The Message of Jesus envisions life-giving community.
In this comprehensive article, we look at the concept of the ekklesia and explore what it means to be a Kingdom community (aka “church in the house”, simple church, organic church, micro church, missional church, small groups)—a community that’s alive in the Spirit, in love with one another and on mission in their world.
Table of Contents
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Section 1: What is the Ekklesia?
The Greek word ekklesia—ecclesia in Latin—is a compound of two words: ek meaning, “out of” and kaleo meaning, “to call”. Together, they literally mean “to call out” and refer to “the called-out ones” or the “selected ones”.
In the first century, the word was not a religious word. In fact, it was a political word referring to those called out of the general populace to serve as a civil body or an executive arm.
In ancient Greece (as early as 621 BC), the ekklesia was a group of selected individuals who would assemble regularly to deliberate and decide on matters of civil policy. It still retained this meaning in the first century. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, “Assemblies of this sort existed in most Greek city-states, continuing to function throughout the Hellenistic and Roman periods.” For example, Luke refers to the city council in Ephesus pressed into mediating the marketplace uproar, as the ekklesia (Acts 19:32, 39, 41).
The word spoke of an executive body whose function was to govern.
An Executive Body
While the word ekklesia is used 114 times in the New Testament, Jesus used this political word just twice. However, both times were significant.
In the first case, He used it in the context of Kingdom authority (Matthew 16:1-20). In direct contrast to the controlling religious authority of His day (Matthew 16:1-12), Jesus envisioned a life-giving executive body through whom He would advance His Kingdom (Matthew 16:18, 19).
In the second case, He used it in the context of mediating relational conflict—an act of governance (Matthew 18:15-19).
Jesus nested the word in the context of the Gospel of the Kingdom and as such, the ekklesia refers to the King’s executive arm through whom the Kingdom advances. It rings with a sense of our dominion mandate (Genesis 1:26-28).
In the same way that the word child captures our individual identity before the Father, the word ekklesia captures our collective identity as God’s people. Importantly, it does not refer directly to a meeting on a particular day of the week or the building in which that meeting takes place.
The word speaks to our function of governance, not our format of gathering.
We are called to partner with Jesus collectively as His executive body to advance His Kingdom on earth. This happens in many and various formats and in many different configurations, but we’re contending for a Kingdom-shaped church, not a church-shrunk Kingdom.
We are the church; we don’t go to church. To underline the point: I am a child (of God), I don’t go to child.
We meet in different formats, and we serve with different teams and groups of believers, both small and large. But our meetings and group size doesn’t define us. They are means towards a Kingdom end: advancing His Kingdom together in our neighbourhoods, the niches of society we have influence and the nations to which He calls us.
See our article What Does Ekklesia Mean? for why the word was translated “church” and the implications of such a translation.
Ekklesia in the Epistles
Paul used the term ekklesia frequently and he used it in three distinct ways.
The Church Universal
The word ekklesia was used in the universal sense to express God’s original intent manifested through followers of Jesus collectively on earth. Here’s an example:
He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church (ekklesia), which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all … To the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church (ekklesia) to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord…”
(Ephesians 1:22, 23; 3:10, 11, emphasis added)
The Church Geographical
The word ekklesia was used in a geographical sense in referring to all the believers in a town, city or region. Here are two examples, the first to believers in the city of Corinth; the second to believers in the province of Galatia:
To the church (ekklesia) of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord…”
(1 Corinthians 1:2, emphasis added)
Paul, an apostle (not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead), and all the brethren who are with me, to the churches (ekklesia) of Galatia…”
(Galatians 1:1, 2, emphasis added)
A Church Communal
Finally, the word ekklesia was used in referring to a specific group of believers enjoying a shared, communal life together.
Likewise greet the church (ekklesia) that is in their house.”
Greet the brethren who are in Laodicea and Nymphas and the church (ekklesia) that is in his house.”
The phrase “church in [the] house” appears four times in the New Testament (Romans 16:5, 1 Corinthians 16:19, Colossians 4:15 and Philemon 1:2).
Another synonym Paul used for the church communal is the Greek word oikos, which means “household” referring to a spiritual family. To Timothy, he wrote:
If I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household (oikos), which is the church (ekklesia) of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.”
(1 Timothy 3:15)
In all three dimensions, ekklesia implies a function of governance, not a format of gathering.
Together, as One Body, as local believers in a region, city or town, and as a spiritual family, we’re to advance the Kingdom of God in our collective sphere of influence, knowing our Christ-centred relationships, Christ-filled expressions of community and Christ-motivated good works serve as a witness of the “pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15 c. Colossians 2:2, 3).
Yes, as believers we’ll meet, often and in various formats, but our meetings don’t define or restrict us. Our meetings are an overflow of who we are: the King’s executive body—in love with God and one another, demonstrating His love to the world.
In this article, we’re going to focus on this third dimension, the Church Communal—the “oikos”, the spiritual family.
What is a Kingdom Community?
Perhaps the best place to start then in answering this question is to clarify that we are not referring to a new methodology or structure. We’re not talking about re-arranging the furniture of the church—and I mean this both metaphorically and literally. Some seem to feel we’ve gone far enough by bringing some innovation into our church experience … so in come comfortable couches, multimedia presentations and interactive sermons. While any change is refreshing (and our meetings should certainly utilise the best tools possible), we’re convinced more is required. We’re looking for transformation, not just innovation, even though innovation can often be the first steps towards transformation.
Thus, simple church is not a new way of doing small groups; it’s not merely an adaptation of the cell group model or an improvement of the G12 strategy. We’re referring to a new way of life, not a hip new method. We’re pursuing a communal, missional lifestyle, not a revamped schedule of meetings.
Then what is it? Come on, spit it out…
By spiritual family or simple church, we refer to a values-based approach to being a Kingdom-shaped church.
We view the ekklesia essentially as organic, relational, missional and fluid rather than institutional, hierarchical, attractional and rigid.
In the most basic sense, we view it as a Kingdom family rather than a business enterprise or religious organisation. And thus, while every simple church certainly won’t look the same, we’re all whistling the same tune.
The Main Thing
In a Kingdom community, the main thing is the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20); that is, being about our Father’s Kingdom business, and doing so in a no-nonsense commitment to the Great Commandments (Matthew 22:37-39).
Fuelled and informed by the love of God, our heart’s desire is to become better humans and to build a better world knowing we cannot do this alone. In other words, simple church communities are alive, in love and on mission together.
And there’s no better Biblical passage that captures the heart behind simple church than Paul’s passionate plea in 2 Corinthians 11:3:
But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.”
We’re seeking to rediscover the simplicity of following Jesus, individually and collectively.
And we’re convinced that God’s chosen “vehicle” through which His life multiplies is a reproducing missional community; a spiritual family that finds its covenant and communal life revolving around their homes and places of influence. As we demonstrate the Gospel of the Kingdom—alive, in love and on mission, cooperating with Jesus’ work in our world—our communal life becomes the launchpad for Kingdom exploits: whether this is into a specific neighbourhood, niche of society or another nation of the world.
I’m often asked if we’re the “house church” people (or any one of the other labels). The honest answer is: No.
While we’re fully persuaded that communal life is the meat and potatoes of a Biblical ekklesia experience, transferring a weekly meeting from a building on the street corner to a lounge room somewhere is not the answer. This is not a case of “Honey, I shrunk the church”.
Shrink-wrapping “big church” into “small church” will not change the world and, in our experience, can easily lead either to an ingrown group of “us-four-and-no-more” or, when hurting people leave “big church” to find salvation in “small church”, many eventually settle for “no church”. To be clear, the answer is not found in bringing all the problems of “big church” to a living room near you.
Yet true community is the result of believers who fan their passion for the King and His Kingdom come into full flame. Engaged with Jesus and His mission, fellowship is the wonderful by-product of a community in love with their God and one another, and who are thrilled to be a part of His work in their world. Discipleship becomes a vital ingredient in the recipe and releasing one another to begin new Kingdom initiatives is not only expected but celebrated. And coming together in larger gatherings of multiple simple churches to celebrate Jesus is a wonderful overflow of our collective expression.
If we’re not the “house church” people, then what are we?
I’d like to think that we’re simply “followers of Jesus” or Kingdom people … or as the early believers were called, those “of the Way” (Acts 9:2). The first-century believers had found a new Way to live centred on Christ and His mission. We’re pressing out for no less than this.
Do we really need any other designation than that?
Section 2: What is Wrong with Institutional Church?
