“But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong. And the base things of the world, and the despised God has chosen—the things that are not—so that He may nullify the things that are.” (1 Cor. 1:27-29)
“When you assemble each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification…Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment…For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted…” (1 Cor. 14:26-32)
Some years ago we had a student from a local seminary respond to an ad we placed for a room rental. The young lady who moved in and I would have long talks about how I felt about the system of modern temple worship, beginning with seminaries. One day she asked me what I would teach at a seminary if I could. I explained my course would be one that would focus on building community and experiencing Jesus through discovering His heart, not Bible knowledge. She said she her and her friends at the seminary would rush to sign up for it as a refreshing change from all the lectures, papers and tests.
She said I ought to make a proposal to the seminary. So, I wrote one up and sent it to the head of curriculum. A few weeks later he invited me in to talk. When we met I let him know how I felt about the system, the trickle-down-effect that originates with seminaries [for more on this go to http://theawakenedchristianman.org/2018/01/05/the-trickle-down-effect/ ], and how it’s largely responsible for our Laodicean condition in America. Then we went over my proposal to try to add an experience of Jesus through a more biblical model of discipleship, which could then trickle down in to a new way to establish new fellowships.
To my utter amazement he responded, “We are losing the hearts of our students here. They’re not experiencing Jesus as you say, and leadership knows it. You’re proposal could be just what this institution needs!” I thought, what an opportunity to reach young leaders before they go out and get sucked in to the system! His final words to me were, “I need you to put your proposal in to our format, but I want you to know we are excited about establishing a long-term relationship with you.” I got home, received his email with the form on it, and got excitedly to work.
Then I read the “qualifications” for the position, which included the need for a college degree. I emailed him back and said I didn’t have one, only 20 years of real-world church and para-church leadership experience, which was precisely what my students would benefit from. I got back a one-line response: they were sorry but could not consider anyone who did not have a degree. I asked, if he was as excited as he said about my proposal would he meet with me and other members of leadership to discuss it? Brick wall. So I wrote him a final email asking why it was so hard to understand why they were losing the hearts of their students when the very Man they were purporting to teach about, along with all His Apostles, could wash dishes or clean toilets there but wouldn’t be able to teach? I reminded him there would be one group that would be welcomed with open arms: the Pharisees. They had seminary degrees.
This story points out the need to address the contrasts between the gospel of salvation and the gospel of the kingdom as to both philosophy and structure where the domain of leadership is concerned. As to philosophy, the gospel of salvation isn’t about discipleship. With its meeting-based system its leaders don’t even know what to do with it because discipleship means lifestyle training for both mentor and apprentice. They feel their converts are lacking an experience of Jesus just like the seminary professors, but they’re woefully unequipped to do anything about it because it doesn’t fit in within their system. Discipleship isn’t possible to achieve during specified time slots, and pastors don’t disciple themselves so there’s no one to disciple anyone else. Discipleship takes place in life as situations arise, not in temples on Sundays, which is why that’s how Jesus discipled.
Jesus was first and foremost about “making disciples,” not converts, and for that He hand-selected regular men from all walks of life to be His apprentices then mentored them through daily life. That was except for Paul, [the lone seminarian] for whom the customary “Follow Me” just would not do. It took something radical to deprogram him from all his great learning! Jesus thoroughly rejected the temple meeting-based system of His day, as I believe He does ours today because in part, like today, the system made the domain of leadership the professionally trained while neglecting the involvement of the common believer. The gospel of salvation is about training professionals to save non-professionals, not bringing the unlearned forward into the kingdom. For that seminarians doing all the leading and the converts doing, well, not much at all fits the bill.
The gospel of the kingdom is about creating kingdom citizens out of the people 1st Corinthians above speaks of. It is about “the least of these” becoming great in Christ—about taking individuals who the world and the seminaries may see as unqualified and unimportant, and transforming them in to members of community where each has, and is constantly encouraged to develop, a unique gift to give to the body. Jesus formed a community with His disciples, as did the Spirit with His Church at Pentecost. No professionals and non-professionals. It was never about the great becoming greater while babes in Christ wallowed in infancy. Their communities were about the greatest becoming the least, to lift up the least so they could be great in Christ—about every member being important and every member growing together.
I tell each man I disciple my goal is to one day choke on his dust as I watch him become a greater man of God than I will ever be! But I also warn each one discipleship is not about just adding another weekly Bible study, but that they will have to “be imitators of me as I am of Christ Jesus” (1 Cor. 11:1) by following my steps. Those who preach the kingdom reveal the Bible to apprentices in the interest of maturing them into disciples, while the professional preachers of the gospel of salvation only teach it to converts in the interest of “saving their souls” and filling their temples on weekends. This is the difference between the philosophies of the two gospels concerning who is qualified for leadership.
As to structure, we have already discussed at length the meeting-based temple system of the gospel of salvation. Now let us discuss the apostolic model of Christ’s early church that equipped kingdom saints. The word in the Greek for church [Ekkleesia] means a calling out, a community, an assembly. The true church of God is to be an assembly of community-minded people who are called out by the Spirit into the world, not an assembly of churchgoers called in to be protected from the world. Jesus said, “You are the light of the world: a city set on a hill that cannot be hidden” (Matt. 5:14). Disciples confront the world wherever and whenever they find it in love and truth and service. Their goal is thriving, not merely surviving.
The biblical mandate for when the Ekkleesia does meet is found in 1st Corinthians 14 above. Paul says when we gather each one is to bring something with the goal of edifying the body, and while they are speaking the others gathered are to “pass judgment.” In the Greek this means to contend, to discern and to separate out, which all leads to the growth of those listening as well as those sharing. All are to prophesy one by one, “so that all may learn and all may be exhorted.” Ephesians 3:16-19 says every man and woman in Christ is to grow in every way into the full measure of God’s gifting. For this reason He has given each a measure of faith to contribute to the body (Rom. 12:3). There are no lesser nor greater members (1 Cor. 12), but each is to supply his unique gifting for the edification of the fellowship (1 Cor. 14:12). The structure of the church under the gospel of the kingdom is for all children to come together to both teach and contend for the truth, not for professionals to do all the learning and all the teaching, leaving everyone else to passively observe.
The leadership structure of the early church was one overseen by elders, not run by pastors. The word pastor is used one time in the entire Bible. Once. Yet they have become the gods of the gospel of salvation and its temples. They’re the ones “trained” to preach the gospel, and getting people “saved” is all that matters, so they are exalted above all others. But to the gospel of the kingdom conversion is only the beginning, not the end-game. To disciple each and every person must be challenged to grow beyond the infancy of conversion. As Paul said in Hebrews 5, “By now you ought to all be teachers.” That means preachers of the gospel must give way to disciplers who lay down their lives to help carry people through to maturity, so they can lead others through a similar process.
The philosophy of the gospel of salvation is to exalt the exalted and retain the uninitiated and professionally untrained as content, dues-paying members of the temple. The structure, therefore, must follow the philosophy. The continuous elementary nature of the message and the size, number, and comforts of our temples naturally leads to laziness, passivity, and lukewarmth in the flock. The philosophy of the gospel of the kingdom is to take “the least of these” and make them fully functional kingdom citizens by challenging them to grow up and be all Jesus calls them to in every-day life. No temples nor professionals to run them necessary, just mentors willing to lay their lives down for those less mature. Again, structure follows philosophy. It’s about everyone coming together to be challenged and to challenge—to be edified and to edify so that everyone might grow up into the fullness of the stature of Christ. The domain of leadership in God’s kingdom is there in abundance for anyone willing to pursue it!