Establishing a Local Church
Unit 5: Issue 1 – Project 1
This is a term that I have really struggled with through the duration of this course. What does it mean to be “fully established” as a church; or, for that matter, what does it even mean to “fully establish” a church? What can or should the process look like? I understand that there are sort of four phases to planting a church. (1) A beachhead of believers is gathered. (2) That group is consecrated to be a church and is discipled and developed as such. (3) From within that group should arise leaders to take ownership of it and help to lead the congregation into living out the gospel in unity as one family unit. (4) But here lies the mysterious: “fully establish” the church. I get that Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus were his final words on fully establishing the churches at that time, and that we can draw from them principles to base qualifications of a fully established church on. But I realize now that those qualifications in-and-of-themselves do not distinguish a church that is not fully established from a church that is. They can be indicators in the process of determining that; but a fully established church should not be determined as such on any particular set of guidelines per se.
A fully established church functions as the church should. That means that not only is it healthy, but it is in fact ready and prepared to produce other healthy churches. So, in order to determine a road map to fully establishing a church, one must determine what a healthy church is. Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus were certainly full of indications as to what a fully established church looks like, but they were instructions specifically engineered to pertain to those particular churches that Timothy and Titus were overseers of. Therefore it stands to reason that we should constantly be going back to the drawing board in the process of fully establishing a local church and determining where the church needs to grow in order to become a healthy productive part of the Kingdom of God. In turn, I’d like to add that this definition of a healthy church which follows is not a definitive definition, but is determined by and for the soul purpose of putting scripture into practice. It is my interpretation of what the bible has to say about what a healthy church is.
A Healthy Church
First of all, I see a healthy church having qualified leaders. Without leadership, everything is obviously chaos and disorder and God is an advocate for a peaceful and orderly household (1 Corinthians 14:33).
Second, I see a healthy church being truly active in its community and – in fact – being at the forefront of meeting the needs of the community. That means that the church is not only a community liaison, but an active form of community leadership. We see in Acts chapter 6 that the leadership of the church saw it so important for the church to do so that they appointed an actual office for a team of people to carry this task out. Later on, one of those team members – a man named Stephen – causes so much of an uproar in the community that he was martyred for doing too much!
Paul makes numerous references to this throughout his letters but very specifically in Philippians 1:27 and 2:2. The whole point is that a congregation has to have its own identity in Christ. You find that identity by finding your place in the community as an agent of the gospel. But doing so as an individual has no consequence in retrospect to the church as a whole. The whole church has to look at the culture surrounding them as a mission field in which they feel called to. Then and only then can the congregation start looking at how to engage their community with the gospel together in a one-minded fashion, working together as if it were one family unit.
If the gospel isn’t at the center of everything the church does, than it has completely missed the point and should cease existing. In every ministry, program, function, or event, the concept of sharing the gospel should be the driving force behind all of it. Without that, the church simply ceases to be the church. So as we as individuals are agents for the gospel in our communities, the church we are a part of is one unit driven by the gospel to be active in our communities.
Here-in lies the application of this definition. If this were to be handed to a church in general I think most would be lost as to how to go about mimicking these principles and making them a part of what defines them. I think that in order for a church to become fully established in this way, they have to see the bridge that connects where they are to where this definition of a healthy church says they should be. This is what Paul did for so many churches in his day through the letters he wrote. Our job now is to learn how to do that on our own. (1) The first step can be to determine how far a group of new believers is from living out these three basic principles. (2) Then the road map can begin. The understanding of these things has to be taught to them, both from the pulpit and in day to day living through discipleship. (3) Then they have to learn and understand their culture.
For a church to understand its culture that means that they have to actually be out in it and be a part of it. In this way, the process to living out this basic definition of a healthy church starts to take on its own life. As people start to view their culture in a new light and become active and involved in it, they are encouraged and guided by the leadership in their church on how to accomplish the goals that the Lord is putting on their hearts.