• Our hope-filled future is bound up in sharing the story of Jesus, in discipling others, in bringing those disciples together into communities of believers, and in developing and releasing those believers to create other communities... till Jesus the King comes again!

Reflecting on “the list”

The question is a difficult one to answer, and one that we as a community have pondered over for some time: “What is church?”  Or to put it another way, “What do we mean by church?”

If you go to a theological handbook, you would probably come across a definition such as the following: “The church is the community of all true believers for all time.”  This definition, though, refers primarily to the universal or global church.  What about the local church that we long to see established where we live and serve?  What are the elements that make up a local church or community?

I remember one of my profs in school walking us through an exercise where we had to write down all the elements that we believed were essential to the local church.  Once our individual lists were established, we then discussed them with fellow students, trying to agree on what were the irreducible elements.  Needless to say, that exercise was not completed in ten minutes.

My friend Steve wrote a blog post a number of months ago which reminded me of that very exercise.  I quote it in its entirety because I think it is relevant to our situation and discussion:

Let’s drop in to the home of Cornelius (Acts 10). Cornelius and his extended family and friends have just come to know Christ through Peter, the reluctant missionary.

It’s late at night and the next morning Peter and his companions are leaving. Peter hopes to return in the next few months, but there is no guarantee.

Time is running out and Peter needs to explain to Cornelius what it means to be the people of God.

What do they need to form communities of disciples? To leave anything out that is essential will corrupt what this group becomes and what it reproduces. To add anything that is not essential will reduce its ability to function and spread unhindered.

Put yourself in Peter’s place. List every possible element that you could include in helping Cornelius understand what it means be God’s people. Now remove every item you can until what you have left is the irreducible minimum of a church.

Until you can answer that question, you will not see a church planting movement. You may see some churches planted, but not a movement.

Movements know what the essentials of church are, and that’s what they produce and reproduce. Nothing more, and nothing less. Other things may be desirable, but not essential. They slow a movement down. Some elements are so essential, that if they are removed what is left is no longer a church.

What goes down on the list? What gets crossed off?

Luke has his list, the bare bones of what a church is (Acts 2:42-47). Nothing added that would slow down the spread of a movement. Nothing neglected that was essential.

The more you add to that list, the harder it becomes for new believers to form churches in their world. If new believers are not forming churches, you’ll never see a church planting movement. You may plant churches, but they won’t multiply.”

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