Introduction to part 5:
Organising the church
Wherever people come to faith, they begin to meet together and form a faith community. This began with the first Christians who came to faith on the Day of Pentecost. They came together in each other’s homes not only to receive teaching from the Scriptures and to pray, but also “to fellowship”(Acts 2:42). A few verses after this, we read that “All the believers were together and had everything in common” (verse 44). Believing is not something you do alone. The moment you come to faith in Jesus, you become a part of his body, a member of a very large, worldwide family. This family includes young and old, men and women, black and white, rich and poor. All these completely different people are bound together by the fact that each one has responded to Jesus’ voice, received the same invitation from God, and said ‘yes’. Each person who comes to faith gives his life to God and God then gives us to one another in order for us to follow and obey Jesus together and serve one another. These two aspects of Christianity are the pillars on which every congregation of Christ rests: honouring God and serving one’s neighbour.
In this light, we can see the church as a place in which together we can practice following the instructions that God gave us back in the Ten Commandments and that Jesus used to sum up the law: to love God above all else and to love one’s neighbour as oneself. We put this into practice when we honour God in our church services by singing together, praying, listening to his Word, baptising, and celebrating communion. We also practice this at other times in the church, such as when we give or receive teaching about who God is and how we are to walk with him. That is how we honour God. And we serve one another and our neighbour in Jesus’ name through various forms of caring in the church. We encourage one another in the faith, we help each other through difficulties, and we share practical resources. But the church’s assignment to serve is broader than this. We are to serve not only each other, but everyone we meet – and we are to do this in Jesus’ name, giving witness to the One who leads us in all of this.
This fifth part of The Pastors’ Manual is about the organisation of the church of Christ. If you have been called to lead the church as a pastor, it is important for you to know which Biblical principles apply to the Christian church and how God wants His church to function. When Jethro counselled Moses on how to lead the Israelites through the desert, his fifth and final word of advice was: “Select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain—and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens” (Exodus 18:21). With these words, Jethro provided a model for leading not only God’s people, but also the church of Christ.
What is a church?
The body of Christ
Organising your church begins with a Bible-based vision of the church. We will discover this vision if we look at the imagery the Bible uses to describe the church. Paul sometimes refers to the church as the bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:32), as a family in which we are each other’s brothers and sisters and God is our Father (2 Corinthians 6:18) and as a house built for God with living stones (1 Peter 2:5).
The image used most in Scripture to describe the church, however, is that of a body. In 1 Corinthians 12:12-27, Paul also elaborates more on this image than on others. Christ is our head, He leads the church (Ephesians 1:22-23 and 4:15-16). We who belong to the church are the members. We are all different, but inseparably bound up together. The hand and the foot cannot do without each other, and both are controlled by the head. If the church is Christ’s body on earth today and every church member is a part of it (1 Corinthians 12:27), this means the church is called to do in today’s world what Jesus did when He walked this earth. We are to serve God as He did, to learn to see things the way He did, to listen as He listened, to go where He would go to do what He would do. The church is to live on earth following the example set by Jesus. She represents Jesus now. Our head, Christ, is in heaven, but we are to be His hands and feet here on earth. What a privilege and what a task!
The suffering of the church
So the church lives on earth just as Jesus did when He was on earth. This means the church follows the same path, a path leading from cross to crown. Being a church means living under the cross. Like Simon of Cyrene in his day, we follow Jesus, carrying the cross (Luke 23:26). Simon went to Jerusalem to worship God, but was called to serve God by bearing the cross. Following Jesus as a church also means carrying the cross: “Whoever does not take up their cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me”(Matthew 10:38). This carrying of the cross as a church means oneness with the suffering of Christ. Jesus himself said: “A servant is not above his master, so you will be persecuted, too”. This does not just apply to individual followers of Jesus, but also to His church.
The suffering of the church, first of all, Jesus says, occurs “when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me” (Matthew 5:11). Persecution has many faces. Sometimes it means imprisonment or even being tortured to death because of your faith in Jesus. At other times it takes on a subtler, legal form, or involves harassment or ridicule. Every church of Christ knows the experience of not being accepted in this world, regardless of how this rejection is expressed. In the words of Jesus: “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you” (John 15:19). The church is only truly the church of Christ if she knows this suffering. It is the pain of being strangers, outsiders in society. It means being misunderstood and hated.