In an idealistic sense, the answer to the question, What’s wrong with the institutional church? is: nothing. God responds to the pure faith in His people’s hearts, and He continues to bless and use many expressions of church. In an honest sense though, it doesn’t take rocket science to see the systemic inconsistencies in the modern church when compared to the simplicity and power of the early ekklesia.
When the question is phrased this way, What’s wrong with institutions as a context for missional community? the problems become more readily apparent. Perhaps this question could be answered with another question: What is the best place to raise a child: an orphanage or a family?
In other words, the problem is not a people-issue; it is a system-issue. Too often, the modern church depends on institutional systems that askew our foundational dependence on Jesus, soliciting our loyalties, usurping both our affection and attention.
What’s more, in an institutional construct, structures and systems always trump relationships; that is, the true relational design implicit in being a Kingdom community is lost in the labyrinth of institutionalism. As the saying goes, the “house (in this case, the institutional system) always wins”.
Continue reading as we look at how the church lost its simplicity and became entrenched in a man-made institutional construct. We also begin to explore how we can respond today in rediscovering church as organic, relational, missional and fluid instead of institutional, hierarchical, attractional and rigid; a family community rather than a business enterprise or religious establishment.
So, What’s up with Institutional Church?
Few topics are more open to misunderstanding than this one. However, it was a question I needed to answer for myself and for over two decades now, I have had the privilege of helping others answer this question. It is a risk I think that is worth taking.
Two qualifications upfront may help.
Firstly, I’m not pointing fingers at any person or spiritual community. For me, the problem is not a people issue; it’s a systems issue. We “do not wrestle against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers” (Ephesians 6:12). As I’ve tried to pursue something “new,” at least in my experience of church, I’ve also tried to honour my past. That said, I’ve become convinced that the structures and systems which we too often depend on are inconsistent with the New Testament. Perhaps a better title to this article would be, What’s wrong with institutions as a context for spiritual community?
Secondly, having served as a senior pastor of a seemingly healthy cell-based church, I know firsthand how these systemic inconsistencies sabotaged the Kingdom values I cherished and attempted to model and impart. Among other things, I became frustrated by my inability to equip the saints for the work of the ministry. The more I strove towards this end—the better I honed my leadership, teaching and ministry gifts, for instance—the more dependent on me the church became; the less equipped they were for ministry.
I decided to get really honest. Over time I concluded, through a lot of listening, that the institutional construct in which we found ourselves—mainly through inherited traditions—opposed the intentions of God.
So, this is my take on why I found myself in an institutional construct. Having now had the privilege of walking with a number of other pastors and their congregational churches in considering transition, I think it is valid for many others, too.
Like most people, when I first came to Christ, I was gripped with the power and simplicity of the early church. Again, like most people, I failed to see that their simplicity was a key to their power and so, unquestioningly flung myself into “church” as I knew it. Not only did I jump through every hoop to becoming a “senior pastor”; going full steam ahead, for too long, I never paused long enough to consider that our lack of power was due to our reliance on a complex, institutional construct.
God is so merciful and in His faithfulness I have been the beneficiary of many godly men and women, despite these systemic inconsistencies, who have enriched my life in ways that words cannot describe. I also am very grateful for how God enriched others through my life and ministry in spite of these discrepancies. God remains faithful for sure. The question remained: is there a better way?
So, as I offer what is admittedly a simplistic snapshot of history, I do so sincerely believing I’m honouring the courage of those who have given me the chance to honestly and, at times, brutally assess why so many of us find ourselves in an institutional, hierarchical construct of church.
The Thriving Early Church
Though by no means perfect, the early church was organic, relational, missional and fluid rather than institutional, hierarchical, attractional and rigid; a Kingdom family rather than a business enterprise or religious establishment.
Too often the contemporary church depends on a pastoral figurehead, pulpiteering and programs. Even a casual read of the New Testament reveals that the early church did not need these props.
Some may criticise this looking back and claim that we’re guilty of nostalgia for doing so … guilty of pining for the “good old days”. But we do not look back sentimentally; rather, we look back soberly with two burning convictions:
- If we want to enjoy the power that the early church had, then we must rediscover what the early church was. To embrace our destiny, we must honour our legacy.
- Every revival in history, every society-impacting move of God through the centuries, was sparked into flame through rediscovering something of the power and simplicity of the early church. Every church historian knows this.
We ought to look back conscious that the early church came off its wheels into the second century. We reflect on the New Testament record knowing it provides only in seed vision what we are yet to become. As Richard J. Neuhaus said so well in Freedom for Ministry, “Our restless discontent should not be over the distance between ourselves and the first century Church but over the distance between ourselves and the Kingdom of God to which the Church then and now is the witness”.
A thorough study of the New Testament church, alongside historical research of the first century, reveals that God’s people were a Kingdom-advancing phenomenon …
- devoted to communal family; a spiritual community of believers, parent-led by fathering elders, whose essential covenant life revolved around “the church in” their homes (1 Corinthians 16:19).
- intentionally aligned to apostolic mission; a defined and mutually affirmed relational connection with an apostolic team who serve them as “fathers” (1 Corinthians 4:15-17).
- working synergistically as the Body of Christ; an essential commitment to the (capital B) Body of Christ fleshed out in a love for “the church of” their city, free from sectarianism and denominationalism (1 Corinthians 1:2, 12, 13).
How Did the Wheels Come Off?
When we look at the landscape of today’s church, we see the continued influence of the second- and third-century slide away from the rich apostolic life of the first century, a slide that was in fact pre-empted at the end of the first century in some of the later epistles (3 John 9, 10, Revelation 2:6, for example).
The following three factors cemented this backward shift.
The church lost most of its key servant leaders to a martyr’s death. All of the first apostles, and most of their spiritual sons, had paid the ultimate price for following Jesus. A dearth of apostolic leadership further exasperated the second factor.
Heresy was a disease the apostles had tenaciously kept in check; in their passing, the disease mutated into forms and cultic expressions that threatened the apostolic faith. Fearful, the church began to centralise and control what had been organic, free-flowing communities of faith. The church God intended started to slide off its foundation.
After the Roman Emperor Constantine embraced the church for his own political benefit, the marrying of church and state was the final agent in confirming the church’s stagnation from those awesome early days of power.
Merging Christianity with pagan chaos, Constantine and the Emperors to come cemented the change in the structure of the church away from an organic “apostolic wineskin” to an institutional “congregational model” and, of course, opened the door for a whole host of other atrocities, such as the idolisation of Mary and the saints.
What was Lost?
Firstly, establishing a congregational model of church which revolved around the “temple,” “altar” and “priests” crushed the freedom of worship expression that characterised the early church. The church service emerged in which the “laity” watched the “clergy” perform religious activities on their behalf.
Secondly, deploying the “clergy” (professional ministers/priests) an elitist group separate from and over the “laity” (the common people) emerged. The brotherhood of all believers was replaced by a specialised group of men who arose as mediators between God and the “common man”.
Thirdly, building large temples that became known as “The Church” sadly institutionalised, and began to define, the essence of what church was. The organic, missional life of the church fossilised in the institutional tomb of the cathedral.
So, what was lost?
In a nutshell, we’ve lost at least three essential things (and, in my opinion, a number of other secondary things too).
We’ve complicated relationship with God to the point we need “experts” to help us live the first commandment (Matthew 22:37). To “love the Lord your God” is an invitation to a personal and communal love affair with God made wonderfully possible by His all-enabling Spirit; however, too often we’re dating a “pastoral system” to try to improve our relationship with God. We give our affections and allegiance to an institution hoping it will somehow bring us closer to God. The Bible has a phrase for it but surely, we can’t be guilty of spiritual “adultery” (Hosea 1:2; 2:1; 3:1), can we?
We’ve subverted authentic relationships with others into institutional configurations that often oppose the second commandment (Matthew 22:39). To “love one another as you love yourself” is an invitation to a love revolution that would change the world, a love that expands the boundaries to include not just our family and friends, but our neighbour, the stranger and even those deemed our opponents.
However, institutional structural relationships separate the insiders from the outsiders, an “us” versus “them” mentality. Quickly, the church starts to exist for the exclusive benefit of its members. In contrast, William Temple stated so brilliantly, “The Church exists primarily for the sake of those who are still outside it”.
The sad reality is that we get so invested in organisation and structure and systems and programs and buildings and events and meetings and so on, that we’ve lost complete grasp of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20).
To “go and make disciples of all nations” is an invitation to a Kingdom perspective and a missional, communal life of sublime adventure; however, too often it’s relegated to a mission’s department or organisation that we may pray for or send some money to—often, serving merely as a reminder of what we’re not doing.
