I was reading a book last week called Church Without Walls, A Global Examination of Cell Church edited by Michael Green; the various authors were talking about church history, how the church began, why it grew, how it grew, and why the Church has been shrinking in the West in the last hundred years at an alarming rate and why the Church in Asia and Africa is growing exponentially.
To summarize the book points out that the Church grows when all its members are unified together in forming Christian communities and engaging in evangelism. Growth in numbers generally stops at around 200 people when the emphasis is on the clergy doing the ministry. But when the clergy focuses on leadership training and delegating to lay leaders the task of shepherding small communities to come together in community for discipleship and care of one another and for the purpose of evangelizing together as a small group, it is then that churches grow. The book points out that a healthy church comes together for regular worship, celebration, and edification (usually on Sundays) and then divides into small groups (usually in homes) during the week for care and evangelism ministry with intentional efforts of outreach of their friends and neighbors.
If I could summarize in two basic words what the book is saying about church it is that Christians should focus on community and mission (i.e., missional community being Christ-centered).
This is a method of ministry that has proven to work in the first 300 years of the church; it has proven to work in Ireland in the 5th-7th centuries; it has proven to work when the Church in Europe was falling apart in the middle ages and when Ireland sent missional communities to evangelize Mainland Europe; this is a method proven to work amongst the Waldensians in the 12th century, the Moravians in the 15th century, and in the ministry of John Wesley and the Methodists in the 18th century; and in modern times it is working in Singapore, China, Canada, and the United Kingdom.
This is a form of ministry that is decentralized and which focuses on Christian principles, not top down authoritarian structures. This is a form of ministry that expects every Christian to be involved, equips leaders to equip groups of people to do ministry together, and which gives a lot of freedom for individual groups to creatively figure out how to reach people for Christ. This is a form of ministry that is ideally suited for the next generation culture of Seattle. Why?
“The use and abuse of power is increasingly seen as one of the key questions facing Christian theology today. The case against Christianity argues that it became the dominant religion of the Western world not because it was more true but because it was more powerful than its pagan rivals [this is re-written history, but this is what is taught in schools and Universities]. The Christian church’s record in the use of power is not exactly spotless when we remember past scandals of crusades against Muslims and heretics [at least this is the perception of our culture], and more recent abuse of children and ethnic minorities. Contemporary postmodern people are much more sensitized than previous generations to power games and how they operate, and are likely to pick up much more quickly when power is abused by those in authority, whether teachers, doctors, politicians or priests [this is true about the next generation and we need to listen to what the author is saying and heed his advice, which follows].
“God, the most powerful being in the universe, achieves the most difficult thing in that universe – the redemption of sinful humanity – through the weakness of the cross. He exercises power by surrendering it out of love for his creation. As we saw above, if the church is to ‘make known God’s wisdom’, it will need to reflect in its own life the nature of God himself. This will mean the kind of outward looking community life we noticed in the Trinity. It will also mean a community marked by this same surrender of power and ‘rights’, and that exercises power through love.”
And, “The cross therefore represents the characteristic pattern of God’s work in the world. He works his purposes through what the rest of the world regards as weakness rather than strength, foolish-ness rather than wisdom…A Christian use of power is to give it away – to surrender rights and privileges for the sake of others.” (Graham Tomlin, Cell Church: Theologically Sound?, found in Church Without Walls, chapter 8, pp. 105-106).
There is much to think about here related to politics and how we try to get our way in this culture. What is interesting is that the way the world operates is to pull a power-trip, and yet the next generation rejects these methods of manipulation just as Jesus and His followers should. And so if we are living authentic Christianity, our message should be compelling to the next generation. And if we are living in Christ-centered community that is missionally focused, I believe the world will be won and God’s Church will grow, not be coercion, but because our posture is such that the Holy Spirit can use us to speak Jesus’ message to the world in word and deed.