But this is not the only kind of suffering the church undergoes. As the church of Christ we also suffer under the brokenness of the world we live in. We pray with the words of a Christian leader: “Lord, let our hearts be broken by what breaks your heart”. The church suffers under the suffering of this world, she joins the whole creation in groaning (Romans 8:22-23). It is the suffering of empathy, it means weeping about things that happen, just as Jesus wept over Jerusalem.
A third form of suffering the church experiences is suffering under the sin and evil so prevalent in this world. The church sees this evil, puts its finger on sin and prays for forgiveness for those who sin against others or themselves. It means suffering under evil just as Jesus did on the cross, when He prayed: Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing (Luke 23:34). The first martyr, Stephen, prayed similarly to his saviour: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them”(Acts 7:60).
A fourth form of suffering occurs when as a church we suffer under our own sins. As believers we know that the power of sin was broken by Jesus on the cross and that, therefore, we are free and able to live without sin. At the same time, we share Paul’s experience: “I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing” (Romans 7:19). Suffering under our own sin as a church often means suffering under a lack of unity, both within our own congregation and among different congregations. The unity Jesus so eagerly desired (John 15 and 17) is so often lacking; self-interest so often takes priority over Christ’s interests. Blessed is the church that truly suffers under this failure: it will surely transcend itself.
Thus the church’s path in life is like the one Christ walked on earth: it is the path of the cross. A church without suffering is no church at all! Jesus gained the victory, but ultimate deliverance will not be ours until his return. Until that time, the church joins Paul in saying: “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of His resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:10-11). We know His kingdom will break through, but until it does we suffer for Christ’s sake and wait “more than watchmen wait for the morning” (Psalm 130).
The dual orientation of the church
The church suffers and eagerly awaits the return of her Lord. In the meantime, we do not sit still in a corner, but get on with our commission. As a church suffering in a broken world we have a dual commission: to love God above all else and to love our neighbour as ourselves. This means the church is also moving in two directions: inward, in honouring and worshipping God, and outward, in serving and witnessing to those around us.
The apostle Peter puts it like this: “you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:9). So the church is made up of people God has chosen and set apart from those around them. We have been called from the darkness of a life ruled by sin. This is why in his epistle Peter refers to the believers as exiles. Our goal, therefore, is not to be successful in this world. The goal we have as the church of Christ is to honour God and to serve our neighbour. So, God sends the same people He has called out of the world back into the world to declare his praises. God does not just want to save those He has called to become a member of the church, He wants to use them to extend that same invitation to others. The church is a community of saved people commissioned to go out offer others salvation.
Love God above all else
We saw in the first chapter that the church moves in two directions: inward (honour God) and outward (love your neighbour). The inward orientation, honouring God, involves two aspects that we will look at in this chapter and the next.
The church is the place on earth where believers come together to honour and worship God together, because they love God more than anything else. This inward orientation is part of the church’s calling as “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation” (1 Peter 2:9). The church, in the first place, is a fellowship of believers who are committed to their Lord and come together to worship Him. The first place to hear the heart-beat of the church, therefore, is the worship service.
The worship service
What does it mean to worship God in a worship service? Psalm 105:1-3 offers a beautiful description: “Give praise to the LORD, proclaim His name; make known among the nations what He has done. Sing to Him, sing praise to Him; tell of all His wonderful acts. Glory in His holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice”. There is nothing we would rather do as a church than to join believers all over the world in singing about who God is, what He has done and what he is still going to do. The worship service is characterised by concentration on God; it is all about Him. In this way we give God the place of honour He deserves in our congregation and in our personal lives. During the worship service, we realise once again: “From Him and through Him and for Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever! Amen” (Romans 11:36).
Of course, you can worship God when you are alone or at home, there is something special about worshipping in the congregation, with the whole church. Our worship services connect us with one another and with believers worldwide. In the worship service we get a taste of what Paul describes in Ephesians 3: “I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:17-19). We need each other, both in the local church and in the worldwide church, to rise above our own limited existence in worshipping God and to discover more and more of his greatness and goodness together. Singing together is not the same as singing on your own. Praying together is also different than praying alone. Jesus says: “If two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:19-20). So worshipping God together really has an extra dimension.