The bottom line is that the institution exists for the benefit of either its hard-to-please members or, even sometimes, its power-hungry leaders. It thus consumes all our resources—time, energy, money—to keep unsatisfied ‘customers’ from ‘shopping’ elsewhere or sometimes to appease the ego-vision of the leaders.
Thus, institutions subvert first-hand relationship with God, sabotage authentic relationships with others and squash communal mission in this world. In my opinion, an institutional construct works against the Great Commandments and the Great Commission. This is certainly not the intention, of course, but it is too often the end result. Why? God never intended an institution to do what He delights to do in His family by His Spirit.
Within three hundred years from its conception, the once organic, Kingdom-advancing force was tamed and devoured by a new ravenous, religious empire-building monster. Compelling allegiance to the institutional “Church” enforced by clerical control, it eventually spawned denominational sectarian the world over.
Incredibly, the concept of meeting in homes was not just ignored at this point; it actually became illegal! By AD 380, the Edict of Thessalonica made Christianity the state religion (more specifically, it made the Catholicism of Nicene Christians the state church of the Roman Empire). While this ended several heresies, it also outlawed any organic expressions of church outside of institutional Christendom. Sadly, the church fell into an institutional “congregational model” led by a “bishop”.
Consider the interesting development of this unbiblical character, the religious professional, who single-handedly leads a congregation. The first title used to elevate him over the common people was “Bishop,” but over time it changed to “Priest,” then “Father,” then “Minister,” then “Reverend,” (depending on one’s denominational affiliation) until today, “Pastor” is the most popular version. Sadly, many are again calling themselves “Bishop”.
Light at the End of the Tunnel
Can we recapture something of the dynamic of the early church? Oh, yes, we are part of a five hundred year come back! Peter prophesied about the “times of restoration of all things”(Acts 3:21) and in so doing gave us this promise: before Jesus’ second coming, He would restore His ekklesia to her former glory and more.
From the sixteenth century, Martin Luther opposed the Roman Catholic Church with his 95 Theses, restoring the principal truth of “justification by faith”. This could be seen as the first wave of restoration, one of theology. God gave His Word back to His people.
Following this, a second wave of restoration, one of spirituality, swept the earth through the Wesley brothers, the Moravians, the Pentecostal revival, the Charismatic renewal and others. God gave His Spirit back to His people.
We may have the Word and power of the early church, but we do not enjoy their liberty.
Many are sensing a third wave of restoration, one of “wineskins”, to build on the first two waves and restore His “glorious church”. God is giving back His church to His people. Will this new wineskin liberty bring an unprecedented release of the Word in the power of the Spirit?
Rebels or Heroes?
We’re not being disloyal to the heroes of the faith when we press out from what they’ve restored in the past. The best way that we can honour Luther, Wesley and company is by being loyal to God in our generation as they were in theirs.
These men were reformers who pressed on from “church as they knew it” to rediscover “church as God intends it”.
We are to stand on their shoulders and reach further than they did, not camp in their shadows and “hold the fort”. It is our vested interests in what “was” that will keep us from discovering “what could be”. When we defend our positions, we abandon exploring our horizons.
Restoration or Cosmetic Face-lift?
Jesus has, without doubt, been restoring His church ever since just as Peter predicted. However, by and large, our structures remain in the same rigid, static form that Constantine established to some degree or another. As mentioned, we may have the doctrine and Spirit of the early church, but we still do not have their liberty.
Even vital principles recovered by the modern church remain only cosmetic changes to a wrong structure. One principle recovered, for example, is “team ministry” as opposed to “one-man ministry”. Another principle recovered is “community” and specifically, small groups or “cells”.
Again, these amendments have been vital, but have only been adjustments to the old, unbiblical wineskin. The incorrect “congregational model” still underlies our recovery attempts. Clearly, we remain frozen within a wrong pattern!
In order to recapture the New Testament liberty and power, we must rediscover the apostolic mindset of the New Testament. We are not just talking about a new way of doing small groups. We are not just looking for a new way to arrange the ‘furniture’ so to speak. No! We are talking about a whole new way of thinking.
Yes, a completely different paradigm.
Apostolic thinking addresses the internal, foundational values rather than making surface amendments. It deals with core issues rather than superficial changes. An apostolic mindset realigns our very foundations with the truth of God’s Word. Churches that are not founded on the correct Biblical, apostolic foundations can never—no matter how much transitioning or reorganising or cloning—make up for a lack of Biblical architecture (1 Corinthians 3:10).
Mere changes to our structures will not, in itself, recreate the “glory days,” so to speak. Structure will certainly not, in itself, create life. That is a critical statement.
Only the Father can create life.
Yet our dependence on unnecessary and even unbiblical structures certainly restricts or hinders the life the Father desires to create. Jesus made this point very clear: “new wine” needs “new wineskins” (Luke 5:37, 38).
So, What’s the Answer?
The answer is not in finding some secret “methodology” or even “copy-pasting” something of the New Testament on our existing situation.
We first and foremost need a fresh encounter with God in which we receive a renewed revelation of Jesus’ Kingship and glory.
Yes, we need a fresh download of the Holy Spirit! Essentially, we need to re-establish our utter devotion and complete dependence on Jesus as “Head of the body … that in all things He may have the preeminence” (Colossians 1:18).
And in this quest, I am convinced that our dependence on an institutional construct of “church” hinders the flow of God’s Spirit and our ability to respond to Him fully.
Firstly, we need to repent of our false dependencies and misplaced loyalties. What are the idols in our heart that rob us of a foundational reliance on the Lord Himself?
Some “dependencies” to consider…
- Our denominational loyalties?
- The pastoral structure?
- Our style of worship?
- Our senior pastor?
- Sunday morning services?
These are good things. They are certainly not wrong in themselves. If, however, we’re reliant on them, we’re putting out trust in them rather than God Himself.
Secondly, as we repent of our misplaced affections, we can trust for a fresh outpouring of the Spirit upon us. God is so merciful and gracious. This is more than just an obvious statement. Actively pursuing a fresh drenching of the Spirit is absolutely critical.
Then, as we respond to His freshly restored Preeminence in our midst, we can, thirdly, engage with the monumental challenge of renewing our minds. In my experience, and having now served many others in this journey, there is plenty of unlearning to do.
When a Pharisee named Nicodemus arrived in the dark, private hours of the morning to flatter Jesus, he was in for a rude awakening. Jesus cut through the facade and said: “Unless one is born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God” (John 3:3).
Today we use the word “born again” incorrectly as an adjective to define a “real Christian”. Jesus used this metaphor of childbirth to say to this so-called expert of religion, “Nicodemus, you don’t know anything. You will need to go back to the very beginning and re-learn all that you know if you are going to even begin to grasp what the Kingdom of God is”.
As I embarked on this journey over two decades ago, I had to admit that I could relate to Nicodemus more than I would have liked. I too needed to go back to the very beginning to re-learn all I knew to embrace a Kingdom-shaped church rather than a church-shrunk kingdom. I had a lot of unlearning to do.
But Father God is faithful! He is well able to perfect that which concerns us (Psalm 138:8); well able to complete that which He has begun (Philippians 1:6).
As we set ourselves apart to allow Him to have His way in us, we can trust that in Him we will become a glorious church; a Kingdom-advancing phenomenon devoted to communal family, intentionally aligned to apostolic mission, working synergistically as the Body of Christ.
Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”
(Ephesians 3:20, 21)
Section 3: 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 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 urge us to at least consider the implications of such a choice.
As with all decisions, the choice to start a Kingdom community has consequences—and like so many choices, the consequences affect 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.
Is It Fair Game for All?
The answer to this, in my opinion, is both yes and no. In principle, anyone can start a simple 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 trust for a fresh boldness in followers of Jesus to see many new initiatives ignite in the context of the Kingdom of God, this endeavour is a holy task that involves the well-being of others and requires humility and maturity. 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—in Jesus’s words: “First sit down and count the cost” (Luke 14:28)—the landscape can often become littered with collateral damage which neither honours the Father nor testifies of His love. There are many simple churches that start and flounder within a year leaving people more disillusioned than ever. Why do so many fail simple 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.
The Issue of Motivation
First, the issue of motivation.
Without a doubt, there are many wayward motivations we must slay before starting any ministry, let alone a Kingdom community. An inflated sense of self-importance (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,
For where self-seeking exists, confusion and every evil thing are there.”
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.
The Importance of Spiritual Maturity
Second, the importance of spiritual maturity.
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 to prove oneself (or add any number of reactionary reasons here) will not birth a life-giving Kingdom community. 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 position, these character markers represent the fruit of a whole, healthy and mature follower of Jesus (vv. 2-13).
