Grace Life Church
Proclaiming Jesus Christ and the Gospel of God's Grace
THE CHURCH SYSTEM PROBLEM
I’m a pastor at Grace Life Church in the Huntsville, AL area. I have served the Lord as a pastor for nearly 25 years, starting in the Chicago area. Grace Life Church is a house church ministry. We decided that since our church is very small, meeting in homes is the best way for us to gather and minister to each other. As we grow we will continue to meet in homes because we believe this is the best way to gather for the strengthening of the church.
My position on the problem(s) with the institutional church system that dominates Christendom today has been met with strong resistance by many church leaders, others who work in the religious establishment, and many believers. That's okay because it's always important that biblical truth is preached, especially when the church has departed from it. I'm addressing three important areas in the Body of Christ where the institutional church is using man-centered traditions, practices, and thinking, rather than relying on God's word in the way it operates.
The result is a church system that fails to encourage, strengthen, and edify the saints GOD'S WAY. Because these practices have been going on for so long (centuries) most believers think there is nothing wrong or possibly unbiblical about them. Unfortunately, when the truth light of God's word shines on them, the pride of men and worldly thinking become very evident.
Here are the three significant areas in the church system where there is a departure from God's word and, as a result, the saints are not being edified according to God's word:
1. The way almost ALL churches hold their services/meetings.
2. The way pastors/elders are chosen.
3. The use of titles.
All three of these areas must be addressed for the benefit of all the saints in the Body of Christ. Furthermore, I'm calling on church leaders to examine themselves and the practices they religiously follow and make the necessary changes. If pastors (aka elders, bishops, ministers, etc.) love and honor the word of God as much as they say they do, I would expect positive changes would be the result. Of course, I understand this will be a very long-term process since the current system has its deep roots in Roman Catholicism that started around 1,700 years ago. The long-time, traditional church system is so embedded in the thinking of most believers, there is no room for the possibility it could be wrong.
1. CHURCH SERVICES/MEETINGS
One important way we show our love for God and the saints is to follow His Word to us in all areas of our lives as the Spirit leads us. The word of God and the Holy Spirit opened my eyes and heart to clearly see how God wants church services/meetings to be held.
The Bible gives us clear instructions on what should be regularly happening in church services/meetings. All the saints should have the opportunity to be far more INVOLVED in an orderly way according to 1 Cor. 14:26-33. Instead, what we have in the institutional church today is a few people leading the saints in songs from a stage and one man who does all the teaching from that same stage. The rest of the people are basically spectators sitting in chairs or pews. This is definitely NOT what the Apostle Paul instructs us to do in church meetings.
Paul never envisioned any church meeting being dominated by one speaker. This is abundantly clear from 1 Cor. 14:26-33:
“26What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church. 27If anyone speaks in a tongue, two -- or at the most three -- should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. 28If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God. 29Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. 30And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. 31For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. 32The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. 33For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.” (1 Cor. 14:26-33)
This is the primary Bible passage where the Apostle Paul prescribes what should be happening in church services. Does it look like anything like your typical church service today? Not at all! The vast majority of all church services are pastor/preacher dominant. It is extremely rare that the saints are encouraged to ask a question or to speak. If you do apart from the program, you'll possibly be asked to keep quiet or even escorted out of the building! What you really have in church services today are performance/spectator events with a few people leading on a stage.
This is completely CONTRARY to the biblical model prescribed by Paul! Tragically, this gulf between church leaders and and the rest of the saints (called the laity) started around 1,700 years ago during the early formation of the Roman Catholic Church. It then carried over to Protestantism after the Reformation that swept through Europe in the 1,500s.
The result? What we have today are spiritually weak churches that are vulnerable in several ways — especially to FALSE TEACHING! It is far easier for false teaching to spread when one person is doing ALL the teaching in a church. The saints are not being edified God’s way! A biblical church meeting should have many people actively participating in some way in an orderly manner. Paul says this is NECESSARY for the strengthening of the church.
Even though I believe the spiritual gifts of speaking in tongues and prophecy (speaking new revelation and predicting the future) have ceased now that the apostles are gone and we have the complete revelation of God in the Bible, this does not in any way diminish what 1 Cor. 14:26-33 teaches us about what church services/meetings should generally look like. The bottom line is all the saints are encouraged to speak, teach, and be involved! They are not to be spectator gatherings! This is abundantly clear.
Again, read 1 Cor. 14:26-33 where Paul is writing to bring order to the church meetings in Corinth where there was much disorder. We see the following key points:
1. Everyone may have a hymn (song) to share.
2. Everyone may have a word of instruction.
3. Everyone may have a revelation — sharing something already revealed in God’s word (not new revelation).
4. All of the above “must be done for the strengthening of the church.”
5. Two or at most three preachers/teachers should speak.
6. If someone sitting down has a biblical revelation, the person speaking should stop so everyone can hear what the person has to share.
7. All can prophecy (share biblical truth to edify and encourage) in an orderly way.
8. As many saints prophecy (share biblical truth to edify and encourage) in an orderly way, “everyone may be instructed and encouraged.”
Tragically, most Christians aren’t even aware that what they’re strongly influenced to do every Sunday is contrary to God’s word! They simply believe that since this is the way it’s always been done, it must be the right way! It isn't.
Let me be clear, because of our freedom in Christ there is certainly a place in the Body of Christ for large gatherings in buildings with song leaders on a stage and one person giving a sermon. However, this should NOT be the way the saints gather almost all the time and should NOT be the primary way. The Bible does not teach or encourage that approach at all!
