given to a poor family somewhere) – she now looks forward to something similar each year.
At the end of the Christmas season last year, Margaret (my wonderful wife) said ‘so how did we personally do’? We sat down & did the sums, & figured we needed to give a bit more money away … & then we had managed to meet this challenge (to care for the poor as much as we do for the rich, at Christmas).
Please – join us for this challenge this Christmas – for the sake of the poor & hungry, and for the sake of our own souls. (resisting the ‘gods of materialism & consumerism)
… have a good week … & a good Christmas
Blessings
David Allis

Followup re ‘Ex’ & the Poor

Thanks for the encouraging feedback regarding my last email … particularly
1. my now being an ex-Apostolic, ex-minister &
2. the challenge to love the poor this Christmas

FYI – here is some of the feedback (with a couple of comments from me in pink)

1. Re ‘EX’

– speaking as an ex-Baptist, ‘ex’ is a good badge to wear

– Congratulations on your new – but hardly surprising – status as an ex-apo ex-minister…! They used the A word (alignment) on us when they gave us the ex (or is it axe)… It’s not a smart move from their side. Kudos to the Baptists who will at least engage with you…

– Perhaps you were just to ex-citing, ex-treme, and ex-uberant for the denominational heads at apostolic. J

– It’s a great pity that more support and encouragement is not given to those who take “Apostolic Initiative” and investigate and experiment outside of existing models and structures, particularly if they – (as you do) seek biblical support for what they are doing.. Has anything changed since Martin Luther – maybe we have just become more refined in how we exclude people.

– Congratulations on gaining the great Ex factor! I suspect it was always going to happen. I am not sure you can challenge the status quo and win without having to start again. Even Jesus found that out the hard way. There are too many vested interests to overcome. Anyway, you lasted much longer than I did, so well done.

– There was obviously some disquiet with the national leader (whoever it was) and a reluctance to accommodate different ways of doing things. It doesn’t bode well for others of us who want to reinvent the way we do church, does it?

– I find the question asked of you interesting – ‘why are you still in the Apos Movement – with your obviously different values etc’. I’m going to be naughty here in asking this but what ‘values’ do you think you have that are different to the Apo Movement? I would have thought that the issue is model or style rather than values… but I could be wrong & often am!
(NOTE – he is usually right, but wrong on this particular thing. At its heart it is a values issue, rather than a model/structure/style issue. I initially thought the house church thing was a structural difference …. but soon came to realise that structure is less important than values – as Churchill said “we shape our buildings, and then our buildings shape us”. Hence, for organised churches, there are limitations to how much they can change their values because of the constraints of their structures…… more on this topic another day – David)

– You will never be an ex-minister

– Isn’t Jesus absolutely wonderful. Looks like even more exciting times are headed your way as you continue your journey as an “ex”. Don’t know if you have come across the web-site http://www.thegodjourney.com/ but it is well worth a visit. Lots of fellow “ex’s” to share thoughts and experiences with.
(NOTE – this is a good site – worth looking at. David)

2. The Poor

– Appreciate your Christmas challenge.

– We don’t do presents much anyway. Part of the reason we left institutional church is we wnat to give direct to the “poor” via world vision (long term contributors) and Habibtat for Humanity (the latter in our time and finance locally) instead of paying to repaint the church roof and replace leaky windows and maintain the building….. When I was a little girl I wanted to be a guerilla fighter and now my dream has come true. We are a small platoon and we are now on the move!!!!!!

– As for Christmas, I actually think the tide is beginning to turn just a little. Instead of us Christians wining on about the commercialism of Christmas while continuing to spend like everyone else, I am noticing some growing momentum among people to give in the way you’ve outlined. (We) hardly want to be considered paragons of virtue on this count, but the pact that we made at the start of our married life not to give each other Christmas presents but instead to give money away, is something we’ve never regretted and it helps us gain some balance to living in extended families where the value of doing this may not be universally shared or accepted. We too aim to give away more than we spend on the Christmas event. That way we keep things in perspective and at least have a better chance of experiencing the real Christmas.

Preaching Act 3

by David Allis
Here is the 3rd ‘Act’ in the discussion (debate) about preaching which has been appearing in the NZ Baptist magazine.
Act 1 was a shortened version of my article ‘The Problem With Preaching’ which was published in the July magazine.
Act 2 was 3 responses from Baptist lecturers, plus a few critical letters in the August magazine.
Act 3 is my response to their responses, published in the September magazine hot off the press…. here is the full response – the last 2 paragraphs don’t appear in the NZ Baptist version.

Blessings
David Allis
www.edgenet.org.nz

I’m impressed by the way NZ Baptists welcome healthy discussion and debate, in order to become more effective in today’s world. My article ‘The Problem with Preaching’ prompted strong response and much discussion. Raising challenging questions about preaching is rather like waving a red rag to a sacred cow. The responses in last month’s Baptist from Ian Kemp, David Richmond & Paul Windsor were gracious and thoughtful, yet somewhat unconvincing.

In response, I need to clarify some aspects of my original article. In critiquing preaching, I focussed on the specific form of preaching commonly used in modern western churches – monologue preaching to a church congregation. Some people seem to raise this form of preaching onto a ‘pedestal’ above other forms of communication, seeing it as Biblical, essential and prescriptive for us today and presumably for all churches of all times. This perspective effectively raises this form of preaching to a level near baptism and prayer. It is regarded as a spiritual mystery beyond question.

This view seems evident in last month’s responses through phrases like “the sermon … is the voice of God to be obeyed”, “the high calling of the preacher”, “the divine encounter in the preaching” and “preaching is a spiritual gift and a God-given vocation”.

I find no convincing evidence of this form of monologue preaching to a church congregation visible in the NT – hence my statement that this form of preaching is extra-biblical (I didn’t say or imply that it is un-biblical or necessarily wrong). Even if examples of this form of preaching are perceived in the NT (eg 2 Tim 4), these examples don’t make preaching prescriptive or essential for all churches at all times.

In my original article, I attempted to differentiate the form of preaching we practice in churches today from what is seen in the NT. The key point is that there is no essential identifiable difference between the wide variety of communication forms seen in the NT, including preaching and teaching. As Paul Windsor points out with his reference to 34 different words and overlapping circles, the concepts overlap.

Unfortunately many people see the ‘preach’ words, which appear about 140 times in an English NT, and assume that this ‘preaching’ they read of is the same form as the preaching they hear in church today, and hence that the form of preaching that occurs in their church has a strong (essential) biblical basis and we have to keep doing it. They see preaching as a specific God-given form of communication, and its effectiveness shouldn’t be questioned.

As Christians, including those exercising leadership, we need to communicate the messages of Jesus and His kingdom to all people, including those outside or on the edge of the kingdom, and those within. A wide variety of forms of communication are available. Some of these forms are clearly visible in the NT, others might be implied, and others are definitely not seen in the Bible (eg emails, Denominational newspapers). These communication forms are not distinct, but rather they overlap. They include teaching (to large groups, small groups and individuals), dialogue, discussion, debate, evangelistic preaching, preaching to church congregations, and questions and answers. None of these forms is inherently on a pedestal above the others. None of these forms is ‘biblical & normative & inherently spiritual’ – ie ‘it is in the Bible and we have to do it and it is a communication form that is inherently more spiritual than other forms’. All of these communication forms can be either effective or ineffective, depending partly on how they are implemented and whether the form & content are relevant for the recipients. Sometimes these forms of communication impart some sort of spiritual life, renewal, revelation, insight, inspiration or encounter – but this is not automatically inherent in any of the forms. This spiritual impartation is more likely to occur when other factors are involved, including prayer, study, good presentation, accurate Biblical interpretation, and people having expectations. On occasions, the form chosen is inappropriate or the communication is poor, yet God chooses to ‘move’ anyway.

Communication is essential. I am not calling for preaching to be abandoned. Nor am I saying that any other form of communication is always better than a sermon. A monologue sermon to the congregation on Sundays is one form of communication. It should be more accurately described as ‘teaching’, ‘inspiration’, ‘thought-for-the-day’, ‘reflection’, or ‘motivational talk’, depending on its intention and characteristics. Monologue preaching might even be the best communication form in a particular situation – preaching has historically been very effective in many situations. However, we have a wide range of equally valid forms of communication available. If we understand their strengths and weaknesses, become proficient in their use, and evaluate their effectiveness, we will become better communicators.

Throughout much of church history, monologue sermons have been a predominant form of communication. There are many historical and sociological reasons for this reliance on sermons. There are also many spiritual, pragmatic and educational reasons for questioning the effectiveness of monologue preaching in our society. These include that it is often ineffective, expensive, can limit learning, discussion and debate, foster biblical illiteracy, and disempower people. Monologues silence the voice of the people. Educational studies repeatedly demonstrate that people learn more through interactive teaching and self-learning. Rather than just trying to pass on information, we should be creating life-long spiritual learners.

David Richmond suggests that if people can’t feed themselves, we need to keep feeding them. In contrast, I’m convinced that for normal healthy people, we should stop spoon feeding them, let them get hungry and then they will become motivated to learn to feed themselves. They might even learn to how to cook, plan their own menu, and begin teaching others to feed themselves.

Its no surprise to hear ministers defending preaching. Professional ministers usually love preaching and are paid to do it. Preaching is typically part of the ‘package’ of this form of church leadership. A minister questioning preaching and other aspects of professional ministry is like the proverbial person who saws off the branch they are sitting on. It is as rare as beef farmers promoting vegetarianism.