Worshipping in the Spirit and in truth
In his encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4), Jesus speaks about worshipping God. He stresses that what matters is not where or exactly how you worship God, but that we worship him “in the Spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). This means worship is not about fixed habits or rituals. It is not a religious custom, but a spiritual fellowship with God. It is not the place or the time that matters, but the attitude of our heart. Worshipping God in the Spirit and in truth means turning our whole hart to God and being honest and sincere in our worship. You can come to God and worship him just as a child comes to his father to sit on his lap and to enjoy his nearness and loving care.
The worship service is not only a place and time for the church to read and listen to God’s word and to sing and worship him together, it is also the place where new church members are baptised. The worship service is the best place to do this, because baptising is also a form of worship.
Jesus commissioned the church to baptise new converts when He sent out His disciples: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). People in Jesus’ day were familiar with baptism in water. John the Baptist offers us the most well-known example. Crowds of people came to him to be baptised in the River Jordan. It was a baptism of repentance and forgiveness of sins. It involved confession of guilt and the baptism itself symbolised the washing away of guilt and forgiveness by God. It was also a bath signifying new life and a new obedience to God (Matthew 3:5-6). Jesus also received this baptism from John. In this way He immersed Himself in the sins of the people, showing His intention to take upon Himself all our sin and brokenness. But when Jesus came to be baptised, John said: “I baptise you with water… He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matthew 3:11). John meant that thanks to Jesus the outward, symbolic cleansing and change brought about for believers by water become inward and real through the Spirit.
Whoever is baptised belongs to Jesus. Being immersed in water is symbolic for dying and rising up from the dead with Jesus. Paul writes in Romans: “Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into His death? We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we will certainly also be united with Him in a resurrection like His” (Romans 6:3-5). Being baptised means accepting what Jesus did for us when he died on the cross and rose from the grave. He did that for us, with our names and lives in mind. When we are baptised, God shows us it is truly for us, that we, too, died and were raised with Jesus. It is like parents paying off a college debt for a child and giving their son or daughter a document to prove it. The son or daughter will experience relief and a sense of being delivered from debt. In a similar way, baptism is like a statement undersigned by God that you have been delivered.
Baptism also marks the moment when as a believer you deliberately say to God that you want to be His child and that you will always love and serve Him. In that sense, it is like a marriage between Jesus and the believer. He has demonstrated His love and now He asks us whether we will love Him, too. In baptism, we publicly say ‘yes’ to Him.
A baptism with water in the worship service, therefore, marks a special moment in the life of the believer. The water is symbolic, yet at the same time something very real takes place in the life of the person being baptised. The water shows us something of what God promises the Holy Spirit will now do. Something really changes in the heart and life of the person baptised. You now truly belong to Jesus and are bound up with him in every way. It means you are the recipient of all His love and grace, but also that you promise to place your life in His hands and to follow Him.
Does this mean believers who, for whatever reason, have not yet been baptised will not be saved and are not bound up with Jesus? No, it does not mean that. A believer can experience with Jesus what a man and a woman experience who love each other and share an intense connection even though they are not yet married. We do not need baptism in order to believe, but it does mark a special mutual commitment between God and ourselves. A person who has not received the sign of baptism is no less loved by God, but that public, visible and tangible confirmation of his relationship with God is absent.
Finally, it is important that when we baptise new believers, we do not only use water as a symbol of cleansing and of dying and being raised with Jesus, but also that we always baptise in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. In baptism, the triune God demonstrates his covenant with this believer as Father, Son and Spirit. The Father gives his love and care, the Son offers forgiveness of sin and the Spirit brings about a changed life. In this way God connects His name and heart to our name and to our entire life. As we become aware of what takes place when a person is baptised among the fellowship of believers, we cannot help but worship God!
