Moving Toward Simple Reproducing Churches

I was recently moved by this quotation by a Brazilian theologian, J.B. Lebanio. Simple reproducing churches…”are not a movement, an association, or a religious congregation… They are not a method (or the only method) of building up the church: They are THE CHURCH itself… They are THE CHURCH committed to the ordinary person, to the poor, to those who suffer injustice.”
Simple reproducing churches (organic churches, home churches) are absolutely theologically necessary. They are the foundational level of the church for the church to be THE CHURCH, the first level at which the church is to exist. The second level is the regular coming together of these basic communities to worship and fellowship together. A third level is the periodic coming together of all congregations to express Christ to the city. Are we focusing on the second level of church meetings while short changing the absolutely necessary foundational level? I think so!

 While discussing levels, I was challenged by Neil Cole’s comments in Kiev in November of 2006.  The first priority of church ministry, again the foundational level, is the making of reproducing disciples which in turn produces reproducing leaders who begin reproducing churches which lead to a reproducing church planting movement.  I confess that much of my Ukrainian ministry has been focused on beginning reproducing churches and promoting reproducing church planting movements without nearly enough emphasis on the making of reproducing disciples.  Once again short changing the absolutely essential foundational level of ministry – I am beginning to understand that until we regain the focus on making reproducing disciples we will struggle to see reproducing churches or any movement.  The essential work of making disciples seems to get lost in the crowd of church activities.  As I ask church leaders, “How do you make disciples?”, I discover that there is a void of intentional disciple-making.

 In the time since I have been talking about simple reproducing churches, I have been called both a heretic and a harmful deconstructionist.  Ouch!  As I have pondered these thoughts, I have concluded that if restoring the priesthood of all believers, if restoring participatory church meetings, if restoring the missional nature of the church, if restoring authentic community with face-to-face fellowship, if restoring natural growth and church multiplication is heretical then I am proudly a heretic who is searching for other heretics.

 I remain totally convinced that THE CHURCH committed to the ordinary person, to the poor, and to those who suffer injustice will deeply impact Ukraine for Christ…  I believe that we must see the restoration of the foundations of simple reproducing churches and the making of reproducing disciples in order for the church to be THE CHURCH.  For the restoration of these foundations, we need to follow apostolic patterns found in the early

church.  While there are many apostolic patterns, the three which are most essential are regaining the practice of the headship of Christ, the practice of the priesthood of all believers and the practice of non-hierarchical leadership.

I am encouraging movement toward an understanding of church which is found in the early apostolic church.  A movement away from the Christendom church with its dependence on buildings and professional clergy (solo pastura), with its institutionalization of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, with its hierarchical leadership style, and its attractional nature.

 For this movement toward organic, simple reproduction churches to take place, we will need to understand both Christ’s purpose for the church and the practices, which lead us to His purpose.

 

Christ’s Purposes

Church Practices Which Promote

That Christ Be the Head of His Body – It is His Church – Col. 1:18

 

That His Church be Built Up in the Lord – I Cor. 14:26

 

By the Priesthood of all Believers – I Peter 2:5, 9

 

That His Church would be His Followers – Matt. 28:18-20

 

- Functional, Servant, Plural Leadership

- Consensus Decision Making

- Open, Participatory Meetings, Face-to-Face

- Mutual Edification with Freedom for all Spiritual Gifts

- Progressive Dialogue, Engage Scripture

- Authentic Disciple Making, Transformation

- The Common Meal (Love Feast)

- Mission Primary Motivation

 

Church Practices Which Hinder

-          Performance Style/Spectatorism

-          Monologue Preaching

-          Hierarchical Leadership / Professionalism / Solo Pastor

-          Institutional Lord’s Supper and Baptism

-          Learning Separated from Obedience and Community

-          Focus on Growth without Discipleship

 

 

What are Simple Organic Churches?  These are the hallmarks, practices, or expressions of simple, organic (living) churches:

 

  • Practice the headship of Christ as authority and source of all – learn to listen.
  • Practice open participatory gatherings for mutual edification.
  • Practice non-hierarchical leadership without clergy/laity divide.
  • Practice priesthood of all believers practicing one another’s.
  • Practice consensus decision-making.
  • Experience spontaneous expression of Christ to the world.
  • Practice celebratory meals.
  • Experience authentic community.
  • Follow N.T. patterns.

 

It is not a coincidence that these expressions are the very same expressions found today in the Chinese house church movement, which is exploding and expanding the Kingdom of God.

I am an encourager of simple reproducing churches as the best expression of the reproducing church.  Recently, I was encouraged to discover that globally there are 450 million Christians (nearly 50%) who are part of simple, organic structures.  In addition, there is an underlying current of understanding which knows there is something wrong or misguided about the way we do or are church.  This is especially true in cultures which are seeing the church lose impact on the culture.

As part of this encouragement, I am focusing on five elements:

 

  • Authentic disciple making which results in transformation, reproduction and action in ministry and mission.  (See Master Plan of Evangelism by Robert Coleman.)
  • Simple reproducible gatherings, which fulfill the scriptural purpose of mutual edification via mutual participation and the free use of spiritual gifts.  (See Organic Church by Neil Cole.)
  • The practice of living and meeting under the headship of Christ.  This requires us to be listeners and in tune with the movement of the Holy Spirit.  (See Reimaging the Church by Frank Viola.)
  • The practice of the priesthood of all believers – not as a pleasant doctrine, but as a measureable reality of church/body life.  (IBID)
  • Functional, non-hierarchical leadership serving organic structures.  (See Who Is Your Covering? By Frank Viola.)

 

 

Practices which Influence the Health of the Church

 

 

Organic Practices

Institutional Practices

Headship of Christ marked by mutual submission and dependence

 

Leadership of men in authority

Non-hierarchical leadership (functional)

 

Hierarchical leadership (positional, levels)

Consensus decision making

Majority rule

 

Balanced leadership of all gifts in Ephesians 4

Preeminence of pastor/teachers

 

Mutual responsibility and privilege to serve one another

Clergy/laity divide

 

Priesthood of all believers

Priesthood of a few; dependence on professionals

 

Open participatory gatherings

Spectator/Performance services

 

Incarnational Engagement (Go To)    (Messianic Spirituality)

Attractional Engagement (Come here/extract) (Dualistic spirituality)

 

Decentralized people in functional meeting places

 

Dependence on dedicated buildings

Authentic disciple-making; life-centered

Academic learning, knowledge-centered

 

The lordship of Christ leads to acceptance of risk, danger, and challenge

Domestication of the church focused on maintenance of the body

 

Equipped ordinary people

 

Trained professional clergy

 

Low Cost: Reproducible Models

 

High Cost: Non-Reproducible Models

 

Decentralized Networks

Centralized Organization

 

 

Rich Correll

Rich Correll has been involved in Ukrainian church planting for 18 years.  He has pioneered church planting and church planting training in cooperation with many Ukrainian churches.

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    May 14 2020

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    All across the world, people are gathering in small groups to serve and worship God, be family, and encourage and affect each others lives. These gatherings are called by many names including simple church, organic church, and house church. Whatever you call it, the people involved value incarnational ministry to the lost, living radically for Jesus and each other, and are willing to get rid of anything that gets in the way of being fully devoted followers of Christ.

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