Originally published on the Forge Scotland blog.

I was in a conversation a few weeks ago that has had me thinking (unsurprisingly) about church. The conversation was around an individuals response to a church gathering, namely that, having made some form of response and come to a Sunday morning gathering, they were choosing not to attend. The frustration being expressed was that this individuals needs were not being met, and why wasn’t church more suited to them?

I’m sure we can all sympathise with this frustration. Most likely you’re reading this blog because you understand this frustration, and you are already in a place where you’re asking the question “what does church look like” for a particular people group.

But here’s my follow-up question: What if “they” are wrong? What is it about “them” that makes their ideas about church correct?

The “seeker-sensitive” approach would seem to have failed in it’s mission. “Ah,” I hear you say, “But they are extractional, rather than incarnational.” And that may be true. But let’s not make the mistake of thinking that the only offensive things about Christianity are the man-made things that have been added to it over time and tradition.

I was listening to a Tim Keller lecture the other day, and he stated that “If it is true that no culture is perfect, and supposing that the Bible truly was the divinely inspired words of a good God, then wouldn’t it also be true that there would be something about it in every culture that people would find offensive?”.1

Or, to simplify it to our specific topic, what about Samuel Kee’s statement that “the Church is called to be Churchy”?2

Now, if you’ve managed to get this far without being completely horrified by the implications here, we come to (perhaps) the more interesting, deeper thought. Whilst I think that there are some very valid questions that we need to ask about how we define “church”, and how we use Scripture to do so, and the interaction between missiology and ecclesiology3, ultimately these questions begin with me. Because I am a Teacher. Because that is the way that I think.

As I began to delve deeper, what I realised was that our individual APEST leanings have a significant impact on the way that we see church; on the questions we ask about it. I wrote previously about avoiding a situation where our “shepherd-teacher” one-man ministry model is merely replaced with an “apostle-teacher” one-man ministry model4. But I think we also need to recognise that we need to shape our churches with input from all regions of APEST, because each of these giftings will be asking some very different questions.

Now, some of these you may well be aware of, for example:

  • Apostle: “How can our church break new ground?”
  • Prophet: “How is our church pressing into the presence of God?”
  • Evangelist: “How can we make our church more acceptable to non-Christians?”
  • Shepherd: “How can we ensure that the people in our church are well looked-after?”
  • Teacher: “How can we ensure that our people are well-taught and discipled?”

But what if we’re talking about the very nature of how we define church?

  • Apostle: “The church is about church planting – the mission is central.”
  • Prophet: “The church is about relationship with God – prayer, worship, and the gifts are central.”
  • Evangelist: “The church is about the gospel – getting out into the world is central.”
  • Shepherd: “The church is about love – ensuring people are cared for is central.”
  • Teacher: “The church is about the Word – gathering together around Scripture is central.”

Now – I’m deliberately stereotyping, mostly because I’m not all 5 of these, and I’m generalising too. But I think it’s important to realised that none of these things are wrong. But only doing one of them is.

  1. Tim Keller lecture on Preaching, start listening around the 35 minute mark; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oHPB0Msasak 

  2. Samuel Kee, The Church is called to be Churchy, So Deal With It 

  3. I understand the principle of Christology -> Missiology -> Ecclesiology, but I think it’s too simplistic and linear. I prefer Stetzer’s suggestion of something more cyclical, but that’s a whole post in it’s own right. Another time, perhaps… 

  4. Avoiding DRYness 

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