This book offers a huge range of activities, arranged according to group activities. It provides a wide range of activities for many different kinds of groups. The first section, Ideas for Integrated Bible Studies, gives you four group studies on each of the themes or topics.
How to use this book
Ideas for integrated Bibles studies The Great Experiment
Finding New Life
Living New Life
Great Chapters – Old Testament
Great Chapters – New Testament
Ideas for Bible studies and prayers Bible passages
Bible study methods
Bible reading and relationship building
Bible readings and prayers
Ideas for church activities Program emphases: Devotional, Educational, Creative, Serving, Social, Sporting
Witness and Sharing Weekend
Gifts Check List
Ideas for all ages together Activities involving young children and others
Activities involving older children and others
Family and church family questionnaires
Useful teaching activities
ABC of resource ideas
Simulation activities. Simulation Game: Build my Church
Ideas for building relationships Deep – ideas and attitudes
Deeper – ideals and values
Deepest – ideologies and commitments
What is your main love language?
This book is available in Paperback (print & colour) and as digital eBooks (Kindle and PDF).
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There is an old saying: “Anyone can count the seeds in an apple, but God alone can count the apples in a seed.”
How true this is in the story you are about to read. To anyone looking on, Vatsa was just an ordinary ‘apple’. No one would have guessed that the Lord had placed the seeds within this ‘apple’ to eventually produce over 3,000 new churches!
Stop and think of that for a minute. When they cross the threshold of heaven, how many people in history will have disciples from 3,000 churches run up to them and say, “I am here because of you!” Now think of how the crowd swells when all the disciples those 3,000 churches brought with them join the throng. It becomes overwhelming! For those who choose to obey the command, “to make disciples” (Mt. 28:18-19), God doesn’t see apples, he sees orchards!
New Generations is a ministry whose passion is to mobilize disciples that make disciples, resulting in churches that plant churches. Vatsa is one of their workers in Asia.
‘Sir, are you a Christian? Will you please talk to my father?’
When one day two young women came to Vatsa’s door, he expected them to ask about one of the rooms he and wife rent out to students. But these girls didn’t ask about rooms. One of them asked: “Sir, are you a Christian?” Because his town had some very anti-Christian elements, Vatsa was surprised and alarmed. “Yes, we are Christian,” he replied. She quickly got to the point. “Sir, for years my parents have been wanting to know about Jesus. Will you please talk to my father?”
She called her father who eagerly invited Vatsa to visit their village. A week later, Vatsa and his wife took the 120 kilometer (75 mile) drive and found a group of the family gathered, ready to learn about Jesus. Neighbors soon joined in, for a total of sixteen people.
It was a remarkable open door for sharing the gospel. How would they handle this? Where would it lead? In this very first encounter, Vatsa demonstrated to the family how they could make discoveries about God for themselves, right from the Bible. He read Psalm 25:8-9 – ‘Good and upright is the Lord; therefore He instructs sinners in His ways. He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them His way.’
Vatsa asked: “What do you learn in this scripture about God, and what do you learn about man?” “I learn,” said the father, “that God is good, and he teaches sinners. And that man has to humble himself to learn from God.” “And what does it say to you personally?” Vatsa asked. Very quietly, the father replied: “I am a man, and I am a sinner. I need to learn from God, to become humble and to follow God’s way.”
‘We will start a Bible study right here in your home. God will teach you and lead you.’
The father was responsive, and eager to learn more, but he had questions about the next steps. “Where will we go to church?” he asked. “Who will be our pastor?” Vatsa’s answer was a surprise. “We will start a Bible study right here in your home. God will teach you and lead you to start a church with your family members and relatives.” Since that day, not only have six of the family members turned to Jesus, but two more Bible studies have started in other homes.
For those who choose to obey the command ‘to make disciples’, God doesn’t see apples – he sees orchards!
What did Vatsa do that was different?
First of all, he made the effort to visit the family in their own home. This meant taking a full day to do so. He realized the encounter was not about reaching one man or even one family, but about how this man, with such obvious fervor to know Jesus, could be an instrument of God to reach a community.
Secondly, he showed the family how they could learn about God right from the Bible and encouraged them to do that regularly. He then coached the father, through phone calls and further visits, to facilitate the family time together in the Word. Vatsa also taught him to release others to do the same thing in new groups.
“In the past,” Vatsa says, “I would not have bothered to visit this man but would have simply invited him to my church. And I never would have allowed him to become a facilitator and leader.” Since he started implementing this new way of doing ministry, Vatsa has seen 3,304 small churches started, and he’s never going back. “I have seen a great change in our achievements,” he says, “and me and my team have moved to a higher level of personal obedience to the risen Lord Jesus Christ.”
‘I’ve learned that making disciples is not about bringing people to church.’
“I’ve learned,” he adds, “that making disciples is not about bringing people to church. It’s about starting church at anybody’s home or any place. It’s about finding a man of peace and releasing him for making disciples. It’s about a lifestyle of following Jesus’ model and having Jesus’ attitude toward the lost.”
As of the end of September 2019, New Generations teams along with their partners have seen God raise up 70,921 new churches, 1,695,692 New Christ-followers, of whom, 471,813 (28%) are Muslim background. New Generations has now seen God launch 126 Disciple Making Movements (DMM) – 113 in Sub-Saharan Africa and 13 in South Asia. In Sub-Saharan Africa, a people group of eastern Congo reached the DMM threshold with 108 churches to the 9th generation!
Source: New Generations
Joel News International, # 1158, February 10, 2020
Ethiopia: Evangelical Prime Minister wins Nobel Peace Prize
The 2019 Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. He was awarded the prize for his efforts to “achieve peace and international cooperation”.
At 43 years old, Ahmed is Africa’s youngest leader. He made quick and deliberate efforts toward reform when he took office in April 2018. Most notably, last year, he signed a peace accord with President Isaias Afwerki of Eritrea, after decades of political stalemate and two years of violence that cost 80,000 lives along the border. The two countries have grown increasingly open to one another, with resumed air travel and telecommunications.
The prize announcement commended his leadership, saying he spent his first 100 days in office lifting the country’s state of emergency, granting amnesty to thousands of political prisoners, discontinuing media censorship, legalizing outlawed opposition groups, dismissing military and civilian leaders who were suspected of corruption, and significantly increasing the influence of women in Ethiopian political and community life. He has also pledged to strengthen democracy by holding free and fair elections.
As Joel News International previously reported, Ahmed also helped reconcile two branches of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, which split for political reasons in 1991. He also fostered reconciliation between Muslims and Christians in his hometown of Beshasha. In another historic move last month Ahmed announced a tree-planting initiative, to outdo virtually any other country in the world. Ethiopia planted 350 million trees in one day, to combat deforestation and climate change.
Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (left) and Eritrea’s President Isaias Afwerki at the re-opening of the Eritrean Embassy in Addis Ababa last year
The son of a Muslim father and an Orthodox mother, Ahmed is a Protestant Pentecostal, or ‘Pentay’, like many Ethiopian politicians. His faith is seen as a driving factor in his push for peace. “There is something of the revivalist preacher in the way he evangelizes for his vision,” BBC News noted. “He has the energy, the passion, and the certainty.” Pentecostal beliefs correspond with a sense of hope and ambition in politics, the idea that nothing is impossible. A member of the Full Gospel Believers’ Church, Ahmed told followers after taking office: “We have a country that is endowed with great bounty and wealth, but is starving for love.”
After the announcement of the Nobel Peace Prize on October 11, the Prime Minister tweeted: “I am humbled by the decision of the Norwegian Nobel Committee. My deepest gratitude to all committed and working for peace. This award is for Ethiopia and the African continent. We shall prosper in peace!”
Ahmed is the 24th Nobel Peace Prize recipient from Africa; last year, the award went in part to Denis Mukwege, a Christian doctor dedicated to healing rape victims in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Ahmed was not the only Christian to win a Nobel Prize this year. Professor John Goodenough has been awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work at Oxford University that made possible the development of lithium-ion batteries. In his autobiography ‘Witness to Grace’ he describes his life, including his conversion to the Christian faith.
When I first heard some colleagues talk about the 1990’s as a ‘decade of revival’ I wondered if it was just more wishful thinking aimed at getting Australian churches to take evangelism seriously.
It is increasingly apparent, now, that we live in a ‘kairos’ moment – God’s time for us. Good and evil grow side by side at what appears to be an accelerating rate.
In these times of economic and social upheaval we have the potential of an almost unprecedented audience for God’s action. Our fellow Australians are seeking spiritual answers to life’s questions. Many do so for the first time. Others are seeking a place to belong and want healing from the wounds of life.
At a time of such obvious need and searching we agonize to observe some congregations experiencing decline and, in a few cases, apparent death. Yet, regardless of outward appearances, wherever God’s people gather in worship there is always potential for renewal.
God has a plan for the church. In the past God kept his promise. Even though it would appear whole generations lost a true knowledge of God, he sovereignly renewed his kingdom again when he found willing hearts. Today, God is looking for pure and willing hearts among those who would aspire to leadership in the church.
In preparation for revival and harvest, God is raising up leaders whose visionary zeal is matched by their integrity. Our Master is concerned not only about whether we reach the goal, but how we achieve it. Leaders today are wise to remember that the end does not justify any and every means of getting there. On earth, Christian leaders are servants of a God whose nature is integrity, justice, love and mercy. Our Lord wants his ambassadors to reflect his nature and character in the midst of providing leadership.
For some time I have noted that methods and standards vary greatly in the selection and guidance of church leaders. Within my denomination, I have often been called upon to give advice or rectify situations which are attributable to poor leadership decisions.
My intent is not to reiterate what others have written on issues facing renewal leadership. I would like, however, to underline three issues which I feel must be considered by those who desire to be leaders in renewal. These issues have come out of my experience as pastor and as convenor of the Christian Ministries Network of Western Australia.
Caution in leadership selection
Leadership is a key issue in renewal and revival. The apostle Paul warned against being hasty in the laying on of hands for leadership (1 Timothy 5:22). While this Scripture is often quoted, the importance of its implementation is often underestimated, much to the detriment of the church. Once a person has been placed in a position of leadership that person carries an authority and influence within the Body of Christ which either promotes or hinders its mission.
I have not yet discovered one elder, staff person or leader who, at the time of being selected, was fully mature in the Lord. That is normal. Jesus picked the disciples on the basis of their potential, not their perfection. Chapter three of 1 Timothy provides an essential list of considerations for spiritual leadership. In addition to this list, I often ask the following six questions concerning potential leaders:
1. Have they undergone a period of settling in and observation?
When new people decide to make our Fellowship their spiritual home, we invite them to undertake a minimum three to six months settling in and getting to know us. During this time we ask that they join a weekly home group but refrain from signing up for, or becoming involved in, any of the ministries of the church. During this period our leaders observe their character, gifts, and apparent maturity in the Lord. This brief time of waiting clarifies not only their suitability for ministry but whether the needs and vision of the individual fit our capabilities.
2. Have they dealt with sin or strongholds operative in their lives?
In other words, are they free of habitual sin or do they require ministry, healing, or counselling which will set them free from ungodly thoughts or behaviour? Do they give evidence of anger, unforgiveness, rejection, lust, pride, hurt, gossip, or any of the acts of the flesh noted in Galatians 5:1921? The presence of sin or strongholds does not indicate a person’s ultimate unsuitability for leadership, but it does indicate: not yet!
3. Do they show evidence of having gone to the cross?
Does the nature of Jesus, particularly humility, seem to be evident and growing? Going to the cross speaks of dying to the flesh and human cleverness in our attitudes and lifestyles. Such people will show traits of circumspectness, submissiveness, wisdom, compassion, transparency, patience and prayerfulness. They are humble, teachable, willing to be accountable, and allow others to speak into their lives.
4. Do they have a growing intimacy with God?
In John 15:5 Jesus said, ‘Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.’ To abide in Jesus speaks of an intimate relationship of prayer and communion; of two best friends who anticipate one another’s moods, mannerisms and responses. Abiding is the process of becoming like the company we keep. The result of intimacy is to bear certain recognizable fruit: the fruit of the Spirit, an ability to discern the Lord’s voice, and a growth in our understanding of God’s nature and the way he brings his will to pass.
5. Are they free of selfish ambition or worldly cleverness?
Selfish ambition is essentially the desire for recognition, power, and control. Worldly cleverness is the means of fulfilling ambition: intellectualism, deceit, power games, manipulation, partiality, and control. Some seek church leadership with hopes of lordship rather than service. Others have a mistaken notion that what made them successful in the business world translates identically to the church.
Our own enthusiasm can never substitute for godly wisdom in decision making, as stated in Psalm 127:1, Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labour in vain. Unless the Lord guards the city, the guard keeps watch in vain.
Those suited to spiritual leadership acknowledge sooner rather than later that prayer, waiting on the Lord’s timing, and following his plan are the only ways to build God’s house.
6. Do they have the same spirit and vision as your team?
Are potential leaders on the right train? Are they willing to work in submission to the pastor and leaders of the local church? Do they hold views which mesh with ours, or are they at odds with our established vision, ethos, and mission?
For some reason, growing churches attract ambitious people aspiring to leadership who lack the discernment to choose the church God has actually selected for them. You must therefore look out for ‘cruisomatics’ flying from church to church looking for the perfect roost. Beware of those practising a ‘gift of correction’ or ministries which they proclaim will ‘get your church on the right track.’ These are the lone rangers, free spirits, and ultimately the self-inflicted wounded whose unrepentant hearts cause untold grief.
When selecting potential leaders it is always wise to narrow the front door, so to speak, by being cautious and getting as many facts as possible on the table. Good things come to those who wait and ask God’s discernment in the selection of leaders. I, and many others, have learned the hard way. It is much easier to refrain from placing a person in leadership than to admit a mistake and have to remove them later.
Unity results in synergy
Unity, especially among leaders, gives impetus to revival. It results in a Holy Spirit induced synergy. The Macquarie Dictionary defines synergism as ‘the joint action of two substances… which increase each other’s effectiveness when taken together.’ While synergism is most commonly thought of in the context of chemistry or metallurgy, it also applies to the church. When two churches and their leaders pray together, relationships bond, cooperation results and the net impact is greater than their previous effect as two separate entities.
The chances of revival taking place within a church, area, or city increase when there is unity within the leadership. John Wimber has noted that one of the signs of impending revival would be a call to unity. This call to unity is not an exercise of theological compromise or ecclesiastical carpentry but comes as the Body of Christ is touched by repentance, healing, and holiness.
Pat Robertson, in his book The Secret Kingdom, writes of eight principles arising from the teachings of Jesus which govern all of life. He calls these eight principles ‘the laws of the kingdom’. One of these principles, which Robertson calls ‘the law of unity’, presents both a challenge and promise to Christian leaders in Australia.
Essentially, the law of unity states that within the Trinity there has always been agreement and harmony. Consequently, unity and harmony in Christ’s Body are crucial to the unleashing of God’s incredible power among us. Great creativity and power for accomplishing God’s purposes are released where there is harmony.
A practical outworking of the law of unity is seen in Matthew 18:1920 where Jesus said, ‘Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.’
Here our Lord calls for agreement based on unity. Since Jesus was among them when they gathered to consider an issue, Jesus’ disciples would be expected to agree with him. As the central focus and inspiration of their fellowship, Jesus would bring his disciples to harmony if they genuinely laid aside their own preconceptions and centred on him.
The biblical accounts of life in the New Testament church further illustrate the power of unity. As the believers continued to seek the Lord together in prayer (Acts 1:14) the Holy Spirit added to their number and confirmed the gospel with signs and wonders (Acts 5:1216).
Early in 1990 I became aware of the existence of Christian networks of encouragement in Australia, England, the United States, and South Africa. These networks focus on unity through prayer and building relationships among leaders. I had the privilege of visiting networks in South Africa and in the U.S.A.
While the setting and composition of each network varied greatly, they had five traits in common:
1. They were built on relationships between church leaders.
2. Those involved had been renewed by the work of the Holy Spirit and believed the Spirit was raising up a strong church to take the land.
3. Those involved came from a wide variety of church backgrounds.
4. All shared a Bodywide vision, putting aside competition and empire building in favour of building up and encouraging the wider Body of Christ.