Finally, to those who say that Paul is not prescribing what should be happening in church gatherings but is, instead, simply describing what is going on (usually said by leaders IN the institutional church system), I say that God's word does not allow for that incorrect interpretation. What Paul is writing is the Lord's command! Just a few verses later Paul writes this in 1 Cor. 14:37:
"If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord's command." (1 Cor. 14:37)
Let us be saints who are not afraid to call out false teaching and unbiblical church practices even if the cost is being unpopular and ridiculed. The only affirmation we need is found in our spiritual union with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and all that He has done for us! It's a beautiful thing! Praise God for His incredible grace!
2. HOW PASTORS/ELDERS ARE CHOSEN
The reality is that churches today are run like businesses, with the pastor acting as the “CEO.” Almost all churches are led by professional paid pastors that are almost always brought in from another church that is often far away. They generally go through a multi-faceted process to get hired from among other professional, seminary-graduated, pastor candidates.
The elders and deacons that are chosen in the churches to serve with the “senior pastor” or “lead pastor” (or the several other titles that are used), often just rubber stamp what the professional, hired pastor wants to do. Tragically, there is little or no reliance on the Holy Spirit to raise up elders/pastors WITHIN A CHURCH to be the ENTIRE LEADERSHIP GROUP.
By contrast, during the first several hundred years of the church, the saints in a local church trusted in the Holy Spirit to raise up men WITHIN the churches to shepherd/pastor the flock -- and He did that beautifully! The New Testament teaches us that elders (or overseers, bishops -- same names for the same office) should lead the church as a GROUP WITH EQUAL AUTHORITY, not one man with a title.
Furthermore, when you see the list of biblical qualifications to serve as a pastor/elder in 1 Tim. 3:1-7 and Titus 1:4-9 it becomes obvious that the only way to determine if a man is truly qualified is to KNOW HIM and his family if he has one. There is absolutely no way this can be properly done by choosing a man from outside the church after going through some interviews, watching videos of sermons, etc. No one in the church knows him or his family! People in a church need to be together for some time to be able to determine who is biblically qualified to serve as a pastor/elder.
The process used today by nearly all churches to select a "professional senior pastor" from outside the church is unbiblical, poor, and leaves churches vulnerable to unqualified men serving in leadership. TRUST the HOLY SPIRIT to raise up pastors/elders WITHIN your church! The Spirit has done that very effectively for centuries and continues to do so today in churches all over the world! There is NO biblical reason to bring in outside PROFESSIONAL pastors to lead churches. That is simply a MAN-MADE system.
Just like the problem with church services in the institutional church we have today, this professional hiring system is the direct result of the unfortunate separation between church leaders and the rest of the saints that started in the Roman Catholic Church hundreds of years ago. It's clear from the Apostle Paul's letters that he would not approve of the professional church system that dominates the church today and the resulting problems that flow out of it -- including hiring pastors/elders outside a local fellowship. There could be exceptions based on some unusual circumstances, but they should be rare.
3. USE OF TITLES
Sadly, church leaders today are NOT following God’s word on avoiding titles. Because the word of God is very clear about avoiding titles, the only explanation why leaders put titles IN FRONT of their names is the usual one: the pride of men who ignore the word in that area.
All church leaders, myself included, need to know and live out the truth that our ministries need to ALWAYS BE ABOUT JESUS CHRIST -- not our roles. Putting titles IN FRONT of our names as leaders is exactly what our Lord said to AVOID (Matt. 23:1-12)!
Of course, roles in a church should be clearly defined (elder, deacon, pastor, song leader, youth leader, maintenance manager, administrator, office manager, etc.). However, this can easily be done without using official titles IN FRONT of names as if the titles are part of people's names! Church leaders, please encourage people to stop addressing you or other leaders in the church with titles. It's an unbiblical practice that stirs up pride in men and needs to end.
The apostles and other leaders in the early church NEVER addressed themselves or each other with a title in front of their names. They never put titles IN FRONT of their names in the New Testament letters they wrote. They simply described themselves as fellow saints, servants, brothers, children of God, and other humble descriptions. Church leaders need to follow their humble example clearly seen in God's word.
In conclusion, I strongly encourage church leaders to radically change course and follow God’s word on how church services/meetings should be led and conducted. Paul says that meeting according to his instructions in 1 Cor. 14:26-33 is absolutely NECESSARY for the STRENGTHENING of the church! It would be a wonderful thing to see the churches gather God’s way -- with real involvement and participation among all the saints gathered! Then watch as the Holy Spirit is free to really work through the saints to strengthen and encourage them!
We should also rely on the Holy Spirit to raise up godly leaders WITHIN a church, not hire professional pastors away from other churches who often come and go every few years. There are so many qualified men who desire to serve as pastors/elders and deacons IN THE CHURCHES, but are often blocked from doing so because of the unbiblical church system. Many churches prevent elder-qualified men from serving because the other elders sometimes believe "we have enough pastors/elders." This thinking completely contradicts God's word on appointing pastors/elders. If men are qualified, they should be warmly welcomed to the leadership team!
It's well past the time for the Body of Christ to move away from the professional church system and use the BILLIONS of dollars in that system for more biblical purposes like providing for the poor and widows. That would be wonderful! We have the word of God! We have Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit living in all true believers! We are in union with Christ! There is no need to have professional ministers leading the churches.
Leaders also need to stop using titles. Jesus made it clear that using fine-sounding titles with your name is showing worldly and sinful PRIDE. This should be clear to anyone who reads the Bible without any personal agenda involved.
As always, when it comes to living our Christian lives, we need to do things God’s way which we find in His word! His way is always the BEST WAY! God's word on the important topics in this article is clear and, if followed, opens the door wide open for all the saints to be truly encouraged, instructed, strengthened, and greatly experience the joy of real fellowship.
May God’s grace be with you.
Stephen J. Moll