The Lord’s Supper
Another celebration frequently held in the church of Christ, in addition to baptism, is communion, or the Lord’s Supper. This is also a commandment of Jesus. Paul says clearly in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 that he “received from the Lord” what he passed on to the believers (see also Matthew 26:26-29). Each time we break bread and drink wine as a congregation, we are reminded of what Jesus did when He gave his life for us on the cross. “Do this in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:24). So when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, as when we conduct worship services, we are to concentrate on Jesus Christ and what He has done for us. Thus celebrating communion is another form of worship: you focus on Jesus and praise Him for His sacrifice for us on the cross.
In baptism we are connected once and for all to Christ in His death and resurrection. The celebration of the Lord’s supper offers us a reaffirmation of this several times a year. Again we hear about Jesus atoning death and we may feel with our senses that it is true and that He did for us. In breaking the bread, we realise that He allowed His body to be broken when He suffered and died on the cross. When we drink from the cup, we realise His blood was shed when he gave His life for us. He took my place and died for my sins, thereby offering me a new life with God. Amazing grace, amazing love! Each time we celebrate the Lord’s supper together and turn our minds and hearts to Jesus and His death on the cross, we are reminded of this.
There is a lot of debating in the church as to whether the bread and wine literally are Jesus’ flesh and blood. To me, the key issue in this discussion is that our partaking of the bread and the wine takes on a special meaning when we do it “in remembrance of” Jesus: the moment we eat the bread and drink the wine, something very real does happen in our hearts and lives. Heaven and earth touch and God is near in a very special way. As we eat and drink, we physically partake in Jesus’ sacrifice for us and we cannot help but praise and thank Him in song and prayer. The Lord’s Supper, like baptism, belongs in the church’s worship service. Both sacraments lie at the heart of our life with God and will invariably lead us to worship Him!
Like baptism, celebrating communion centres on the bond between the believer and his or her Lord. This is why only believers are to participate in communion. And believers, Paul tells us, must be very conscious of participating with the right inward attitude: “For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves” (1 Corinthians 11:29). Ask yourself, therefore, whether you are really focused on Jesus and do not participate in the Lord’s Supper carelessly. If you celebrate it with the right attitude, you will discover that concentrating on Jesus will cause your own soul to rise up in gratitude and joy.
The fellowship of the saints
Honouring God as a church is not only done by worshipping, it is also done through the bond we share as fellow members of the church of Christ. The church often refers to this as ‘the fellowship of the saints’.
The Biblical word for this fellowship, this bond we share as believers, is the Greek word koinonia. It denotes a deep, spiritual bond that affects all our interactions. There is a lot more to it than just getting to know each other a little better; it even goes further than friendship, as it is not based on our personal preferences. It is a soul connection, a bond between people who have been through the same experience: we have all been saved by Jesus, we are all related to one Father, we are all on the way toward the same eternal joy. John talks about this special bond between believers In 1 John 1: “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3). Our fellowship as believers, then, originates in the fellowship, the koinonia, between Father, Son and Spirit. As believers we are drawn into this bond of love, we are allowed to become a part of it. Jesus prays for this: “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:22-23).
God’s koinonia, then, is the source of the koinonia among the believers. It is not our love for one another, but God’s love within us that opens our hearts to one another. “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Our fellowship springs from God’s fellowship with us. It does not, therefore, depend on our good will, rather we are given to one another by God and His love breaks open our hearts. This means the fellowship we enjoy is a gift from God, a gift of pure grace in which we are allowed to share.
This intimate bond we share, characteristically, rests on the realisation that our lives are built on one and the same foundation. Our identity is no longer determined by whether we are male or female, rich or poor, black or white, highly educated or hardly educated at all. Our identity lies in the fact that we are all children of the heavenly Father: we are all brothers and sisters of Jesus. We are God’s children – that is what determines everything, what unites us. Paul states this clearly: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). Our unity in Christ transcends all these differences. They no longer matter or hinder us, because the love of Jesus transcends all social, cultural and ethnic differences between people. This does not mean there are no more differences; it means we no longer use our differences to exclude people, but rather that we include one another in the body of Christ. Our very diversity enables us to serve one another and thus to glorify Jesus. Quite practically, this means we may ask ourselves individually how we can serve the church as a whole with our unique qualities, whatever those may be.