5. They showed evidence of the spirit of Joshua and Caleb, having the courage to dream and plan great exploits for God.
Inspired by what I saw, I returned to Perth and began to pray about God’s plan for networks of encouragement in Australia. Aware of similar moves under way in the eastern states initiated by the Rev Dan Armstrong and Kairos Ministries, I felt a need to bring leaders together across Western Australia. After inviting some colleagues (many of whom had worked together in organizing Vineyard Conferences) to join in prayer, the Christian Ministries Network WA was formed in 1990.
Recently I have observed a marked increase in the number of interdenominational prayer meetings and in fellowship activities aimed at building relationships between evangelical and charismatic leaders in Western Australia. Politicians, judges and heads of some Bible Colleges are among those beginning to come together for prayer and fellowship. There appears to be a warming of the spiritual atmosphere over the state, similar to the Greenhouse effect.
As the impetus towards unity increases and relationships are built, I am noticing a decrease in competitiveness. Leaders desire increasing cooperation. Pastors talk about such subjects as discovering God’s plan for taking our cities, networking with the wider Body of Christ, establishing the church of the city, and discovering and sharing each congregation’s redemptive gift. I have concluded that unity is bringing a synergy to the Body of Christ in Western Australia.
For further reading on developing strategies for bringing revival to our communities I recommend two excellent books, Taking our Cities for God by John Dawson (Creation House, 1989) and The House of the Lord (Creation House, 1991).
Revival foundations: Jesus and obedience
I believe that one of the reasons why God withholds revival is that he knows our nets are insufficiently strong or mature to contain the catch. Historically, revivals have lasted for about a generation for this reason. Eventually the nets broke down. In the coming revival I believe God wants us to pay attention to the foundation on which we build our nets.
In 1 Corinthians 3:11, the Apostle Paul reminds us that ‘no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.’
We do well to remember this. Many Christians and congregations are unsure of the implications of Jesus as the foundation. We have inadvertently confused Jesus with our doctrines, liturgies, denominational trappings, and social activism. These are forms or expressions of faith and may be valid, but they are not the one and only foundation: Jesus Christ himself.
Many Christians have built their identities and loyalties on the other building materials Paul alludes to in subsequent verses, not on a personal relationship with and loyalty to Jesus. These alternative building materials may look and feel substantial. In the final analysis, however, they do not stand the test.
What does it mean to build on the foundation of Jesus? It means being cemented into him. It involves being more Christlike as his disciples and obeying all he commands (Matthew 28:1820). To build on the foundation of Jesus is to build a church which is nourished in the love of Jesus and gives love in response (1 John 4:19). This kind of church will take the land.
John Dawson emphasizes that, ‘It is not primarily out of compassion for humanity that we share our faith or pray for the lost; it is, first of all, love for God’ (Taking our Cities for God, page 209). Love is the greatest power the world has ever known. As more of God’s love and light flood the world, darkness will be overcome.
This leads us to the vital question: What brings revival to a land? Revival is essentially a ‘soft spot’ in the heart of God, an act of God’s grace and mercy. God sovereignly determines when and where revival will happen. Yet within the scope of God’s sovereignty we can make a response. We see it in God’s word to Solomon in 2 Chronicles 7:14,
If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.
Perhaps the first act of humility required of us is to ask ourselves: What is our goal in evangelism? Are we seeking to make people ‘churched’ as members of a particular denomination with a loyalty to our ethos and traditions? Or are we making disciples of Jesus? Will the fish we catch be appropriately ‘cleaned,’ that is discipled to become like Jesus and serve him? How do we help new disciples go back into the harvest field to bring others into his glorious light?
In Ezekiel 34:4 we find the tasks of God’s shepherds. They strengthen the weak, heal the sick, bind up the injured, bring back the strays, and search for the lost. When I consider each of these five traits I find there the sum total of what God appears to be training his church to engage in. Here is the culmination of what I understand to be power evangelism, personal evangelism, and making disciples who carry on the ministry of Jesus Christ.
Only Jesus Christ has the authority to draw everyone to himself. Only at his name will every knee bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Only as the sheep hear the Good Shepherd’s voice and sense his touch as ministered through his obedient servants will they be drawn to him in revival.
There are, no doubt, many issues crucial to effective leadership in renewal. These three, however, are foundational to fostering revival. We must be more cautious in the selection of leaders. Our unity, especially in leadership, will result in a Holy Spirit induced synergism which sparks revival in the land. The church must stay true to the right foundation of Jesus and obey him.
(c) Renewal Journal 2: Church Growth (1993, 2011), pages 43-51.
Reproduction is allowed with the copyright intact with the text.
Now available in updated book form (republished 2011)
6 October is remembered as the day when William Tyndale was martyred. For most of us, Bibles are easily accessible, and many of us have several. Having the Bible in English owes much to William Tyndale, sometimes called the Father of the English Bible.
90% of the King James Version of the Bible and 75% of the Revised Standard Version are from the translation of the Bible into English made by William Tyndale, yet Tyndale himself was burned at the stake on October 6, 1536.
Back in the fourteenth century, John Wycliffe was the first to make (or at least oversee) an English translation of the Bible, but that was before the invention of the printing press and all copies had to be handwritten. Besides, the church had banned the unauthorized translation of the Bible into English in 1408. Over one hundred years later, however, William Tyndale had a burning desire to make the Bible available to even the common people in England.
After studying at Oxford and Cambridge, he joined the household of Sir John Walsh at little Sudbury Manor as tutor to the Walsh children. Walsh was a generous lord of the manor and often entertained the local clergy at his table. Tyndale often added spice to the table conversation as he was confronted with the Biblical ignorance of the priests. At one point Tyndale told a priest, “If God spare my life, ere many years pass, I will cause a boy that driveth the plough to know more of the Scriptures than thou dost.”
It was a nice dream, but how was Tyndale to accomplish this when translating the Bible into English was illegal? He went to London to ask Bishop Tunstall if he could be authorized to make an English translation of the Bible, but the bishop would not grant his approval. However, Tyndale would not let the disapproval of men stop him from carrying out what seemed so obviously God’s will. With encouragement and support of some British merchants, he decided to go to Europe to complete his translation, then have it printed and smuggled back into England.
In 1524 Tyndale sailed for Germany. In Hamburg he worked on the New Testament, and in Cologne he found a printer who would print the work. However, news of Tyndale’s activity came to an opponent of the Reformation who had the press raided. Tyndale himself managed to escape with the pages already printed and made his way to the German city of Worms [famous for Luther’s stand at the Diet of Worms] where the New Testament was soon published. Six thousand copies were printed and smuggled into England.
The bishops did everything they could to eradicate the Bibles — Bishop Tunstall had copies ceremoniously burned at St. Paul’s; the archbishop of Canterbury bought up copies to destroy them. Tyndale used the money to print improved editions! King Henry VIII, then in the throes of his divorce with Queen Katherine, offered Tyndale a safe passage to England to serve as his writer and scholar. Tyndale refused, saying he would not return until the Bible could be legally translated into English.
Tyndale continued hiding among the merchants in Antwerp and began translating the Old Testament while the King’s agents searched all over England and Europe for him. Tyndale was finally found and betrayed by an Englishman. After a year and a half in prison, he was brought to trial for heresy — for believing, among other things, in the forgiveness of sins and that the mercy offered in the gospel was enough for salvation. In August 1536, he was condemned; on October 6, 1536 he was strangled and his body burned at the stake. His last prayer was “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes.”
The prayer was answered in part when three years later, in 1539, Henry VIII required every parish church in England to make a copy of the English Bible available to its parishioners.
Adapted from an earlier Christian History Institute story.
Bowie, Walter Russell. Men of Fire. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1961.
Daniell, David. William Tyndale, a biography. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994.
Dictionary of National Biography. Edited by Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee. London: OxfordUniversity Press, 1921 – 1996.
Kunitz, Stanley L. British Authors Before 1800; a biographical dictionary. New York: H. W. Wilson, 1952.
Mozley, J. F. William Tyndale. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge; New York: The Macmillan company, 1937.
Sampson, George. Concise Cambridge History of English Literature. Cambridge, 1961.
“Tyndale or Tindale, William.” The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Edited by F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone. Oxford, 1997.
Wild, Laura Huld. The Romance of the English Bible; a history of the translation of the Bible into English from Wyclif to the present day. GardenCity, New York: Doubleday, Doran, 1929.
Pastor Ray Overend lectured at Christian Heritage College, Brisbane. This article was presented as a paper given at the Contemporary Issues in Ministry Conference, October 31, 2002, at Christian Heritage College, Brisbane, Australia.
In 1993 John Carroll, Reader in Sociology at Melbourne’s La Trobe University, brought out a book (published by Fontana in London) called Humanism: The Wreck of Western Civilisation. In it he said that the time that Europe put man on the throne instead of God was the time from which Western civilisation began to decline.
Since then postmodernism (the fragmentation that follows humanism) has made an even bigger impact on the sanctity of marriage, on corporate ethics, on liability insurance…in fact on the whole spectrum of private and social life. Western civilisation—founded as it was on the philosophy of the church—is being destroyed from the inside out! Satan too has exploited the weakness of his prey by launching devastating attacks like September 11 and Bali.
Yet in the midst of the postmodern chaos has sprung up from within the secular world—indeed the academic world—the beginnings of a spiritual revolution! Just last year John Carroll brought out a new book called The Western Dreaming: The Western World is Dying for Want of a Story. Carroll, is right now teaching his students through a mixture of concepts, stories and paintings.
Secular university culture is beginning to change! Indeed it is beginning to throw some bright light on the very foundations of Christianity, and on just why the Church has lost spiritual authority in the world.
In Chapter 2 of his 2001 book John Carroll says that the Magdalene story in the Gospels is one of those great expressions of Christian worldview that, traditionally, set the direction of European culture. He says that the 20th Century left us without any such story—except for the Princess Diana story, which has, he believes, an interesting, if minor and hidden, parallel with the Magdalene story.
I do not agree with all of Carroll’s insights into the Magdalene story (if you read his book you will be equally surprised at a few things he says), but to meet such a recognition of spirituality and godliness in a prominent 21st Century secular academic must surely be a signpost to encouraging times! Let’s read the original story in Matt. 26:6-13, Mark 14:3-9, Luke 7:36-50 and John 12:1-9! We can leave aside the scholarly debates about the details and recognise simply that there was a sinful woman whose childlikeness of heart struck a chord in the heart of God. 
The wisdom of the Magdalene story
Whoever she was, the woman who anointed Jesus in the home of Simon was totally overcome by the wonder of God in Jesus. The importance of the story to Jesus is proclaimed in his words, “I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.” (By the way, how often do we tell the story?) Let me set the scene as Carroll imagines it, taking some of his imagery, as he does, from a Raphael painting:
The scene is Magdala, a fashionable resort town by the Sea of Galilee where rich Romans and Jews own luxurious villas, a town known for its urbane morals and religious tolerance. Jesus has accepted the invitation of Simon, a pious local Pharisee who is intrigued by him. He lounges Roman-style at one end of the triclinium couches that border the banquet table on three sides. Simon reclines opposite, his feet being washed by a servant.
There is a commotion among the servants at the villa entrance. Suddenly, the dozen or so other guests around the table are startled to observe a woman bursting through, and gliding her way quickly and silently to stand behind Jesus. The colours of her velvet dress dazzle the stately marble columned room, a flowing ruby patterned with deep-green leaves, and green sleeves extravagantly fluted, embroidered with gold. One of its loose shoulders has slipped down, exposing silky olive skin. She wears gold bracelets, and red toenails draw attention to bare feet. In spite of the casual restraint of a yellow ribbon, auburn hair spills abundantly down her back. Fiery dark gypsy eyes flash around the room, then settle.
Jesus senses her close behind him—he has been watching the wide-eyed stare of Simon tracking her, the host pale and stuttering with rage. Now he looks around and sees this unknown woman sink to her knees, tears from lowered eyes streaming down her cheeks. He recalls noticing her across the street on his way here, how she had suddenly looked at him and stopped, as if she had seen a ghost. She must have followed him.
She is bent low, loosening her hair, which cascades down, obscuring her face. He feels the tears splashing onto his dusty feet, which gentle hands caress, hair wiping them, then being kissed, then wiped again. She never looks up, and he sees her mouth hanging open in voiceless anguish, so pained and empty that she wants to sink out of existence, at the shame of what she has done with her life.
Was it miracle or curse, that infinitesimal speck of time in the street when her eyes were opened? The instant that changes a life, catching her unawares, has been like concentrated acid dropped on tender skin, the more caustic for him having been no more than the mirror. He senses her fighting against a huge weight of humiliation crushing down on her drained and tainted body.
One hand fumbles to find some hidden pocket, from where she produces a small alabaster flask. She uncorks it, and pours rare and costly perfumed oil onto his feet, tenderly massaging, regularly on impulse breaking her motion to kiss them. Tears continue to flow from bloodshot eyes. The large, airy room is filled with the powerful fragrance of myrrh, enough
to induce a dreamy intoxication in the guests if their host’s darkening mood had not infected them.
Jesus recovers from his surprise. He concentrates, bathing her in his own meditative gaze. Now he knows her, and his own mind. Meanwhile, the resentment of Simon spears at him across the table, the host mumbling under his breath that if Jesus were who he claims to be, he would know the immorality of this woman. And to let her touch him!
So Jesus turns to face Simon and poses a riddle. A man is owed money by two others—one owes five hundred denarii, the other fifty. Neither had anything, so he forgave them both their debts. Which one will be more grateful?
Simon tentatively replies with the obvious answer. Jesus tells him that he has judged rightly, but turning to the woman, he launches into a stern rebuke:
Simon, seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. Thou gavest me no kiss: but she, since the time I came in, hath not ceased to kiss my feet. Mine head with oil thou didst not anoint: hut this woman hath anointed my feet.
Wherefore I say unto thee: Her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little
Simon flushes bright red with humiliation and rage and confusion. From the moment this gutter slut violated the sanctity of his home, he has been subject to insult upon insult. The great teacher whom he invited in as his guest of honour has offended him, in front of his closest friends and most prestigious associates, all intrigued to meet the rumoured miracle worker. This so-called holy man now indulges that notorious whore’s excesses as if he were one of her after-dark visitors. Not only that, but he makes fun of Simon by posing him a riddle so simple that any schoolboy could work it out, yet punishes him for solving it. Then he questions Simon’s hospitality, which has been proper, it is true, but then this is a God-fearing household that wastes not. And how can the servants be expected to proceed normally with their washing duties when chaos descended from the moment of Jesus’ entry?
Worst of all is the confusion. Simon is an intelligent man, well read, and practised in discussion. He prides himself on his scrupulous understanding. Jesus has just reversed the logic of the riddle, which had love following from forgiveness, with the more that is forgiven, the greater the debt of gratitude. Moreover, the teacher had repeated that logic in his last utterance. But he has deliberately baffled them with this scandal of a woman, forgiving her because she loved. How can that be: has he got it the wrong way round? In any case, we know the nature of her love.
This dear woman who anointed Jesus was totally overcome by the wonder of God in Jesus. It broke her heart and she cried uncontrollably as she saw divine love. God loved her, even her. But what is unique is the purity of her love. Humanly we cannot possibly explain it. Many people talk about the depth of her gratitude to Jesus for God’s forgiveness. But it seems that the divine beauty in the story is that she loved Jesus before she knew anything about his forgiveness. Yes her heart would receive. But she had not come to Jesus to ask for something, even though it would have been appropriate to do so.
Her love was transcendent. It was worship. She didn’t want in any way to “possess” God. She was utterly captivated by the wonder of God in Jesus. She gave her heart to God. And there was not a spark of self-consciousness about her love. It was utterly childlike. Simply, she was blown away. The disciples would do anything for Jesus, but Jesus had this woman’s heart. I personally am still discovering the depth of this. Her attitude was Theistic! Yes, it was transcendent.
The joy of reflection
During the 20th Century, the culture of much of the world’s cities lost transcendence! In some cases the church lost transcendence! Some people do not have a philosophy. Many people, even some Christians, choose not to be reflective. They don’t ask “big” questions. They don’t ask “why” questions. They don’t get a “big picture” of life and creation, let alone of God. Some people—yes even some Christians—have no conscious philosophy of life. We are going to Heaven but we don’t really know what for! Our life can be guided by certain quite unconscious and never examined presuppositions!