I personally don’t see these character requirements as 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.
Leadership in a spiritual family is based on spiritual maturity not gifting. A leader’s gift-mix will shape how they lead and build a support team but there is no specific gift required for leading a simple church. While ministry simply requires availability, leadership requires availability and maturity.
Spiritual maturity refers to upstanding personal character (both integrity and wellness) and a knowledge of God, His character and His ways. Without personal character, we have no credibility and we’re likely to hurt others. Without a mature knowledge of God, we’ll misrepresent Him to others.
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 we’re even more subjective in attempting to judge our own maturity level. Thus, Paul’s list in 1 Timothy 3 is a foundational reference point.
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.
As a good rule of thumb, we seek a three-fold witness in appointing leaders. Firstly, the potential leader should witness with the decision—no one should be coerced into leadership. Secondly, the group they will lead should witness with the decision—no group should be forced to follow a leader. And thirdly, the wider leadership should witness with the decision—the eldership, if already formed, or the apostolic team involved if an eldership is not yet in place.
Why the Big Deal on this Issue of Maturity?
God’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” (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.
The Treasure of Apostolic Alignment
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 Kingdom communities birthed? Who has God appointed as the necessary “others” for affirming and appointing parent-leaders?
Biblically, this is one of the responsibilities of the apostle. 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 the topic of apostolic alignment will pop up from time to time in this course, we look at the subject in detail in the article entitled Kingdom Alignment.
If you feel that God is placing a burden on your heart to start a simple church, first take stock of your motivations. This is certainly not a quick 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)
Secondly, 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, and so on—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.
Thirdly, seek to align with apostolic vision and counsel. My personal conviction is that anyone wanting to start a simple church should invest in 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 such a 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.
Section 4: What is a Self-governing Community?
What is the goal of parenting? Short answer? Love. Longer answer? To enable our children to stand on their own feet as mature adults. To empower them to cooperate with Father God’s purpose in this world in keeping with their own unique call and gifting.
Father God’s goal for us as individuals is the same. Short answer: love. For a longer brief, it’s well captured in the idea of the “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22, 23), and one of those dimensions is “self-control” (v. 23). Exercising self-control, or to be “self-governing,” refers to one, who submitted to the leadership of the Spirit, selflessly serves the Father’s purposes secure in themselves. One able to stand on their own feet.
The goal of a Kingdom community is the same. To collectively stand on their own feet—not dependent on artificial props and external support systems—able to serve God’s revealed purpose together, discovering their shared call and synergising their communal giftedness. That’s a mouthful! Hence, the potent and punchy phrase: self-governing.
Continue reading as we look at the critical New Testament phrase “brethren” and some of the implications of such a blessed community: a spiritual family that can stand on its own but is not alone.
So, What Does Self-governing Mean?
When a simple church family can stand on its own, we call it a self-governing community. This then also defines the goal of an apostolic team as they help to birth a new work: to establish the spiritual family on the foundation of Christ, assisting the community to be self-governing—not dependent on outside props or artificial support systems.
It goes without saying that the self-governing community would do well to remain in a mutually defined relationship with an apostolic team, connected to apostolic vision, which we refer to as apostolic alignment. In this sense, the self-governing community can “stand on its own” but is not alone. Biblically, there is no such thing as a Lone Ranger church. This keeps a healthy set of checks and balances in the Kingdom equation of reproducible, integral apostolic life.
For some this phrase, “self-governing” may seem unfriendly. First, let me explain the prefix self-.
In the same way that a believer should exercise “self-control” as a fruit of the Spirit’s work in his life (Galatians 5:22, 23)—that is, he ought to submit himself to the leading of the Spirit—by “self-governing”, we mean a spiritual family ought to submit themselves to the Presidency of the Spirit in their collective midst.
Second, let me explain the word “governing”.
Yes, self-government starts at an individual level (Proverbs 16:32; 25:28 c. 1 Timothy 4:7, 8)—each person needs to take responsibility for their own lives: from their thoughts, words and behaviour to their growth and service. However, the Kingdom of God is not a solo venture. We’re not dependent nor are we independent. We are inter-dependent.
The mission of a spiritual family is to serve as God’s executive body wherever we have shared influence. To shepherd our neighbourhoods. To intercede for the needs of others and intervene when God leads us. To support one another in serving our collective sphere of influence.
However, to be faithful to our mission requires communal integrity. As the ekklesia, we’re called to govern matters of our shared communal life together. Or as Paul phrased it, “things that pertain to this life” (1 Corinthians 6:3). To take responsibility for contributing to a healthy spiritual family. To make ourselves accountable to one another. To keep short accounts. To keep and make peace. To resolve any conflict that arises. For the strength of our mission depends on the integrity of our community.
The final part in the development process of a self-governing community occurs when the apostolic team serving the new work, affirms the emerging parent-leaders of the family and entrusts them to God.
After making disciples in several cities in Galatia, Paul and his team gave them space to grow as a priesthood and brotherhood of believers, returning later to “appoint elders in every church” and to “commended them to the Lord” (Acts 14:21-23). It is at this point that the apostolic team’s initial parenthood role becomes superfluous, releasing the new elders to parent the spiritual family. The relationship between these new parent-leaders (including the community itself) and the apostolic team ought to be redefined for continued mutual alignment.
However, one of the most important principles a new spiritual community must grasp in becoming a self-governing community is the “brotherhood of all believers”. While much is made of the priesthood of all believers, and for good reason, this primarily refers to our first-hand relationship with God and thereby the functioning of each believer in ministry.
In contrast, the brotherhood of all believers refers to our responsibility to discern God’s Heart and Mind together in the issues pertaining to our relational and missional life as a community.
We, the ekklesia, are first and foremost a community of equals. Yes, we all have different gifts. Yes, we’re all at different stages of maturity. And yes, we all have different roles and responsibilities in the Kingdom based on our God-given measure of grace (Romans 12:3-5; 1 Corinthians 12:4-6). If I was exactly like you, one of us would be redundant!
Yet before God, we’re all of equal worth and value, we’re all sons and daughters of the Father. And we aren’t conforming down to some colourless, uniform, lowest common denominator either. No, we’re conforming up to the multifaceted beauty of the image of Jesus, who is “the firstborn among many brethren”(Romans 8:29).
Note this word “brethren”.
You Are All Brethren
When Jesus rebuked the religious leaders of His day, He addressed their tendency to consign people to different levels in a hierarchy of pride and prejudice. Listen to His words:
Do not be called ‘Rabbi’; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren.”
(Matthew 23:8, italics added)
He rebuked their use of titles, exhorting them: “you are all brethren”.
The phrase “brethren” is used extensively in the epistles to address a community of God’s people and carries significant implications. It is worth stating up front that this is a gender-neutral word, as is the phrase “sons” of God and “bride” of Christ. In other words, the phrase “brethren” refers to both men and women (see, for example, Galatians 3:15-29 and Philippians 4:1-8).
Consider that when Paul had to address the many disturbing problems in the church at Corinth, he repeatedly appealed to the “brethren” (for example, 1 Corinthians 1:10; 3:1; 4:6; 6:5; 7:24; 8:12; 10:1; 11:2; 12:1; 14:6; 15:1).
It is amazing that he did not address the leadership and hold them solely responsible for the mess they were in. No doubt the leaders were responsible to facilitate their repentance and re-alignment with the apostolic correction Paul delivered. But he addressed the whole community—the “brethren”—expecting them all to take ownership and responsibility for their progress (in their case, lack thereof) as a community in Christ. There is no hierarchy in God’s community. There are no second-class citizens and there are no passengers. We are all brothers and sisters. In Jesus’ words, “you are all brethren”.
Yes, without question, we ought to submit to God’s authority; a relational authority that is revealed through His Truth and facilitated by God-appointed leaders who parent the spiritual family “among” whom they serve (Acts 20:28). Of course, we need to submit to (and be accountable to) our leaders as unto God (Hebrews 13:17). But just as my wife and I seek to hear our children’s thoughts and opinions, and to accommodate their contribution in our family, so it ought to be in the family of God.
Too often we relegate to the realm of leadership important decisions that ought to involve the attention and concern of the whole church family. In so doing, we miss the joy of testifying as a community, one in heart and mind: “it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” (Acts 15:28).
This, of course, does not not mean we vote on issues. Nor does it mean we must seek 100% consensus on the issue concerned. The community of God is not a democratic society. The centre and constitution of our redeemed society is not the “rights of its members”. The centre of our society is Jesus. Our constitution is rooted in the truth He reveals. And our decisions are based on the direction we, together, sense Him leading.
