What Should The Church Look Like?

Is how we’re doing church the right way to do it? Certainly it’s different than what it sounded like in Acts and the epistles.

What does the word ‘church’ even refer to?

I know some people who whenever possible take ‘church’ to mean the little local fellowship (distinct from all the other local fellowships). I know others who take ‘church’ to mean all the saints, whenever possible.

Total Church

I’ve just finished reading Total Church, A radical reshaping of gospel and community by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis. Emphasis on radical (although I was kind of expecting it to be a bit more off the wall). The authors are elders in England who are trying to do church in a different way.

It’s a book that makes you ask a lot of questions about how you view the church. I was already reviewing how I saw the church so the book gave me a view of a totally different model.

Gospel And Community

The authors see the church as having two key principles.  The first is gospel, which they break into two part; the Word centred truth of the gospel and the mission centred part of proclaiming the gospel. The second part is community, sharing life together.

They talk about how conservatives tend be good at the gospel side but bad at the community part, while the other extreme of Christianity, which they slap with the ‘emergent’ label, tend to be the other way around.

The Church Is Not A Building

We all know the church is the people. These guys argue that the church is not about a couple of meetings each week (which is exactly what most of our churches basically are). Rather it’s about all of life. Church every day of the week. Sometimes a gathering to hear the Word spoken, but more frequently to help each other, and especially to help each other to walk with the Lord.

They also want church to be a comfortable place for unbelievers. This is how they do community missions, by bringing in unbelievers and slowly winning them over to the gospel.

They quote John Stott…

If our structure has become an end in itself, not a means of saving the world, it is a heretical structure.

Which raises a question; should the church be primarily for believers, who can then go out and witness to the world, or should it be a place to reach the lost with the gospel? Is it one or the other or both?

Things I Liked

  • This is a living, breathing church.
  • It’s much more real in the lives of the congregation than a meeting based approach.
  • Their evangelism is not about getting decisions, it’s about making disciples.
  • It’s harder to slip in and out of the building and not be involved.
  • There’s more accountability in the fellowship.

Things I Didn’t Like

  • Families are not autonomous and can’t made decisions on their own.
  • Examples of church life had them looking too like the world without a separation of standards.
  • Sometimes their worship gatherings sounded just far too casual.
  • They think it’s more important to evangelise the poor than the rich (weirdest bit of the book).
  • They knocked evangelism methods other than the relationship approach.

Total Church on Amazon.

6 thoughts on “What Should The Church Look Like?”

  1. Wow Luke, Good on your for bringing this topic to the surface, it’s been on my heart for some time and is a very important topic.

    I believe that the local church is a huge part of God’s plan for Christians today, and without the local church, elders and our brethren we are at a very dangerous place.

    We know that the “House of God is the pillar and ground of the truth” – 1 Timothy 3:15

    The community part of church is definitely something that I believe we are lacking today, we are told to give financially to those brethren in the church who are in need, bear one anothers burdens, and to encourage each other DAILY, how can we really do all these things if we aren’t seeing our brethren more then just a Sunday and a Wednesday?

    I lean strong towards the idea of community living too in terms of sharing what we have, (Not neccessary a 100% shared pot) but everything we own is not our own but the Lords, and it’s better to give then to receive. (I preach to myself here and want to live this out more!)

    We see through the book of Acts quite a few examples of meetings, and often they met house to house in the name of the Lord, I really like this idea of Christians simply coming together in the name of the Lord.

    I also believe that there needs to be Eldership in the church, there are certain qualifications to the Elders they must meet, and it’s a servant type role and a huge responsibility as they will give an account for our souls on the day of Judgement.

    I would also love to see more dynamic-ness in a church, where people can share different thoughts, ask questions in the church setting, request songs, give praises, etc but at the same time there always must be order.

    You mentioned about is the church for the believers or unbelievers, I stand strong to believing it’s for the saved people, and we should go out into the world, witness and bring them into the local churches to be discipled, it’s very important the discipleship part.

