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Design for Community
God gives pastors and teachers to his church to shepherd and equip church members so they will grow to maturity as the body of Christ.
But God does not mean for pastors and teachers to be the only ones who provide members with the shepherding and equipping they need to be mature. When Paul writes to the Ephesian church, he describes how the body of Christ grows and flourishes only “when each part is working properly … so that it builds itself up in love” (Eph 4:16).
The problem is that many Christians expect their pastors to be the only ones who build them up as believers. But the Apostle Paul presents us with a very different perspective.
For instance, when he instructs the church at Corinth regarding what they should do when they gather, he assumes that each one, not just the pastors and teachers, comes with something to share with the others to build up the body. Paul writes, “When you come together, each one has a hymn, [and] a lesson … Let all things be done for building up.” (1 Cor 14:26)
Paul is speaking here of house churches, in which everyone took part in the building up of others. He assumes that everyone, not just a few leaders, ministered to everyone else.
This is why we find so many commands throughout the New Testament instructing followers of Christ to build up one another, including instruction to “love one another,” “bear one another’s burdens,” and “forgive one another.”
Unless a church is very small, pastors do not have the call or ability to provide the immediate spiritual nurturing and shepherding that each individual church member needs. This is why pastors must work with and through other church members to help meet the needs of all church members.
In Exodus 18 we learn that all the people of Israel were coming directly to Moses to help them solve their problems. As a result, the lines were long and both Moses and the people were wearing themselves out.
When Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, saw this problem, he pointed it out to Moses. Jethro said to him, “What you are doing is not good. You and the people with you will certainly wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you. You are not able to do it alone” (Exod 18:17-18).
Then Jethro advised Moses to design a structure that would allow him to share his responsibilities with trusted people. We see Moses’ response in Exodus 18:25-26:
Moses chose able men out of all Israel and made them heads over the people, chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens.
And they judged the people at all times. Any hard case they brought to Moses, but any small matter they decided themselves.
In order to care properly for all the people of Israel, Moses needed to design a structure that would allow him to work with and through other qualified leaders.
In the New Testament, we learn of another time when God’s leaders needed to design a structure to better care for his people. In Acts 6 we find that the Apostles were facing a serious problem in the church. Greek believers were complaining to them that their widows were being neglected and that Jewish widows were being favored during the distribution of food.
As the Apostles were focusing on these issues related to serving tables, they were neglecting to spend time in prayer and ministry of the word. Acts 6:2-4 tells us what happens next:
And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word. (Acts 6:2-4)
If the Apostles continued to serve people in the same way, they would have neglected to care for them through their prayer and preaching.
Again we see the need for church leaders to work with and through others to meet the needs of all church members.
Smaller churches, especially house churches, do not need to focus a great deal on a shepherding structure. This is because in smaller churches most people already know each other well and are engaged in each others’ lives. The beauty of smaller churches is that their size allows for relationships to develop and flourish more naturally.
But as churches grow, there is a need to design a more intentional nurturing and shepherding structure or church members are not likely to receive the care they need. This involves designing a structure that, no matter how large a church becomes, allows all church members to receive the nurture, shepherding, and equipping for ministry they need.
This normally involves designing a small group structure within the church in which the ratio of care is one group leader for approximately every twelve people. Jesus’ discipleship method of focusing on twelve people is worth imitating.
These small groups become the frontline where people are engaged with each other and God’s word in a way that results in their spiritual growth and maturity. And each member of the small group is cared for by a well-trained and loving group leader.
These group leaders are in turn nurtured, equipped, and supported by meeting with mature, experienced “leaders of group leaders” who are able to mentor and care for them. And if the church is much larger, there may need to be more levels of leaders to do the same also.
The role of the pastor in a larger church is to oversee these shepherding groups by focusing on mentoring and caring for the shepherding group leaders who in turn focus on mentoring and caring for their group members (2 Tim 2:1- 2).
This doesn’t mean that group members are without access to the immediate care of pastors. Instead, church members always have access to the direct care of a pastor, especially in times of crisis, through their group leadership structure.
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