The Mind of Christ
The brotherhood of all believers means that while every voice is heard, we are seeking nothing less than the Heart and Mind of God in our community. Parent-leaders help to facilitate the community in discovering His will and, in faith, obey what He is revealing—even when the way forward, as often happens, cuts against fearful or small-minded opinions. And it is in this process of discerning God’s will together, patiently and intentionally, that we all mature in God’s ways.
The spiritual family is the God-appointed training ground for growing into maturity and our mandate to rule and reign. Parent-leaders, who patiently listen and gently yet firmly assist their communities to process decisions that affect them, will grow believers that are strong and robust in their faith.
From issues that are seemingly small—such as how we manage and discipline our children in each other’s homes, how we respect one another’s personal boundaries and how we affirm and admonish one another—to those issues that seem to be bigger—such as how we engage with mission, support each other’s witness and influence in the world, how we ensure new believers are discipled and how we multiply the life that occurs in our midst.
If we relegate these kinds of decisions to “leadership-only”, we rob the rest of the family, “the brethren”, of the chance to grow. Then we end up spinning our wheels trying to “sell” them our plans, wondering why we can’t secure ownership from the group. Leadership like this keeps people immature and then often laments that “the people” are childish.
In a self-governing community, our goal is that we all grow up into Christ’s likeness and this only occurs when we all contribute into the mix rather than being spoon-fed by a few.
Milk Versus Meat
Take for example the analogy of “meat” and “milk” the writer to the Hebrews uses (Hebrews 5:12-14). I’ve had people come to me after I’ve taught say things like, “That wasn’t just milk … you really gave us meat today”. While I’m grateful for the encouragement, it is a complete misunderstanding of the analogy.
It implies that what’s shared on that occasion was somehow more stimulating, or deeper in some way, than on other occasions; that is, “meat” is a gripping message for a “mature” audience while “milk” is more simplistic for “less mature” listeners.
However, milk is what we receive from another. The writer to the Hebrews explained, “you need someone to teach you again … you have come to need milk … everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word” (vv. 12, 13). Maturity is learning to hear God’s voice for ourselves. Thus, meat is what we discover for ourselves.
Therefore, no matter how stimulating a message may seem, it’s milk for those it’s dished out to. This is not to belittle teaching or sharing what God has revealed to us. However, receiving truth from others is milk, so to speak, and the aim is to nourish others so that they can get meat for themselves.
Again, this doesn’t mean we somehow outgrow receiving from others. New truths are often sown into our lives as a seed by others—or like milk in this analogy—no matter how long we’ve been following Jesus. Even mature believers, as they remain teachable, recognise when they need milk.
The key issue here is this: too much of how church is often done keeps over-fed believers coming for a fifth helping. It keeps them immature and dependent on ear-tickling messages spoon-fed by the leadership. However, in a true spiritual family, we serve each other milk—out of what is meat to us—in order that everyone learns to receive meat for themselves through a dependence on the Holy Spirit and a love of the Scriptures.
Dealing with Conflict
A word on interpersonal conflict is necessary when discussing self-governing communities.
Conflict is inevitable in a spiritual family. Yes, it’s going to happen. If we’re going to do authentic life together, our imperfections are going to expose and be exposed by the imperfections of our brothers and sisters. Conflict doesn’t mean something is wrong; it just means something is happening.
When conflict happens, the community may have to help but Jesus is very clear about the process in this regard. First, Jesus taught, the offended person should speak to the offender “between you and him alone” (Matthew 18:15). He or she should speak to their offender privately in a spirit of reconciliation, not with a chip on one shoulder and a bazooka on the other (Proverbs 15:1).
To be clear, if two people disagree, they should attempt to sort it out personally and not involve others. And those who aren’t directly involved would do well to give them the space to do so. As the wisdom writer warned, “He who meddles in a quarrel not his own is like one who takes a dog by the ears” (Proverbs 26:17). Long story short: if you get involved prematurely in someone else’s disagreement, you’re going to be bitten!
However, if reconciliation fails here, the offended party should invite an unbiased mediator to assist in the reconciliation (Matthew 18:16). The mediator shouldn’t be primed with one side of the story and should make reconciliation the principal goal (Proverbs 18:17). In mediation, it’s never about who’s right but it’s always about what’s right.
If the offender still refuses to reconcile, Jesus said: “tell it to the church” (Matthew 18:17). This is not a license to gossip or even to make some condemning statement from the proverbial pulpit.
If the offender refuses to reconcile and thus refuses to act consistently with God’s love, the specific community he or she is a part of must be brought into the knowledge of the conflict. And by this, I think, it should be the specific community in which the two belong. This family is involved for good or bad and is the relational configuration in which they’re accountable.
It seems to me both obvious and wise that this is where the discipline should be carried out by the “brethren”. The circle of discipline should match the circle of influence. And this means that on some occasions it may involve more than just a single community—if the damage of the conflict extends beyond these relational boundaries.
It seems that it’s the role of leadership to facilitate this sad state of affairs and to do so in a spirit of gentleness and humility (Galatians 6:1). This is certainly a moment where those “who are spiritual” must parent-lead the community through these difficult issues of communal life.
And they are to do so accepting that this is not an interruption to life but a part of life through which God can work deeper levels of grace and truth into a community.
A commitment to resolve conflict rather than dissolve relationships is a core value for each Kingdom community to embrace.
This brings us to a necessary point about leadership decisions. There will, of course, be times when the spiritual family must trust the leadership to make decisions with confidential information that may not be wise to disclose. There are decisions my wife and I must make which we do not involve our children, and it is so in a church family, too.
However, the default principle for parent-leaders is to include the “brethren” unless confidentiality necessitates otherwise and even then, in implementing such decisions, they should respect the conscience of the community, patiently leading the “brethren” into peace and truth. Expecting the community to accept a decision because “we said so” doesn’t engender the grace and love of God.
All the epistles were addressed to the church community, the “brethren,” rather than to the leadership—Paul’s letter to the Philippians in the only exception. It is the only epistle that includes in its address the “bishops and deacons” but even here, it is first addressed “to all the saints” (Philippians 1:1). Some epistles contain specific comments to the leaders (such as 1 Peter 5:1-4) but again, they’re addressed to the believers as a whole. The collective conscience was always respected; that is, the “brethren” were called to the Truth, and leaders were to parent the church to live in this revealed Truth. The New Testament simply does not advocate a hierarchical body that bosses over a church community.
In writing to the “churches in Galatia” (Galatians 1:2), Paul taught,
Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.”
(Galatians 6:1, 2)
Notice, first, Paul appeals to these churches in the province of Galatia as “brethren”; that is, as self-governing communities. Second, he does not directly address the leadership but those “who are spiritual”. No doubt this includes the parent-leaders in their midst, but the point is that his appeal is inclusive; he speaks into the conscience of the community. A person overtaken by a trespass is not the sole responsibility of the leadership; as a self-governing community, it’s a matter that ought to concern them all.
Affirmation & Admonishment
A key to being a self-governing brotherhood is found in two words: affirmation and admonishment.
Affirmation is the value of sincerely appreciating the worth and effort of others in a way that honours God. A family that learns the art of affirmation will not only create an environment of encouragement but also provide the context in which life-giving admonishment can be received. And as a rule of thumb, a community needs five times more affirmation than admonishment.
Admonishment is the value of speaking the truth in love, respecting one another and loving one another enough to do so. “Whoever loves instruction loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid” (Proverbs 12:1). Without this willingness to be honest and transparent, coupled with a wise dose of tact and discretion too, simple churches become plastic and artificial: sweeping under the carpet the seemingly small issues that often build up to toxic levels.
Listen to Paul’s superb confidence in a Christ-filled community:
Now I myself am confident concerning you, my brethren, that you also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another.”
First, notice that he addressed them as “brethren” affirming them as a self-governing community; they needed no external life-support systems. Second, filled with “goodness” (Greek: agathosune)—referring to God’s nature—and the “knowledge” of the truth, Paul was confident they could admonish one another.
The Greek word for “admonish” (noutheteo) literally means, “to put in mind;” thus, “to instruct and counsel by word”. It is both our privilege and responsibility to admonish one another as a spiritual community with only one qualification: we are to do so full of God’s goodness and truth. Without truth, people rot. Without love, people struggle to swallow the truth that will heal them.
“Faithful are the wounds of a friend” (Proverbs 27:6). True friends stab you in the front because you’ve asked them to!
Learning to be a self-governing community equips us to be “ambassadors for Christ”, agents of “reconciliation” in this world (2 Corinthians 5:18-20); cooperating with the King, knowing that “of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end” (Isaiah 9:7).