    It’s our spiritual family, we should be close, and think of each other as Brothers and Sisters, I have this nice little vision (Which I know is probably not realistic and I am probably living in dream land) but I would love to buy a huge block of land, and then have members of the church all live together, have separate houses, so there is privacy for you and your family, but we all meet up together in like a chapel on the Lords Day to have our meetings, and maybe at night time eat together in a hall etc, I love the idea of everybody being close, (When we spend this amount of time with our brethren we realize our faults and that we aren’t all as holy as we would like to be!).

    Just some thoughts off my head.

    What do the rest of you think?

  2. Sounds like an interesting book, and a good topic for discussion. It is so easy for man to latch onto traditions that aren’t taught in the Bible, but seem spiritual.

    Eldership is a big one for me! The plurality of elders is clearly taught in the Bible.

    Having greater congregation involvement is essential to avoid the “one-man-show”.

    Regarding the concept having more of a “community”, I’m still working out how this actually should flesh itself out in our situation. I don’t see any clear commandments in the Bible that we need to start living together, but I do think that the Bible demonstrates the value of encouraging one another in the faith, and we can’t really do that very well if we don’t see each other much.

    I should mention that I do find one of the concepts from the book mentioned above to be a bit disturbing viz. “They also want church to be a comfortable place for unbelievers.” I’m not sure where they find that concept taught in the Bible. Surely if the Word of God is being clearly taught there should be the conviction of sin in the hearts of the sinner. 1 Corinthians 14:24 I wouldn’t have thought that the conviction of sin can coincide with feelings of comfort. Just a thought. It certainly is very important to demonstrate the love of God towards the lost, knowing that we were at one time ourselves also lost. The unsaved should be welcomed into the church for the purpose of observing how Christians conduct themselves etc. (all part of counting the cost). I guess what I’m trying to say is that perhaps a more Biblical approach would be to “Go into all the World and preach the Gospel to every creature…”, get them saved and then bring them to church to disciple them. I’m not sure that we want to turning the gathering of the saints into an “evangelism tool” which should be instead focused on equipping the saints.

    Anyway, it’s a good topic. Thanks for raising it!

  3. Wow! wish I could talk to you about this in person!! I have so many thoughts on this subject. My sister and her husband are in the process of leaving their church because of the ” traditions of men” They just read a similar book..( maybe its the same one, not sure)But I wont go on and on as i have no time.I believe the church is a “hybrid” It is for believers. Never at any time should an unbeliever feel comfortable. They should feel convicted.I agree with Dale. More later. miss you!! Auntie Dawn

  4. Great post Luke. I’ve been thinking on these things recently. I have read the book too, and think your review is spot on.

    I really appreciated the completely different paradigm this book offered – this was what impacted me most. ‘Church = the way Christians interact in ALL of life’ (hence the name ‘Total Church’).

    However I wonder if adopting this paradigm actually makes your question a little strange… If ‘church’ = ‘gospel centred community life’, can we really ask whether it is for believers or unbelievers? Our whole life is meant to be gospel-centered, and the way we interact in community is meant to have an impact on both sets of people! Also, I don’t like some details mentioned in the book (the same ones Luke mentions). But this paradigm has such a breadth of application to it – I don’t find the few ‘bad’ applications offered in the book distract me from an overall attraction. You can easily alter the way you try and work this type of ‘church’ out, in an effort to more fully express the Gospel of Christ in your community life.

    Part of ‘church’ might be a FORMAL meeting together on Sundays (which might be aimed at believers), while another part might be INFORMALLY meeting in each other’s homes, to fellowship and encouraging each other to practically apply the gospel to all the details of our individual diverse situations. Some of these meetings might be primarily focussed on BELIEVERS, or you could focus this part of ‘church’ on UNBELIEVERS as a mission. If you create an atmosphere where Christ is unmistakably displayed in all things we do together – two things happen. WE grow as Christians (the church builds itself up as we see and understand more of Christ), and when we bring unbelievers into that, they can’t HELP but be evangelised! Creating this atmosphere is via RELATIONAL methods and DECLARATIONAL methods (preaching/teaching and Ray Comfort evangelism).