Gaining a reflective understanding of Christian worldview enables us to enter fully into the discovery of divine love. Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”
How many Christians in ministry spend quality time simply beholding the presence of God? Is God more important to us than ministry? Is God more important to us that evangelism and mission? Is the beauty of our relationship with our wife more important to us than our ministry?
This special woman who anointed the feet of Jesus, in opening her heart to pure love, saw God in Jesus. Seeing the wonder of God’s glory and feeling the wonder of God’s mercy and love, she never even thought to say sorry or plead for forgiveness. She was too far down in her life to try any religious tricks. She knew that, within her, there were no answers. But the presence of Jesus captivated her. She was so lost in the love of Jesus and in the vision of God’s purity and truth that her heart simply broke to pieces in a cloudburst of tears. She was totally overcome, transformed and anointed in God’s Spirit (yes, before Pentecost). Her spiritual lights were turned on and she saw God! Heart was plugged into heart. In a staggering moment she saw that God created us first for relationship. I think that is what the story is really about. Unlike Simon she had no religion to overcome.
So is relationship at the centre of our Christianity? Is relationship for the sake of relationship the cornerstone of our worldview? Nothing else will bring the full anointing of God’s Spirit upon us. Nothing else will bring spiritual authority to the church. I submit that Carroll is touching on the very reason why the church has so little credibility in today’s world.
Those who take time out to be reflective will discover a music to life that transcends the wonder of anything they have ever known! We must allow God, by his Spirit, to develop us in philosophical reflection! God wrote the New Testament in Greek and (I suggest) he
planted some of the first Gentile churches in the Greek culture because the Greek people were reflective. In the market place they would sit and talk for hours, in the ancient equivalent of today’s coffee shops. (The Greeks of course also worked!)
Above all else, Christianity means encounter with God. Knowledge without encounter means nothing. But, on the other hand, the most vivid encounter in the Spirit, without a God-given philosophy of life, leaves us almost stillborn. When we talk with people, what do we talk about the most? Do we empathise and discover the person in the person, and the wonders of God in the person? Or do we talk most about the things that we do (which of course need to be talked about too)?
Our Australian culture
The conductor of a well-known French symphony orchestra was asked (on ABC FM by Margaret Throsby) how he would like to live in Australia. He said (quite uncritically) that most Australians (including professionals) spend much of their spare time servicing their house, garden and cars. He owns none of these. He lives in a rented apartment in central Paris. Instead of spending their money on the facilities of a busy suburban culture, his wife and he relax and dine every night down on the boulevard with friends, rejoicing in people, life and creativity. He said that it is in this quietly reflective atmosphere that his music receives its soul and inspiration.
The meaning of life
What does Christ show you to be the first purpose of life? Yes one sentence that keeps coming back to me lately is the three-word sentence in 1 John 4: “God is love.” The verse doesn’t say “God loves”, which he does. Rather it says God is love. As we walk with Jesus and enter into the heart of God, so our heart becomes a little like God’s heart. How could a wonderful piece of music be born of anything but inspiration that comes from divine love?
So all creativity is meant to be inspired by the heart of God—everything from building houses to teaching to running a business or governing the nation. Whatever the practical outcomes—and there must be practical outcomes—nothing has ultimate meaning unless it is birthed in divine love and divine inspiration. Everything in life is meant to flow from our relationship to God! This is true biblical Theism. Talking even of the physical universe Colossians 1:17 says that, “in Christ all things consist.”
That is of course why 1 Corinthians 13 implies that what we do is not as important as who we are. In our Australian culture, many (but by no means all) Boomers (particularly men, and that is somewhat natural) find their identity in what they do. But many of the X generation, and more especially of the Y generation, have questioned this worldview. And, thinking of seniors, well, the standard ‘grace’ for food was often “Bless this food to our bodies, Lord, and us to your service!”, as if at any moment of the day life was first about service. In a course last year one student from overseas shared how in the church in which she grew up, Christianity, as she had heard it, was about two things, belief and service.
Yes, we are saved only ever by the grace of God, and through our personal belief in the death and resurrection of Christ. But the great commandment begins with the heart, and then adds mind, and soul (life) and strength. And John Carroll’s book The Western Dreaming is a wake up call, not only to the contemporary culture but also to the church. The Twentieth Century demythologised the heart of our culture. We no longer dreamt visions or saw beyond the stars. Let me tell you a story of a Year 11 student at a weekend Christian schools conference for 11 and 12 students.
At the end of an evening session I invited my group (we were looking at Christian spirituality and philosophy) to wander outside into the vast and beautiful grounds and just, individually, find a spot and do nothing! Next morning I invited some sharing. This Year 11 girl said:
It was really painful. I’ve had a very full year. I love activity, and, sitting there last night, I longed for something to do. I really hated doing nothing, and it got worse, but I was determined to stay there, doing absolutely nothing.
After a while I glanced up and, through the clearest air I’d ever known, I saw a sky like no sky I had seen before. I was overcome by the sheer beauty.
I so began to enjoy the wonder of it all that I could have stayed there for hours. To my amazement I was actually enjoying doing nothing. I had come through something like the pain of the long distance runner.
But then something even more amazing happened. As time went by, in the joy of the stillness, somehow my eyes went beyond the stars. God opened my spiritual eyes and—I saw God.
May I encourage you to stop and look up!
We can be so preoccupied as Christians that we clearly see neither God nor the people in people. And, because we sometimes have no philosophy, we simply get driven by the secular culture around us! So we must discover the wonder of stopping. We must look up. But, too, we must reflect upon life! We must become philosophical. We must inspire one another to reflect! As a Christian culture we must become more philosophical! And, as God has it, you and I now live in a world that is searching for meaning as never before. It is a culture too that is crying out for meaningful relationship, for genuine friendship. A new coffee shop is birthed every four days in Brisbane. In fact in the CBD alone there are one hundred—bustling with relationship. And, increasingly, movies (from Mr Holland’s Opus to Chocolat and beyond) are reflecting the worldview that, while achievement is essential, ultimately, relationship is more valuable than achievement.
Do you recall in Mr Holland’s Opus, this big-hearted music teacher frustrated because he could not help give and give his time to his students of music, even to the seemingly hopeless, yet, because of it, could never fulfil the ambition of his life to complete the writing of his orchestral symphony? Then you will remember that, some time after Mr Holland had to leave the school, he was invited back to hear an amazing orchestral performance. The story of the movie closed with the words from the students, “We are your opus!” This movie, like Chocolat, is typical of the emergent culture in Western cities.
The coffee shop culture only came to Brisbane in the 1960’s, but by the 1860’s in Vienna there were already one hundred coffee houses. By the end of the 19th Century—the finale of the Romantic and Idealistic periods in philosophy, literature, music and the arts—“the Viennese coffee house blossomed into a place where highlights in Austrian culture were written, conceived, drawn and discussed. In particular it was said of the Cafe Central that it was ‘not a coffee house but a worldview’.” (From Edition Skye, published by Felicia Oblegorski, Vienna)
But if you think some of this talk about ultimate meaning is fanciful, listen to Danah Zohar who lectures at Oxford University in their Strategic Leadership program. In a recent book called Spiritual Intelligence (London: Bloomsbury, 2000) Zohar says:
The major issue on people’s minds today is meaning. Many writers say the need for greater meaning is the crisis of our times. I sense this when I travel abroad each month, addressing audiences from countries and cultures all over the world. Wherever I go, when people get together over a drink or a meal, the subject turns to God, meaning, vision, values, spiritual longing. Many people today have achieved an unprecedented level of material well being. yet they feel they want more. Many speak of an emptiness [inside]. The ‘more’ that would fill the emptiness seldom has any connection with formal religion. Indeed most people seeking some spiritual fulfilment see no relation between their longing and formal religion.
What you see as the most important thing in life defines your worldview. Is it friendship with God? (Do you give God friendship?) Is it friendship with others? Is it your creativity? Is it your career? Is it your ministry? Yes, all of these things, and more, are vital. But the priorities you and I set day by day, and the order in which we place them, define our worldview.
Life demands the continual anointing of God’s Spirit. No amount of philosophy in the human sense will bring us to divine truth or divine love. No amount of unanointed reflection will take us anywhere. But because God is love and is truth, in his fellowship we can feel true love and in his fellowship we can see the truth behind all truths. Humanly, this will always remain a mystery. Our mind is like a magnificent violin. Of itself it cannot make music. But in the hands of an artist it expresses love and truth. The spirit within us, plugged into the Spirit of God, is the artist.
A practical definition of worldview
In our cities there are some very well known chains of hairdressing salons. The hairdressing leaders who run these groups of salons have a certain philosophy for recruiting and training staff.
Periodically a chain will advertise for applicants to attend a kind of “discovery” and “selection” week at their headquarters. On the first day the facilitators will divide, say, 100 candidates into small groups. Then one by one in each group the applicants will share where they are from, a brief story of their lives to date, the things in life that excite them most and their dream for their future. Then in their groups (perhaps over coffee) the girls will engage one another as they “discover” their newfound friends. The experienced facilitators will, in one day, select out those girls who enjoy people. Of course we all enjoy people, in a sense. But the hairdressing leaders are looking for those who spontaneously empathise, that is, those who enjoy other people for themselves, that is, those who find it a joy to “discover” the wonders of other people and therefore who make those other people feel good. In other words, the hairdressing leaders are looking for those candidates who spontaneously and unselfconsciously love other people. This is the first criterion in selecting candidates for training.
Tuesday begins with those candidates who have passed the first and most important test. The facilitators explain that the salons are not first about cutting hair. They are first about relating to people, about giving something to people. Then on this second day the facilitators, through a new series of activities, “pick out” those girls who spontaneously love being creative. There is still no emphasis on ability in cutting styling hair. On this second day the leaders want to know who spontaneously loves playing music, or arranging flowers, or designing clothes, or who spontaneously loves the skill and beauty of playing tennis. The facilitators have ways of selecting those applicants for whom creativity has meaning in itself. They are looking for people who just have to create, people who spontaneously love being creative.
So summing up so far, applicants who naturally empathise with others and whose hearts also love creativity, these people will make good hairdressers for the salons—provided they pass one more test.
In the third stage of the week, the job of the facilitators is to discover who amongst the remaining candidates prefers tennis doubles to singles, who prefers playing flute in an ensemble rather than playing as a soloist—in other words, who, amongst all the candidates, is more excited by participatory creativity than by being alone in creativity. The sound that an ensemble creates is far more than the addition of the individual sounds of the instruments. Music goes into a higher dimension as instruments of different tones play in harmony. And the leaders in hairdressing know that when people are happy together in creativity, an atmosphere is generated that is uniquely wonderful..
So, in the way I have described, a selection is made of hairdressing candidates. The chosen ones are then taught the salon worldview—and hairdressing. The salons are not first about hairdressing; they are first about people. I am not saying that leaders’ eyes are not on money. Of course they are in business. (And business is as much in promoting the purchase of hairstyling products as it is in cutting, shaping and colouring hair.) But these leaders in their field see that business is more than money. Another “get rich” book came out in 1999 by an extremely successful businessman, Brian Sher, called What Rich People Know and Desperately Want to Keep a Secret (Sydney: Pan Macmillan), in which we learn that, if money is our first goal, we will never make much money! There has to be a higher purpose.
The approach of the hairdressing leaders I have described represents a growing awareness in Western society, and certainly in Australia, that there is a higher dimension to life than what modernism and postmodernism proclaim.
Let’s now think of the three things for which the leaders I’ve talked about are looking for in their candidates. First a heart love for others, a true sense of empathy. When a woman comes into a hairdressing salon, what is she looking for? The contemporary woman, of whatever age, is looking for more than a hairstyle. She enjoys unwinding. She enjoys being able to talk with someone who takes an interest in her, who likes her for herself, someone too who is outside her “circle”. She also enjoys being pampered. She enjoys the atmosphere, where all the girls are having “fun” in what they are doing. They enjoy life; they enjoy styling hair.
In short, they enjoy looking after you! They appreciate you as a person, not as a mere customer. You are welcome.
When a girl or woman first enters a good salon, a hairdresser will approach her, introduce herself and offer her coffee and a comfortable place to sit. Then, in an empathic but very unthreatening way, the girl will ask her a few key questions. “Have you had a good week?” After a short time the hairdresser has a “picture” of what makes this woman tick.
When the client comes to the chair, the hairdresser asks her about a style. If it’s her first time in the salon, she is probably looking for an “uplift” from what she has been getting. She might say, “I want something different, but I don’t know what!” The hairdresser (who knows something about her by now) will open a book of styles, flip the pages and say, “How do you like this?” Chances are the woman will say, “That’s fantastic; let’s try it!” During the process of having her hair done, the conversation (never imposed) develops. The client feels “cared” for. She feels that somebody values her. Many women in our society, though they have family and may have many friends, are inwardly lonely.
Finally the client looks at the finished style. It’s transforming. She steps outside feeling like a new person.
A holistic philosophy
Now these hairdressing leaders may or may not know it, but they are seeking to express some of the foundational keys in the biblical worldview! Implicitly they acknowledge that the first purpose in life is relationship—a giving of one’s self to others. Secondly, the purpose of life includes a giving of one’s self to the creating of things that are good and true and beautiful. Thirdly, the unity of hearts is a special joy in creativity. And these three things cover exactly what Genesis shows to be the purpose of life.!
I am not of course saying that God’s anointing rests on the salons I have described. But, through what John Stott and others call the ‘common grace’ of God (as distinct from redeeming grace), there is some measure of spiritual light in everyone born into this world. (John 1:9)
I have taken some time to open up part of the worldview of some significant hairdressing businesses. Such a worldview we don’t always teach in practical terms in our churches! It gives us a real life illustration of a major part of the heart of the biblical philosophy.
Our secular roles on earth are not simply “stewardship”, though they involve that. At a higher level, all creativity—even the driving of a truck—is a ministry of love to God and to others.
Spirituality in secular dimensions
In her 1998 book An Authentic Life (ABC Books) Caroline Jones records the most significant of her Search for Meaning interviews. Very early in the book come these remarkable but deceptively simple words from Australian writer and cartoonist, Michael Leunig:
I watched a man making a pavement in Melbourne in a busy city street: the concrete was poured and he had his little trowel and there was traffic roaring around, there were cranes and machines going, and this man was on his hands and knees lovingly making a beautiful little corner on the kerb. That’s a sort of love and that’s important, that’s very, very important. That man’s job is important and he’s a bit of a hero for doing it like that. So that’s why love is important, because love involves that as much as it involves what happens between people. It’s about one’s relationship between oneself and the world and its people and its creatures and its plants, its ideas. (An Authentic Life, p2,3)
It seems that the man with the trowel rightly saw what he did as a celebration of life. You and I know that all true creativity is a celebration of—God. This is a form of love. Ecclesiastes 3:11 states that God has set eternity in our hearts. What does this mean? As well as living in the space-time world, we are already, every day, connected with eternity, through God’s Spirit!
When we love a beautiful flower we are actually loving not only the flower, but also God in the flower. As in speaking of eternity in time, this is metaphorical language, but do you get the message? When the man with the trowel loves the beauty of what he is doing, he is loving God in that beauty. A hairdresser said to me just the other day, “I like cutting hair!” Although this gifted hairdresser may not know it, this is spirituality.
So while all of our creative joys and responsibilities on earth are part of our stewardship, they are actually more than that. Ultimately our creativity is part of our love for God. In the highest sense, all secular work is born out of relationship. And this explains why our huge corporations based on humanism are falling apart! And, although Christian, some churches are now suffering from the same disconnectedness.
The prophetic voice of the Church
Professor David Tacey, another academic from La Trobe University, in his 2001 book ReEnchantment, challenges the church to see that it will never impact the world for as long as its philosophy contains a humanistic dimension. He says that people do not want to hear about a God “up there” unless they can see a God “in here” (in our heart).