I told my children that I’ve invented a new school – it has only one class with hundreds of students aged from 5 to 18. They meet for one half-hour class each week, where a quality teacher gives an amazing non-interactive lecture to the class. Students never graduate from the class. The 18 year-olds, who have been hearing these lectures for 13 years, stay in this class with more new entrants for the rest of their lives. The only way to graduate is to become the lecturer or die. My children say this school is stupid and will never work. I agree … but it’s what we do in churches … let’s look for good alternatives.

Where Is It?

By David Allis

“Where is it? If a new thing is happening, why can’t we see it? If these new models or wineskins of church are so great, why aren’t they strong and visible now?”  A friend involved in leadership of a ‘normal’ church regularly throws these questions at me. Other leaders raise the same issue in the form of a statement “when you have a church of a thousand people and are seeing hundreds saved every year, then you can critique current church structures.”

For myself, and other proponents of alternative ways of extending God’s kingdom, including house churches, organic churches, and truly missional churches, these questions are often raised by defenders of the status quo – by leaders within structured churches, as they look outside the domain of organised Christianity at the alternative forms of ‘church’ being discussed and attempted. “If what you’re proposing is so great, where is it? Why can’t we see it? Why isn’t it growing rapidly?” 

These appear to be good questions, at least from the perspective of those who ask them. At a surface level, they are disturbing. Yet when I reflect more deeply, I can sense reasons why growth would be slow, and why the results might not be very visible. And at an even deeper level, there is a sense that they aren’t the right questions – they are questions being asked from a framework that is becoming increasingly irrelevant as the world changes.

Here are some of my reflections in response to these questions, taken from a New Zealand perspective. For ease of communication, I refer to it as ‘new models’ – however, even the concept of what is emerging being ‘models’ is language that belongs in a different paradigm – maybe it would be better for us to talk of experiments or communities.

Reasons why growth might be slow for new models

–          Slow Growth is Normal. Any new model, starting from virtually no people & resources, will be slow to grow.  Rodney Stark (The Rise of Christianity p6) estimates that Christianity grew at 3.4% per year for the first few centuries. Hence, anything new that starts with small numbers and grows at only a few percent per year, will take a long time to become large.

–          The Existing Models aren’t Growing. Overall, the existing structured church models aren;t growing. Although there are a few exceptions and some structured churches generate 5-10% conversion growth pa, generally changes in church numbers are just transfers between churches (like shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic). Hence, even if the new models aren’t growing, that is no different from the structured model. As my wife Margaret said “Even if it doesn’t work, you can choose either the expensive version that doesn’t work (existing church), or the cheap version that doesn’t work (new models)”. We prefer the cheap version so we can use our time and money to serve the poor and wider community, rather than wasting it on church buildings, staff & programs that aren’t working. (Typical structured churches spend at least 90% of their time and money on providing services for the church members).

–          The Existing Models are the Norm. The existing church models are the norm, and people (both churched & unchurched alike) think this is the only way to do church. Hence, alternative models are only credible either with people who have thought through and question or reject the current models, or with new converts, (as long as the converts aren’t drawn into structured church models because most church-goers they meet think they are the only way).

–          The Existing Model Drains Resources. The existing institutional church is large & drains resources from the Christian community, particularly people’s time and energy. It is difficult for a new small tree to grow under the shade of a large tree, as the large tree drains the nourishment from the ground & also shades the light.

–          Exhaustion.  People who leave the organised church structure are often exhausted physically, spiritually, economically & emotionally.  Because of this, they often ‘take a break’ from church activities, and usually don’t quickly throw themselves into making alternative church models work.

Reasons why a new model might not be very visible

–          Invisible by Nature. The newer unstructured models are by nature invisible, as they don’t have professional staff, buildings, big meetings, programs and advertising. Hence, much of what happens in the new models will never be visible, or we will only get glimpses of it.

–          Kingdom not Church. The new modes are usually focussed on the kingdom, rather than on building a visible local church. Hence the activity is spread out everywhere, rather than being centred in a few visible places.

–          No Advertising.  Structured churches often get a lot of profile from relatively small things they do in the community, as part of their self-promotion. In contrast, community and kingdom activities undertaken by individuals or unstructured groups of Christians are usually not advertised, and hence are relatively invisible.

–          Different Language. The new models of church speak a different language.  Structured churches often talk in terms of numbers saved and numbers in their church. However, for people in the newer models who might, in the words of Brian McLaren, ‘count conversations rather than conversions’, the language used is different. Hence, the questions asked from a structured-church perspective are often meaningless questions in irrelevant language when viewed from an alternative paradigm.

Indicators that something is out there now

–          Christians Are Leaving the Current Church. In New Zealand, there are more Christians outside the church than in it. I used to guess that half of the people in NZ who call themselves Christians aren’t in churches. Recently, I saw some research that indicates it is much higher than this. In a Massey University survey of more than 1000 people, the results indicated that out of every 6 people, 1 was actively involved in a church (16%), 1 was linked to a church but not active, 2 had previously been in a church but were no longer part of it, & 2 had no previous church association.  This indicates that in NZ, for ever one person active in a church, there are two ex-church people (plus 1 person linked but inactive). Hence, there are more Christians outside the church, than are active within it.

–          Models Increasing.  There is an increasing variety of new models for churches, including ‘emergent’ churches & house churches. Also, an increasing number of structured churches are trying new things to try to bring new life & growth. These are indicators that people are dissatisfied with the status quo, and are looking to establish something new.

–          Things are Happening Elsewhere.  In other parts of the world, alternative models are apparently succeeding. This is seen in the house churches in China, house churches in India, house churches and organic churches in the USA etc.

Many people are trying a variety of alternative ways to ‘be church’ and extend the kingdom. Some of the experiments will be unsuccessful, and others might succeed – it is worth trying.  As a friend once said “Even if it doesn’t work, I’ll still do it”. There are good reasons for trying new ways of extending God’s kingdom, especially if they are less costly, freeing our resources to serve the wider community.

More About Preaching

An excerpt from “Reframing Paul” by Mark Strom

Following on the theme of the ‘Problem of Preaching’, & my article on preaching in July’s NZ Baptist, here is an excerpt from the book “Reframing Paul” by Mark Strom.  Mark is now the principal of BCNZ (Bible College of NZ) here in Auckland.  His book “Reframing Paul” (IVP, 2000) and is a revised form of his Ph.D. thesis.  When I wrote “The Problem With Preaching”, I didn’t know anyone else who had arrived at similar conclusions (apart from a few odd articles on the internet).  It was encouraging to come across a biblical scholar who has reached similar conclusions.

In “Reframing Paul”, Mark’s basic contention is that what Paul opposed is what we embrace – that our systems of preaching, ordination, and authority look more like the Greco-Roman world than they do like Paul and his radical communities of grace. Modern Reformed-Evangelicalism has never left Rome at this point; it is still about authority residing in structures, and validated through the preaching of the ordained or those they knight for the occasion. “This book is for those who wonder why people leave churches for alternative spiritual paths – and may even be tempted to do so themselves. More than anything, it is for those who wonder what’s gone wrong and want to learn from Paul how the church can be an attractive community of transforming grace and conversation.” (from the dust cover)   If you want to learn more, and have your thinking stretched, I recommend you get a copy to read & work through.

Also on the topic of recommended books, I want to re-recommend the “A New Kind of Christian” trilogy by Brian McLaren.  These books, written as novel-like philosophical dialogue, are GREAT. We recently loaned copies of the first of these books, “A New Kind of Christian”, to two friends – both mature, intelligent Christians who have been involved in ‘professional Christian ministry’ …. They both loved the book, and found it helped fit some of the pieces of the puzzle together for them.

And a personal update – our new NZ educational games (Kiwi Quiz & Time Zone) are selling well. Kiwi Quiz has become very popular as a game, and as an educational resource – it is being used in about 400 NZ schools.

Whitcoulls has been promoting Kiwi Quiz over the last month, and have a trial of Time Zone in their top 20 stores (if you’re looking for a game or a gift for someone … get a copy of Time Zone from a Whitcoulls store …. If they sell enough, they will expand it into their other 50 stores in NZ  J ).  Paper Plus are also interested in stocking Kiwi Quiz.

I’m currently working on the Australian version of Time Zone …. Just need to find an intelligent Australian with a knowledge of Oz history to help review the 250 events I’m choosing for the game……

Here is the excerpt from “Reframing Paul”  …. happy reading.

Blessings

David Allis

www.edgenet.org.nz

 

“I once took a seminary class titled “Ministry of the Word” where we were taught the supposed biblical basis of preaching. We were given a list of Greek words for various speech acts used in the New testament. Our group task was to study preaching from these words: preaching as keryxo; preaching as euangelizomai, and so forth. We looked up the references and synthesized our findings as “A New Testament Theology of Preaching.”

It occurred to a friend and me that the exercise was flawed because we had assumed the conventions of preaching, then sought to validate these conventions with texts. But the group would hear no detraction. Apart from our failure to grasp Paul’s repudiation of sophistry among the Corinthians, it never occurred to the group that there is absolutely no evidence for anything like our conventions of preaching in the NT – no expository talks, no pulpits, no ordination, no teaching of eloquence. The evidence does not point to the centrality of a monologue in the early gatherings, let along the conventions of preaching as we have known them for two millennia.