Section 5: When is Simple Church Not Enough?
In this section, I’m not questioning whether simple church values are sufficient. I’m convinced they are. I’m fussing with whether a single simple church is enough; that is, is a solitary Kingdom community self-sufficient? Or are there in-built limitations allowed by God to encourage each self-governing community to work with other Kingdom communities in a broader vision?
Continue reading as we look at this issue, identify some niche ministries in which simple church communities may be limited—such as mission projects, local outreach and focused ministry to children—and outline some helpful guidelines to facilitate working together.
So, When is Simple Church Insufficient?
It goes without saying that a Kingdom community is the bread and butter of what Jesus intended a spiritual family to be (Matthew 18:15-20) and what Paul envisioned as the “pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).
However, there are some things a single simple church simply cannot do; that is, there are inbuilt limitations to every simple church community. And this is, I believe, the way God intended it. Acknowledging these limitations in no way negates its validity. However, it helps us to curb the excessive expectations often placed on a spiritual family and behoves us to appreciate our interconnectedness with other Kingdom communities in a geographical area or as part of a broader vision.
Think of a nuclear family for a minute.
My wife and I cannot be everything to nor do everything for our children. We need to work holistically with our extended family, the spiritual community we’re a part of and a valid educational network to raise well-rounded children. These supplementary connections cannot do what we as parents are responsible to do, but without this layered complementary support, we’d short-change our children’s growth experiences and opportunities. In other words, while there is plenty that only we can do as parents, there is a fair number of things that we cannot do alone.
Similarly, while the essential life of a Kingdom community should not be fudged, appreciating our limitations as a spiritual family and, thus, our interconnectedness with others is crucial. Said another way, while there is a substance and vitality that a simple church can only enjoy through living a deeply intentional communal life together, there are some things a spiritual community may not be able to do by themselves.
What things am I referring to?
While one simple church may have an embarrassment of riches in people graced and skilled to work with and minister effectively to children and young people, most don’t. Another Kingdom community may have a treasure trove of musicians able to facilitate times of musical worship but again, most don’t.
Still another may have a glut of those gifted and experienced in mission and outreach to the poor or marketplace ministries or the like, but each simple church cannot or should not labour under the obligation to focus exceptionally well on all these valid but niche ministry emphases.
When various Kingdom communities or even like-minded people from different communities combine their gifts and experience to serve into these specific ministry areas, a wonderful Spirit-led synergy is possible as we appreciate our interconnectedness with others.
There are two ways in which this works well.
- Kingdom communities within a geographical area.
When Kingdom communities within a geographical area work together in focused ministry initiatives, there’s optimal utilisation of resources and healthy cross-pollination. A shared heart for the area can yield wonderful fruit, too.
- Kingdom communities relating together in shared apostolic vision.
Another way this works well is within an apostolic family, a cluster of simple churches that relate together in a broader apostolic vision. In this case, there are similar values with which to work and often a servant-hearted apostolic team to help facilitate such initiatives.
An apostolic team is certainly not essential for these initiatives to be effective. And personally, I don’t think such a team should initiate or centralise these ministry activities. However, drawing on the perspective of an apostolic team in such initiatives is another blessing of apostolic alignment.
Either way, these initiatives require parent-hearted, loving governance as expectations, idealism and egos are very much part of any ministry initiative.
Mature parent-elders from the representative simple churches, especially those who do not have direct involvement in the initiative itself, could serve into and provide ongoing counsel for these cross-pollinating ministries.
A Few Helpful Guidelines
As much of my experience lies in the apostolic clusters of simple churches, the following guidelines are shared within this context. They are no doubt helpful too for simple churches working together within a geographical area.
1. Reasoning from the whole to the part.
These niche ministry initiatives ought to supplement the simple church families and complement the apostolic cluster, not compete with each. We ought to reason from the whole (the simple church and apostolic sphere) to the part (the niche ministry, whether it’s to children, youth, the poor, missions, marketplace, and the like).
The value and fruitfulness of the ministry ought to be weighed in this light in an intentional evaluation carried out every 3 to 6 months. Skimp on this and invite trouble: reasoning from the whole to the part is a principle we need reminding of regularly and it’s a value that needs to be imparted to new, enthusiastic people engaging in a niche ministry.
2. The activities or events should be semi-regular.
A weekly investment into a niche ministry soon becomes a demanding monster with its mouth wide open, guzzling more and more resources, siphoning the life from the participating simple churches. The harsh reality is that, in juggling work and family, most people can give themselves wholeheartedly to at most two regular meetings a week. A weekly investment of time into a niche ministry (let alone the preparation that may be involved) will steal away from authentic communal life, discipleship and ministry.
Initiatives that are once or twice a month or planned twice a quarter (or more often if daylight hours during the week are utilised, for those who work from home, for example) seem to work best.
Of course, pulling off an interstate or international mission is a different animal altogether. Doing even one effective mission trip a year for a group of 3-10 simple churches may be a sizeable effort and, as the due date gets closer, will require a more intensive investment of time for those who are part of the mission team itself.
3. The activities or events should be decentralised as much as possible.
The ministry should serve (in the case of a ministry to children, for example) or mobilise (in the case of outreach or mission, for instance) the simple churches involved, not attempt to project a ministry to all and sundry or even necessarily the whole apostolic sphere it relates to. Doing this tends to require centralised processes and fosters an over-dependence on programs and materials. It results in the introduction of systemic organisation that trumps authentic relationships. Thus, what was supposed to serve us becomes our master.
This is not to say that a degree of necessary coordination and administration is a bad thing. Of course not. Any initiative requires wise stewardship, thorough communication and an integral process with review built into it. However, keeping the ministry relevant to the participating simple churches keeps it relational and authentic. Through objective evaluation, the necessary changes can be made the moment the tail starts to wag the dog.
In the case of ministry to children or youth, I think a decentralised approach means it ought to be parent-driven; initiated and carried by the parents of the participating simple churches. Parents should work together to serve in line with their strengths, gifting and experience and resolve to avoid it becoming a resource-munching, crowd-entertaining, specialist-intensive, program-driven black hole.
In my opinion, an apostolic cluster of, say, ten simple churches in a locality would be better served by having two (or even three) “pockets” of three or four simple churches working together to minister to their participating children – rather than one big, centralised ministry that attempts to cater for all the children concerned.
If the cluster of simple churches happens to have a trained specialist in children’s ministry, I still think the best use of someone with these vital skills is to equip parents in these decentralised, reproducible “pockets” instead of driving a large children’s ministry extravaganza.
I think the same decentralised approach is valuable for outreach to the poor and other niche ministry initiatives. However, pulling off an interstate or international mission may require a more centralised approach, and in my opinion, the involvement of the relating apostolic team, as it will more than likely only include a small group, from diverse simple churches, who actually goes on mission at any one time.
However, the prayer mobilised for the mission trip can be coordinated for the most part within each simple church or in “pockets” of simple churches (two to four) within the cluster that have a spiritual gravitation to one another.
How involved should an apostolic team be in these initiatives?
Generally speaking, only as much as is needed and with a definitive goal to become redundant at some point.
For new apostolic clusters in an area, the apostolic team could be more involved in the birth of such initiatives in order to help develop some working guidelines such as those proposed here. As mature parent-leaders are affirmed in each self-governing simple church, the apostolic team’s involvement may only be necessary when it comes to interstate or international missions.
Section 6: Does 1 Corinthians 14:26 Encourage Open-participation Meetings?
For many, the answer to this question is so obviously a resounding, “Yes!” that it hardly requires a second thought—let alone an entire section. However, there is an important issue at stake in raising and answering this question. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 14:26,
How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.”
Does this really encourage an open-participatory meeting? I’m convinced that it does, but if phrased another way, “Does it mean that everyone should contribute something every time?” then the answer is, “No. It does not”.
Continue reading as we dig into this verse and uncover a vital gem in gathering together.
Does Paul encourage open participation?
At the risk of redundancy, simple church is a way of communal life not a schedule of meetings. However, gathering together is a blessing and overflow of this communal life.
The frequency and format of gathering together is something each Kingdom community discovers for themselves. Some meet weekly, others less so. Some share a substantial meal each time they meet, others do so on occasion.
Regardless of the frequency and format of the gathering, most recognise that the real meat-and-potatoes of gathering together centres around recognising Jesus in the midst, which includes an open-participation time of worship, prayer, sharing and ministry.
It’s in this open-participation time that 1 Corinthians 14:26 speaks. And while this means everyone can contribute, it does not mean everyone should.