I submit that the fragmentation around us in today’s world is a wake up call for the church to see that everything in life must be born out of relationship. Proverbs 11:11 declares that the lives of those in tune with God bring God’s blessing “upon the city”. As God’s people walk with God and allow a biblical philosophy to dictate priorities, then, and then alone, will revival come upon the church. It is our hearts and our lives that hold the key to revival, not our ministry (much as ministry is needed). Out of revival in the church would come a new prophetic voice to the nation.
With the new yearning for spirituality that our culture is embracing, Australia could see a revival in our nation transcending anything we could imagine!
Sandra Godde is the Founder and Director of “Excelsia Dance” based in Brisbane, Australia. “Excelsia Dance” is comprised of a Dance School and a Dance Company that seeks to bring heaven to earth and to become a prophetic voice to the nations.
I The Challenge
II A Call to Action
III The Prophetic Task
IV Strategies for War: A Battle Plan
V Barriers to Overcome as Artists who seek God’s Glory
VI The Final Battle for the Arts
I The Challenge
Where is Christ’s voice in the arts and culture? Who is bringing the Word of the Lord to this generation? Where are the Christian artists, visionaries, film-makers, musicians, actors, dancers, and television producers?
Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how will it be made salty again? It is good for nothing anymore, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men” (Matt 5:13, see also Mark 9:50). Beloved, it is time to know the majesty, the sovereignty, the creativity and the power of our awesome God.
We are in great need of leaders who have a vision for the kingdom of God, a vision that inspires the creation of images and artistic works that will lead people toward Jesus Christ. Jesus tells us, “You are the light of the world” (Matt 5:14, see also verse 15,16). The level of peace, joy, compassion, or justice in our world depends very much on whether God’s people are showing it to the world. All of the arts have tremendous subliminal power to affect cultures and shape history.
The church has, for the most part, underestimated and misunderstood the importance of the arts as a medium for the Spirit of God to usher in his kingdom. It is God’s ultimate purpose to bring all kingdoms (even the performing arts arena) under his rulership. Scripture tells us “You have put all things in subjection under his feet. For in subjecting all things to him, He left nothing that is not subject to him. But now we do not yet see all things subjected to him” (Heb 2:8). And God promises us that he will reign over all things in the future: “the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he will reign forever and ever” (Rev 11: 15b).
Artistic expression is a part of life. Art in all its forms is pervasive and an essential element of our environment. The works of significant artists are powerful and influential. They often guide and instruct the culture in which they are birthed. Artistic works can weaken or destroy the civilisation in which they were created.
The arts can enlarge or trivialise the imagination. Therefore the arts are not neutral; they impact us, and we need to be aware of what they are doing. Art inescapably affects us. Even unworthy forms are always making their impact on society. So what are we, as believers, going to do about this fact? Our place as Christians in this world is meant to be an active one that affects our generation.
We are in a battle for the hearts and minds of people on a global level. We are being bombarded on every front, especially through the media, with images and ideas that are anti-God. Have you ever asked yourself why Harry Potter and endless movies about the supernatural are allowed to take such a stronghold? Has the false theology of religiosity deterred the artist and the visionary from the midst of contemporary Christian culture, leaving big holes for the enemy to stake his territory? Have we made the mistake of defining ourselves only through negatives? What do we stand for? Are we providing a true creative alternative to the culture of our day?
II. A Call to Action
God has called us to redefine the enemies’ boundaries. “The Son of God appeared for this purpose, that He might destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8b). We are to be on the offensive in establishing God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
Song, dance, drama and the visual arts are capable of being some of the greatest offensive weapons we have in the body of Christ. In a highly audiovisual generation that is becoming increasingly multimedia oriented in its language, God desires to pour out his divine creativity to captivate the imaginations of this generation. He needs willing and devoted vessels to do so. Worshipping warriors are required for the job. Prophetic evangelism is the way of the future.
We have a responsibility to participate in the affairs of humanity in a positive way, to the glory of our Father. The world should be aware of our presence in the earth (Matt 5: 16) and reap benefits from our very existence as Christ’s ambassadors on earth. The promise to Abraham was that he would become a great and mighty nation and in him all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Gen 18:18).
So we must ask ourselves, how are we serving our generation and leading the way to life and godliness through Jesus Christ? We must understand that there is a spiritual element to all human affairs and history. When God’s people are apathetic and do not intercede or stand up for what is right, evil is allowed to gain control of a society.
As Christians we are to be concerned about the fundamental issues of life and the moral and physical condition of our society. What was going on in the spiritual realm during the tragic events of September 11, 2001? What was God saying in the aftermath when many stopped to listen? What is the Lord saying today – to you, your family, your community, and your nation? Beloved, we need to know something of the heart of God regarding these issues if we seek to be relevant to those around us.
III The Prophetic Task
The prophetic task of the arts is to break the silence and speak the truth. It is to let the world know that Christ is alive and he is not silent. So, what does God require of us? Micah 6:8 tells us “…. to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God”. By our obedience we can help establish justice. By our boldness and our devotion to Christ we can unveil injustice and oppression and expose social, political and religious evils.
We can preach repentance to win people back into right relationships with God, and with one another. We can speak of his endless love and mercy. The prophetic task also involves energising God’s people by offering them God’s version of reality: His perspective is the ultimate reality.
We can only know this by His Spirit and through prayer and the study of His Word. We can show God’s possibilities through faith; offer God’s hope in hopeless situations; and encourage people to walk in new levels of obedience and abundant life. By following the ways of God there is indeed the possibility of real justice, love, acceptance, forgiveness and healing. There is a great need to restore God’s people to fullness of life and implant a living hope within them that will withstand all the storms of this life.
The means of mass communication is expanding and what is transmitted through the air waves is vying for your attention. We need to continually pray that God would raise up an army of creative artists and visionaries to lead the way back to the Lord and to conquer and outwit the enemy in his plan to steal the hearts and minds of this generation. We have a mandate to be the voice of God and speak his truth to our own generation. Our message must embody what God is doing now and proclaim what God is saying to this generation. His love endures forever and His character is utterly consistent but He is also creative and unpredictable in the way He reveals Himself. We need to be constantly in prayer to know the heart and mind of God and to be able to know and implement His strategies.
The arts can indeed be on the front-line in global evangelism, winning hearts and minds to Jesus Christ. The enemy of our souls understands the importance of creativity and uses it to compel mankind to rebel against God. Are we going to allow millions of young people to fall under the spell of the Dark Prince? How can we prevent this? We need a vision of the infinitely, superior, awesome Creator who sings a much sweeter and deeper and purer song to captivate our hearts and our souls.
Beloved, has not God promised his children power to transform their society by calling into question the world’s ideas and philosophies (Rom 12:2)? We have been given spiritual weaponry to bring down every thought and idea that exalts itself above the knowledge of God. We need a vision of the awesome, loveliness of Christ; the earth shattering power of a holy God; and the universal power of the cross of calvary. Where there is no vision, the people perish (Prov 29: 18).
The eternal plan of God is the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things upon the earth (Eph 1 :9-10). In the times to come, creativity and boldness will exemplify the front-line in the battle for mankind. And it will be the people who know their God that shall be strong and do great exploits to the glory of God (Daniel 11 :32b). The reward of the harvest will not be for those that sleep or doubt or criticise but for those who turn to God with a glowing faith and allow Him to be all in all.
IV Strategies for War: A Battle Plan
Our objective is to take the gospel to all people throughout the world and to make disciples of all nations. We must constantly refocus our attention to make sure we are on track. We are to win people to Christ and help them become obedient to all that God has commanded. Battles are won when we concentrate our efforts rather than dissipate our energies in too many directions. So seek God for your place in His plan and then be careful to obey all that He shows you. Remember that God has a body of believers and we are all to play a significant part in His overall plan.
Security involves knowing about your enemy and having continual protection against him. It also means having a final line of defence past which the enemy cannot penetrate. For us, this is the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony. I believe there are very specific powers and principalities that have controlled the performing arts arena for a long time, and we need to identify what these are and advance forward to conquer these ruling authorities and dislodge them from the high places of power.
We can’t afford to waste time and energy fighting the wrong enemy, for example, criticizing and competing with one another. It’s time to know the real enemy and expose him, for our fight is not against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers in the spiritual realm (Eph 6:12).
V Barriers to Overcome as Artists who seek God’s Glory
The following ideas are taken from Scott MacLeod’s book entitled Snakes in the Lobby in which he documents a vision the Lord revealed to him regarding the state of the Christian Music Industry and the powers that were seeking to weaken their witness to the world. I believe they apply equally to the whole performing arts arena. Let’s now look at the enemies of our soul with the purpose of identifying and uprooting that which is holding us back from being all that God intended for us to be as artists. In order to reflect the glory of our Father we need to be cleansed, purified, and yielded to God so we can mirror His eternal nature.
Scott MacLeod’s vision entailed a lobby full of Christian artists talking and networking with each other and also showed a plethora of snakes which represented different powers or spirits that were present, drawing people away from a pure devotion to Christ.
The largest snake was SELF PROMOTION. This snake inspired his victims with a hunger to be bigger and bigger. His influence seemed to be ubiquitous. This could be otherwise stated as SELF INTEREST, an excessive longing to be known and recognised by others. It is the main barrier between us and God’s kingdom. It is the striving to establish our own kingdom instead of building God’s kingdom. I believe that to overcome this very deep, magnetic pull that we all struggle with, requires a very deep and real knowledge of God’s love for us personally. When we understand who he is and how infinitely superior he is to us, we can rest in his love for it is more than sufficient for us, and we are content to be hid in the beloved, and then we concentrate fully on building his kingdom, having been fully convinced of his worthiness and greatness. Our own need is met in him.
The second snake to appear was LUST. This was the charmer, the chameleon, changing colours and appearance according to the desires of those under its power. This snake had a hypnotic quality, drawing in its victims by deceptive flattery with the promise of gaining attention and power for themselves by drawing upon his power. Again, this snake appeals to the self-conceit in all of us and must be resisted by reckoning ourselves dead to self and self interest.
The next two snakes were intertwined with each other and they were PRIDE and INSECURITY. These spirits are characteristically found together and cause their victims to vacillate between the two.
One minute they are puffed up with pride and self importance and the next they are wallowing around in the dust with a woeful self-image. Both extremes are ungodly and lack humility. These spirits of pride and insecurity bring misery to those ensnared by them and unfortunately it is hard to break loose from them because pride won’t allow the victim to admit any kind of weakness, insecurity, or feeling of failure. Humility and contriteness of heart is the key to deliverance from these strongholds. Humbling yourself before Almighty God will allow you to receive a healthy self-image based on God’s Word and a reverential fear and respect for The Lord of Hosts.
The next snake to appear was THE FEAR OF PEOPLE. This spirit caused its victims to only be concerned about who was who and how they were being perceived by others. It is a very nervous and agitated spirit that ensnares the one it holds in its power. It is a spirit of bondage that leads to death as the fear of man prevents us from rightly fearing God. It often causes its victims to be paralysed with fear. The remedy to the fear of man is to fear God – to have a revelation of the holiness of God that causes you to reverence him.
On the roof of the lobby was yet another snake called JEALOUSY. This is the spirit of envy that causes its victim to bum up inside with fury and covetousness. It attacks the high places because it wants these high places for itself. It spurs one on with a competitive spirit which is contrary to the spirit of Christ.
There were other smaller snakes hovering around the periphery of the room. They were bitterness, criticism, unforgiveness, self-pity, and self-righteousness. All these spirits cause spiritual blindness and make us helpless and vulnerable to the enemy’s attack. This vision was revealed to show us how we all unknowingly can fall under the powers of the Great Serpent.
The most respectable snake to appear was the SPIRIT OF RELIGION. This snake had a thirst for power and control and included many of the other qualities of pride, insecurity, lust, jealously, self-promotion, fear of man etc. They were all hidden in this big white snake. It is the spirit of self-righteousness and religious pride, an insidious and deceptive power that creeps into the church from time to time. Unchecked this spirit will lead to a spirit of murder. It causes people to do evil or tolerate it, and all along believe they are doing right and even doing God’s service.
Later the SPIRIT OF DEATH made an appearance and caused its victims to be overcome with despair and hopelessness. It causes people to give up, to lose faith, and can result in suicide or other self-destructive behaviour. It can only be overcome with the blood of Jesus and his resurrection power.
Now, we are all probably familiar with these spirits because they have sought to overcome us all at various times. God, in His mercy, reveals these things to us that we might understand and know the poverty of our own spirits and turn to him with utter dependence and reverence. Our gracious Lord reveals these things in our own hearts first, so we can uncover all that is contrary to faith and walk in his light which is the truth that will set us free. God’s conviction comes so as we can choose him and be free from our sin, our self-life, and this world. Being cleansed by his blood and appropriating the power of the cross delivers us from all this wickedness and anti-God sentiments that try to control us.
Humility is something we are required to cultivate. Don’t ask God to humble you – humble yourself under His mighty hand. Humility leads to grace and grace leads to real love and compassion for others who are still spiritually blind. The true light of God’s piercing Holy Spirit renders all other powers inoperative. These snakes are not afraid of you when you are hiding in your own darkness and deception but when you confess the sin in your heart and turn from it, God’s holy presence takes over possession of your soul and sin cannot survive in that environment. Then, you are equipped and prepared to face the outside enemies.
Serpents don’t engage with you in battle when they see you are properly clothed in the armour of God. They are scared of the blood of Jesus and the Word of God spoken with faith. Your faith and fearlessness is terror to them because they know of their condemnation by the righteous judge.
Therefore, to walk in the authority needed to resist evil, one must be fully surrendered to God.
Let love and truth conquer you first before you venture out to conquer spiritual territory for the cause of Christ. You cannot do it on your own. You cannot do it without Him. Learn to allow God to live in you and make his abode in you. Learn to love as the Father loves. Can you love your enemies yet? Can you bless those who curse you? Can you forgive those who have offended you? Are you careful to preserve the bonds of fellowship within the body of Christ? Don’t attempt to do the work of God without the power of God. Let Christ have his way deep in your soul, transforming your character into His likeness, and equipping you with power from on high.
VI The Final Battle for the Arts
The present reality is that the prince of darkness is operating like the Pied Piper in the performing arts realm. He is the power behind a large portion of the music and video industry seeking to shape people’s perception of reality according to his anti-God sentiments and his hatred for the saints of God. There are many ensnared by the hypnotic trance of this prince that was once the covering worship angel of God. But now Lucifer has become Satan and his perverted gifts have brought him down to earth with a fury. His goal is to obliterate anything precious to Almighty God who has become his arch enemy.
Many follow God’s enemy, singing the songs and doing the dances of Babylon. The ways of the world are opposite to the ways of God. If you love the world, the love of the Father is not in you (1 John 2:15). Even many of the sons and daughters of God have chased after the creativity of the world and are now under the curse of the prince of the power of the air. They have become the tail and not the head. They have stolen glory for themselves and not given glory to God. They have used their gifts for their own gain, worshipping and serving worldly things like prestige, popularity, money, music and dance. They have coveted the praises of people instead of the approval of God. They have had divided hearts. They have left their first love. And God is grieved.
God is looking for worshippers in spirit and truth. His eyes roam the whole earth looking for hearts that are perfect toward him. The Pied Piper is hungry to keep his spiritual territory because he knows the tremendous power of music and the arts.
Beloved, the Lord is calling us to “come out of her”. The Lord is calling His artists to come out of Babylon, “the ways of this world”, and tap into the infinite, creativity of the true and living God.
The Lord is calling all those who have ears to hear to stand before the presence of the Living God, and drink in his revelation and wisdom and inspiration to take the Word of the Lord and feed it to the people, lest they perish under the spell of the Dark Prince. God is looking for people to be his voice. Are you willing? I believe we have to understand what it means to fear God, to walk in his wisdom, to hear his voice, and to speak it boldly and without fear.
The Holy Spirit is wanting to inspire his people with songs and dances of deliverance, healing, and comfort. When we tap into the inspiration that comes from heaven through prayer, our creative works bring life, and connect people spirit to spirit. People can then taste and see that the Lord is good.
All of creation groans for the sons and daughters of God to arise and take their proper authority in the earth by allowing the Lordship of Christ to rule their lives and take over their wills. True worship involves all of our beings and all of our faculties. It is a matter of Lordship – unashamedly declaring Christ as Lord of all. We are transformed as we worship. The Holy Spirit of God brings genuine love in our hearts for others and a sense of community and harmony with one another.
