The New Testament church grew rapidly through the Mediterranean region. We see this same pattern in new movements today in South America, Africa, even the “underground” house church phenomenon in China. The Christian movement, for the most part, is stalled in third- and fourth-generation churches—and older traditions—in much of Europe, eastern Europe, Russia, the U.S., Canada, and elsewhere. What happens?
It’s a complex issue. Some believe it’s theological. That is likely part of the issue. Churches drift from believing all of Scripture. They water down God’s work. One of the theological issues, according to our research, clearly indicates that Jesus’ “marching orders” to “go, make disciples” is replaced with the focus on “managing Christians,” a dramatic shift from mission to spiritual country club.
Read chapter 16 of 1 Corinthians, and you’ll see numerous issues that provide evidence for another issue: strategic structure.
In 1 Corinthians 16, Paul is ending a long letter to his friends at Corinth. Put the magnifying glass on what these closing paragraphs reflect about the way the movement operated.
First, it was a movement, a fluid and constantly moving operation, with clear evidence of a multiplication mentality: multiplying workers, multiplying churches.
Second, there was a willingness to let God rule the church. Paul, the founding pastor and church planter, wasn’t even at Corinth—that’s why he sent the letter. Were there challenges in his absence? Yes! The first fifteen chapters make that clear. Even so, Paul and other traveling church planters (like Timothy) did not fall into the trap that controlling the “proper church” was more important than reaching non-Christians and multiplying churches.
Third, Paul is dedicated to raising up other leaders: Timothy, Priscilla, Aquilla, and likely Stephanos.
Fourth, there is no system of long, tedious, expensive, academic training for ordination. Leaders were equipped through on-the-job discipling. There is no evidence that the control-oriented bureaucratic, academic approach to equipping pastors today works any better than on-the-job multiplication. The New Testament churches dealt with challenging issues, but, in truth, it is no different today in the present system. Bible college and seminary does not preclude challenges in the church. Wherever there are people, even Christians, there are challenges! The real difference in the church then and the church that becomes “sophisticated” is this: The church back then grew—rapidly!
In the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther said, “Your baptism is your ordination to ministry.” He was talking about the biblical, New Testament concept of the priesthood of all believers: Everyone is a minister. You find your ministry by discovering your spiritual gifts. What has the church done today? We have replaced spiritual gifts discovery with secular volunteerism, and we make ministry the job of the staff. In truth, the staff should be spending all their time discipling and equipping people, according to their gifts, for the work of ministry. That changes stalled churches into dynamic mechanisms. Christianity moves from bureaucracy to movement—which God intended in the first place.
Whenever there has been a revival, throughout history, there has been a “resurrection” of the priesthood of all believers and the discovery of spiritual gifts. The focus has never been on being static, managing Christians. It is always, in revivals, the goal of making disciples. Add to that the multiplication of churches, and you will experience the freedom, joy, and power of revival.
Read 1 Corinthians 16. Read between the lines. Look at the structure, at the issues behind the issues. It is clear why the New Testament church exploded with growth across the land. In fact, this is the way it is whenever Christianity grows rapidly.