    I think there is a place for making unbelievers ‘comfortable’ in the same sense that Paul became all things to all men. Obviously we want them to feel convicted! BUT we do whatever we can within such Scriptural constraints, to ensure they are more likely to listen. ONE method promoted by this book is a mix of relational / declarational evangelism in an informal community setting. For example, you might have a regular ‘fun’ night with the guys in your local body of believers, with the purpose of inviting nonbeliever as well. You deliberately create a gospel-centered atmosphere (as you do with all your interactions with believers), so that the unbeliever can’t help but be evangelised in that context! But its not as repulsive to them as a frontal assault on the street, because they have been actively invited into something instead of having it forced onto them. I think there is a place for this sort of thing.

    Sheldon, I really like the point you made about Eldership and the way they can provide the leadership and structure necessary for this kind of life to happen, without shutting down flexibility and community involvement. And I think the eldership’s authority to extend into every aspect of this kind of community lifestyle. In this paradigm, the whole body of believers is involved in a multitude of ways – even to things which we normally associate only with elders (such as teaching with authority – for example, a Christian guy discipling a new Christian and evangelising an interested unbeliever, in his house while they are over for dinner and a game of table tennis). The eldership’s job is to actively encourage this while keeping tabs on everything, so they can provide guidance limitations / discipline as necessary.

    My biggest personal gripe from the book is the use of the term ‘church’. It just plain confuses people who take the Bible seriously! This has come out in these discussions, as people discuss the problems with making the ‘gathering of believers’ a place where unbelievers are comfortable (even though the book is actually referring to the sum of EVERY community interaction with believers in our lives). However, the Bible itself uses ‘church’ to refer to the body of believers, almost as an object – NEVER to imply any particular details of how they behaved (not the building, program, theology, pastor, etc… these were all described separately if needed). Why did the authors make ‘church’ mean something different than how the Bible uses it? In defence of the authors, they are addressing what ‘church’ HAS come to mean in today’s world – ‘the way Christians interact in community’. The book thus brings a refreshing new focus to this concept (whatever you want to call it).

    I’m keen to hear what everyone else thinks of these ideas! 🙂

  5. Everyone makes good points!

    Josh, I agree about the word ‘church.’ It’s the multiple uses that make it confusing (and causes making ‘church’ comfortable sound so bad).

    We are ‘doing church’ when a few of us get together and discuss God and the Bible. Our little Bible study with just a few young adults is church.

    The church needs elders. However, can the church meet without them? I can’t see why not.

    That said I agree, a plurality of elders is crucial to the church. I wouldn’t ‘join’ a local church again that didn’t have multiple elders. (Except if it was a young church plant and working towards getting elders. And even then it’s probably going to have some sort of planting church with elders who could help in the interim.)

    Dale, I agree on avoiding the one-man-show thing. That’s a far cry from what we see in the New Testament. It’s easy to walk in and watch the start performers and walk out. In the total church model it would be impossible to walk in and out every week without someone checking up on the state of your soul.

    I’m really anti the idea of a commune and living together. But I think we can be a lot more community minded without that. By community I’m thinking about the serving, encouraging and general building up of one another.

    “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.” Galatians 6:10

    The book has it’s ups and downs. I think we’ve gotten mired in some traditions we now believe are important to ‘church’ but aren’t really Biblical. What I like about Total Church is it helps you see things from a different paradigm. It just goes way too far on some things.

  6. Luke, This is an interesting book on this topic..”Two Babylons” By Alexander Hislop. I think you may agree more with some things he says. ( but, of course, not everything)Thanks for bringing this up. It makes for such good conversation, thinking and learning.

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