Spiritual fellowship means sharing what we have received or learned from God. For example, think of what Paul wrote to the believers in Rome. He longed to meet with them: “I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong— that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith” (Romans 1:11-12). Within the church of Christ we share our spiritual gifts with each other, the things we have discovered in our walk with God and with which we can bless others. For example, think of helping each other to understand the Bible better. Or to learn to recognise God’s voice when we pray. These and other gifts of the Spirit, the so-called charismata, have been given to the church. Not every believer has every gift, but together all of the gifts are present in the church. This means we can only experience the fullness of the Spirit in fellowship with one another. We need each other in the church in order to discover the many gifts of the Spirit and to apply them in our daily living.
Where this koinonia reigns, people do not only share everything spiritually, but also materially. This was immediately evident among the first Christians in Jerusalem. The Bible tells us: “All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need” (Acts 2:44-45). A little further into the Book of Acts, we read again that “that there were no needy persons among them”, because they looked after each other in everything (Acts 4:34-35). Koinonia, or fellowship with one another and with Jesus, means there are to be no differences that might hinder us from loving one another. If one member of the church of Christ is very wealthy and another is very poor, the former will help the latter. This is not a commandment, but the natural outcome of love and fellowship. You just do it, without questioning, without grumbling, without objection. By the way, this does not only apply to money and possessions, but also to the giving of time and attention. Within the church of Christ we are there for each other, to talk, to encourage, to help lend a helping hand, to give genuine attention. There is no need for anyone within the church of Christ to lack anything – whether spiritually, socially or financially!
The serving church
We have seen now that as church members we have an inward orientation that leads us to worship God and have fellowship with one another. At the same time, the church has an outward orientation. This outwardness centres on two assignments: serving and witnessing.
Salt of the earth and light of the world
The believers, and therefore the church, are the salt of the earth and the light of the world, Jesus says in Matthew 5:13-14. This means two things. To begin with, the two images Jesus uses here tell us that we are to be distinctly different from those around us, there is to be a clear contrast between the church and the world. We are not the rice or the potatoes, but the salt sprinkled on them. We are not the main course, instead we are the flavouring. Salt is used in every home to add flavour. A Christian is someone who makes different choices than the people around him, because his priorities are different and he is not self-serving. This attitude sometimes bothers people around us, or surprises them, but at least it makes them think. In Jesus’ day salt had another function: it was used to prevent food from going bad. For instance, meat was preserved by rubbing salt on it; that way you could store it longer. This, too, is the task of every believer. You are different, you are salt, which means you resist evil in society: bad morals, wrong choices, self-centredness, abuse of power, pure materialism or corruption. You combat injustice and poverty, loneliness and lack of care, exploitation and abuse. A believer is someone who adds flavour and resists decay.
This is also applies to the role of the church in society. In villages and cities, the church of Christ is the salt of the earth, the light of the world. The local church has received all it needs from the Lord Jesus Christ and this is the commission he has given: “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). As a congregation you are salt and light by default, simply because you belong to the body of Christ – but what you do with that is your responsibility. That is why Jesus says in this passage: you are salt, you are light, but do not let the salt lose its saltiness and make sure you let your light shine. The church, because of what she is, has a job to do in this world. Being salt and light is both a gift and a task!
The church has been called to serve its surroundings. Many Bible passages speak of this. In Jeremiah 29, the people of Israel, having been defeated by the armies of Babylon, has been exiled from Israel to the city of Babel. There the Israelites find themselves strangers and exiles in an alien environment: they do not feel at home there and would like to leave as quickly as possible. False prophets appear, promising them that God will soon get them back to Jerusalem, but God gives the prophet Jeremiah a very different message to pass on to the exiles: “This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper”” (Jeremiah 29:4-7).
The first assignment to the church is to deliberately take its place in society, even if that society is hostile and the church is seen as an outsider. Do not withdraw behind your church walls, but take part in building up society. If you want your church to be salt and light, to add flavour and resist decay, your first priority is to be present where society is shaped, where decisions are made, where people live and work together. Just as God told His people through Jeremiah that they were in Babel because God led them there, the church, too, must realise that it must play its part right where it is located, here and now. You are not where you are by accident; God has a plan, through His church He wants to do something in this village or town. That explains this appeal to the Israelites in Babel and to the church in its place: take part in building up society.
