Many of us may come from different church models and traditions. I am not writing this article to undermine any of these. My desire is to present my thoughts on a model of “doing church” that I have not seen practiced before. I had searched the web, and it took me a while to find an article that was similar to my idea. I say this because I do not believe in original ideas. There is essentially nothing new under the sun. I did find an article by David Fitch which I will share here. http://www.churchleaders.com/pastors/pastor-how-to/168717-david-fitch-church-gathering-should-be-like-a-good-aa-meeting.html my article is in no way meant to be a copy of his, but one expressing my thoughts on the subject. I do love many of the points in which he expressed and will follow a similar format. I will admit I have pondered a model of doing church this way many times. Especially when I sit in an AA meeting and listen to those who speak ill of the church, but find God in the rooms of AA.
This article will not be able to speak to every ecclesiological concern. It is my own personal belief that regardless of how one “does church” we probably are not doing it perfect. Or should I say, there is no perfect church. Or maybe church isn’t supposed to be perfect, after all it is operated by humans. Jesus said, it takes two or more in his name, seems pretty simple, but boy do we know how to complicate things. One of my concerns in writing this article is the enormous task that the current church places on its pastors and leaders. Read the shocking statistics here http://www.pastorburnout.com/pastor-burnout-statistics.html we have all heard of the latest scandals within many of the denominations in the world. I also believe that the body of Christ is the church; which is all of us, is not as active in the world as it could be. The “AA model” for lack of a better name at the present is a basic model that I would gladly see used by church planters across the world. In fact it probably does exist somewhere out there already.
So what is this ecclesiological model that I think may be so great? I am a member of a self-help group called Alcoholics Anonymous. As I have attended meetings throughout the years and I have often thought that this would be an excellent way to have a gathering of believers. I attend many meetings and I always leave feeling like I have been blessed by God. Many times I enjoy going to AA meetings more than church. I guess that doesn’t say much about me. What I will say is that AA doesn’t promote yet is often filled with people every day of the week. It is a very simple model which includes a servant leader not a paid professional, a body of people, chairs, tables, and coffee. Think of how much money would be left over for actual ministry in the community with that kind of set up! No rock star like worship service, flashy lights and videos, not one person who addresses the congregation over and over every week. Just people in unity sharing in the hope of Jesus Christ through teaching, fellowship, and prayer. It probably would not be so far from what the last supper or early church gatherings were like. Let me also make it clear I am not against flashy lights and videos, or minister preaching on Sunday. I am just here to express some thoughts for future church planters.
First I want to address the body of believers who gather together on Sunday mornings. Many churches have a time of fellowship and then sit and listen to the leaders of the church. In an AA meeting there is what is called a chairperson, a servant leader who gives a reading or small teaching that is normally about five minutes in length; sometimes less. The members of the meeting go around the room and give their thoughts and insights on what was read. I suggest that the same could be done within the church. A servant leader a non-professional clergy man or woman gives a small teaching, then allow the body of believers to give their thoughts and insights of the teaching to one another. Often during an AA meeting it is not the actual teaching or reading itself that I learn from, but the thoughts and insights from others. The apostle Paul refers to this in 1 Corinthians 14:26 “What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.” (NIV) How many times have you been asked in church if you have a word or a hymn, or much less a word of instruction? Yet this is what the church is about. Often times in AA meetings people will say that “God uses people to speak to them.” I completely agree, I have heard God speaking to me through people in many places outside the walls of a church building. Through the words of each believer the body is edifying each other and being edified. The message is given by all of the people not just a single person. The church is the body of Christ, how appropriate that Christ himself teach us. Obviously I do believe even within this structure that competent leadership is needed to guide the body. We still need pastors and deacons, yet the pastors and deacons will be tent-makers. With an emphasis on the priesthood of the saints sharing in the work of the Lord. In AA they have what is called sponsors, a sponsor is someone that takes a new member under their wing and guides them on their journey. The AA model of church would call on its members to be active in the discipleship of new members. The discipleship is not only conducted by the elders of the congregation but by all of the people within the congregation. Everyone serving each other as Christ served his disciples. I believe this is not a new way of doing church but actually a way in which church was done from the beginning.
Fellowship and the Breaking of Bread
Next I want to address one of the most important sacraments in all of Christendom. The Holy Eucharist also known as the Lord Supper, and communion. A side note for my fellow Protestants the word Eucharist has been used since the first century and simply means in the Greek giving thanks, being thankful, or gracious. As an Evangelical Protestant I know there is a vast difference in beliefs from our Catholic and Orthodox brothers and sisters. The AA model which I propose until a better name is given will look at the earliest Christians and examine how they conducted the Lord supper. We all know that the early church loved to eat. Also we the modern church loves to eat. I would never want to change this! Many people have different ideas on how the Lords Supper should be conducted. The earliest writings state that the Supper was conducted on the Lords day. These are non-canonical such as the Didache and writings by early bishops yet have been proved to be trustworthy in regards to the historical record. This would be once per week. Often in our churches we celebrate once per month. Obviously an AA meeting does not conduct a Lords Supper. So how do we implement this commandment into an AA model of church?