Back in the main group, the professor defended the method. The centrepiece for his argument was the need for authority: “The Word must be ministered with authority,” and this implied the conventions of preaching. My friend and I asked if the Word is always to be delivered with authority. “Yes,” came the ready answer. “Even in Bible study groups?” we asked. “Emphatically yes,” our professor replied. “Then why don’t we insist on the same conventions on Tuesday nights as we do on Sunday mornings?” we responded. “Because Sunday is church.” the professor replied, somewhat less enthusiastically. The rejoinder was obvious, “And what in the NT leads us to distinguish Sunday mornings from Tuesday nights as though one were ‘real church’ and the other something else? If the distinction is simply our construct, why do we persist with it? If the conventions of preaching are unnecessary on Tuesdays, and if the Bible study leader still ministers the Word with authority, then why do we insist on the conventions for Sundays?”

The argument was coming full circle. The case for preaching starts and finishes by presuming preaching, ordination and church as we know them. Without them control, prestige and power lose their footing. The sermon and the service prop up the conventions of eloquence and authority. No sermon, no church service. No church service, no demarcations of authority and control. But church in the evangelical system is about order and control. Leaders must retain the ‘central’ ministries. At the very center is preaching. Therefore preaching must remain the domain of the ordained and those whom they acknowledge. Eloquence and erudition must demarcate sermon from conversation, ordained from laity, truth from mere opinion.

Two years later the conversation resumed with the same professor, this time on the second fairway. “You were right.” he admitted. “Church and preaching as we know it is very little like what happened in the NT.”

“Why then,” I asked, “do we keep teaching this stuff? Most of your students do not see the discrepancy. How will this ever change?”

His answer was as telling as it was unconvincing: “It was my generation’s work to lay out the biblical theology. It is yours to change the system.””

(p.206 – 207)

The Problem With Preaching

By David Allis   September 2006

edited by NZ Baptist editor

Preaching is a big problem. After many years of preaching, listening to sermons, studying the scriptures, participating in church leadership and studying the Western church (in New Zealand), I’m becoming convinced that preaching often does more harm than good.

Preaching as it is practised in modern churches is extra-biblical, a poor form of communication, and creates dependency.

Preaching is considered one of the essential ingredients of Christianity throughout the last 2000 years, and arguably through Old Testament times also. It is one of the bastions of church tradition. In most churches, two central and indispensable elements are preaching and worship (commonly referred to as singing/music) during Sunday church meetings.

I have numerous questions about preaching that I believe must be considered. These questions have arisen after spending years within a variety of organised churches as an observer, member, lay-leader, ordained minister and church health consultant. I have heard and preached sermons, and observed their effects in individual’s lives.

Recently, I studied the biblical passages about preaching, and was surprised at what I found – that the preaching that is referred to in the New Testament (NT) bears little resemblance to the practice of preaching in churches. I also looked through the shelves of a good Bible College library.

There were about 1000 books on how to preach a good sermon, yet I could find nothing that attempted to clearly justify why sermons should be preached. There is a plethora of books on preaching, but the vast majority of them assume and perpetuate the sermon concept, and there is rarely any investigation or justification of its legitimacy.

So what are the problems with preaching?

1. Preaching is Extra-Biblical

Preaching as it is practised in churches today (and in the past) has little biblical basis. In the New Testament, preaching was always linked to preaching of the gospel or kingdom to those who were outside or on the edge of the Kingdom.  The Greek verbs used in the NT to portray preaching are found overwhelmingly in situations which are outside church meetings and evangelistic in nature.

Most people sitting in churches today listening to sermons are Christians, and most have been there listening to sermons for many years.  Our preaching is actually teaching about Christianity to a predominantly Christian audience, week after week for the rest of their lives.

There is arguably no biblical basis for preaching in churches to people who have been Christians for many years. The sermon as traditionally practised, in which a clergy person preaches a message to a congregation, originated from Greek, not Biblical, sources. Around the period of 200-300 AD, the sermon emerged as central in Christian gatherings. The model for this practice wasn’t taken from the Bible, but from Greek culture.

 

2. Preaching is an ineffective form of communication

Preaching is a form of monologue, which is proven to be an ineffective form of communication. Passive listening is a very ineffective way of learning. Scientific studies of education show that passive listening leads only to a small percentage of retention. Few people can remember a sermon the next day, week or month (often the preacher can’t remember it either). Although modern communication methods are improving, through the use of visual aids, the monologue remains one of the least effective forms of communication.

3. Preaching limits learning, discussion and debate

Preaching usually allows no opportunity for questions or discussion. It is rare for a church to allow interaction during a sermon, or questions and discussion time afterwards. Sermons are designed to be listened to, not interacted with. Sermons and church meeting structure doesn’t allow members of the audience to add their contributions regarding the subject matter, raise issues for discussion, clarification or debate.

 

4. Preaching doesn’t usually change lives

Although effective, impassioned preaching is occasionally able to stir some hearts and bring some response, this is quite rare. Preaching rarely brings long term change in individual lives. The average church attender hears a sermon every week, amounting to about 2500 sermons over a 50 year church life, yet they typically can’t remember many of those sermons and would number on one hand those sermons which had a significant impact on their lives.

From my limited experience, the most effective long-term way to bring change to lives is not through listening to sermons, but through participative bible study in a mutually encouraging and challenging group.

From my study of ekklesia (the gathering of believers) in the NT, it is clear that the primary purpose of believers gathering together regularly is mutual edification. It could be argued that typical church Sunday meetings have been designed to hinder mutual edification. Corporate sung worship led from the front, and sermons by professional preachers, which are the central focus of most church services, are conspicuously absent from the New Testament passages relating to the purposes of believers gathering together.

I think Paul would be horrified at the way we have reduced worship from his whole of life concept to merely corporate singing once a week.

5. Preaching can foster Biblical illiteracy

Much contemporary preaching is based around themes, usually with little biblical basis. While these sermons might teach some truth, and are often done in creative ways, they don’t teach how to personally learn from the Bible. It is common for believers to come to church regularly and listen to well-crafted sermons about how to live, yet rarely read the Bible personally. It is not that people can never learn from a sermon, but that they don’t learn as effectively as they do with other methods.

6. Preaching disempowers people

People who have been in church for many years, and have often heard 50-100 sermons each year, still think they need to be “fed” by a sermon each week. They remain dependent for their spiritual nurture on getting a spiritual fix each week through corporate worship and a sermon from a professional preacher. If we want to see God’s kingdom grow quickly, or revival come (which many people pray for), we will need to be much better at quickly empowering and releasing people to ministry (not paid professional ministry), rather than fostering a dependence on the professional ministers.

7. Preachers are a problem

In each local church, most preaching is usually performed by one main trained professional minister.  This preacher is usually a Bible College graduate (except in some Pentecostal streams) who has trained for three years so they can correctly interpret the bible and preach inspiring sermons.

Hence, sermons are usually built around the “person of God”, who has had the in-depth theological training, and has heard from God and is now disseminating the word of God to the people in eloquent discourse.  Some of the unfortunate implications of centreing preaching on one trained professional religious person are:

• It implies that one person hears from God and mediates to everyone else.

• It creates a dependence on being fed by the necessary combination of professional ordained ministers plus theological training plus eloquent preaching.

• The Christian message is filtered through one person, the preacher, and his one set of experiences, one personality, one mind, and one limited life experience.

• The preacher typically lives a different life, in a different world to his/her audience. Many don’t have “normal” jobs, and are treated differently in society because they are ministers.

• It devalues the experiences, insight and revelation of other members of the church, as they are relegated to only being listeners and often never being preachers.

• By centering our gatherings on one person and their sermon, we are, in practice, reversing the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:14 and suggesting that the body is not many members, but one (often the same person, usually a man, who preaches most weeks).

 

8. Preaching has misleading implications

The current church practice of members attending a weekly church meeting centered on corporate-led-sung-worship and a sermon has some misleading implications:

• It implies that God is effectively saying the same thing to everyone – which is contained in the sermon.

• It implies that church members will always need to hear more sermons. If sermons are intended to train people for mission, the implication is that they will never be fully trained and will always need more. In this sense, sermons are more like motivational seminars to hype people up again, rather than being teaching sessions.

• It implies that the purpose for Christians to gather together is corporate worship and listening to sermons, rather than for the primary purpose of mutual edification (1 Cor 14:26).

9. Preaching is expensive

Sermons are expensive. A professional paid minister typically spends 1-2 days/week studying and preparing for their weekly sermon. Taking New Zealand with its 3500 churches as an example: If each had a minister being paid 1.5 days/week to preach at, say, $200/day – this costs $1m per week, or $50m per year.

This might seem a small amount compared with what is spent on other aspects of organised church life, or compared with the billions tied up in church properties, but in a world where people are starving to death and Jesus spoke about personal judgement relating to how we treat the poor, it seems that we have misplaced values.

10. We are preaching to different people

The Christian situation has changed. At the time of the NT events, the NT wasn’t available to people. Also, the apostles were teaching new doctrine (in contrast, the Bible plus great study tools are now readily available to all western Christians).

Through to the 1800s, the majority of church attendees were illiterate, just as the majority of people in most societies were illiterate. Hence, there was a need for educated people to be able to read the Bible and teach others. Sermons were one effective way for this to occur. Also, Bibles were less available and tools to help study the Bible were typically only available in libraries and seminaries.

Today, most church attendees are literate. In the English speaking western world, Bibles are cheap and most church attendees own one or many versions of the Bible. Bible study tools are cheap and easily available, both in written form and via computers and the internet.

11. We are preaching in a different context

Society has changed. At previous times in history churches have been the social centre for a community and hence drew in a wide variety of people in various stages of belief or disbelief. In these situations, sermons were potentially an evangelistic tool, as they were during the time of Acts.

