My last two posts have been musing over the prospect of reconfiguring the church for accountability: elders coming to grips with the realization that they will give an account to God for the spiritual welfare of the people in the church (Hebrews 13:17), and therefore organizing the church into groups of 10 families or less so as to oversee their spiritual well-being.
Imagine the many benefits that might come out of that configuration.
For children and especially from early teens on up the overseer could ensure that young people were receiving character training. I was raised in a wonderful Christian family and a fairly good church, but it was just assumed that a good Christian boy would have good Christian character. I believe that my life could have been substantially different, and also the lives of those whom I impacted, had I received that sort of training. It is one thing to know what a godly lifestyle consists of and yet another thing to be encouraged and challenged to live that way.
This sort of oversight could make a substantial difference for young people making the transition from high school to college. Recently I read an article about why so many church young people fall away when they get to college. The writer, a youth director at a large church, stated that his experience revealed that young people who are well grounded tend to survive college spiritually. Through this oversight arrangement an elder could ensure that young people in the families assigned to him were receiving essential training to prepare them for college and other challenges that might be coming their way.
Elder oversight could also make a difference as people pass through the pre-marriage and newly married stages, helping Christians to avoid the pitfalls and to develop a good marital foundation. They can also be aware of the early warning signs of marriage problems and head off trouble at the pass. As children are added to family, they can offer guidance regarding parental skills.
It has been about half a century since Ray Stedman wrote his book Body Life that initiated the evangelical focus on laypeople in the church doing the work of the ministry. Making that happen included helping them discover and develop their spiritual gifts and then placing them in ministries. This resulted in mobilizing people in the pew who had previously been spectators.
Though that trend still exists in the church today, it lacks its previous fervor. Imagine if each person in the church, under the guidance of an elder, was encouraged to determine how they were gifted for service, to receive necessary training, and to get plugged into a ministry that fits their unique capabilities. That process tends to happen today on a rather casual basis and includes only a small segment of the church. Imagine the impact if this objective was pursued systematically and within an authoritative church structure.
Let me speculate one step further on a more pragmatic issue. My experience has been that in today’s evangelical world you can get most church people to show up on Sunday mornings and about one third of them on Wednesday night for youth activities, music rehearsals, and other church functions, and maybe even a few in a prayer meeting.
What if Wednesday night were mandatory for everyone who could possibly make it, and most or all of the training and equipping described above took place that night. The church would be functioning more or less as a boot camp with a whole bunch of serious training going on. It seems that such a program would breathe special life into the church body and produce a sense of unity and family feel.
I am convinced that all of the above would add up to a substantial increase in church productivity. I believe these basic church approaches are in keeping with God’s design. What if membership included commitment to such a program?
Scripture refers to Christians as soldiers. An army cannot function effectively, if at all, unless there is authority, structure, and discipline. Hebrews 13:17 suggests that God intended the church to possess those characteristics. The church in America would be substantially more effective if we employed that biblical configuration.