When we seek God for our creativity and inspiration, he charges us with new energy; when we wait upon the Lord, he renews our strength and causes us to rise up on the wings of an eagle. The song and movement of praise and rejoicing in heaven is contagious. There is no fear, no self-consciousness, no inhibitions or bondage. Praise frees us.
Spiritual strongholds are demolished, walls of hostility and division fall, resentment, bitterness and unforgiveness cannot breathe in the atmosphere of heaven and praise. God restores our soul. We begin to laugh and dance and sing like carefree children again. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty (2 Cor 3:17).
God is calling forth an army of worshipping warriors who have first conquered the battle in their own hearts and unequivocally given the reigns of their lives to Christ and are ready and willing to follow the Master’s bidding. Soldiers must be obedient. They must be trained, disciplined, and ready to follow commands. The call comes forward from heaven “Let my people go” so they might worship me in spirit and truth.
We must disentangle ourselves from this world, from self, and from sin and be wholly aligned with the purposes of the Most High God. Then a powerful and unified army of holy warriors will emerge all over this earth to cover it with the Word of God and the good news of the gospel. Then he will Come! Christ will return. But not before his gospel is spread all over the earth.
Music and art are primary ways of communicating within our culture. Art is a language that transcends barriers of age, religion, sex, politics, etc., and reaches to the heart. It is a language that uses images, symbols, colour and sound to evoke universal responses from our psyche. We cannot afford to dismiss this means of communication. Our enemy certainly has not.
The anointed arts are one of the most powerful evangelism tools the Lord has given us. May his artists, filled with the inspiration of heaven, the power of the Spirit, and the glory of God resting in their characters, carry the message of the gospel and the presence of our Lord to every corner of this earth. Who will stand and volunteer for the job?
Reference: MacLeod, Scott. 1998. Snakes in ihe Lobby. Morning Star Publications, Charlotte, NC. U.S.A.
The great Christian revolutions come not by the discovery of something that was not known before. They happen when somebody takes radically something that was always there –
H. Richard Neibuhr
Challenges facing the church, its leadership and each of us, have always been there – in Scripture, in Jesus’ call and commands, and in the Spirit’s persistent regenerating and renewing of people and communities.
One of the great challenges facing Christians is how we understand and exercise leadership. We all lead. It may be in the home, with our children or youth, in the community, and in the church. Leadership in the church is not just from the platform or pulpit. We’re all involved, and can all take initiatives such as contacting people by phone, over coffee, in home groups or in a huge range of activities such as taking food to the sick or bereaved.
Jesus demonstrated and insisted on servant leadership. To lead is to serve. We lead by serving. Kingdom leadership is fundamentally different from leadership in society. Jesus emphasised this when James and John wanted recognition or prominence (Mark 10:35-45). How do we demonstrate kingdom leadership here and now?
The timely, significant articles in this issue of the Renewal Journal explore some of these challenges in contemporary ministry facing us in the church.The articles were presented and discussed as papers in 2001 at the first annual Contemporary Ministry Issues Conference hosted by the School of Ministries of Christian Heritage College at Citipointe International Christian Outreach Centre, Mansfield, Brisbane.
This conference demonstrated many responses to current challenges. Keen to interact, teachers, students and visitors packed the seminar lounge at Rivers Café, an integral part of Citipointe Christian Outreach Centre at Mansfield. All the conference speakers are involved in leadership and ministry, not stuck in libraries. Most of them are so ministry and people-focused that their research is constantly tested in the lively interface of practice and theory.
Irene Brown examines the transforming power of the kingdom within: the kingdom of God is within you. We can be liberated from the prevailing bondage to Christian law, and made free to really love and serve one another. Jesus insisted on that as the true mark of his followers: “By this shall everyone know that you are my disciples, if you have love for another.” Irene emphasizes that approach in her Christian counselling courses.
Jeannie Mok challenges churches in multi-cultural Australia to embrace our changing context with courage and sensitivity. Our ethnocentric pride or prejudice can increase barriers between people when the churches should lead the way as radical bridge-building communities of compassion and equality. Jeannie co-pastors the multi-ethnic International City Church in Brisbane and is principal of the Asian Pacific Institute which offers a range of multicultural courses. These include the pioneering Pentecostal external studies from Manchester University in England to masters level.
Sue Fairley tackles some sacred cows enshrined in our church traditions. The place of women in ministry and leadership raises temperatures all over the world. Tradition easily suppresses fresh movements of the Spirit who calls and liberates women as well as men to be leaders, missionaries, pioneers, and equal partners in ministry. Many traditions need to be challenged, and Sue does so in her ministry as Principal of Trinity Theological College in the Uniting Church in Queensland. Her article may surprise you!
Susan Hyatt reports on a significant international conference on women and religions. She emphasizes a return to a biblical pattern of equality in ministry and service in her writings and speaking, including ministry with her husband in seminars and publications. Susan’s report provides further insights into the place of women in Pentecostal and charismatic ministry in addition to those quoted by Sue Fairley in her article.
Mark Setch, senior pastor of a progressive Uniting Church in Brisbane, applies his doctoral research on leadership to ministry. He takes seriously Jesus’ command to make disciples – not just make church members, pew sitters, or meeting attenders. Mark is also pro-active in united prayer and ministry among pastors and churches in the Redcliffe area of Brisbane where some leaders pray together regularly, some churches now gather for combined services, and some pastors exchange pulpits.
Sam Hey has been researching and teaching about biblical renewal and revival movements which confront the secularising pressures on all Christian institutions. He applauds Harvey Cox’s conversion from The Secular City thinking of the sixties to the Fire from Heaven thinking of the nineties! A longer version of Sam’s article is available in the Contemporary Ministry Issues Conference Papers, 2001 ($20 including postage). There he gives a slice of his current Ph.D. research with 80 footnotes. Here we reduced that paper considerably, with only 30 footnotes!
Global Reports continue to highlight current developments in revival worldwide and the Book Reviews cover three author-published books which all contain detailed discussions of their renewal and revival themes.
This issue of the Renewal Journal provides inspiring, informative articles which we pray will help you understand and embrace what the Spirit is saying to the contemporary church.
Gene Wilkes knows the literature of leadership but that is not why this book is the finest of its kind in the marketplace. There are four major contributors to Gene Wilkes’s greatness as a scholar and teacher. These same four forces permeate this book and make it a must for all of those who want to become informed and capable leaders.
First, Gene Wilkes loves Jesus. Please don’t think this a mere saccharine appraisal between friends. This simplicity provides Gene his passion to serve both God and his congregation. Further, this love for Christ carries a subtle and pervasive authenticity that makes Gene Wilkes believable. Whether you read him or hear him lecture, you walk away from the experience knowing that what you’ve heard is the truth – the life-changing truth from a man who lives the truth and loves getting to the bottom of things. All this I believe derives from his love of Christ.
Second, Gene is a practitioner of servant leadership. When he encourages you to pick up the basin and towel and wash feet, you may be sure it is not empty theory. He teaches others what he has learned in the laboratory of his own experience. Gene is a servant leader, and even as he wrote this book, he directed his very large church through a massive building program. His church leadership ability, which he exhibited during this writing project, does not surface in this volume, but it undergirds and authenticates it.
Third, Gene Wilkes knows better than anyone else the literature of leadership. As you read this book, you will quickly feel his command of his subject. Footnotes will come and go, and behind the thin lines of numbers, ibids, and the like you will feel the force of his understanding. No one knows the field of both secular and Christian leadership like this man. So Jesus on Leadership is a mature essay. It has come from the only man I know with this vast comprehension of the subject.
Finally, Gene Wilkes is a born writer. It is not often that good oral communicators are good with the pen. But throughout this book, you will find the paragraphs coming and going so smoothly that you will be hard-pressed to remember you are reading a definitive and scholarly work. Books that are this critically important should not be so much fun. Gene Wilkes is to leadership what Barbara Tuchman is to history. You know it’s good for you and are surprised to be so delighted at taking the strong medicine that makes the world better.
Here are the chapter headings:
Down from the head table:
Jesus’model of servant leadership
Principle 1: Humble your heart
Humility: the living example
Principle 2: First be a follower
Jesus led so that others could be followers
Principle 3: Find greatness in service
Jesus demonstrating greatness
Principle 4: Take risks
Jesus, the great risk taker
Principle 5: Take up the trowel
Jesus’ power – through service
Principle 6: Share responsibility and authority
How did Jesus do it?
Principle 7: Build a team
The team Jesus built
And some great quotes from page 2:
All true work combines [the] two elements of serving and ruling. Ruling is what we do; serving is how we do it. There’s true sovereignty in all good work. There’s no way to exercise it rightly other than by serving.
Eugene Patterson, Leap over a Wall
Above all, leadership is a position of servanthood.
Max Deere, Leadership Jazz
The principle of service is what separates true leaders from glory seekers.
Laurie Beth Jones, Jesus, CEO
People are supposed to serve. Life is a mission, not a career.
Stephen R. Covey, The Leader of the Future
Ultimately the choice we make is between service and self-interest.
Peter Block, Stewardship, Choosing Service over Self-Interest
Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.
JESUS, Luke 14:11
In the Spirit We’re Equal: The Spirit, The Bible, and Women – A Revival Perspective, by Susan Hyatt (Dallas: HyattPress, 1998).
In the Spirit We’re Equalchallenges our thinking about biblical womanhood, as does Susan’s report, “Women and Religions”, an article in this issue of the Renewal Journal.
“Susan Hyatt has an important message to convey: the Bible teaches an egalitarian relationship between men and women which was confirmed at Pentecost. This volume is a valuable resource offering insightful understanding of the ‘real issues’, namely those of power and control,” says Professor Elizabeth Clark of the UK.
Susan Hyatt emphasises the following themes in her book.
What do Pentecostal/Charismatic people need to know about biblical womanhood and how might this theology be imparted to make a vital difference in the lives of God’s people? This question arises in the context of the twentieth-century Pentecostal/Charismatic revival in which a biblically sound, historically informed, Spirit-sensitive theology of womanhood is needed to counter the Church’s traditional theology of womanhood and its hybrids.
Whereas the traditional theology, an hierarchical model, has a record of oppressing women, a Pentecostal/Charismatic theology, an egalitarian model, states that women are equal with men in terms of substance and value, function and authority, privilege and responsibility.
The starting point for such a theology is the message of Jesus as revealed by word and deed in the gospel record. This harmonizes with the revealed will of God in the biblical record, particularly in the writings of Paul and in Genesis, accurately interpreted in terms of authorial intent.
This theology is also in harmony with the activity of the Holy Spirit, particularly in revival history as observed in movements such as the early Friends (1650-90), the early Methodists (1739-1760), nineteenth-century revival movements in America, and the early Pentecostal/Charismatic Revival (1901- 1907).
The Christian belief system must be constructed on the foundation of Jesus’ teaching and the Bible, accurately interpreted and confirmed by the activity of the Holy Spirit in history. This is important because the practical implications of how people think theologically about womanhood affect everything from the fulfilment of the Great Commission to the issue of self-worth and to a myriad of topics in-between. Clearly, the Church needs a way of thinking about womanhood that will result in biblical behaviour by women and toward women in all venues of Christian living. This book explores that option.
This book offers men and women an opportunity to renew their minds according to the revealed will of God about half of the Body of Christ – the female members. Traditionally we have not done this, yet the Spirit is moving in our day to bring our thoughts in agreement with the will of God in many areas, including how we think about womanhood.
Susan Hyatt shows how this is important for many reason, not the least of which is the fact that, as we mature in Christ, we are to think more like him, and he taught that we are all created equal and unique before God.
It is also important that we renew our minds regarding womanhood because Jesus commanded us to go into all the world – to men and to women of all tribes and nations – teaching them to obey all that he commanded. If we are not teaching his truth about womanhood, are we truly obeying the Great Commission?
As important as this is, however, we have a more important calling, and that is to know him. As we abide in him, he gives us assignments. But these assignments are only causes and must never displace the call. The cause is not the call.
Susan observes: “One of the assignments God has called me to – much to my surprise – is to work with him to reform the way we think about womanhood. God is wanting to answer the prayers of his people who are crying out for more – for more of him, for more revival, for more souls, for more! His answer is coming to us in the opportunity to reform our thinking about womanhood. He is asking us to come into agreement with his way of thinking about womanhood. If we embrace it, we become deeper and wider channels for The River to flow deeper and wider into all the earth. Won’t we take the limits off God in our lives and in the Church?” (GW)
A Study Guide and teaching course using this book is also available from Hyatt Ministries:.
Dr Stuart Piggin’s book makes scholarship on revival readily accessible with clear principles well illustrated from history, including recent history. He writes as a renewed evangelical, unafraid to embrace the strengths of renewal and to warn against its weaknesses. Australian readers will welcome his extensive use of our own stories of revival.
Stuart’s work as Master of Robert Menzies College and Associate of the Department of History at Macquarie University in Sydney includes being Principal of the School of Christian Studies and of the Centre for the Study of Australian Christianity. He incorporates this rich research culture into his book.
The back cover summarises his approach and content:
Drawing extensively from the theology of Jonathan Edwards and Martin Lloyd-Jones, Stuart Piggin offers a systematic, biblical and pastoral study of revival. He writes from the head and heart, with plenty of lively illustrations and real-life testimonies and quotations. Piggin defines revival, looks at its biblical basis, identifies the marks of genuine revival and studies the phenomenon thoroughly across historical and denominational lines. After laying his groundwork, Piggin offers much valuable and practical advice for revival. Finally he explores the possibilities for God’s choosing to work in such a way again – in the next grace awakening. Revival, he insists and proves, is a firestorm of the sovereign Lord through Jesus Christ in the power of the Hoy Spirit.
This book will enrich the library of any college, student or pastor, and provide ample material for evaluating a wide range of revival movements and phenomena. Stuart rightly emphasises the centrality of Jesus Christ and his redeeming triumph on the cross in all things, including revival, when many people repent and find eternal life, or as Jesus said, have life and have it more abundantly. (GW)
Early Evangelical Revivals in Australia by Robert Evans.
Open Book, Adelaide, 2001. 553 pages.
Reviewed by Dr Dean Drayton
This comprehensive study of surviving published materials about evangelical revivals in Australia covers the period 1776 to 1880.
Robert Evans has taken the initiative to place in reader’s hands reports of evangelical revivals in Australia. Gallons of ink have been spilt telling us about revivals in other parts of the world. Indeed for a long lime it was believed that there had been no revivals in Australia.
There have been many revivals in Australia. The distinguishing feature is that most were local. As Evans points out, Australia has never had a sustained revival involving many local congregations.
I have always been fascinated by the times when people became so aware of the presence of God that they were able to live with a new perspective for their life, a God centred perspective. While at Salisbury in South Australia, I had the privilege of being present in a congregation when there was a time of renewal and conversion. Once tasted this is never forgotten.
Having seen the reality of changed lives, one hopes the Church may discover we live in a time when the dam is empty, but flooding rains are on the way. The proclamation of Jesus Christ as Lord has been the source of life giving floods of grace in many places across our country. Here is direct evidence. We need now to grow the expectation that the Holy Spirit has more than what we have received or accepted as the source of transforming power m human lives.
This book gives mostly the Methodist perspective up to the year 1880. Only the Methodists seemed to have documented such events in that period. Beyond 1880 the perspective widens into other denominations partly because other congregations discovered what could happen with special weekends and preachers opening up again the fountains of God’s holy love.
Here one discovers the importance of times of prayer and preparation, and the amazing accounts of the influence of California Taylor as he preached through the various states of Australia. Robert Evans gives us a thoughtful analysis of the way as time passes the tendency is for the means of revival to come to centre stage rather than the message of the gospel itself.
One may ask, ‘Have revivals had their day?’ As one reads this book one discovers that the form of God’s renewal changes from age to age. The question conies, ‘What is the way we can see again the power of God experienced in the life of ordinary folk?’ This book clearly sets out to let us know what has happened, to grow in the reader the expectation that God can do new things in our midst. So, Holy Spirit surprise us, make us aware of your presence, bring us to our knees with the wonder of knowing you in our midst.