However, in current western society, the majority of people in churches are believers – hence preaching in these churches has virtually no evangelistic value.

There have also been other major cultural shifts which affect preaching – Stuart Murray Williams identifies three:

1. A cultural shift away from passive instruction to participatory learning, from paternalism to partnership, from monologue to dialogue, from instruction to interaction.

2.  A societal shift away from an integrated world to a world where networks overlap, a shift away from simplicity to complexity. Many preachers seem unable to relate the Bible and theology to the world of work or to issues in public life – these are areas of profound weakness in most churches. Perhaps we need the help of those in the congregation who have expertise and experience in areas where we do not.

3. A media shift away from linear to non-linear methods of conveying information, from logical argument to pick ‘n’ mix learning. Communication now frequently involves the use of images as well as words, short contributions from diverse points of view, and open-ended presentation that allows freedom to choose your own conclusion. For preachers, this implies not only the use of visual communication as well as verbal communication but hard challenges about the style and purpose of preaching.

Preachers might try to respond to cultural shifts and lack of congregational interest by improving their preaching, and using more stories and visual aids. While this might help somewhat, it doesn’t address the deeper issues.

 

Why don’t other people question preaching?

If the problems described above are accurate, you might ask why there aren’t lots of other people questioning the value of preaching. My best guesses are:

• We’ve been conditioned to believe that preaching is an essential part of “church”.

• Preaching is part of the dependency structure created within churches. Church members have been conditioned to be fed a sermon each week. They have been taught that this is an essential aspect of being a Christian, and that they will be weak or ineffective if they aren’t fed in this way. Even if sermons are boring and unproductive, they are still safe and undemanding.

• Preaching has been part of Christian tradition throughout the ages – so why would anyone question it?

• Preaching is perceived to have a biblical mandate and is seen as sacred. The biblical, historical and cultural aspects of sermons are not clearly considered.

• Ministers need to preach – it’s part of their job, ministry and purpose in life. They have been trained to preach, love preaching and usually do it well. It is difficult for a minister to question an essential part of the job they are employed to do.

• Ministers like to preach sermons. They feel safe, fulfilled and anointed. Ministers feel responsible for their congregations, and believe that good quality sermons are an effective way to disciple their congregation.

What is the alternative?

A better and more scriptural alternative is personal and corporate Bible study, listening to God, discussion, and working together in mutually-accountable community to help each other apply biblical truths in our lives, community and world.

Although there are some potential dangers in removing preaching, it is worth the risk.  They are:

1. Dependent people might not learn to feed themselves.  If we take away the church structures that nurture dependency, what will happen? My guess is that many churches and church attendees would collapse, including many that have been in church for many years. This is a good example of how current organised church methods have created dependency. However, unless a change like this is made, we will continue to create dependency.

2. People might only read/study what they like, and avoid some of the harder or more important issues – at least preaching may/can address some of the harder issues we might want to avoid. However, mutual accountability groups can also address this issue, and ensure that the full breadth of important scripture and doctrine is covered.

Conclusion

Redefining sermons as “teaching” might appear to be a solution, but much more change is required. This change in definition only really helps with the first of the 11 problems listed above. To completely change away from preaching to teaching would require major change including

1. Changing our language by getting rid of the preaching, preacher and sermon words, and replacing them with words relating to teaching

2. Changing our methods. A monologue-sermon (or teaching) from primarily one person is an ineffective way to each. A change to teaching would typically include changing from –

• monologue to dialogue

• one preacher to multiple teachers, discussion groups, peer-to-peer learning

• fixed time-frame to variable timeframes

• large groups listening to one sermon to smaller groups at different levels studying different topics

• no-questioning to many-questions

• a silent audience to a verbally involved class

3. Changing our content. An important question is whether the content people need to learn is infinite, and hence people need sermons/teaching for the rest of their lives, or finite, which implies they don’t need never-ending teaching. Modern Western Christians already know far more about their faith than the majority of Christians for the past 2000 years.  If anything, the modern problem is lack of obedience rather than lack of knowledge.

Basically what needs to be taught (or learnt) is how to understand and obediently apply the Biblical truths in modern Christian lives. This can be done through a mix of specific teaching and discussion in mutually accountable groups. Some of the necessary changes to content include –

• from one-sermon-for-all to different teaching for different levels of discipleship

• from one-topic-for-all to different topics for different groups

• from inspired topics to planned teaching

• from people need a sermon each week for the rest of their lives to people can “graduate”, having learnt the essential things (they might still have occasional in-service training)

 

David Allis has a theology degree, and was involved in full-time Christian work for 16 years, including missions work in Calcutta, and running a Bible College in Auckland. Two years ago, he transitioned from leadership in a large city church, to joining with wife Margaret in developing a missional church in their home and attempting to extend the kingdom in their community. They network with other house churches in New Zealand (www.edgenet.org.nz).

The Church has Had its Day

Shorter version from NZ Baptist Magazine

David Allis, a member of the Apostolic Church movement, was a guest speaker at last November’s Baptist Assembly in Nelson. He was invited to argue the affirmative in a moot entitled, The Church Has Had its Day. The following is an edited version of a paper he made available to Assembly delegates after the debate…

It is obvious that at a higher level this moot can never be true.  The universal church, consisting of the redeemed from all ages, both alive and dead, certainly can never have “had its day.” The New Testament describes the Church as the body of Christ with Christ as its head. It would be dangerous to argue that Christ has been unsuccessful with his own body.

But if we narrow the discussion to the Church that we are part of, and are investing our time, energy, prayers, money and lives into then perhaps we have the basis for some debate.

Our part of the New Zealand Church is an evangelical, Bible-believing, modern, Western, organised, institutional church visible through its buildings, ministers and services based on preaching and worship. So before I launch into any critique I want to affirm the hard working godly and committed members and ministers. Any critique of our Church is not because of their lack of dedication, hard work, commitment and prayer.

Neither am I a critic throwing rocks from the outside. I am personally committed to extending God’s Kingdom and helping establish the Church as He would have it in New Zealand today.

It is also important for individual Christians to be a part of a Christian community so as to encourage each other, build accountable relationships and gather together for mutual encouragement. For the sake of God’s Kingdom it’s important for Christians to be connected with other parts of the “body.”

But, as we do with any enterprise that absorbs huge amounts of time and money, we need to honestly review the effectiveness of the  “organised Church.”  Is our Church working as well as it could or should be?

I want to argue three reasons why the modern New Zealand evangelical, organised, minister and Sunday service-centred Church is past its best.

1. It isn’t working.

2. It isn’t Biblical.

3. It is actually harmful.

1. Our Church is not working/effective

a). Our Church is not growing:

• A few are growing rapidly at 5%, 10% or 20% a year but most struggle to remain static and many are in decline.

• The successful “mega-churches” are few and far between, usually dependent on a unique leader, and can’t easily be duplicated.

• For every successful mega church there are hundreds of less successful wannabe mega-churches which would love to grow, but don’t.

• Many churches that appear to be growing are doing so through transfer growth – at the expense of other churches.

• New immigrants are creating an artificial impression that the Church is not declining

• Overall, census data shows the proportion of New Zealand’s population in the main denominations has decreased steadily over the past 50 years, and they now have only 45-90% of the proportion of New Zealand’s population they had in 1956.

• The Apostolic Church movement, of which I am part, grew in the late 1980s and mid 1990s but has since declined to the same number of members as it had in 1993.

• The Baptist denomination’s numbers are static and when adjusted to allow for New Zealand’s population growth since 1956, are in slight decline.

• In a typical year both the Apostolic and Baptist Churches see a third of their churches grow and the other two thirds remain static or decline

• By contrast, Buddhist, Hindu and Moslem religions have shown considerable growth in New Zealand since 1971.

• Many denominations have a huge backdoor. Baptist churches, for example, are baptising the equivalent of nearly 10% of adult church members each year, yet there is little overall growth in the denomination.

b). Our Church isn’t what we hope/dream it should be.

We dream of churches with lots of people getting saved, growing and being discipled, of queues at the door on Sundays, overflowing offering bags and so many volunteers ministries have waiting lists.

The reality is that the local church of 70 adults 10 years ago is still the local church of about 70 adults. In 10 years of hard work, prayer, programmes, and planning there has been little overall change.

But it could be worse. We are happy our church hasn’t closed, or is in rapid decline. It might not be growing but at least it’s not falling apart!

c). Our church isn’t producing obedient disciples.

Overall, Christians are little different from their neighbours.

Statistics from American sources show the divorce rate among church attendees in the United States is much the same as among non-attendees while the rate of pre-marital and extra-marital sex is about the same in both groups. New Zealand church-goers may be different in some of these areas, but are we different enough to stand out?

One area of difference is the “Christian Vote.” About 20% of the New Zealand population attends church monthly, yet Christians are ignored politically while much smaller groups have greater political influence. Politicians believe there is no unified Christian vote in New Zealand and that Christians typically vote the same way as the rest of society.

d). There is a leadership crisis in our Church

There is an overall shortage of ministers in most New Zealand denominations, along with a high level of burn-out and disillusionment. Statistics in the United States show 80% of American pastors and their spouses feel unqualified and discouraged in their role; 80% of Bible School and seminary graduates who enter ministry will leave within five years; 70% of pastors battle with depression; 50% are so discouraged they would leave the profession if they could but have no other way of making a living; 80% of pastors’ spouses feel their spouse is overworked and wish they could choose another profession.