As we all know, Paul corrects the excesses of this enthusiastic but delinquent church in the city of Corinth in his first letter to them. Some of the issues of concern arose in their meeting together, specifically the abuse of the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:17-34) and their exercise of spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12-14). Chapters 11 to 14 should be read as one lengthy instruction as Paul appeals to them to let love be their guiding principle (12:1, 31; 13:1-13). In Chapter 14, he then expressly addresses their disorderliness in coming together, framing his point with phrases like: “God is not the author of confusion but of peace” and “let all things be done decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:33, 40).
It seems the Corinthian’s meetings had deteriorated into a free-for-all where everyone sought to promote their point of view or push their contribution without respect to what God was, in fact, doing and saying in their midst. The self-indulgent nature of the Corinthian culture—known for its flagrant decadence—seemed to pervade this redeemed community and pollute their meetings. After explaining why insensitively “going off” in tongues without respect for others, an otherwise beautiful gift Paul certainly encourages all to pursue with both devotion and discretion (vv. 2, 5, 39), was not edifying nor orderly (vv. 5-19 c. 13:1), he then brings up the importance of collectively discerning what God reveals in their meetings (vv. 26-40).
Let All Things Be Done For Edification
He begins this passage of instruction with our verse in question:
How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.”
(1 Corinthians 14:26, italics added)
Bear in mind that Paul’s question—“How is it then, brethren?”—and exhortation—“Let all things be done for edification”—makes it clear that he is reproving their behaviour. For this reason, perhaps what Paul is saying here is something like, “How is it that when you gather together, you’re all just mouthing off without considering what God is in fact saying? Instead seek to contribute in a way that edifies”.
And Paul had already implied that “edification” involved being a channel so that others can experience God’s manifest Presence (vv. 3, 4, 24, 25). It does not mean that I feel enriched because I got to have my say.
Am I suggesting that Paul was discouraging open participation?
No, not at all. Each person can contribute if led by the Spirit to do so—that’s the key issue.
Paul’s intention was to curb the Corinthian’s excesses which were, in this situation, resulting in confusion and disorder. He goes on to explain the need to facilitate or “judge” what is said so that together the community discerns what God is saying. He encourages that “two or at the most three” speak in tongues and then only as long as it is interpreted (vv. 27, 28). He then encourages the same guidelines for prophecy: “let two or three prophets speak and let the others judge” (vv. 29-31).
To be honest, we cannot be sure whether he means that only a total of “two or three” tongues and prophecies (and presumably “teachings” and “revelations” c. v. 26) should be shared or whether he is recommending no more than two or three of each. Personally, I think, being nit-picky about this is probably unhelpful and may in fact fudge the point. So, what’s the point again?
Discerning What God is Revealing
While all are free to contribute as the Lord leads—that is, our agenda is extemporaneous (unscripted)—the point is, as a community, to learn to follow the prompting of the Spirit, discerning God’s will for us as we meet together.
His Presence in our midst sets the Agenda and, as we minister to Him, we are to discern what He desires to reveal to us in response.
Said another way, while “each” one can contribute to both sharing what God may be saying and in discerning what He has said, the point is to determine God’s revealed will, not to merely give everyone a chance to say whatever happens to be on their mind.
The goal is not to give everyone a platform; the objective as a community is to discern what God reveals. Towards this end, some should not contribute. Why? Either they may not feel specifically led to do so or because what they sensed may have already been shared by another. In this case, an “Amen” is more than a sufficient contribution (see v. 16). Thus, the point is not that everyone has to prepare a message but that everyone prepares their heart. We don’t come expecting to have our say, we come expecting God to reveal His will. And we’re open to being a vessel through whom He may or may not speak.
I’m sure you’ve been in meetings where everyone shares whatever seems to come to mind and you have a potluck mush of so many various “opinions” or “hunches” that you leave wondering: “What was that all about? What was God saying?” Yes, if we’re looking for positives, everyone may get something out of this disjointed mix “of good” and “of God” verbal. However, I see in Paul’s instruction here a call to learn to discern together what God is specifically revealing to us as we gather in His name. This is something very rarely done. And we’re certainly weaker for it.
Creating an environment where everyone can “have a go” (in a sincere desire to follow the leading of the Spirit) while, at the same time, learning to then discern or “judge” what God is saying from the contributions of those who have felt led to share is, in my opinion, what Paul is advocating here. When we leave our gathering, it should be reasonably clear in all of our minds what God has revealed in our midst and how we ought to faithfully go forward in light of it.
So, who judges? Paul made that clear: “How is it then, brethren?” (v. 26). As covered earlier, this phrase refers to the brotherhood and sisterhood of all believers, the family of God. Thus, Paul is addressing the conscience of the spiritual family and laying the onus on all to assist in discerning what God is saying. For sure, spiritual parents play a vital facilitating role here but it is certainly not their exclusive domain, nor would true spiritual parents want to exclude others from this joyful learning experience.
And it probably goes without saying that to “judge” what God has said is not a dry, clinical hair-splitting analysis; rather as we clarify and affirm what appears to be revealed, we engage enthusiastically and intentionally with the heart and will of God.
In this way, simple church families learn to hear God together and live as a prophetic people, obedient to His revealed will in their midst. Thus, we all learn to mature in the ways of God, discerning His Heart and Mind in communal life. Being invited to contribute to and discern what God is saying to our community—as we learn to follow His leading—means not only does each person feel a healthy sense of ownership for the family but also feels a vigorous sense of responsibility in being faithful to what God has revealed.
As a community alive, in love and on mission there will be plenty of time for chit-chat and social interaction. There ought to also be times set apart for seasons of prayer, group projects and times for training and input. Partaking in a ‘formal’ Bible study, in which each person is asked for their opinion on a verse or passage, is also a helpful exercise for a simple church community to engage in from time to time.
However, in my opinion, the regular meat-and-potatoes meeting of a Kingdom family involves regularly assembling to intentionally minister to Jesus. In anticipation, we grow in our awareness of His Presence in our midst through…
- various expressions of worship, such as breaking bread together, expressing praise through thanksgiving or meditating on appropriate Bible passages or singing with or without the aid of music, and so on.
- learning to discern His revealed will, whether this be a word of revelation, instruction or admonishment, or a prompting to minister to one another in the group, or prayer for a specific need, person, nation, and so on.
Imagine the next time you gather together with your spiritual family…
You assemble together hungry for the Presence of Jesus in your midst and begin, actively aware of His Presence, to minister to Him; that is, your attention and affections are directed deliberately and fervently towards Him in various expressions of thanksgiving and adoration.
As you become more deeply immersed in His manifest Presence, enjoying a profound sense of rest in the knowledge of His nearness, your worshipful responses to Him help you tune into His responses to you as a gathered community. Taking your cues from Him, each of you, if and when prompted by His Spirit, share a word, a prophecy, a revelation and the like seeking to contribute a ‘piece’ of the full ‘picture’—adding a ‘stanza’ to the ‘poem’, a ‘melody’ to the ‘song’—He is revealing.
Then, as you continue to respond to His present Presence among you, together you look to enthusiastically affirm and clarify what has spontaneously come forth, seeking to respond and obey what together is discerned. Thus, you can testify as a church that you have “heard God” together, enjoying what it means to discern His will together: “it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” (Acts 15:28).
Yes, you may end up ministering to one another by asking what prayer requests each may have (at times, requests are not necessary as the Spirit simply leads) or study a passage from the Bible (perhaps that arose extemporaneously or that was prepared by someone), or engage in specific prayer (again that may have arisen from the time of discerning what God revealed or ongoing prayer targets shared by the group), or have a few laughs (preferably many), or plan the project you’re engaged in together … but the joy and power of learning to hear God together is both a treat and treasure you prioritise.
Let All Things Be Done
Does 1 Corinthians 14 26 really encourage an open-participatory meeting?
Yes, it does, and other verses such as Ephesians 5:18, 19, Colossians 3:16 and Hebrews 10:24, 25 back up this sentiment.
Paul at no point condemned their open participation; rather, he desired “all things be done decently and in order” (v. 40). Thus, he affirmed their initiative. He clearly wanted things to “be done” (a non-participatory, one-man show was not on his agenda), but he pointedly called for a renewed godly reverence, curbing their excess.
This means, from his instructions, that we are to facilitate and, when necessary, limit the amount of ‘verbal’ enough to discern together what God is revealing to us. In this, we acknowledge that God does is not verbose and requires us, in the New Testament, to “judge” what comes forth even as we cherish manifestations of the Spirit through which He conveys His will (vv. 39 c. 1 Thessalonians 5:19-21).
Section 7: How Can I Kill a Simple Church?