Due to the autonomous nature in which I would want each congregation to possess, the churches may receive the Lords Supper how they wish. As long as it is done in reverence and respect. Not a regular meal, or done without inspection of your soul. I suggest a service once per month which is only dedicated to the Lords Supper. A time for reflection and prayer among the congregation. Followed by good fellowship and a meal. The whole meeting being dedicated just for the Lord’s Supper. Fellowship takes place throughout the week, but there is just something about fellowship when we are gathered together. A time to talk, eat, pray for one another, and just enjoy each other’s company. We need each other in many ways and celebrating the Lords Supper and having a lengthy time of corporate fellowship is important for the health of the church. The unity that I believe that will take place within the church through the Lord’s Supper will heal and strengthen the body and keep our eyes focused on the Lord and his soon return.
Cult of Personality
The last section was not so controversial. Unfortunately this next section addresses an issue that I may receive some grief from. The cult of personality of most congregations is the pastor. I do not know the exact statistics of the matter or think that there is any way to really solve the problem of cults of personality even the early church had them. We all love a celebrity preacher. Many of whom are called and used of God greatly. It is we the people who follow the man or woman forgetting the head of the church is Christ. How many times do pastors leave a church to serve another only to be followed by a section of the congregation in which they left? Or many people will find another church altogether. The only reason for their appearance on Sunday morning was for a show and speech from the same guy over and over.
I propose in the AA model that elders selected by the congregation be in charge of the pastoring. These pastors would not be full time professional clergy but clergy whose responsibility is spread out so that no man or woman may hinder the congregation financially. Nor a cult of personality formed. Also no one man or woman would be the only “leader” but all the elders work together for the edification of the church. Essentially the elders may come from all walks of life. None should be forced into leadership but only if moved by the Spirit. The elders are subject to the congregation and accountable to one another. I have not thought far enough ahead if bishops over the congregations would be appointed. I suppose that upper leadership would be necessary if the model caught on. Speaking in this way it seems I am creating a denomination although that is not my intention.
Issues of concern
Obviously this article is very limited in nature. There are many issues involved in church planting and even more when planting a new style of meeting. Or maybe an old style that is rebirthed. Much work would have to be done while the congregation developed. It would be an exciting time for a new church. Just as in AA meetings which have many meetings throughout the week, the AA model would have many meetings. This is truly a family that doesn’t just meet on Sundays. A place of no condemnation, no judgement, a place of freedom and joy in the Spirit. Rich, poor, sinners, and saints, we are all the same.
So many times I have heard in actual AA meetings how they were drove from the church for their behavior and held in condemnation by legalistic attitudes. It truly breaks my heart. I know that there is a major section of society who are not even in recovery that feel the same way. I have often said that recovery, AA, and treatment would be good for anyone regardless of addiction. It would be my desire to see an AA model of church offered to the unchurched or those leaving the “traditional” church.
Some may say, what about sound theological teaching? If you do not have a professional pastor how would sound teaching be taught? Well the early church made due than so can we. In fact all of the body should be able to “pastor” for a day if need be. We created a profession of professional preachers that the early church condemned. Paul went to great efforts to not take any monies from congregations he served. Also out of thousands of denominations around the world that claim the will of God, I know for a fact not a single one has the whole thing right. In a sense we are all a little bit heretical because true orthodoxy is lost. I think that the canonical scriptures and creeds of the early church give us a guide in how we should live out our lives as Christians. That being said none of us will get it 100% right. This was the struggle for the early church and the reason why a New Testament was even put together and creeds developed. The focus should always be on Jesus and his people, the body of Christ on earth. Our salvation through the cosmic action of his death and resurrection. The Holy Spirit and his guidance on earth giving the people comfort and power to live our lives as followers of Christ. If we stay submitted to the Spirit in the best way we know how, everything will work itself out.
Vision into reality
I have always felt called to preach the word and pastor his people. Often within my denomination one must plant a church in order to be able to do such. Not planting a church for my sake, but for the people. Especially those in society who are on the fringe and maybe wouldn’t feel welcomed in the current church models. The whole idea would be pointless without a passion for people and a desire to see others come to the knowledge of Christ in their lives. A church without a lot of doctrine which hangs us up, a church that comes together with all our uniqueness. Do I plan on planting a type of church such as this? Yes, I am. I would love to turn this vision into a reality. I am in prayer and waiting for the time in which I believe God will say go, and I will go! If you like this idea and have the opportunity do it. Plant an AA model church or call it whatever you want. Contact me with ideas and suggestions I will humbly receive them all.