The situation in New Zealand may not be as extreme, but we probably face similar problems.

e). There is a membership crisis in our Church

In New Zealand there is a big gap between the number of people who call themselves Christian and the number that are committed to local churches. In December 2004 a NZ Herald poll of 1000 New Zealanders showed that 67.7% of those polled said they believed in God but only 20.6% said they often attended a church. The 2001 Census shows just under 60% of New Zealanders claiming to be Christian.

Of the 60% who call themselves Christians, less than one third are regular church attendees while the rest are outside the normal church. A Massey University ISSP study of 1244 people in 2005 shows that only 37% of New Zealanders have never belonged to a church and that while 16.5% of New Zealanders are active church members, almost three times as many (44.8%) have current or previous church links but now aren’t actively involved.

f). Society is changing and our Church is being left behind.

Historically, the Church has taken the lead in areas such as the value of human life, education, and the abolition of slavery. Now we are behind in other important areas we should be leading, such as gender equality, ecology and the “green” movement, world justice and the elimination of poverty.

We find it difficult to distinguish the modernist aspects of our current church values and culture from those that are an essential part of Christianity.

g). Our Church is not impacting society, either in the local community or wider society.

Most (but certainly not all) churches are isolated from their local community and have very little effect on that community. Most communities wouldn’t notice if the church closed. Some are valued as venues for weddings and funerals but are otherwise not seen as important.

Yet, the Church should not just be different from society, it should be way out in front.

2. Our Church isn’t biblical

Our church has some theology, values, structures and practices that don’t reflect New Testament priorities.

a). We don’t love the poor.

The Bible is clear that we have a responsibility to help the poor, yet rich Western Christians and churches control trillions of dollars in assets and income, while 850 million people, including 200 million Christians, are currently starving.

UN studies show $US70-80 billion a year would provide essential health care and education for all the world’s poor. If Western Christians gave just 5% of their income towards this, it would solve the problem totally.

We rich Christians say we love people, and that the Church is the body of Christ, yet we do very little for the poor.  It is sobering to reflect on how much we would do to save our own child’s life, and how little we do to save the life of other children.

b). We don’t really care about world mission.

Despite Christ’s command to evangelise, two thirds of all people from AD30 to the present day have never heard of his name.

Christians spend only a relatively small amount each year on mission to the non-Christian, non-evangelised world – $250 million annually is spent on these 38 countries and 1.6 billion people. By contrast, Western churches spend $810 million a year on  annual audits of churches and agencies, $16 billion of church funds is embezzled each year with only about 5% of those responsible being caught, $8 billion a year is spent by Christians worldwide travelling to over 500 conferences to talk about missions, the combined personal income of church members is $15 trillion a year while each member spends on average  $7.80 a year on foreign missions or about one one-thousandth of their income.

We are unfocused and ineffective with world mission, with the total cost of Christian outreach averaging $330,000 for each and every newly baptised person.

c). We have built a church model centred on the extra-biblical – particularly professional ministers and Sunday meetings focused on corporate-sung-worship and sermons.

Preaching in the Bible is always in the context of evangelism, whereas we typically preach to the converted (week after week for the rest of their lives). The preaching in Western churches is extra-biblical and is typically either teaching or a pep talk.

One of the main reasons we gather on a Sunday is for corporate worship, yet corporate sung worship led from the front is conspicuously absent from the New Testament.

We say we believe in the “priesthood of all believers” but typically centre our churches on a paid (or volunteer) professional minister or leader.

Many churches say they are “purpose driven” yet in practice they are usually quite programme orientated.

d). We offer theology that is over-simplified and doesn’t accurately reflect Biblical values.

We offer “cheap” salvation which results in untransformed lives. This salvation appears like a “get into heaven free” opportunity, rather than an encounter with the living God who calls us to radical discipleship.

We focus on narrow areas of sin such as those relating to sexuality and honesty but neglect other important ones such as pride, gluttony, greed and materialism

3. Our church is harmful for the Kingdom

The Church is often focused on building itself, rather than building the Kingdom.

a). We value our local church more than the Kingdom.

Where does the first of our money get spent? It typically goes towards operating a Sunday service, including the costs of buildings, ministers, sermon preparation and music equipment. Only a small proportion of the income is spent on Kingdom activities outside the local church.

Our model of church is expensive with a huge financial cost involved in operating organised churches in the Western world. For New Zealand Baptists the cost per church attendee is about $750 income a year, plus $10,000 capital per attendee.

As well as financial cost, there is a huge cost in volunteer time in operating the normal organised church in New Zealand. Millions of hours are given to running the church and its programmes each year.

We waste our resources on maintaining church for Christian consumers.

Church volunteers’ time is also used predominantly for activities associated with operating the local church, rather than wider Kingdom activities. I estimate that, typically, 90% of a church’s time, energy and finances are spent on maintaining the church for its members.

Society has a poor perception of Christians and the Church and we are known for the wrong issues. For example, in New Zealand we’re more known as the people who are pro-smacking, than we are known as people who love the poor.

b). Our church is harmful for Christians.

It insulates and inoculates Christians, usually keeping them dependent on sermons and church programmes, and leaving them biblically and theologically illiterate or immature.

Our church drains people’s time, energy, vision, finance, enthusiasm, initiative and responsibility. It generally suits “yes” people who fit in and help maintain the status quo.

Because of our structures and practices we disempower and create dependence on Sunday meetings, sung worship, sermons, professional ministers, programmes and buildings.

Church styles foster a brand of consumerism, as we create and adjust programmes to cater for the needs of our members and those we are trying to attract.

Typical church members aren’t discipled, and their lives aren’t radically transformed. We typically “write off” any Christians outside the organised church and think that people only leave because they are “back-sliding” or have unresolved issues. Yet in reality people leave for a wide variety or reasons including spiritual survival and a realisation their church doesn’t accurately reflect biblical priorities.

The New Zealand Church has major problems, yet many church leaders are unable to see these, or are reluctant to face them directly, or are unsure what to do about them. Many church members see these problems and have become uninvolved, problematic, or even left the church.

But pointing out the problems is always easy. Doing something about them is much harder. The challenge facing all of us is how to transform our imperfect church into a church that we and Jesus can be proud of. This can’t be achieved by minor adjustments, or designing new programmes. Major reformation is needed – the sort that would make Martin Luther proud – a reformation of the core values, purpose and methods of the church.

There will not be just one answer, or any on way of “doing” or “being” church in New Zealand. Rather, we need a variety of experiments, models and attempts to be relevant in this changing society.

Some of these will work and others will fail but we need to be committed to honestly evaluating what we are doing, communicating and working together to find relevant solutions, so the Kingdom of God will grow.

• Unabridged copies of this article are available at http://www.edgenet.org.nz/ideasfromedge/thechurchhashaditsday.htm

 

David Allis is married to Margaret and they have six children. He has a theology degree, and was involved in full-time Christian work for 16 years, including missions work in Calcutta, and running a Bible College in Auckland. Two years ago, he transitioned from leadership in a large city church, to joining with Margaret in developing a missional church in their home and attempting to extend the kingdom in their community. They network with other house churches in New Zealand (www.edgenet.org.nz ), and have started some businesses “to pay the bills and feed our hungry children!”

Measures of Success

This is part of a House2House email recently – a short excerpt to consider. If you want to receive the House2House email regularly, go to http://www.house2house.net

It raises a good question … “how many people were ‘saved’ & added to our church last year?” & a good follow-on question is more personal … “How many people have been ‘saved’ & added to our church in the past 1 (or 10) years through MY personal relationships (or my family)????

In typical non-missional churches, the answer to this is usually quite sad – ‘we’ rely on the church programs & advertising to try to add a few people to the church (often people who are already Christians), rather than taking personal responsibility for mission to our friends & community.

My prayer is that more people will think & act as missionaries to their community …. “If I was a missionary, what would I do?” … let that be the question on our hearts …. Or … “I am a missionary here .. what should I be doing?”

Blessings, David Allis

“I was equally stuck by comments made by Steve and Marilyn Hill ([email protected]), as they quoted from the book, Why Men hate Going To Church: “One New Year’s Eve I asked my pastor a very straight forward question: ‘How many adults came to faith in Christ at our church this year?’ The pastor, a very diplomatic man, said, ‘I am not sure. I’ll have to get back to you on that.’ But he and I knew the answer. It was zero.”

“I added it up. That year our church conducted 104 regularly scheduled worship services, 7 special services, some 250 adult classes, 600 committee meetings and 1,000 small-group meetings and ran through a $750,000 budget to produce exactly zero new adult followers of Jesus Christ. We gathered. We worshiped. We loved each other. But we produced no crop. Our church was a contraption worthy of Rube Goldberg: lots of sound, motion, fury to produce a tiny amount of fruit. . . How do we conceal this scandalous lack of productivity? Some clever churches have simply changed the definition of crop. Churches now judge success by the standards of a family reunion. How many people came and did everyone get along?”

The challenge to all of us as we head out into another year of this exciting journey of following God on the simple church trail is, “Are we listening to Him, and when He speaks are we obeying?” For many, the good news is that they really are experiencing more of the Lord as they grow through simple churches. Barna in his most recent studies shows that there is a significantly higher level of satisfaction in house churches than there is within the traditional church structures. Let’s build on this by actively seeking the Lord to impact every part of our daily lives, and not just our meetings together.”

The Church has had its day…!”

