Some church models are better than others
I’ve been surfing around house church websites and I see a pattern. It seems a great many of the people that have embraced simple churches think that they have found the lone legitimate expression of church. To some other larger more institutionally driven models are next to evil. I imagine that your average Joe pastor would disregard these people as nuts and extremists.
I have a few thoughts on this.
There is no one pristine model of doing church but some are better suited for their context than others. Some make it more or less difficult to actually accomplish the purposes of the church.
I agree with a lot of what simple church advocates proclaim. I believe that small and simple is a better fit for church. I see the structures of the church as a means to an end and not and end in themselves. What matters is the end. So you can use an ill suited structure and still accomplish what you are called to do. We each have different callings and God works with us where we are at. So if someone is called to work with seniors you go to where the seniors are and use the structures available.
All in all I find some the rhetoric from the simple church side less than useful.
On the flip side I don’t think established church leaders should so easily cast off the assertions of the simple church movement. I’ve heard a lot of people say there are things you can do in a big church that you can’t do in a small one or really small one. I’ve asked people to actually name something that might serve as an example. Answers don’t always flow forth. The truth is most big churches do very little to leverage any advantage in their size. History has shown us the most powerful movements in church history were completely successful without the use of buildings.
There are parts of scripture that are hard to reconcile with larger program driven churches. Paul’s concept of church had everyone playing a necessary role (1Cor 12). When the primary expression of church is 90% of the people listening or singing it is hard to see how essential most of the people are. Even if you were to consider all the other activities that are generally considered less essential you won’t find more than half the people in a significant role. One might argue that people just need to step up more and volunteer.
The reality is some church models make it more difficult for people to feel affirmed and empowered to do ministry. One of the main problems is that actions speak louder than words. If you sit in a pew every Sunday and you are not allowed to speak you will slowly be convinced that you have nothing to say or that you are unqualified to say it. It wouldn’t matter if the preached talked incessantly about how everyone is a minister. The actions speak louder than words.
In my experience a simple church, which is forced to rely on other people to do ministry is far better structures to affirm, train and empower people to engage in ministry. I’m not saying a program driven church couldn’t do the same thing. I imagine some do, but it is really hard.
1Cor 12 NRSV
14 Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many members, yet one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; 24 whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, 25 that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.