Available from Open Book, or though Christian bookshops.
Evangelical Revivals In New Zealand by Robert Evans & Roy Mckenzie.
Reviewed by Jeff Haines
If you are concerned about what God is doing in New Zea1and, or about revivals, or if you want to consider New Zealand church history from a different perspective, then this is the book to challenge your thinking and move your heart towards God’s desire to see his people revived and the nation awakened.
This is the sort of book that has been needed for some time. We have read about what God has done through reviva1s in many lands and now we have a well written history which reveals what has happened in revivals in New Zealand.
I have studied revival in New Zealand for some time now and I pleased that the authors have captured the essence of each historical period. It is also the authors desire that this history will spur others to discover more fully the events surrounding the times, places and people involved. The extensive bibliographies at the end of each chapter give plenty of scope for further study.
The book covers these three sections:
Introduction – which gives a clear definition of revival (a word which has many different definitions), and describes the purpose of the book.
Part 1 – A history of revival in New Zealand. It has 14 chapters which cover the history of revival from 1814 to the present.
Part 2 – Some basic principles of revival. It discuses the many principles of revival including the need for our involvement, social implications and theological aspects.
Evangelical Revivals In New Zealand is historical, theological and practical. It is refreshing to read a book that presents the many dimensions of revival in an easy to understand manner. The history is enriched by the theological reflection on revival.
Anyone interested in revival, and in the church in New Zealand should obtain a copy of this book. You will discover want God has done in the past, learn the lessons of history, and take advantage of the practical advice plus the help offered in this book. It will stir you to pray for God’s sovereign move in revival again.
Rev Dr Mark Setch adapted this article from his research for his Doctor of Ministry degree at Fuller Theological Seminary titled “Developing Disciple-Makers: Reclaiming our Call to be an Apostolic Disciple-Making Church.”
Before ascending into heaven the Risen Christ gave his disciples a commission. They were to go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19). Within the Acts of the Apostles, Luke records the results of the early church’s obedience to Jesus’ commission. As people sent into the world by Jesus, they made disciples. The early church grew because those disciples in turn made more disciples, who made more disciples.
At the beginning of the third millennium the mainline denominational church is in crisis. Over the last twenty years membership has been in decline. In recent years this decline has become more significant. Declining numbers lead many commentators to conclude that our world in its twenty-first century is post-Christian; they allege the Christian church has outlived its usefulness and has no prominent place in a postmodern world. There is, however, growing evidence to suggest that this conclusion is inaccurate. Alongside the declining mainline church, there is an emerging twenty-first century church which is vital, dynamic, healthy, and growing.
Why are some churches growing while others are fading into oblivion? It is my conviction that declining churches are those in which the Great Commission has lost its power. Going into the world is no longer a priority. Instead, the evangelistic focus (if one exists) is that of inviting people to come and be a part of the congregation. The problem is that fewer people are accepting the invitation. Mission is often framed by covert concerns which seek to protect the church from being infiltrated by the culture of our postmodern world. Consequently, the culture of the church is usually set apart and distinct from the culture of the world in which people live, work, and recreate.
For many unchurched members of our population, there appears to be little reason or relevance to include the church as a central part of life. Even though life includes pain and struggle, and a desperate search for hope and meaning, the established church is generally not perceived as providing answers to life’s questions. Furthermore, disciple-making within these churches is not perceived as being the responsibility of everyday Christians. It is perceived to be the responsibility of ordained clergy, leaders, and those who are more evangelistically inclined. Disciples are no longer making disciples, who in turn make more disciples.
On the other hand, healthy and dynamic churches are those in which the Great Commission has reclaimed its power. Evangelism is given a high priority. Rather than being focused on trying to get people into the church, the vision of these congregations is to take their church into the world. The mission of these congregations is driven by the challenge of incarnating the timeless gospel of Jesus Christ into the culture of our postmodern world. In other words, they are functioning as apostolic (sent) churches. Disciple-making is not the responsibility of a select few. Every Christian is called to make disciples, who are disciple-makers; therefore disciples multiply. These churches develop apostolic disciple-making congregations.
This paper articulates a call for the Church of Jesus Christ to reclaim the Great Commission and become an apostolic disciple-making church. Such a church will enter the postmodern twenty-first century world and develop disciple-makers. For many people this represents a new and different paradigm for understanding and experiencing both church and discipleship. It involves a paradigm shift which is essential if local church congregations and denominations are to become a healthy and vibrant part of the emerging church of the twenty-first century.
In order to illustrate the facets of this paradigm shift, this paper will be divided into three sections. Firstly, I will present a disciple-making theology of discipleship. Secondly I will present a disciple-making theology of the church. Finally I will describe some of the current research into growing vital churches, concluding that this research in fact supports an apostolic disciple-making paradigm of the church.
1. A disciple-making theology of discipleship
The Great Commission encapsulates the primary call on the life of the Christian to make disciples, who in turn make more disciples. When this is not happening, the church stagnates. Similarly, congregations will not grow in vitality and numbers when their evangelism strategies are based on a passive philosophy of ‘come and join us’, rather than on an active one, ‘go into the world.’
The challenge which is therefore facing the church today is to reclaim the power of the Great Commission. To do this involves two interrelated paradigms. The Great Commission demands an apostolic paradigm of the church. An apostle is one who is sent. An apostolic church is therefore a church which is sent into the world. This is the focus of the next section. It also demands a disciple-making paradigm of discipleship, which emphasises multiplication of disciples as opposed to the mere addition of disciples. This paradigm is the focus of the following discussion.
The Great Commission as the Christian’s Primary Call
Within the Gospel according to Matthew, it is recorded that before ascending into heaven, the risen Jesus gave his disciples a commission. The commission was delivered in this way:
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age (Matthew 28:18-20).
While only Matthew presents the commission as succinctly and as clearly as this, each of the other Gospel writers record the Risen Jesus as sending his disciples into the world to make more disciples. Jesus sent his disciples into the world to bear witness to what he taught them in word and action. He called them to continue his ministry of proclaiming the kingdom of God. He knew that the only way in which this ministry would continue throughout the ages is by his disciples making disciples, who in turn make more disciples. Jesus promised that he would be present with them through the empowering of the Holy Spirit to fulfil this ministry of disciple-making.
The Great Commission therefore reflects the primary call on the life of the Christian to make disciples, who are disciple-makers. In other words, true discipleship is about multiplying disciples. What then is a disciple? How does one ‘make disciples’? To understand the power of Jesus’ command to go and make disciples, the dynamic inherent in the term ‘disciple’ needs to be understood. Only then can we appreciate what it means to ‘make’ one, and therefore capture what Jesus is commissioning us to do.
Within the New Testament, four key Greek words and their cognates are connected with the word ‘disciple’: akoloutheo, follow; mathetes, learner, pupil, disciple; mimeomai, imitate, follow; and opiso, behind, after. A study of these words reveals that Jesus’ call to discipleship was decisive, inclusive, permanent, and active. A disciple is someone who responds to Jesus’ all-inclusive and unconditional call to follow him. Disciples follows Jesus by learning and applying his teachings so that the values, attitudes and actions of Jesus are reflected in the disciple’s own life. Ogden provides a succinct definition of disciple which encapsulates these characteristics. He states that “a disciple is one who responds in faith and obedience to the gracious call of Jesus Christ. Being a disciple is a lifelong process of dying to self, while allowing Jesus Christ to come alive in us.”
However, a disciple is also someone who goes and makes disciples, who makes more disciples. In other words, the command to ‘make disciples’ is not fulfilled unless those who have become disciples are discipled in such a way that they themselves are eventually making more disciples. Thus, according to the Great Commission, disciple-making is about multiplying disciples, not adding disciples. More often than not, disciple-making within the church has been presented as a process of addition. This paper argues that the words of the Great Commission commands Christians to make disciples, who in turn make more disciples, multiplying the number of those who are followers of Christ.
Levels of Disciple-Making
Within the Church today, there are at least three different levels of understanding of disciple-making: by clergy, by leaders, by disciples making disciples.
1. The first is where professional clergy are the disciple-makers, while the laity are the disciples.
There is an understanding within many mainline churches that the clergy make disciples and the laity live and serve as disciples. While not always stated as explicitly as this, it is certainly implicit. Loren Mead contends that the clergy-laity dichotomy is leftover from the church in the Roman Empire, subsequent to the conversion of Constantine in 313AD. During this era it was assumed that people were part of the Church by birth, rather than by choice. Ministry became the responsibility of the professional clergy.
This level of understanding is disciple-making by addition- and a very limited addition at that. Any member of the clergy will affirm that pastoral care of a congregation is an all-consuming job. The more pastoral care a clergyperson gives to members of a congregation, the more they expect it from the clergyperson. Therefore, the opportunity to add new disciples – ‘add’ being the operative word – is severely limited by time and the energy of the one or few. Consequently it is no surprise that most clergy admit that only a small minority of unchurched people, with whom they have contact, become regular worshipping members of the congregation.
Despite its gross ineffectiveness, disciple-making by limited addition is still practised in many mainline church congregations today. Hence, these congregations are declining rapidly. Many are extinct and many more will be extinct within a short time. Disciple-making by limited addition is ineffective because it does not reflect the heart of the Great Commission, which is a call to all Christians to be disciple-makers who multiply rather than add disciples.
2. The second is where all Christian leaders are seen as being called and equipped to make disciples.
Rather than being limited to professional clergy, every leader makes disciples. However, they are not necessarily producing disciples who in turn make more disciples.
Ephesians 4:11-12 are pivotal verses in support of this understanding: “The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for the building up the body of Christ.” When clergy are seen as the disciple-makers, the role of the laity is to assist the clergy in their ministry. This scripture conveys the reverse as being true. Leaders are called to equip all Christians for their particular ministry. Christians will minister according to the particular spiritual gifts given to them. Ephesians 4, 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 8 list some of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which are distributed to all believers as the Lord determines (1 Corinthians 12:6,11).
This understanding affirms the call of all Christians as ministers who exercise their particular spiritual gifts interdependently with others in the Church. In this way the body of Christ is built up. According to this understanding, disciple-making occurs when leaders empower disciples to exercise their spiritual gifts in ministry within the body. Disciples are made as people discover and begin to exercise gifts of leadership, service, teaching, healing, music, hospitality, and so forth for the building up of the body.
While this understanding of disciple-making is significantly more effective than disciple-making by limited addition, it still falls short of the intent of the Great Commission. According to this level of understanding, disciple-making is equated with helping Christians discover their spiritual gifts and releasing them into ministry. People can be equipped for ministry, and use their spiritual gifts in the church, without intentionally making disciples themselves. For example, through the ministry of equipping leaders, a Christian may discover he or she has the gift of teaching and a passion for ministry with children. However, unless this person is intentionally seeking to make disciples by leading and nurturing more people into this ministry, then the church leadership is left to make more disciples. Equipping leadership is vital for disciple-making, but by itself is insufficient. It is still disciple-making by addition, which again falls short of the intent of the Great Commission.
3. The third level of understanding is where all Christians are called and equipped to make disciples, who make more disciples.
At this level, leaders are called to equip people for ministry according to Ephesians 4:11-12. Those who are released into ministry are given responsibility for making more disciples. It is not only the responsibility of equipping leaders to make disciples, but the responsibility of all disciples to make disciples, who in turn make more disciples. This is disciple-making by multiplication, and it reflects the full intent of the Great Commission. This understanding incorporates the dynamic of reproduction as well as the dynamic of equipping. Churches in which there is equipping leadership and disciples making disciples are vital, growing churches.
A Biblical Theology of Disciple-Making
1. The Disciple-Making Ministry of Jesus
Even a cursory reading of the Gospels, and particularly the synoptics, leads the reader to conclude that Jesus’ primary purpose was to proclaim and inaugurate the kingdom of God on earth. He did this through teaching, through supernatural signs and through human acts which demonstrate the Kingdom qualities of righteousness and justice. However, it is also clear from the synoptic Gospels that Jesus did not pursue the task of proclaiming the Kingdom of God in isolation. Rather than miraculously impart knowledge and gifting to the multitudes that followed him, he chose to invest time into mentoring a small band of followers whom he personally selected to be his disciples. Jesus’ strategy in doing this was obvious. He intended his ministry to continue long after his ascension, therefore he devoted time to making disciples who would continue his ministry. These disciples would in turn make more disciples and so on, in readiness for his return.
The Gospels also reveal the method that Jesus used in making disciples. As stated previously, it began with a call – an invitation to follow him. Jesus then taught them about the Kingdom of God and what it meant to be in relationship with God. The disciples sat with him as he taught the crowds (Matthew 5:1 ff), and he spent time giving them specific teaching (e.g. Matthew 10:5 ff). Jesus modelled the attitudes, behaviour, and actions that he wanted them to emulate. He modelled a heart of compassion (Matthew 15:32-39; and Mark 6:34), and a ministry of healing, deliverance, and miracles (Matthew 8:14, 23-27, and 9:18-25). Jesus taught them about prayer, including praying with a right attitude (Matthew 6:5-15), praying for the lost (Matthew 9:38), and persisting in prayer (Luke 1:1-13). He modelled a life of prayer to them (Matthew 14:23; and Luke 6:12), and revealed his heart for the lost (Luke 15). Jesus challenged wrong attitudes within them (Mark 9:33-37, and 10:35-45), and instructed them to be cleansed from sin (Matthew 15:1-20, and 23:1-36).
Included in this training, Jesus sent them out to do what they had observed him doing. We read that Jesus “called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits . . . So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them” (Mark 6:7,12,13; also Matthew 10:5-42; and Luke 9:1-6). In a similar fashion, Luke records Jesus sending out seventy others in pairs, giving them a similar commission. They also returned, rejoicing because the demons submitted to them (Luke 10:1-12, and 17-20).
As Jesus’ earthly ministry was drawing to a close, he began preparing his disciples to continue his ministry without his physical presence, but with the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. Within his farewell discourses as recorded in John, chapters 13 to 17, Jesus assures his disciples that after he has gone, they will remain in full fellowship with him through the Holy spirit (14:15-17, and 15:26 f.). People will know they are his disciples, as they continue to serve others in the way that he taught them (John 13:34,35). The final phase in Jesus’ discipleship training is encapsulated in the Great Commission, as he sent them out to make disciples, as he had made disciples of them first (Matthew 28:18-20).
Jesus’ method of making disciples can be summarised as follows: He called them to follow him; he taught, modelled, and ministered with them; he sent them out to minister to others and them come back and reflect with him; he prepared them to minister without him; and then sent them to go and make disciples of others, thus repeating the pattern that he modelled. It was an approach of disciple-making by multiplication.
2. The Disciple-Making Ministry of the Early Church
The early church continued Jesus’ ministry of disciple-making by multiplication. Following Pentecost, the apostles continued to minister in the way they had learned from Jesus. They preached and confirming signs followed; consequently, the Lord added daily to their number those who were being saved (Acts 2:47). However, the fact that the Christian Church still exists today bears witness to the fact that the disciples did more than only preach, teach, and heal. The ministry of Jesus Christ continues today because the early disciples continued his ministry, and made disciples who continued Jesus ministry, as Jesus had commissioned them to do. These disciples in turn made disciples, who in turn made more disciples.
It is not clear within the early chapters of the book of Acts which disciples are making disciples. However we are told that the three thousand who heard Peter’s Pentecost sermon were baptised and began to devote themselves to “the apostles teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayers” (Acts 2:42). We can assume that many of these new disciples began to make more disciples (Acts 2:47). Consequently, there was a need to expand and diversify the leadership base with the commission of the seven (Acts 6). Consequently, the number of disciples increased greatly (Acts 6:7).
Within later chapters of the book of Acts, we read that it was a disciple named Ananias who laid hands on Saul after his conversion (Acts 9:10, 17). Someone had obviously discipled Ananias, who in turn continued to make disciples. Early in Saul’s ministry he had disciples (Acts 9:25). Barnabas and Saul disciple John Mark (Acts 12:25). We read that together they “made many disciples” and “strengthened the souls of the disciples” in Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, and appointed elders in each church (Acts 14:21-23). Paul also discipled Timothy (Acts 16:1), Erastus (Acts 19:22) and Titus (Titus 1:5).