The most important instrument at the church’s disposal in all of this is prayer. Pray to the Lord for the village or city to which he has led you. Pray for those governing it, pray for its population. Every believer knows that if you pray for something or someone, your heart will be moved with compassion for that person or situation. If you pray for a city, you will begin to love and serve that city. God commands us to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city”. A congregation that desires to add flavour will only see that desire fulfilled if it genuinely cares about the peace and prosperity of its city, or village, and those living in it. This sincere concern will lead you as a church to seek ways of serving the community, combatting evil and promoting good.
The Bible shows us what it means to do good in a key passage of Scripture that can also help the church to fulfil its role as salt of the earth and light of the world. It is a passage in which the prophet Micah answers the question of the people of Israel as to what they must do to serve and honour God. The answer is clear: “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). This is a clear programme for every believer – as well as for every fellowship of believers, every church. A servant attitude towards God and a desire to give him first place in all you do as a church will lead you to act justly. This means that every person is taken seriously. Whether people are entrepreneurs or labourers, men or women, young or old, rich or poor – each one is equally important, equally precious, equally entitled to genuine attention. This is what we commit ourselves to as a church in our town or city. And it requires us to be faithful, too. The Hebrew word used in Micah has a special reference to defending the rights of those who cannot defend themselves. It means having an eye for forgotten groups, or vulnerable people. This is our God-given task as believers and as a church. This is how we are to be salt, adding flavour and resisting decay, and light in the dark. This is what makes the church of Christ visible and relevant.
Another Bible passage in which Jesus outlines the task of the church is the parable of the good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37. The message here is that whoever crosses our path is our neighbour, and that we are to open our hearts and hands to them, even if they are people we would prefer to avoid. It is precisely in such situations that the Bible’s golden rule applies: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). The Samaritan in the story told by Jesus did what he could, even incurring costs, out of compassion for the man he found lying by the roadside. Jesus ends the parable with these words: “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37). As a church we must not turn a blind eye to the needs of people around us, but instead help them on their feet and on their way. This is the servant attitude God wants us to develop, this is how the church can truly show itself to be the body of Christ on earth.
The witnessing church
The church’s outward orientation involves two aspects: serving and witnessing. If as a church we only serve and do good works, without ever explaining why we want to serve those around us, we miss out on an opportunity to share Christ’s love for us and for others. Serving without witnessing is a missed opportunity, while witnessing without serving is just hollow phrases! The two belong together. Sometimes a conversation or testimony will start things off, in other situations an act of service will be the trigger. But the one cannot do without the other.
Witnessing, in addition to serving, is a key word for the church. After His resurrection, Jesus said to His disciples: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). A short while later, at His ascension, He said: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). The church is to be a witnessing church and its testimony is to be clear. It is the testimony of John the Baptist and of Jesus: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matthew 4:17). When we testify about Jesus, we testify to sin and grace, being lost and getting saved, being inwardly sick and receiving healing, moving from spiritual death to life. As a church we can present this message in many ways, but the core must never be hidden.
Paul, who shared the gospel wherever he journeyed, offers us a good example of witnessing. In Romans 1, He explains this compulsion to testify: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile” (Romans 1:16). So the heart of his testimony is the gospel of Jesus.
A good example is the sermon Peter delivered on the Day of Pentecost. He testified to the cross and the resurrection of Jesus without hesitating to tell his listeners, the people right in front of him, that they were responsible for Jesus’ crucifixion. “When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:37-38). His radical message evoked a radical response: that very day, 3,000 people were baptised. Our testimony certainly does not always get a positive response like that. Sometimes we meet with ridicule, or outright hostility. But we must not let this stop us from placing Jesus at the very centre of our testimony.
When Jesus sent out his disciples to testify about Him in Matthew 10, he warned them extensively about what they were to expect as His witnesses: “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). In a hostile society, a witnessing church is vulnerable. The right attitude in witnessing involves choosing the right moments, people and places. A snake waits and watches, too, before it strikes. At the same time, we must remain innocent and naive, like a dove. If we feel an inner compulsion to witness, we must simply do it! If you feel a desire to share about Jesus here and now, do not hold back. Seize every opportunity God gives you. So don’t be foolish or reckless, but don’t lose yourself in preparing strategies and plans to go out and witness either.