By David Allis

We’ve been asked to debate the moot ‘The church has had its day”, or maybe in product terms the debate would be that the church is ‘past it’s best by date’. With a little bit of thought, it’s obvious that at a higher level, this moot can never be true. The universal church, consisting of all the redeemed from all ages, both alive & dead, certainly can never have ‘had its day’. The NT describes the church as the body of Christ, with Christ as the head – it would be dangerous to argue that Christ has been unsuccessful with his own body. The NT also refers to the church as the bride of Christ, and no sane person tells the groom that his bride is ugly or unsuccessful or ‘past her best by date’.

But if we narrow the ‘church’ we are discussing down to the church that we are part of, and are investing our time, energy, prayers, finance & lives into, then I believe we have the basis for some debate. So, let’s consider ‘our’ church – ‘our’ part of the NZ church – an evangelical, Bible-believing, modern, western, organized, institutional church that is typically visible through aspects that are obviously of importance to it, church buildings, ministers & church services centred around worship & preaching.

Before stepping into any critique of  ’our’ church, I want to affirm the hard working, godly & committed members & ministers in this church. ’Our’ church is maintained & resourced by wonderful, committed men & women of God, who are working hard, sacrificially, & are doing their best to help build God’s church, & to extend His kingdom.  Any critique of our church is not because of lack of dedication, work, commitment & prayer by the committed members & ministers.

Also, I am personally committed to extending God’s kingdom, and helping establish the church as He would have it be in NZ today. I’m not a critic on the outside throwing rocks at the church – I’m a committed participant inside the church saying “Hey guys, wake up, look around, is our church really working? Let’s take a good look at it and see what changes need to be made.”

Also, I believe it is important for individual Christians to be part of a ‘christian community’, which includes having committed & accountable relationships with other Christians, and gathering together regularly for times of mutual encouragement.  Many Christians in NZ, seeing major problems within the ‘organised church’, have left it.  Unfortunately some of these Christians haven’t found or formed alternative faith communities, and are now living in isolation. For the sake of God’s kingdom, it is important for Christians to be connected with other parts of the ‘body’.

However, we need to look closely at the ‘organised church’.  I am convinced that for our church, as with any enterprise that absorbs huge amounts of time & money, we should honestly review its effectiveness. Is ‘our’ church working as well as it could be or should be? And if it isn’t, let’s face it honestly, & consider what we can do about it, rather than continuing to waste our energy.

I want to argue that our church, the modern NZ evangelical, organized, minister-centric, Sunday-service-centric church is past it’s best by date for 3 primary reasons.

Firstly, it isn’t working

Secondly, it isn’t biblical

Thirdly, it is actually harmful

This might seem extreme, & you may not agree with all of it, & it doesn’t necessarily apply to each and every local congregation, but any glimpses of truth in it are worth reflecting on.

1.      Our Church is not Working/Effective

Overall, Our church in NZ isn’t working – it isn’t growing, it isn’t affecting the local community or society overall, & it isn’t extending the Kingdom of God. Some local churches are working wonderfully, but most churches aren’t working as we would hope or dream.

a.      Our church is not growing (it is static or declining)

  • A few churches are growing rapidly, at 5% or 10% or 20% per year

o       But most churches are struggling to remain static, and many churches are declining in numbers

  • A few churches have grown and become ‘successful’ mega churches, and are apparently achieving great things

o       But the mega-churches are few & far between. They are usually dependent on a unique leader, & can’t be duplicated on demand.

o       Most denominations would love to grow mega-churches in major population centres, but they can’t just make them happen ‘on demand’. Mega-churches are dependent on many important factors, and can’t be easily duplicated.

o       For every successful mega-church, there are hundred’s of unsuccessful, wannabe mega-churches – churches which would love to grow & become a mega-church, but won’t ever get there.

o       And surrounding many mega-churches are lots of declining community churches, whose leaders wonder if the mega church is growing through transfer from their declining congregation.

  • Many of the churches that appear to be growing are doing so because of transfer growth – ie they are growing at the ‘expense’ of other churches.
  • New immigrants, particularly from Asia, are also boosting the church population and artificially giving the impression that the church is not declining. These immigrants are often settling in growing ethnically-based congregations.
  • Overall, an annual 5% growth rate for churches would be great – but it doesn’t normally happen.

o       Based on census data, the church in NZ has declined as a % of the NZ population over the past 50 years. Below is a graph of that indicates this – it uses census figures for membership of the main denominations, adjusted NZ’s population growth, and adjusted back to a common starting point of 1 in 1956. (eg a denomination with say 10% of NZers claiming allegiance in 1956, and 12% in 1961 would show as ‘1’ in 1956 & ‘1.2’ in 1961).  This shows that the proportion of NZ’s population in these main denominations has decreased steadily over the past 50 years, and they now only have about 45-90% of the proportion of NZ’s population that they had in 1956. (Note – based on census data, this is only one indicator of what is happening – membership and attendance can be quite different, and the decline in church membership is partly a sociological factor as many people today consider church membership less important than their counterparts 50 years ago.)

o       Other smaller denominations in NZ are typically not growing. For example, the Apostolic Church Movement (which I am part of) experienced good growth in the late 1980’s, and mid 1990’s, but has since declined and now has the same number of members as in 1993.

o       The graph below indicates the relatively static state of the NZ Baptist Denomination These figures, which have been adjusted to allow for NZ’s population growth since 1956, show that overall the Baptists are not quite growing at the rate of NZ’s general population growth.

o       For the Apostolic denomination, in a ‘typical’ year, 1/3rd of it’s churches grow, and the other 2/3rds remain static[i] or decline. This is also true for the Baptist Denomination (in 2005-6, 37% of Baptist churches grew 5% or more.)

o       When growth is considered over a 3 year period, the Apostolic churches normally fit into 4 groups, each consisting of about 25% of the churches – 25% of the churches average at least 5% annual growth, 25% are static, 25% decline more than 5% annually, and 25% are closed or leave the denomination.

o       In contrast, other religions are seeing considerable growth in NZ, as shown on the two graphs below. The first shows the growth of 3 other religions, adjusted for NZ population growth & back to a factor of 1 in 1971. The second graph shows actual numbers for these 3 religious groups & NZ Baptists according to the census. (Note – immigration to NZ is a significant factor in the growth of Buddhism, Islam & Hinduism).

o       Many denominations have a huge backdoor, and there is no relevant research to see what is happening to these Christians – for example, consider the NZ Apostolic & Baptist denominations (note these are chosen because their statistics are recorded and available – there are other NZ denominations with much larger ‘back doors’.)

§         The Apostolic Movement in NZ. In 1993, it had 10800 members. Over the period to 2006, it’s churches reported that there were another 12500 people ‘saved & added to the local churches’. Yet in 2006, there were still only 10800 members in this denomination (ie 10800 + 12500 = 10800).  This implies that there are more ex-Apostolics in NZ (12500 less any that have died or moved overseas) than there are current members of Apostolic churches.

§         NZ Baptists – despite baptizing a good number of adults each year (equivalent to nearly 10% of the number of adult church members), there has been little growth in membership of the NZ Baptist denomination.

  • 1970-2005 à 17300 members + 46000 baptised = 22900 members (40400 died, moved or lost). The overall growth is equivalent to 0.8% per year.
  • 1980-2005 à 19400 members + 34600 baptisms = 22900 members (31100 missing) & 0.7% growth pa
  • 1990-2005 à 23600 members + 18600 baptisms = 22900 members (19300 missing) & 0.2% loss pa

b.      Our church isn’t what we hope/dream it should be (we accept reality because things could be even worse)

  • Most churches aren’t working as we would hope or dream they would. There is a big gap between our dreams for Our church, and the reality

o       We dream of churches with lots of people getting ‘saved’, growing & being discipled. We dream of people queuing at the door on Sundays, of offering bags overflowing because everyone is faithfully & generously giving, of having too many volunteers so there is a waiting list to become a children’s ministry worker. We dream of releasing huge resource to mission here in NZ & overseas.

o       The reality is that the local church that was 70 adults 10 years ago, is still about 70 adults. Despite 10 years of hard work, prayer, programs & planning, there has been little overall change.  There are still not enough volunteers and not enough finance. The majority of our church members haven’t added anyone to the church through friendship & personal evangelism in the past 10 years. A few people move in, a few leave, a few born, a few die … but not a lot changes.  We run programs to raise the level of prayer or evangelism or bible reading or discipleship or vision & purpose … & we go ‘yahoo’ … but nothing really changes. In 5 years time, we’ll be teaching the same thing in a different package to the same people ….

o       But it could be much worse, so we accept ‘reality’ as the best we can do. We’re happy that our church isn’t declining rapidly. We’re happy it hasn’t closed. It might not be growing, but at least it isn’t falling apart rapidly.

c.       Our church isn’t producing obedient disciples

  • Overall, Christians are little different from their neighbours. Taking some examples from Ron Sider’s book “The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience”, he quotes George Barna –

o       Divorce rate – effectively no difference between church attendees & non-attendees. In fact, in parts of the ‘Bible Belt’, the divorce rates are 50% above the national average.[ii]

o       Sider also quotes US statistics on sexuality, including pre-marital sex & extra-marital sex – where church-attendees are apparently little different than non-attendees.

o       NZ church-goers may be different in some of these areas from the US, but it is questionable whether we are different enough to stand out.  This is apparent in one simple area – the ‘christian vote’. Despite large numbers of church-attendees in NZ, including up to 20% of the population attending church monthly, Christians are virtually ignored politically.  Much smaller minority groups have much greater political influence than Christians in NZ. Why is this? In NZ, Politicians think that there is no common Christian vote, and that Christians typically vote in similar ways to the rest of society.