The disciple-making relationship between Paul and Timothy closely follows the principles that Jesus laid down. Just as Jesus invited his disciples to follow him, so Paul invited Timothy to accompany him as a follower of Jesus (Acts 16:1-3). Paul modelled ministry to Timothy (Acts 16:5, 2 Timothy 3:10-11), taught him (1 Timothy 1:18, and 1 & 2 Timothy), and they shared together in ministry (Acts 16:4-5; Philippians 1:1; Colossians 1:1; 1 Thessalonians 1:1; and 2 Corinthians 1:1). During this time, Paul taught Timothy the things that were needed for him to grow in maturity in the faith. He encouraged him to be a person of prayer (1 Timothy 2:1-4), to continually be cleansed of sin (2 Timothy 2:20-26) and to study the Scriptures (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Paul demonstrated to Timothy the same passion for the lost that Jesus demonstrated to his disciples (1 Timothy 1:12-16, and 2:1,4). Just as Jesus sent his disciples out on their own when they were ready, so Paul did with Timothy (Acts 19:22; 1 Corinthians 4:7; 1 Thessalonians 3:2; and Philippians 2:19).
Most importantly, Paul sent Timothy to make disciples, who would in turn make more disciples. Paul says to Timothy “what you have heard from me through many witnesses entrust to faithful people who will be able to teach others as well” (2 Timothy 2:2). Like Jesus, Paul’s method of disciple-making was one of multiplying his ministry by building the kingdom in others, not being merely content to add names to the list of those saved. Paul understood that it was imperative to reproduce himself in those who would follow after he had gone.
21st Century Disciples
In summary, a twenty-first century disciple of Jesus Christ will understand his or her primary call to be that of making disciples who are disciple-makers. They will be men and women of prayer, who faithfully study the Scriptures, who grow in holiness through confessing and repenting of their sin. They will have a heart for the lost, which will motivate them to bear witness to their faith in word and action, through which they will make disciples. Twenty-first century disciples will learn from those who are discipling them how to share their faith with others. They will work with their disciplers in discipling others, and under their guidance will be released to make disciples.
However, twenty-first century disciples cannot make disciples on their own. They need to be part of a disciple-making church. The post-Pentecost disciple-making occurred within the context of a growing Church, sent into the world. It was an apostolic church. Therefore, not only do disciples need to comprehend the full intent of the Great Commission, so does the Church. The Church needs to understand the implication behind Jesus’ word ‘go’ (Matthew 28:18; and Mark 16:15), and ‘send’ (John 20:21), and witness to the ends of the earth (Luke 24:48; and Acts 1:8). This is the focus of the next section.
2. A disciple-making theology of the church
The Great Commission as the Church’s Apostolic Calling
The phrase ‘make disciples’ is not the only important component within the words of the Great Commission as recorded in Matthew 28:18-20. The disciples are to ‘go’ and make disciples. They were not commissioned to stay and make disciples, but to go. They were ‘sent’ (John 20:21). The disciples were only to wait long enough to receive the empowering of the Holy Spirit. After being baptised with the Holy Spirit, they were to bear witness to Jesus to the ends of the earth (Luke 24:49; and Acts 1:5,8).
It is also important to emphasise that this commission was not given to the disciples individually, but collectively. These eleven disciples were the founding nucleus of the world-wide disciple-making community, who would become known as the Church. He purposefully established this ministry of disciple-making in the context of community. The call is for the community of believers to both go forth and make disciples, as one community. The vine and branches allegory of John 15 provides a conclusive reference to the coming community. “The idea of many branches being knit together by being joined by one stem is a vivid illustration of corporateness. Not only can no branch exist without being in living contact with the vine, but the branches have no relations to each other, except through the vine.”
However, it is Jesus’ high priestly prayer in John 17 that provides the strongest evidence of his intention that his mission continue through his disciples as a unified community, not as individuals. In his prayer to the Father, Jesus says: “as you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world” (John 17:18). Jesus’ prayer that the disciples be one (John 17:21-23) clearly emphasises the importance of community for the continuation of the mission of Jesus.
There is no doubt that the mission of Jesus to proclaim the kingdom of God in word, sign and action is to be continued by his disciples in the context of an interdependent community when we consider the evidence: the commission to the twelve (Matthew 10:5-42; and Luke 9:1-6), the commission to the seventy (Luke 10:1-12), and the post-resurrection commission to the disciples (Matthew 28:18-20).
An Apostolic Church
This community of disciple-makers is therefore destined to be an apostolic community, which begins as an apostolic church – a ‘sent’ church. The Greek word apostello means ‘to send’. The word appears 131 times in the New Testament, 119 of which are found in the Gospels and Acts. It is the word used to describe Jesus ‘sending’ the twelve disciples on their mission to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal (Luke 9:2). It is also used to describe the appointing of the seventy and ‘sending’ them off in pairs in mission (Luke 10:1,3). The Greek word pempo which also means ‘send’ is used as a virtual synonym for appostello in John, Luke and Acts. The word apostolos is translated ‘apostle’. Initially referring to the twelve apostles (Luke 6:13; and Matthew 10:2), it described being sent as an envoy or ambassador (2 Corinthians 5:20). Later Paul, Barnabas and others are referred to as apostles (for example, Acts 14:14; and Romans 16:7).
The Church of Jesus Christ is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets (Ephesians 2:20). In other words, those who are called to the office of apostle (Ephesians 4:11) are not the only ones whom Jesus has sent into the world with a message. Rather, apostles are to give leadership to the building of a ‘sent’ Church. Jesus made this clear in the words of the Great Commission. He did not say to the eleven disciples (also referred to as apostles in Matthew 10:2) “go, therefore and proclaim my message”. Rather, he commissioned them to “go therefore and make disciples”. In other words, he commissioned them to be an apostolic people. The reason that the early Church congregations went a long way towards fulfilling Jesus’ challenge to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8), was because the apostles began to build and lead an church. The apostles went into the world, growing and multiplying a community of believers – believers who were sent, and went back into the world.
Jesus established the church as a disciple-making church. A disciple-making church is an apostolic church. The Great Commission therefore demands a multiplication paradigm of disciple-making, and it demands an apostolic paradigm of the church. Despite the fact that many congregations of most Christian denominations throughout the world confess that they believe in the ‘one holy Catholic and apostolic church’, the majority of congregations of mainline churches do not understand what it means to be an apostolic church. The following section describes three different levels of understanding of the church which exist today. Following this is an apostolic theology of the church and a profile of the twenty-first century church.
The Purpose of the Church
Three levels of understanding about the purpose of the church parallel the three levels of undertstanding of disciple making.
1. The Church as Caring for the People
This understanding of the role of the local church as caring for the people parallels the understanding of the clergy as disciple-makers. Within the Christendom Paradigm, the primary role of the local church is to care for the people who are part of it. A church in which the primary role is caring for the people is a highly institutionalised church. The more people in the congregation, the more clergy are needed, when the primary role of the clergy is to care for the people. The more clergy that exist, the more administration is needed to maintain an acceptable level of care. Administration is also needed to ensure that mission happens overseas or in remote and less fortunate parts of the country. Missionaries need to be trained and funds needs to be raised. The responsibilities, however are taken out of the hands of ‘ordinary’ Christians.
A church in which the primary role is to care for the people is in direct disobedience to the Great Commission, as this understanding restricts disciple-making to the sole responsibility of the clergy. However, the institutional church structures ensure that the primary focus of their time and energy is on those already in the church. A church in which the primary role is caring for the people is an inward focused church, which is in direct contrast to the emphasis of the Great Commission.
2. The Church as Building Up the Body
Declining church attendance, combined with the influence of the charismatic movement, contributed to a different level of understanding of the church. A key part of this change is re-exegeting (or rediscovering) Ephesians 4:11-12: “The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” Whereas the second level of understanding of disciple-making focused on the phrase “to equip the saints for the work of ministry”, this second level of understanding of the Church’s role focuses on the phrase “for building up the body of Christ.”
This represents a significant move from the first level of understanding. It is the whole people of God, not the clergy who take responsibility for the building up of the body of Christ. All Christians care for one another, and discover and exercise their spiritual gifts. Paul’s analogy of the church as a body, as expounded in 1 Corinthians 12 and other places, plays a large part in the thinking behind this understanding. In order to be a disciple-making and multiplying community of faith, the church must perceive itself as a body of believers, each with different gifts to be exercised together.
However, this second level of understanding is limited because it tends to see the building up of the body as an end in itself. A congregation may encourage the exercise of the gifts of the Spirit by all members. The fruits of this may be evidenced by creative and diverse worship experiences, and strong ministries for and with children, teenagers and young adults. There may be a small groups ministry which caters for all ages, led by trained and gifted leaders. However, these ministries are often developed with the implicit, or even explicit, assumption that this wonderful demonstration of the ‘building up of the body’ will automatically draw in potential disciples.
Churches which work at building up the body usually do experience seasons of numerical growth. However, analysis of this growth usually reveals the majority of it as being Christians transferring from ‘less exciting’ churches to a church which ‘meets their needs’. Such churches inadvertently send a message which says ‘come and join us’. This message is contrary to the charge of the Great Commission to go into the world and make disciples. Congregations in which the building up of the body is an end in itself fall short of the intent of the Great Commission. Apart from the ‘end in itself’ perception, there are several other reasons why congregations, who embrace this level of understanding, fall short of the intent of the Great Commission.
Firstly, the understanding of the Church as body often exists in parallel with the clergy/laity paradigm. That is, the clergy strongly encourage the discovery and exercise of spiritual gifts by all members of the congregation. However, they are limited by denominational regulations, practices, and expectations of the people.
Secondly, there is often within this level of understanding a strong conviction that mission flows out of nurture. Christian nurture, evidenced by teaching and pastoral care, is seen as primary. Mission and evangelism is ineffective, unless the body is built up through solid teaching and care. Biblical teaching and pastoral care are important and vital to the growth of the body. However, if they are given priority over mission, then mission never happens. For example, many Christians consider themselves to be ‘mature in faith’ (Ephesians 4:13) and do not see it as important to make disciples of others.
The more nurture and fellowship that people receive, the more they demand. The more emphasis that is placed on nurture, whether by clergy or by small group leaders, the more people value having ‘their needs met’, and the less motivated they become to engage in mission. Giving nurture priority over mission encourages an introversion which is at odds with the intent of the Great Commission, which commissions all believers to ‘go’ (Matthew 28:19; and Mark 16:15), to be ‘sent’ (John 20:21), and to be witnesses to the ends of the earth (Luke 24:48; and Acts 1:8). The early church was obedient to this commission, giving mission first priority. As they did this, they experienced nurture and fellowship like never before (Acts 2:41-18, 4:29-35).
3. The Church as Extending the Kingdom
The third level of understanding of the purpose of the church is to continue Jesus’ ministry of proclaiming the kingdom of God in word and action. This is done in the spirit and pattern of the early church, of being sent into the world with the good news of the gospel. The ethos of ‘building up the body’ is vital to this understanding of the church. However, building up the body is not an end in itself, but a means to an end. The end is to extend the kingdom of God by making disciples, who make disciples.
The kingdom of God is extended when the lost are found, and so searching for the lost is the primary focus of the church which is sent into the world. Congregations which reflect this understanding are kingdom oriented, as opposed to church oriented. Howard Snyder expresses it this way:
Church people think about how to get people into the church; Kingdom people think about how to get the church into the world. Church people worry that the world might change the church; Kingdom people work to see the church change the world.
A kingdom-oriented congregation is an apostolic congregation – a ‘sent’ congregation. It reflects the full intent of the Great Commission – to go and make disciples. The following section argues that the ministry of Jesus and the early church as recorded in the scriptures, articulates an apostolic theology of the church. It is a theology of the church which affirms this level of understanding and purpose of the church. It reflects the full intent of the Great Commission.
An Apostolic Theology of the Church
The ministry and teaching of Jesus lay the foundation for the apostolic ministry of the Church. The book of Acts records the early church continuing this apostolic ministry of Jesus, in obedience to the Great Commission. The apostle Paul, a key apostle and theologian of the early church, continues to develop this apostolic theology of the church, building on the teaching of Jesus.
1. The Apostolic Ministry of Jesus
By first sending out the twelve (Mark 6:7,12,13; Matthew 10:5-42; and Luke 9:1-6) and later the seventy (Luke 10:1-12, 17-20), Jesus not only demonstrates his equipping style of leadership, but role models an apostolic or ‘sending’ component to the ministry. Just as the Father sent Jesus to the world for an apostolic mission, so Jesus sent his disciples to continue in that mission (John 17:18, 20:21). In proclaiming the Gospel of the kingdom, Jesus did not remain within Nazareth, but moved throughout Galilee and beyond, eventually to Jerusalem. His mission was apostolic. Two features of this apostolic mission are consistently noted: the proclaiming of the good news of the kingdom, and the miraculous signs which followed.
When Jesus sent the twelve and then the seventy, this pattern continued. He sent them to proclaim the good news and to heal the sick and cast out demons (Luke 9:1-2, 6; and 10:9,17). He commissioned his disciples to be a community of believers who would continue this apostolic mission. They were commissioned to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19), to “go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation” with signs following (Mark 16:15-18), and to be ‘witnesses’ (Luke 24:48) “in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
Jesus’ apostolic ministry was reinforced with apostolic teaching. This teaching is most clearly articulated in two parables concerning the sowing of seed (Mark 4:1-20, 26-29), and his statement about the harvest (Matthew 9:35-38; and Luke 10:2). Matthew records the following:
Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to sent out labourers into his harvest’ (cf Luke 10:2).
Again the pattern of Jesus’ apostolic ministry is noted: proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom, with signs following. However, Jesus is lamenting the fact that there is a harvest of souls for the kingdom, but a shortage of workers to bring in the harvest. He gives a call to prayer – to pray to God for workers, who will be sent into the harvest – first as Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and sent them on their mission (Matthew 10:1-42).
However, a harvest will not come unless seeds are planted. Within Mark 4 Jesus tells a parable of a sower, who sows seed. Some of the seed does not survive because it falls on the path, on rocky ground, and among thorns. However that which fell on good soil brought forth grain, and grew up to yield thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold. (Mark 4:3-8). The seed is the word of God (Mark 4:14). Mark then records Jesus’ Parable of the Growing Seed:
The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come (Mark 4:26-29).
What is the clear message for disciples who are disciple-makers in an apostolic church? The disciples are responsible for the sowing, God does the growing, and the disciples then come and bring in the harvest. It is not possible to harvest without first sowing. It is of no use sowing, unless harvesting also takes place to bring in the fruits of the sowing. It is not the sower or the harvester’s role to grow the plants, as this is up to God. The harvester’s role is to take whatever measures can be taken to ensure that the environment is maximised to release its growth potential.
2. The Apostolic Ministry of the Early Church
The day of Pentecost as recorded in Acts 2 marked the beginning of the fulfilment of the Great Commission. With the coming of the Holy Spirit to give power to witness as promised (Luke 24:49; and Acts 1:8), the disciples responded to Jesus’ call to go into the world. Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, began to preach the good news of the Gospel of the kingdom, and three thousand people became disciples. These disciples were baptised, and then “devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42).
The book of Acts is the record of the apostles continuing Jesus’ ministry to proclaim the Kingdom in word (e.g. Acts 2:14-36; 3:1 ff; 4:8 ff; and 8:4 ff), in sign (e.g. 3:1-10; 5:12-16; and 8:4-8), and in action (e.g. 4:32-37; and 6:1-4). Jesus’ commission to ‘go and make disciples’ is obeyed (e.g. Acts 2:37-47; 6:1-7; 8:9 ff; 10:1-44; and 13:1 ff). Peter and the other apostles moved throughout the region, preaching the gospel with signs following. They were fulfilling the apostolic commission that Jesus gave them. They were apostles (apostolos), sent by Jesus to continue his ministry of extending the kingdom of God.
The early church was not only a church with apostles, it was an apostolic church. The apostles, who were sent in obedience to the Great Commission, not only made disciples, but disciples who were disciple-makers. The record of the early church supports this:
That day a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria . . .Now those who were scattered went from place to place, proclaiming the word. (Acts 8:1, 4).