Jesus warns us as His witnessing church that we will be persecuted because of our testimony. The Greek word for witness is martyrion. A martyr is a witness who has paid a price for his testimony. But Jesus adds something else to the warning He gives every witnessing believer and every witnessing church: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:29-30). The vulnerable sheep facing the wolves have just one defence: the good Shepherd!
A very important guideline to follow in witnessing as a church is that we testify only of what we ourselves have heard, seen and experienced in our walk with Jesus. A witness is someone who was there when something happened and is so full of it that he wants to talk about it to other people, so that they might experience it,
too. Witnessing as a church, therefore, is not a matter of dryly reciting the truths of the Bible, but rather of weaving in your own story with Jesus to show others that He is inviting them to follow Him, too. Remind yourself of what He means to you and share that joy of walking with God when you talk about the faith with unbelievers.
Finally, sharing about your life with God is a great responsibility, because it means people will scrutinize your walk and talk. Rarely will they take you at your word; their interest will not be aroused until they see that you really practice what you preach. Paul called the church of Corinth “a letter from Christ” (2 Corinthians 3:3). Most people will not immediately start reading the Bible, they will first read the person who has told them about it, the witness, or the witnessing church. We can only truly be church that points to Jesus if our walking and talking, and the way we treat each other, demonstrate that we are indeed full of Jesus. If the church practices what it preaches, God can use it mightily. Through its testimony and service, He will build his kingdom.
The structure of the church
In the previous chapters we looked at the church’s dual orientation – the inward orientation of worshipping God and having fellowship together, and the outward orientation of serving and witnessing to those around us. In order to fulfil this dual assignment properly, we need a supporting structure. So how do you organise the church in such a way that its structure will help the church members to perform their task towards God, each other and the world around them?
If we look at how Jesus did this during His time on earth, we see that He always interacted with people on three levels. He frequently addressed large crowds, He took time for personal encounters, but his primary focus was on a small group of twelve disciples. These three angles can be very helpful to us as a church, too.
Worship services and house groups
It is important for the church to come together as a whole in worship. The worship service is the place where we can worship God together as well as being encouraged and receiving teaching. The primary goal of these larger meetings is for us to worship God together and to listen to the preaching of his word. Jesus also had large meetings like this, when the crowds followed him and he explained the principles of God´s kingdom to them. This is a form of meeting in which the preaching and teaching does not involve conversation. The emphasis is on receiving the teaching or encouragement God wants to give us. When these meetings are over, the church members all return to their own homes and families.
This explains why central meetings or worship services alone will never suffice for a church, unless it is a small home church. But even a home church, when its numbers grow to 30 or 40, is too big for intensive sharing and caring. It is important for us to observe how the first church combined central worship services with smaller get-togethers at home. In Acts 2, the model of the first church is clearly outlined: “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts” (Acts 2:46). So they were familiar with the two sides of church life: the collective worship services at the temple and the small groups at home.
House groups, or cell groups
House groups, or cell groups, have two important functions in the church: teaching and different levels of caring. As far as teaching is concerned, the small setting of the house group gives participants opportunity to share with each other what they heard in the sermon. The house group is the place for discovering how we can put into practice the Biblical message presented in the worship service. In a house group you can think about the implications of the message together and help each other apply it in everyday life. House groups, following up on the preaching in the worship service, are the best place for teaching in the church.
The second function of house groups is caring. In the small setting of a house group, participants can genuinely be a part of one another’s lives. Just as a child is raised up towards maturity in the small setting of the family, we develop spiritual maturity in a small house group. This setting offers room for questioning, searching and sharing. It is the place where we provide basic pastoral care for one another, where we are aware of one another’s needs and where together we can look after each other. It is also the place where you can pray for others and others can pray for you: more than most other settings, a small house group, in which you share your joys and sorrows, offers room for personal intercession. This is why it is important that there is plenty of opportunity for prayer in your house group. The house group is thus like a nuclear family within the church’s wider circle of extended family.