If you ever wanted to sabotage a simple church community, it’s extremely easy. First, infiltrate the group you’ve targeted by putting on your warmest smile. Be liberal with your use of flattery; phrases like, “This is the most loving bunch of people I’ve ever met” or “This is the closest thing to New Testament church life I’ve ever seen” will seal the deal. Second, implement one or more of these seven proven strategies to nuke a simple church near you.
(On the off chance that you don’t get my silly sense of humour, I’m not really advocating that you aim to kill a spiritual family. However, these seven strategies identify the attitudes that work against God’s intention for community. You may find it helpful to go through these seven points as a group together. For each point, draft a proactive strategy statement that captures a community-building attitude.)
Strategy 1: Suggest that the needs of the community ought to be the primary focus.
This is a subtle but effective strategy. Pitched correctly, it sounds so right: “For sure, community should be for the benefit of its members”. And there are tons of Biblical passages that, taken out of context, can back this up. Of course, the subtle error lies in the phrase “for the benefit of its members,” but don’t worry, most won’t see it. You’ll notice the first signs of the effectiveness of this strategy in the members’ unease with new believer’s zeal or in their discomfort if unbelievers engage with the church community. These kinds of people upset the status quo, you see.
But don’t expect instant results. This strategy is a slow-death tactic; in fact, the group will probably die with a smile. Happy and comfortable, they won’t even realise that they’ve become ingrown. In fact, they can exist for some time in pre-death mode but don’t let that disappoint you. The chances of recovery are close to zero.
In contrast, while there are many, many benefits to all who experience the joys of community, true spiritual community exists for the benefit of the world; that is, our love for one another, overflowing into good works to all, testifies of God’s glory. “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
Strategy 2: Make one aspect of ministry the “main thing”.
Here’s another subtle yet useful strategy similar to the first; actually, you may find it helpful to use in conjunction with the first. Find out what aspect of ministry the group really enjoys, whether it’s worship, or Bible study, or fellowship, or prayer. Then choose this aspect of ministry and make it the “main thing”. In fact, write out a really “holy sounding” purpose statement and spell it out: “We exist to study the Bible” or “We exist to pray for one another” or “We exist to hold one another accountable”. How will this help destroy community?
While these are all important ingredients of community, if you make one of the ingredients the whole recipe, you’ll never actually bake the cake! The “cake,” let me remind you, is to be a missional community: the purpose of a spiritual family is to be partnering with the Divine Community in His mission in this world. Make your mission one or two aspects of ministry (or all of them if this is what it takes to muddy the waters) and you’ll sabotage the group’s future.
For sure, to be faithful to this mission, the community will have to do ministry (worship, study the Bible, fellowship, prayer and more) because ministry is the means to fulfilling the mission. But “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16), He didn’t merely start a prayer meeting, a Bible Study or even an accountability group; He gave Himself. And Jesus Himself then commissioned us: “As the Father has sent Me, I also send you” (John 20:21).
Strategy 3: Adopt a “me-first” attitude.
Okay, let’s get ugly. If you want to suck the life out of your community, expect the group to exist for you: to meet your needs. This may not destroy the community quickly, especially if there are a number of patient people with gifts of mercy and service. However, in time you’ll become a weight that the group buckles under. Milk the group for all you can and then look for another host you can parasite on; nothing discredit’s the Name of Christ more. This strategy is particularly lethal if there are several participants in the group with their mouths open demanding: “Me! Me! Me!”
On the contrary, nothing strengthens community like an attitude that puts other people first. “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself” (Philippians 2:3). It is with this heroic selflessness that Jesus builds His church.
Strategy 4: Gossip!
Now here is a rapid-fire killer especially if you can get others to participate in this gruesome and gory exercise. It doesn’t matter what you talk about, any old rumour will do. Simply accentuate personality quirks in members in the group and slap in a little bit of exaggeration. For best results, start the gossip with those people who are particularly negative and struggle to believe the best in others. What works tremendously well is to phrase a juicy morsel of gossip with these words: “I’m really concerned about Bob, but please keep this in confidence. We really need to pray for him”. People just cannot resist passing on a secret. Doesn’t “in confidence” mean telling only one person at a time?
And if you want to make the poison in your gossip more potent simply allow yourself to get offended with a person in your community. Let bitterness twist you into a cruel and malicious and hateful creature. Harbour unforgiveness in your heart and your gossip will be particularly toxic.
In stark contrast, refraining from gossip, and abstaining from listening to gossip, is one of the most powerful immune boosters in the prevention of community decay. “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers … forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:29, 32). Notice, the point is not just to avoid gossip but to get on the front foot and engage in proactive, life-enlarging encouragement.
Strategy 5: Don’t pray and serve, just socialise.
Here’s a strategy that is extremely successful with a group suffering from a little complacency. If you sense the group is spiritually tired, pop this sleeping pill into the mix. Suggest that you spend more time “resting” and less time “working” in your spiritual journey. Be careful to warn about the dangers of striving.
If anyone tries to remind the group that “work” is not the problem and that all prayer and service ought to be done from a place of rest, not at the expense of rest, simply up-the-ante by throwing in the word “law” as a synonym for “work”. This should crack even the most devoted nut since most believers are confused about the concept of the law. Then sit back and watch the community morph into a tired, wheezing social club. At least you’ll have a social life!
While great friendships grow in community, bringing a genuine sense of fun and enjoyment into our lives, the old saying is a true saying: “Friends that pray together stay together”. In the rest God gives, true community never drifts from its Divine Centre: “where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). Intimately aware of Jesus in our midst, we’re always tuning into His voice and will for us.
Strategy 6: See the group as a platform to get your gift working.
Looking for something more subversive? Well, here’s a strategy that can even split the group; an insidious adaptation of strategy 3, “adopting a me-first attitude”. Get it in your head early on that this group is simply a stepping stone for you and greater ministry influence. It is your laboratory where you can experiment with self-promoting ideas and where you can sharpen your spiritual marketing skills; oh, and see the participants as guinea pigs upon whom it is your right to practice.
And if you play your cards right, when your wheeling and dealing corrupts the group, you may even have won over a few gullible members with whom you can launch your own Ministry Inc. Slam dunk! Perfect group split!
Of course, Paul warned against this self-gratifying, rabid attitude: “savage wolves will come … not sparing the flock … drawing disciples after themselves” (Acts 20:29, 30). James explained that “where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there” (James 3:16). He went on, calling us to a higher path: “wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy” (v. 17). Now, this is the attitude upon which community thrives.
Strategy 7: Criticise initiative and leadership as “controlling”.
This strategy is the inverse of strategy 6 above, “viewing the group as a platform to get your gift working”. Here you simply accuse everyone who shows initiative or leadership potential of being controlling and of exploiting the group for personal advance. Of course, if you piously claim you only want the Holy Spirit to preside in the community, you’ll force everyone into a witch-hunting panic. Suspicious and fearful, the group will either drown or splinter into pieces. Job done!
Without question, we ought to prize the Presidency of the Spirit and it is vital to affirm our dependence upon Him continuously. One way to do so is to fully appreciate the way He uses people as channels of love, gracing us with gifts “as He wills” (1 Corinthians 12:11 c. Romans 12:3-8; 1 Peter 4:10, 11). Another is to value the Biblical role of servant-leaders and honour the principles of authority He has clearly revealed through the Scriptures He authored (Hebrews 13:7, 17, for example). Being anti-leadership and anti-authority is “lawlessness”, an anti-Christ spirit and not of the Holy Spirit (see Matthew 7:21-23; 24:12; 2 Thessalonians 2:3, 7; 1 John 4:3).
Conclusion: Kingdom Communities
While we’ve covered a lot of ground in this course, it is certainly not the whole ball game. We encourage you to work through the next two courses, too.
The facts are in…
- Without Kingdom Alignment [COMING SOON], a simple church will eventually drift off course.
- Without Kingdom Mission [COMING SOON], a simple church will turn inwards within 18 months and often cease to exist.
[If you missed the link earlier in the article and would like to know a little about how my “simple church” adventure began, click here.]
The Message of Jesus envisions a Kingdom-advancing ekklesia.
In this article, we look at the subject of Biblical authority and how it works within Jesus’ vision of an advancing Kingdom-shaped ekklesia. We also explore the concept of apostolic alignment, the problems of hierarchical leadership, the role of the apostle and the elder, and how apostolic teams function.
The Message of Jesus envisions a transformed world.
In this article, we look at the importance of a missional DNA for Kingdom communities and explore various subjects related to becoming a mature Kingdom-advancing ekklesia such as training for reigning, the priesthood of all believers, financial giving and incarnational mission.