As it was with Jesus and the apostles, the disciples of the apostles were sent to continue Jesus’ ministry of proclaiming the kingdom, and signs followed. The teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, prayer, worship and service, and care (Acts 2:37-47, 4:23-37) were not ends in themselves, but responses to the apostles being sent. They continued the mission of Jesus, going into the world to make more disciples, who were equipped to make more disciples.
3. Paul’s Apostolic Theology of the Church
Upon his conversion, Saul, who later became known as Paul, became one of the most significant apostles of the early church. In his apostolic ministry of teaching, he reinforced Jesus’ apostolic teaching, thus developing an apostolic theology of the church.
Building up the body
As previously stated, Paul affirmed that God gifts leaders for the role of equipping the whole people of God for the work of ministry. Through this equipping, the body of Christ is built up (Ephesians 4:11-12). It is not the people who do the building, but Christ (see Matthew 16:18). Paul states that the church receives its life and authority from Christ as the head of the Church (Ephesians 4:15-16). The church is totally dependant on Christ for its direction and life. This truth is affirmed by Jesus’ statement when he says that he is the true vine and we are the branches (John 15:1-11). He says, “apart from me you can do nothing” (verse 5).
Also, the individual Christians, who are members of the church (the body), are interdependent, rather than dependent on each other. In 1 Corinthians12:12-30, it is clear that each member of the body is assigned a particular gift (charis) to be exercised in mutual giving and receiving, for completing tasks within the fellowship, and in fulfilling its commission to proclaim the good news to the world.
Clearly then, Paul teaches that the individual members of the church, in and of themselves, do not constitute the whole. Rather, the unity of the body, and the life of the body comes from Christ himself: “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptised into one body” (1 Corinthians 12:12 f.).
This understanding of the church, as a living, dynamic organism, holding in tension unity and diversity, illustrates the disciple-making call of the church. Disciples cannot be effective disciple-makers on their own, because they do not possess all the gifts, as Christ did. However, disciple-making happens in the church, as disciples together witness and service Christ in the world, and subsequently fruitful disciple-making develops. This does not infer that individual disciples cannot lead others into a relationship with Jesus Christ. However, the ongoing nurture and mentoring of a disciple, who becomes a disciple-maker, is made more effective when it is provided by more than one disciple. It is within the context of the church–the body of Christ–that holistic disciple-making occurs.
Through the equipping of the saints for ministry, God releases the gifts of the Holy Spirit, through which Christ builds the body. Paul gives illustration to this in his statement: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:6). In saying this, Paul reinforces Jesus teaching on the parable of the growing seed (Mark 4:21-25).
Extending the kingdom
Paul’s teaching on the Church in Ephesians also clearly emphasises that the building up of the body is not an end in itself. He states that leaders are given to equip the saints for ministry, for the building up of the body of Christ “until all of us come to the unity of faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13). The building up of the body is for the purposes of extending the kingdom of God. This is why Paul tells that Corinthian Christians that the have been reconciled to Christ, and have been given a ministry of reconciliation. They are to be ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17-21). This is why he told the Philippian Christians that it is through God at work within them, enabling them to will and work for his pleasure, that they will shine like stars in the world (Philippians 2:13,15). This is why Paul, in his discipling of Timothy, urged him to pray for everyone, as God desires everyone to be saved (2 Timothy 2:4).
Within these words we hear Paul’s apostolic heart for the church. This is further reinforced in his teaching in chapter one of the letter to the Ephesians. We read that Jesus is not only head of the Church, but head of all things: “And he has put all things under his (Christ’s) feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him which fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:22-23). God has “a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him (Christ), things in heaven and things on earth” (Ephesians 1:10). God’s plan and desire is that everyone is saved (2 Timothy 2:4). He does not want “any to perish, but all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). God’s plan is to be fulfilled through the church, which is to “fully reveal Christ’s headship over the whole created order.”
In commenting on the significance of Ephesians 1:22-23, Frank Laubach makes this statement: “When Christ was here on earth, he was limited to performing his ministry in one place and at one time . . . He healed whoever he touched, but his touch was necessarily limited by time and space . . . As the body of Christ, the Church is Christ’s multiplied hands, feet, voice and compassionate heart.” In other words, as the body of Christ, the Church multiplies disciples who multiply the Kingdom ministry of Jesus. The Kingdom ministry of Jesus is extended when the church functions as an apostolic church–a body of interdependent disciple-makers sent into the world to make disciples, who in turn, make more disciples.
The Great Commission Revisited
It was concluded in the first section that the Great Commission demands the primary call of the Christian to be a disciple who is a disciple-maker. This call requires a multiplication paradigm of disciple-making. This second section now concludes that the Great Commission also demands an apostolic church – a church sent into the world, with leadership that equips people for an interdependent ministry of disciple-making. Through this, the body is built up and the kingdom of God is extended, thus continuing the ministry of Jesus in the world. This requires the church to adopt an apostolic paradigm.
The multiplication paradigm of disciple-making demands leaders who equip and multiply. The Apostolic paradigm of the church demands apostolic leadership. Leadership which is equipping, multiplying and apostolic is life-giving leadership. It demands a disciple-making and sending approach. When this occurs, the power of the Great Commission is restored and the spirit of Jesus and the early church is reflected in the life of the twenty-first century church.
3. Current research into vital churches
Current research confirms that vital growing churches are those which have reclaimed an apostolic disciple-making vision.
Episcopal Priest and President of the Alban Institute, Loren Mead, published a book in 1991 called The Once and Future Church. Mead challenges the mainstream church as continuing to operate within a Christendom Paradigm dating back to Constantine, whereas we live, work, and witness within a Mission Paradigm. In 1996 he published another book in which he identifies five challenges for the church if it is to effectively transition into a mission paradigm: (1) to transfer the ownership of the Church from clergy to laity, (2) to find new structures to carry our faith, (3) to discover a passionate spirituality, (4) to feed the world’s need for community, and (5) to become an apostolic people.
In 1993 United Methodist Minister and Director of 21st Century Strategies, William Easum, published a book titled, Dancing with Dinosaurs: Ministry in a Hostile and Hurting World. As a Church Consultant who travels some 300 days of the year, Easum observes first hand many churches in the United States. He concludes that churches effectively ministering into the twenty-first century are churches where: (1) small groups replace programs, (2) pastors equip persons, rather than do ministry, (3) effective worship is culturally relevant, (4) buildings are not important, and (5) weekday ministries overshadow the importance of Sunday. In addition to this, he lists three essential ingredients: (1) biblical integrity, (2) evangelism, and (3) quality.
George Hunter III, who is a professor at Ausbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky, surveyed nine churches within the United States whom he identified as being apostolic congregations. Some of these churches were independent, while others were part of a mainstream denomination. Hunter states that apostolic congregations are different from traditional congregations in fifty ways, but identifies ten distinctive features which account for about 80 percent of the difference, those being: (1) grounding believers and seekers in Scripture, (2) disciplined, and earnest in prayer, with an expectation and experience God’s action in response, (3) understanding, affinity, and compassion for the lost, unchurched, unchurched people, (4) obedience to the Great Commission–more as warrant or privilege, than mere duty, (5) a motivationally sufficient vision for what people, as disciples, can become, (6) adaption to the language, music, and style of the target population’s culture, (7) willingness to work had to involve everyone, believers and seekers, in small groups, (8) advocation of the involvement of all Christians in lay ministries for which they are gifted, (9) regular pastoral care of members through regular spiritual conversation with someone who is gifted for shepherding ministry, and (10) engagement in multiple ministries to unchurched people.
The consistent findings of this research is obvious. However, there are two expressions of current research which have considerable impact throughout the church at present. The first is undertaken by C. Peter Wagner, into what he calls the New Apostolic Reformation. The second is undertaken by Christian Schwarz, into what he calls Natural Church Development. Findings of this research are consistent with those above. However, they clearly reveal a way of reclaiming the power of the Great Commission through recapturing the apostolic vision of the church and reinforcing a disciple-making by multiplication paradigm, respectively.
The New Apostolic Reformation
Wagner contends that the mainline church crisis exists because their institutional structures represent “old wineskins”. Jesus said: “Neither is new wine put into old wineskins; otherwise the skins burst, and the wine is spilled; and the skins are destroyed; but new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved” (Matthew 9:17). Since Christ began building his church 2000 years ago, it has changed many times in the way that it has grown. With each change, a new wineskin was required. The growing vital churches, which are independent churches, members of apostolic networks, and congregations within mainline denominations, are part of a new wineskin being formed. Wagner calls this new wineskin the New Apostolic Reformation, and local churches whose ministries embrace this as new apostolic churches.
The expression “new reformation” is not new. Greg Ogden and Lyle Schaller recently published books titled The New Reformation, and William Beckham authored The Second Reformation. The first reformation is the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century. This reformation was largely theological, whereas the new reformation is not so much a reformation of faith, but of practice. Wagner states that “this current reformation is not so much against corruption and apostasy as it is against irrelevance. The word ‘apostolic’ is used because churches which identify with this movement give a high priority to reaching out in effective ways to the unchurched. Many churches, who identify with this movement, also recognise the New Testament office of apostle as alive and well in the church today.
In observing new apostolic churches, Wagner identifies nine common characteristics, as follows.
New Name. The name of new apostolic churches is more likely to reflect the vision of the church, or the region or community in which it is situated, rather than the denomination.
New Authority Structure. An indispensable quality within new apostolic churches is strong, visionary leadership. Pastors of these churches are perceived as the leaders of the church; whereas in most traditional denomination churches, the parish council or board of deacons lead, and the pastor is an employee.
New Leadership Training. Within new apostolic churches, all members are encouraged to discover their spiritual gifts and use them for ministry, while leaders are mentored and trained through seminars or conferences, or in-house bible schools.
New Ministry Focus. Many denominational churches are heritage driven, with their ministry philosophy being determined by their historical antecedents. Conversely, new apostolic churches are vision driven, being more concerned about where God is leading in the future, than how we lead in the past.
New Worship Style. Contemporary, culturally relevant worship is a key characteristic of new apostolic churches.
New Prayer Forms. A fervent and uncompromising commitment to prayer is another essential dynamic within new apostolic churches. Days of prayer and fasting, prayer walks, and prayer summits will be scheduled on a regular basis.
New Financing. Whereas most mainline denominations are facing a serious funding crisis, new apostolic churches have relatively few financial problems.
New Outreach. The primary focus of the new apostolic church is reaching out to the lost and hurting. Focused, strategic evangelistic ministries, ministries of care and compassion, and new church plants all feature prominently on their agenda.
New Power Orientation. Not all new apostolic churches consider themselves to be charismatic, nevertheless they display an openness to the Holy Spirit and affirm that all of the New Testament spiritual gifts are in operation today. Unlike many mainline denominational churches, they encourage ministries of healing, deliverance, spiritual warfare, prophecy, and so forth.
There is an obvious correlation between Wagner’s characteristics and those identified by Mead, Easum and Hunter III. Even more significant is the correlation between the characteristics of the New Testament apostolic churches, as described in this chapter: strong apostolic leadership; people sent into the world to proclaim the Gospel, with signs following; devotion to the apostles teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread and prayers, and the raising up new leaders. It appears as though the profile of a twenty-first century apostolic church includes the characteristics identified by Wagner and others.
Natural Church Development
From 1994-96 Christian A. Schwarz, head of the Institute for Church Development in Germany, undertook what he claims to be the most comprehensive study ever conducted on the causes of church growth. He surveyed more than one thousand churches in thirty-two countries on five continents. Schwarz says:
To my knowledge, our research provides the first world-wide scientifically verifiable answer to the question, “What church growth principles are true, regardless of culture and theological persuasion?” We strove to find a valid answer to the question “What should each church and every Christian do to obey the Great Commission in today’s World?”
Published in 1996, Schwarz’s research identifies eight ‘quality characteristics’ of growing churches: (1) empowering leadership, (2) gift-oriented ministry, (3) passionate spirituality, (4) functional structures, (5) inspiring worship, (6) holistic small groups, (7) need-oriented evangelism, and (8) loving relationships.
Schwarz states his conviction that many Christians are sceptical of church growth because to them it presents techniques which seek to achieve church growth using human abilities, rather than God’s means. In contrast to this, Schwarz presents a different approach to church growth, which he calls ‘natural’ or ‘biotic’ church development. “‘Biotic’ implies nothing less that a rediscovery of the laws of life (in Greek, bios). The goal is to let God’s growth automatisms flourish, instead of wasting energy on human-made programs.”
As discussed earlier in this chapter, Schwarz’s approach recaptures Jesus’ teaching in the Parable of the Growing Seed (Mark 4:26-29). That is, disciples do the sowing and the reaping, but God does the growing. Schwarz’s understanding of church growth affirms the Church as a living, dynamic organism, rather than an institution; thus, his understanding reflects Paul’s theology of the church, as described earlier in this chapter. He sees growth and development resting in principles which promote the health of churches. “Effective churches are healthy churches; healthy churches are growing churches–they make more and better disciples.”
If, as Jesus and Paul emphasise, it is God that does the growing, what specifically can disciples do within the sowing that prepares for God’s growth to be released? The real values of Schwarz’s research is that he addressees this very question. He identifies ‘biotic’ principles which facilitate God’s growth. Three of these principles are particularly relevant to the paradigm of disciple-making by multiplication.
Interdependence. This principle affirms Paul’s teaching of the church as a body consisting of interdependent members. Church structures and practices should encourage an interdependent relationship between each of the various ministries within the congregation.
Multiplication. The principle of multiplication applies to all areas of church life: “Just as the true fruit of an apple tree is not an apple, but another tree; the true fruit of a small group is not a new Christian, but another group; the true fruit of a church is not a new group, but a new church; the true fruit of a leader is not a follower, but a new leader.”
Functionality. This principle asks whether the ministry is bearing fruit, in terms of both quality and quantity. This may appear to be obvious, however, numerous churches have ministries that go on ad infinitum without this type of periodic evaluation process.
When the eight quality characteristics are considered in light of these biotic principles, it is the adjectives rather than the nouns that are important. For example, when the multiplication principles are applied to leadership, they empower the leadership. When the principle of interdependence is applied to ministry, it becomes gift-oriented ministry. When the principle of functionality is applied to a congregation’s organisational structure, it becomes a functional structure. The application of these biotic principles therefore provide a healthy environment for an apostolic disciple-making church to develop and grow.
Conclusion: a profile of the twenty-first century church
While taking totally different approaches, Wagner’s New Apostolic Reformation and Schwarz’s Natural Church Development each affirm an apostolic paradigm of the church and an multiplication paradigm of disciple-making. Each of these is required to restore the power of the Great Commission. Neither Wagner’s nor Schwarz’s research reflects exclusive indicators of healthy, growing churches. However, based on biblical and theological evidence, and the sustained growth of some contemporary churches, it appears as though Wagner’s and Schwarz’s research describe characteristics of apostolic disciple-making congregations.. Thus, apostolic disciple-making congregations reflect the church of the twenty-first century. This is a church which embodies the full intent of the Great Commission.
A mission strategy for an apostolic disciple-making church will therefore reflect the presuppositions of the apostolic paradigm of the church. It will emphasise a primary purpose of being sent into the community. The life of the congregation will reflect an interdependent body of believers, equipped for the ministry of sowing and reaping the harvest which God will grow. The disciple-making strategy will reflect the presuppositions of the multiplication paradigm of disciple-making.
It will emphasise the primary call of each member of the church to be disciple-makers at every level of church life. The disciple-making strategy of Jesus and Paul will be implemented, ensuring growth in maturity of disciples, who make more disciples. The lost will be found. The sick will be healed. The demonised set free. The Kingdom will be extended. And God will be glorified.
Colin Brown ed., The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (Exeter, United Kingdom: Paternoster Press, 1986), 480-494.
 D. Muller, “Apostello”, The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology Volume 1, ed. Colin Brown (Exeter, United Kingdom: Paternoster Press, 1986), 130.
 The understanding of clergy as disciple-makers is described in Chapter One.
 Howard Snyder, Liberating the Church (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1983), 11.
 A detailed discussion of this is found in S. Wibbing’s article “Body” in The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology Volume 1, ed. Colin Brown (Exeter United Kingdom: Paternoster Press, 1986), 232-38.