It is difficult to say exactly how big a house group should be. The important thing is that it must be big enough to allow you to give different members different tasks, and small enough for the members to grow close and to genuinely care for one another. Generally, a small group within the wider church should consist of about 10 to 15 adults. That is not including the children.
Leadership in the church
In the first part of The Pastors’ Manual we looked at the leadership role that every pastor has. In this last chapter we will focus mainly on the organisational side of this leadership.
When it comes to church leadership, one of the basic principles laid down in the Bible is that church leadership is always shared leadership. Servant leadership means shared leadership! We see this clearly in Acts 6:1-7. It is wonderful to note that the apostles didn’t step forward and solve the problem between two groups of believers, but instead gathered all the believers together to look for a wise way of dealing with the situation together. “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables”, they said (Acts 6:2).
They did not mean that preaching is more important than serving food, but that the latter was not their calling. They had been called to preach and to pray and the other work was to be left to people called in that direction. The twelve apostles then appointed seven deacons to take over the food distribution. These deacons, they said, must be “known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom”, meaning that they had to be both spiritual and practical. The church agreed and chose seven men. Among them were Philip, who was already well-known, and Stephen.
The principle the disciples demonstrated here is that not everyone has to do everything in the church. God calls each church member into his service, giving each person gifts to serve him and the church. Preachers are not the only ones with a calling; believers performing other tasks have been called by God as well. Neither is one task more important than any other! We learn from the Jesus’ parable of the bags of gold that what matters is not how many gifts or tasks you have, but what you do with what God has given you (Matthew 25:14-30). Look what happened after the apostles and the church in Jerusalem decided to delegate tasks to different members: “So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly” (Acts 6:7).
This means that the pastor should never have the sole responsibility for leading the church. Paul mention elders several times – and always in the plural. The church is to be led by a team of people who have been called to this task, who have the right gifts for it and who together can take care of the entire church. One might preach, another might lead the pastoral work, a third might lead in providing practical support.
In Ephesians 4, Paul mentions one of these leadership teams, listing five ministries that should be represented: “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” (Ephesians 4:11-12). The way Paul describes this shows us that he is not just talking about the church of Ephesus, but rather presenting a model of how Jesus wants to organise and build his church. This means that in our churches we must seek to identify individual members who together have these five gifts. Together they can set up and run the church according to God’s will. So what kind of people are they?
The apostle is the one who plants the church. As it grows more mature, he moves on to set up a new church or ministry. He is often the linking pin between the local church and other churches, sometimes even in other countries. An apostle is often a person passing through in the church, a pioneer who starts things off in God´s kingdom, mobilises people for Jesus, and then moves on.
The prophet sees to it that the church remains faithful to God and to its calling in the world. The prophet is a defender of an upright relationship with God and calls people to obedience, he keeps them alert. Prophets have a strong sense of justice and are quick to sense when things are being done with wrong motives.
The evangelist is the person who in a very natural way can touch people with the gospel of Jesus Christ. He easily connects with people and cannot stop talking about the new life that he has received and that is available to others. He introduces new people to the church and makes other people enthusiastic about Jesus.
4. Pastor, or shepherd
The shepherd´s primary focus is on the spiritual wellbeing and growth of church members. He helps church members to care for one another and to be there for one another. A shepherd sets a good example in these areas himself.
The teacher is the one who by studying the Bible and other related books presents new insights and clear teaching in order to help the church grow in knowledge and wisdom. He helps church members grow in their walk with God step by step.
These five kinds of leadership are present in every congregation, but sometimes we have to look for them, or to make people aware of gifts they have already received. These five gifts together enable the church as a whole to “grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ” (Ephesians 4:15). These gifts are not reserved exclusively for men; God gives gifts to all believers, including the women in your church. Make sure that in dividing tasks in the church you do not rob them of the opportunity to use their gifts for God’s kingdom.
Sometimes these five gifts are present within the group of elders, but not necessarily. What matters is that the church offers room for each type of leader to serve. Actively seek these people out and give them a place in your congregation in which their gifts and calling will blossom.
A church, organised in this biblical way, will receive the blessing of worshipping God, living as a true unity, serving the world and testifying about Jesus abundantly!