A series of essays exploring what the church, considering its ongoing reformation begun 500 years ago, will look like in the next decade and beyond: A futurist’s snapshot of the Christian Church.
I am mindful of my original commitment, as I set out in the beginning, that I am not arguing with the past and how it has always been. Rather, in the Reformed commitment to becoming always new in light of scripture’s bearing on life in today’s world, I am projecting what I believe to be a sustainable model of the church for the next decades to come. This is especially evident in this particular essay as I imagine the church in which every Follower of the Way is invested in service. I imagine a church in which congregations are not pastor dependent, but may call a pastor, or may call and send a Follower of the Way to be a pastor to the community.
As I wrote in an earlier essay, In the Reforming Church, the sacrament of Baptism is also the rite of Ordination. Baptism signifies the forgiveness and redemption that welcomes believers into the Way of Jesus Christ. Baptism also signifies a call to service. The call to service is not just set aside for a special few who direct their lives into full-time service. In the Reforming Church, the call to service is universal among the Followers of the Way.
Local congregations send their Followers of the Way into the community to be a presence of hope, of righteousness and justice. The mission field is, literally, at the doorstep of every congregation, or every Follower of the Way.
Reforming Church congregations are invested in the welfare of the people of their community, and also the institutions of their community: governance, education, day care, youth and children services and sports, judicial and protective services, recreation, municipal management, mercantile, industry, civic organizations and other helping organizations, healthcare, as well as religious – all the institutions that are in place to serve and provide for the population. Followers of the Way are sent by their congregations to be involved in every aspect of community life. That doesn’t mean that they have to run for office and be elected to be involved. For it is possible to express interest and to be involved by simply showing up. There isn’t an institution that exists that does not have public meetings. Some, like school councils and school boards, and city representatives meet on regular schedules at regular intervals – all of those meetings are open meetings. Every Reforming Church sends Followers of the Way to show up.
Simply showing up opens the door to ways to be invested and involved. And thus Followers of the Way find their way into deeper and more meaningful service. Followers of the Way show up again and again until they find themselves invested.
This is an incredible witness of the Reforming Church. Nothing happens in a community without the presence of Followers of the Way of Jesus Christ wearing their Reforming Church name tag. Nothing needs to be said, not at first. Simply, their presence is enough. But it never ends there. The more often they show up, as they listen and learn over the course of time they become involved in those institutions. This is evangelical service, Followers of the Way of Jesus Christ, serving in and shaping the institutions that order life in a community. Reforming Church congregations send Followers of the Way to be ambassadors of Jesus Christ in the world – beginning in the local community.
In the course of time, there may be some who will want to give more than one or two nights a month or one day a week to service. No doubt, there will be those who are called to give their full lives to the service of the Way of Jesus Christ. Reforming Church congregations may also recognize, call, send, and support Followers of the Way who have discerned “full-time” calling to service.
It doesn’t cost anything to be the church, but congregations will make decisions that have financial implications. One of them may be calling Followers of the Way to serve in the world. An implication of this would be to provide monetary support for the servant’s sustenance and ministry.
One example, a Reforming Church congregation may call a Follower of the Way to be a pastor to the community.
In addition to service to the community, Reforming Church congregations equip Followers of the Way to encourage one another in love and good works (Hebrews 10:24, 25). There are many congregational matters that provide occasions for service. Visiting the sick, teaching the scriptures, providing for and leading worship, providing for the fellowship of the congregation, attending to matters of ecclesial governance to name a few. Reforming Church congregations are self-sufficient in these matters. That isn’t to say that Reforming Congregations do not call a pastor – they may. Of course, this, too, will have financial implications. Again, I want to stress, that it costs nothing to be the church – but congregations will make decisions that have a financial bearing requiring the Followers of the Way in those congregations to make financial commitments.
Those discerning a call to full-time service, while they are sent and supported by a Reforming Congregation, they should not allow themselves to become completely dependent on the congregation for support. The Apostle Paul was a tent-maker (Acts 18:3) and apparently continued to supplement his livelihood by his trade, while teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath (Acts 18:4). That isn’t to say that he, Paul, did not think his congregations should not support the servants they send. Indeed, they should, but Paul was wary of being a burden on a congregation (2 Corinthians 11:7-11).
Next week, I will address how the Reforming Church helps Followers of the Way to discern their gifts and how to deploy them.