Can Anyone Start a Simple Church?
Can anyone have a pet dog? For sure. Should everyone? I’ve seen my share of neglected pets, whose owner’s simply did not consider the implications of how a family pet would fit into their hectic lives. Can anyone have a child? No doubt. Should everyone have a baby? Again, the challenges of such an immense responsibility behoves one to at least consider the implications of such a choice. As with all decisions, the choice to start a simple church has consequences – and like so many choices, the consequences in this case affects other people. Just because we can doesn’t automatically mean we should.
Continue reading as we look at some of the important considerations in starting a simple church community.
So, can anyone start a simple church?
The answer to this, in my opinion, is both yes and no. In principle, anyone can start a church; in reality, however, not everyone should.
While this may be common sense to most, it is at this junction that some important issues surface. Although we certainly need to see a fresh boldness in God’s people to see many, many simple churches ignite in the context of the Kingdom of God; this initiative is a holy task that involves the well-being of others and requires a healthy dose of the fear of the Lord. It goes without saying that starting a church is not an experiment, merely a “nice idea” or the chance to finally do church “my way”.
Without taking these important considerations into account – how did Jesus say it? “First sit down and count the cost” (Luke 14:28); yes, that’s right – the landscape can often be littered with collateral damage which neither pleases the Father nor glorifies His name. There are many simple churches that start and flounder within a year leaving people more disillusioned than ever. Why do so many fail simple/organic churches fail to get off the ground? Simply … because they’ve failed to build on apostolic foundations. What then are the relevant issues to laying an apostolic foundation?
So glad you asked. First, the issue of motivation.
Without doubt there are many fallen motivations we have to slay before starting any ministry, let alone a church. An inflated sense of self-importance – usually expressed in personal ego and ambition – on the one hand, can foment a view of others as “guinea pigs” upon which we launch “our ministry”. James warned that “where self-seeking exists, confusion and every evil thing are there” (James 3:16). A warped need to be needed, on the other hand, is a slippery slope into a black-hole of co-dependence and multiple layers of hurt and disappointment.
The desire to reveal the Father’s heart to others from the overflow of a secure identity as a beloved son or daughter is the only motivation that leads to fruitful and life-giving ministry. And this brings up the second issue.
Second then, the importance of spiritual wellness.
Many simple churches start out of a reaction to the problems experienced in “big church”. However, when hurting people gather together for even a small length of time, the only guarantee is: more hurt. Attempting to birth a new church with bitterness in one’s heart, or with one’s confidence in tatters, or in order to prove oneself, or … add any number of reactionary reasons here … will not birth a life-giving, God-glorifying church. Hurting people hurt people; burnt people burn people. In contrast, a true response to the Spirit’s leading to start a simple church is only possible from a whole heart.
The reason Paul outlines a list of character requirements for leadership in 1 Timothy Chapter 3 is, at least, two-fold. One, while everyone is invited to aspire to leadership (v. 1) – which in context is synonymous with a spiritual parent not an organisational positional (see What are Hebrew values?) – these character markers represent the fruit of a whole and healthy soul (vv. 2-13).
I personally don’t see these character requirements as first and foremost some “exacting standard” that people must strive after; rather they are “fruit” that indicate a sense of God’s restoring and perfecting work within us.
To be clear then: while ministry simply requires availability, leadership requires maturity. And maturity has less to do with a “canned” notion of outward perfection and more to do with inward peace and soul-health (which of course results in Christlike character). However, here we run into a problem. Who defines maturity?
The answer lies in the second reason Paul outlined these character requirements: to add objectivity to the subjective nature of maturity. We all measure this aspect differently – and thus, Paul’s list in 1 Timothy 3 is a foundational reference point. And we’re even more subjective in attempting to judge our own maturity level. In fact, approved character is an area in which one needs the affirmation of others. Otherwise, I’ll either be guilty of self-promotion or of self-doubt … either flying my own flag or never getting into the game.
Why such a big deal on this issue of maturity?
The Lord’s name is discredited due to rampant immaturity and a dearth of integrity. No wonder Paul urged parent-leaders to “have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest they fall into reproach and the snare of the devil” (see 1 Timothy 3:7). Mature character is one thing we tend to undervalue until it is too late! No wonder Paul exhorted Titus to be “a pattern of good works … that one who is an opponent may be ashamed, having nothing evil to say of you” (Titus 2:7, 8).
Again to be clear: approved maturity – and the wholeness of heart and mind vital for life-giving leadership – requires that “others” witness the call one may sense to start a simple church. And herein lies the third key aspect.
Third, the treasure of apostolic alignment.
What are the Biblical checks-and-balances in this Kingdom equation? Has God provided the necessary objective witness into seeing simple churches birthed? Who has God ordained as the necessary “others” for affirming and appointing parent-leaders?
I am absolutely persuaded that this is one of the responsibilities of the apostle. Biblically, apostles and their teams identified, appointed and served parent-leaders the Bible calls “elders” (see Acts 14:21-23; Titus 1:5ff; 1 Timothy 1:3ff; 3:1ff). While it seems that not every church in the New Testament record was started by apostles; apostles and their teams were involved at some point – every time. For example, Philip was led by the Lord to go into Samaria; he did not need papal permission to do so. However, he would have sorely missed the fullness God intended without the involvement of apostolic support (Acts 8:4-8 c. vv. 14ff).
(While this brings up other issues around the apostolic, it is beyond the scope of this article. Can I suggest that the reader view these relating articles: What is apostolic alignment? and What is an apostle?)
If you feel that God is placing a burden on your heart to start a simple church, first take stock of the motivations in the basement of your soul. This is certainly not a quick-squizz exercise but one of allowing God to shine His light into the core of your being. From a humble and contrite heart, we pray: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23, 24).
Second, honestly ask yourself this daunting question: “If the people I will lead in simple church model their lives after me – my marriage, how I parent my children, how I manage my time and money, how I respond to challenges and temptation, etc. etc. – will they be imitating Christ?” (see 1 Corinthians 11:1 c. 2 Timothy 2:2). Or to put it more simply, “Would you honestly follow you?”
This is a tough question for sure. However, this is the exact picture Peter had in mind when he urged parent-leaders to “shepherd the flock of God … being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:2, 3). The word “example” (Greek: tupos) refers to a mould from which all else is shaped; a template from which all else is cut. No wonder James discouraged us from striving after leadership, “knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment” (James 3:1). Leading others does not merely require head knowledge and skilling, but affirmed character and proven self-rule.
Third, seek to align with apostolic vision and counsel. My personal conviction is that anyone wanting to start a simple church should invest into this vital relationship at the very get-go. Inviting apostolic input into the very genesis of a new church will allow the new work to start on the correct foundation. On this issue, we either take the Bible’s word on the matter – that the grace gift of apostle is given by God for just this task (1 Corinthians 3:9-11 c. 12:28; Ephesians 2:20 c. 4:11-16; Acts 13:1-4 c. 14:21-23) – or we have to cut out these verses and invent our own play on it.
Can anyone start a simple church? In principle, yes. Should everyone start a simple church? In reality, no.