 

d.      There is a leadership crisis in our church

o       ‘Ministry’ is hard work and increasingly complicated.

o       There is a shortage of ministers in most NZ denominations, including Pentecostal, Methodist, Presbyterian & other mainstream denominations.

o       There is a high level of ministers burnout, or ministers leaving ‘ministry’ because they are disillusioned.

o       Here are some statistics from the US regarding the problems for ministers.[iii] These figures are possibly overstated, and the situation in NZ is not as extreme as this, but we probably face similar problems.

§         80 percent of U.S. pastors & their spouses feel unqualified and discouraged in their role as pastors.

§         80 percent of seminary and Bible school graduates who enter the ministry will leave in the first five years.

§         70 percent of pastors constantly fight depression.

§         50 percent of pastors are so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living.

§         80% of pastors’ spouses feel their spouse is overworked, and wish they would choose another profession.

e.       There is a membership crisis in our church – the majority of ‘christians’ are uninvolved, or outside the organized church.

  • In NZ, there is a big gap between the number of people who call themselves Christians, and the number that are committed to local churches.
  • About 60% of NZers call themselves Christians

o       A Herald poll of 1000 New Zealanders in December 2004 revealed that 67.7 per cent of people said they believe in God, but only 20.6 per cent said they often attended church.[iv]

o       According to the 2001 NZ census, just under 60% of NZers claimed to be Christian (typically through stating that they are part of a Christian denomination)

  • Church attendance has been consistently estimated at about 20% of the NZ population attending at least 1x/month. These figures have been quite consistent in a variety of surveys over the past 20 years – the results for these are shown in the chart below.
  • Hence, of the 60% of NZers who call themselves Christians, less than 1/3 regularly attend church – 2/3 are outside the normal church. Christian leaders often respond to this by saying that the census figures are incorrect & that many of the people who link themselves to ‘christian’ in the census are only ‘christian’ by association, rather than by belief.
  • According to a Massey University ISSP study of 1244 people in 2005, surveyed on their status of belonging to a church or other religious organization –

o       Belong & participate 16.5%)

o       Belong & don’t participate 15.1%

o       Used to belong 29.7%

o       Never belonged 35.5% (this ties in well with 30% of NZers claiming ‘no religion’ in the 2001 Census)

o       (3.2% didn’t answer)

  • Assuming that these surveys accurately represent the Christian proportions in NZ, they make serious reading –

o       A total of 61.3% of people indicating previous exposure to religion &/or faith (this ties in quite well with the 20% attending church at least 1x/month

o       Of these, 48% (29.7/61.3) are no longer involved, and 25% (15.1/61.3) belong but don’t participate – a total of 73.1% of people with previous Christian allegiance are no longer actively involved in church organisations.

o       This means that only 27% of people (about ¼) with a Christian background are now actively involved in organised church.

f.        Society is changing, & our church is being left behind.

  • Society is changing, but the church is behind

o       Historically, the church led in areas like valuing human life, education, abolition of slavery.  However, we are currently behind in other important areas where we should be leading, such as gender equality, ecology & the ‘green’ movement, world justice & the elimination of poverty

o       Our ‘modern’ church is struggling in an increasingly post-modern society.  We find it difficult to distinguish the modern-ist aspects of our current church values & culture, from those that are essential parts of Christianity.

g.      Our church is not impacting society, either in the local community or wider society

  • Some churches are successfully impacting their community, & extending the Kingdom of God

o       But most churches are isolated from their local community & have very little effect on the community

o       Many communities wouldn’t notice if the local church closed

o       Some churches are valued for their buildings, for use for weddings and funerals, but otherwise are not important to the community

o       In contrast, the church should not just be different from society, but it should be far ahead of the rest of society. “In light of what the New Testament says about the multiethnic character of the church, Christian congregations should be far ahead instead of lagging behind society in the struggle against racism. In light of what the NT says about economic sharing in the one body of Christ, the church should stand out in stunning contrast to the surrounding materialism as Christians give 10, 20, 30 percent and more of their income to do the work of the kingdom, including empowering Christians and others to escape poverty. In light of what the Bible says about sexual purity and marital fidelity, the love and joy in Christian homes where spouses keep their vows for a lifetime should contrast so starkly with the agony in contemporary families that millions of broken persons are attracted to the Savior.”[v]

2.      Our church isn’t biblical

Our church has some theology, values, teaching, structures & practices that don’t reflect the NT priorities.

a.      We don’t love the poor

o       The Bible is clear that we have a responsibility to help the poor.  This is obvious in passages like Matt 25, James 2:1-7

o       Yet we are rich Christians who are part of a rich church. The rich western Christians & churches control trillions of dollars in assets and income, while 850 million people, including 200m Christians are currently starving[vi].

o       1.2 billion people live in absolute poverty, trying to survive on less than $1US per day.[vii] In addition to these, another 1.6 billion are very poor, living on less than $2US/day.

o       50% of people in the world earn less than $3.50NZ/day ($1300pa).[viii]  This is the price of a cup of coffee in NZ – yet there are 3 billion people in the world who try to survive on that same amount each day.

o       UN studies show that $70-80b US per year would be enough to provide essential health care & education for all the poor in the world.[ix] If western Christians gave just 5% of their income towards this, it would solve this problem totally.

o       30,000 children will die today from hunger & preventable diseases.[x] Another 30,000 will die tomorrow, and the day after. This is 10 million children per year – or 21 children dying needlessly each minute – a few dollars used wisely would save their lives. We rich Christians say we love people, and that the church is the body and bride of Christ, yet we do very little for the poor. It is sobering to reflect on how much we would do to save our own child’s life, and how little we do to save the life of other children.

o       In the words of James (2:15-17) “If a brother of sister is doesn’t have any clothes or food, you shouldn’t just say, ‘I hope all goes well for you. I hope you will be warm and have plenty to eat.’ What good is it to say this, unless you give them what they need? Faith that doesn’t lead us to do good deeds is all alone and dead!”  We live in a global village with 850 million starving people, including 200 million Christians, and say we have faith, yet do virtually nothing to help them. If we believe the words of James, our faith is ‘alone and dead’.

b.      We don’t really care about world mission
Despite Christ’s command to evangelize, 2/3rds of all people from AD 30 to the present day have never even heard of his name.[xi]

 

We are not financially committed to world mission

o       Christians spend only a relatively small amount each year on mission to the non-christian, non-evangelised ‘World A’ (Barrett & Johnson say only $250million annually is spent on mission to these 38 countries & 1.6 billion people,)[xii]  In contrast to spending –

§         $810 million per year on annual audits of churches and agencies

§         $16 billion of church funds embezzled per year (of these, only 5% get caught) (Interestingly, this amount embezzled is more than the $15 billion total spent on foreign missions)

§         It is estimated that Christians worldwide spend around $8 BILLION dollars PER YEAR going to the more than 500 conferences to TALK about missions.

o       91% of all Christian outreach/evangelism does not target non-Christians but targets other Christians in World C (rich world) countries, cities, peoples, populations, or situations

o       The personal income of Christians (church members) is $15.2 trillion pa

o       The average Christian gives 1.74% of their income towards church and mission work (The average per capita income of Christians is $8050, the average giving of Christians is $140 per year, or 1.74% of their income).

o       The average per capita giving of Christians to foreign missions is $7.80 per person each year – this is 1/20th of their giving, or 1/1000th of their income.

§         Think about this – the Christian church is spending 20x more on it’s own spiritual needs than on the enormous needs overseas.  To quote the late Brian Hathaway “this is an outright crime”

§         This is obviously not a refection of biblical values

§         Note that these are international figures – but it seems unlikely that NZ is much different

We are unfocussed and ineffective with world mission

o       The total cost of Christian outreach averages $330,000 for each and every newly baptized person.  In the USA it costs $1.55 million per baptized person, and in India it costs $9800 per baptized person. (Based on all costs of ministry divided by number of baptisms per year.)

o       It costs Christians 700 times more money to baptize converts in rich World C countries (eg Switzerland) than in poor World A countries (eg Nepal)

o       Despite BILLIONS of dollars spent by dozens of denominations toward over a hundred major programs to fulfill the Great Commission by the year 2000, we didn’t even keep up with population growth, much less reach the 2 billion unreached.

c.       We have built a church model that is centred around things that are extra-biblical – particularly professional ministers & Sunday meetings focused on corporate-sung-worship & sermons.

o       Sermons, as we practice them, are not the same as preaching in the Bible. Preaching in the Bible is always in the context of evangelism, whereas we typically preach to the converted (week after week for the rest of their lives). The ‘preaching’ that occurs in western churches is extra-biblical (I have a separate paper detailing this), and is typically either teaching or a form of pep-talk.

o       We say that one of our main reasons for gathering on a Sunday is for corporate worship.  Yet corporate sung worship led from the front is conspicuously absent from the NT – what we think is so important is actually extra-biblical.

o       We say we believe in the ‘priesthood of all believers’, but we practice the priesthood of a few, and typically centre our churches around a paid (or volunteer) professional ‘minister’ (or leader, spiritual guru).

§         Professional ministers are often dependent on ‘keeping it going’. Many ministers now have virtually no other vocational choice, as they have sacrificially committed their lives and working careers to building the ‘organised’ church.

§         It could be perceived that professional ministers have a conflict of interest – they are effectively asking people to give money to the church, and yet this money that is given ultimately pays the ministers salary, and the minister often decides how the rest of the finance is spent on church activities.

o       Many churches say they are ‘purpose driven’, yet in practice they are usually quite program orientated.

d.      We offer theology that is over-simplified & doesn’t accurately reflect Biblical values

o       We offer ‘cheap’ salvation which results in untransformed lives.  This salvation appears like a ‘get into heaven free’ opportunity, rather than an encounter with the living God who calls us to radical discipleship. This is more of a problem in Pentecostal churches, and can be seen in comments like “we saw 10 people saved on Sunday”.

o       As Ronald Sider states “Whether emphasizing simplistic slogans such as ‘once-in-grace-always-in-grace’ or focusing on seeker-friendly strategies that neglect costly discipleship, we have propagated the heretical notion that people can receive forgiveness without sanctification, heaven without holiness. … When Christians today reduce the gospel to forgiveness of sins, they are offering a one-sided, heretical message that is flatly unfaithful to the Jesus they worship as Lord and God.”[xiii]

o       We focus on narrow areas of sin in areas such as sexuality & honesty, and neglect other important areas which are common in our society and church including pride, gluttony, greed & materialism.

o       As discussed in a. above, the Bible is clear that we have a responsibility to help the poor, yet our church leaders often don’t teach or practice this.

3.      Our church is harmful for the Kingdom

The church is often focused on building itself, rather than building the kingdom. There is competition between some churches – the church down the road is competing with our church (it’s never our church that is competing).  We see a few apparently successful versions & use them to justify the vast majority of churches that aren’t succeeding.  These forms of church work for the people they work for, but obviously don’t affect the majority of people in contemporary society.

a.      The local church hinders the Kingdom & wastes it’s resources

 

We value OUR local church more than the kingdom.

o       This might sound harsh at first, but consider typical church priorities as indicated by where the time and money are spent.  Where does the first of the money get spent? It typically goes towards operating a Sunday service, including the costs of buildings, ministers, sermon preparation & music equipment. Only a small proportion of the income is spent on kingdom activities outside the local church.

 

Our model of church is expensive

o       There is huge financial cost in operating organised churches in the western world. Consider the combined factors of weekly income required to operate the church and the capital tied up in church buildings.

§         For the NZ Apostolic Church Movement, the cost per church attendee is about $500 income per year plus $3300 tied up in capital.

§         For the NZ Baptists, the cost is about $750 income pa plus $10,000 capital per attendee. Hence, for a family of say 5 people, the cost is $3750 pa plus $50,000 in capital.

§         One church in Auckland with a congregation of about 450 people has a building worth about $45 million – this is $100,000 of capital per person. Even if the same amount was invested in commercial property (at say 10% return), this would generate $5 million per year.

§         Other older denominations in NZ have much more finance tied up in property – the church in NZ is a multi-billion dollar organization.

o       If we choose to view this finance as being used completely to generate growth in God’s kingdom, then the cost of this growth is very high.

§         For the NZ Apostolic Movement, typically about 1000 people are ‘saved and added’ to the church each year.  This gives a ‘cost’ per person ‘saved & added’ of $5000 plus $33,000 tied up in capital.

§         For the NZ Baptists, about 1100-1500 people are baptized each year. This gives a cost per baptism of $25,000 plus $330,000 tied up in capital.

§         If all the churches in NZ operated at the same cost as the Baptists, for say 20% of NZ’s population (800,000 people) the cost would be $600m pa plus $8 billion tied up in capital.

o       In addition to the financial cost, there is a huge cost of volunteer time in operating the normal organised church – in NZ, millions of hours are given to running the church & its programs each year.

 

We waste our resources on maintaining church for Christian consumers

o       Similarly, church volunteers time is also used predominantly for activities associated with operating the local church, rather than wider kingdom activities.

o       What proportion of a typical church’s time, energy & finance is spent on maintaining ‘church’ for the members? I estimate that it is typically 90-95%.

o       I recall an illustration used in a business management class I attended at University – they asked us to imagine a Government office building with 1000 staff. If all the external forms of communication and input/output were removed, they suggested that these 1000 government employees could all keep themselves busy arranging meetings, committees & communicating internally. This illustration was intended to say something about Government employees, but I immediately saw it’s relevance for the church. In a typical church, what proportion of time, energy & finance goes into maintaining ‘church’ for the members, and what proportion goes outside the church into making a difference in the world? It seems to me that about 90% goes towards maintaining the status quo for the members, and only about 10% goes towards making an external difference.

 

Society has a poor perception of Christians & the church

o       The church & Christians are mainly known in society for the wrong issues, or for minor issues, or for what we are against. For example, in NZ we’re known more as the people who are pro-smacking, than we are known as the people who love the poor.

b.      Our church is harmful for Christians

o       Our church insulates and inoculates Christians, usually keeping them dependent on sermons & church programs, and leaving them biblically & theologically illiterate or immature.

o       Our church drains peoples time, energy, vision (some churches say “there is only room for one vision in the church, two visions equals di-vision”), finance, enthusiasm, initiative and responsibility.

o       Our church generally suits ‘yes’ people who fit in & help maintain the status quo.

o       We talk of empowering, but because of our structures & practices, we actually disempower & create dependency on Sunday meetings, sung worship, sermons, professional ministers, programs & buildings

§         To demonstrate this, consider taking these things away & what would be left of the church? What would happen to the individuals in most churches if they suddenly didn’t have regular Sunday meetings, centrally led corporate sung worship, a minister, programs etc? Would they get stronger? (if so, lets get rid of these things) or would they struggle? This demonstrates that we have created a dependency on these things.

§         I heard of a large ‘successful’ church near New York that tried this – it stopped their programs for Christian members for 4 weeks & asked them to get involved in their community activities (the church leader didn’t believe his congregation was dependent on these things). When the church programs restarted on the 5th week, they had lost 2/3rds of their members! (the church leader was shocked). Most people had moved to other churches in the neighbourhood which were continued to provide programs catering for the individuals consumer-based desires.

o       Our church styles foster a form of consumerism, as we create and adjust programs to cater for the needs of our members & those we are trying to attract.

o       Typical church members aren’t discipled, and their lives aren’t radically transformed. As discussed earlier, in many ways Christians aren’t noticeably different in their values than those outside the church.

o       We typically ‘write off’ any Christians outside the organised church, and think that people only leave the church because they are ‘back-sliding’ or have unresolved issues. Yet in reality, people leave the organised church for a wide variety of reasons, including spiritual survival, and a realization that their church doesn’t accurately reflect biblical priorities.

 

 

 

 

CONCLUSION

I am convinced that the church in NZ is facing major problems which need to be bravely and honestly faced. I have given brief outlines of some of the problems – possibly only enough to stimulate reaction & disagreement – each of these areas requires much further analysis and discussion.

The parallel of the Emperor with no clothes is often used, suggesting the church is like the emperor in this story, & that we are like the crowd who believes what it is told – that the emperor is dressed in the best clothes ever. But a little boy sees the truth, that the emperor has no clothes on, & slowly other people see the truth also.

Like the little boy, I (& many of you) are suggesting that the NZ church has major problems, yet many church leaders are unable to see these, or are reluctant to face them directly, or are unsure what to do about them. Many church members have seen these problems, and have become uninvolved, problematic, or even left the church. It is easy to be a little boy, & see the problems. Hopefully you have already seen some, or this article has given you a glimpse of them.

But – pointing out the problems is always easy – doing something about them is much harder. The challenge facing us all is how to reclothe the Emperor in suitable clothes – how do we transform our imperfect church into a church that we & Jesus can be proud of? I am convinced that it can’t be achieved with minor adjustments, or addition of new programs. Major reformation is needed – the sort of reformation that would make Luther proud – reformation of the core values, purpose & methods of the church.

There will not be just one answer, or one way of ‘doing’ or ‘being’ the church in NZ. Rather, we need a wide variety of experiments & models & attempts to be relevant in this changing society. Some of these will work, and others will fail – but we need to be committed to honestly evaluating what we are doing, communicating and working together to find relevant solutions, so the kingdom of God will grow.

Note –this article is still quite ‘raw’ – please don’t use this lack of polish as an excuse to ignore any truth within the article.  As someone who isn’t in ‘paid christian work’, but rather is trying to establish ‘secular’ businesses (to pay the bills), it is difficult to find sufficient time to write something like this, and impossible to find the time to polish it nicely. Happy reading (chewing?). David Allis. November 2006

 

 

Sources

http://www.fellowshipofthemartyrs.com/scary_stats.htm

http://www.gordonconwell.edu/ockenga/globalchristianity/gd/findings.htm

The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience by Ronald Sider, Baker Books 2005

Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger by Ronald Sider, 1997

 


[i] For  these statistics, I define ‘static’ as having annual growth of +/- 5%

[ii] Sider, The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience p18-20

[v] Sider, The Scandal p106

[vii] Sider, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger p2

[viii] http://www.globalrichlist.com/how.html ,  Sider, Rich Christians p2

[ix] Sider, The Scandal p21

[x] Sider, Rich Christians p3

[xi] An AD 2001 reality check: 50 new facts and figures about trends and issues concerning empirical global Christianity today. (from Table 1-1 in World Christian Trends,William Carey Library,David Barrett & Todd Johnson.)http://www.gordonconwell.edu/ockenga/globalchristianity/gd/findings.htm

[xii] 2001 World Christian Trends, William Carey Library, David Barrett & Todd Johnson

[xiii] Sider, The Scandal p59,63