One Simple Idea: Release People to be the Church of Jesus

destroy passivity

I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.

Matthew 16:18 (NLT)

Why We Do Church the Way We Do

In 312 A.D., Constantine was trying to overthrow Maxentius and take his place as Emperor of Rome. Constantine’s army was hopelessly outnumbered.  He sought divine help.

Constantine saw a light in the shape of a cross.  ”By this symbol you will conquer” was inscribed on the cross. The next day Constantine met Maxentius in battle and won. From that time on he declared Christianity was the one true religion.  (The historical aspects of this article are from 2000 Years of Small Groups; a History of Cell Ministry in the Church, Joel Comiskey.)

Christianity had suffered through brutal times of persecution under the Roman government. Now, Constantine made Christianity the state religion of Rome.  Because Christianity was the state religion, many people went to church because it was expected, even required. Within a short time, rituals were introduced into Christianity. Christianity was becoming a religion – an institution.

In the New Testament letters, the words bishop, pastor, and elder were interchangeable. As the church became a large institution, people looked for structure and order – for authority. Bishops and priests emerged as powerful leaders.

The Common People

At the same time, the role of the common believer decreased. Eventually, the people were relegated to sitting there and being told what the scriptures meant, what to do, etc.  The passive role expected of believers was communicated by the changed structure of the church (large, one to many meetings) as well as the words spoken.

Gone were the house churches based on close relationship.  Gone were the groups where believers ministered to each other in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Gone were the power and the love that had sustained the Christian movement since the days of the Apostles. As religion entered the church, the Holy Spirit left.

Before long, the Scriptures were translated into Latin, a language spoken by no one.  It was the institutional language of religious Christianity, used to keep knowledge of the Bible from people. The rulers and the church hierarchy agreed that the common man did not have the ability to understand or properly use the word of God.

Modern-Day Church

Modern-day churches reflect this history. We still meet in large gatherings. We expect to have professional pastors or priests. We require them to have advanced education, the more degrees the better. Individual believers are all-too-often relegated to the role of sitting and being told what scripture means and what to do in many churches today. We still see pastors (leaders) as more spiritual than average believers.

The big difference in the modern church is that most of our leaders encourage us to read the Bible, pray and live a practical Christian life.

The Message Has Changed, but the Structure Remains

The modern church approach is like spending trillions of dollars developing the world’s greatest military, and then allowing only the senior officers to fight. Everyone else gathers to watch the great warriors do combat – every Sunday morning. The average believer needs to be empowered and released to join the battle, not in the supply lines, but on the front lines.

Our pastors’ sermons release us, even command us to go and to do. But they often don’t tell us how. They don’t give us the tools or the opportunity to practice using them.

Most believers get lots of instruction, little opportunity to ask questions, and no opportunity to practice in their weekly church experience.

Imagine giving a teenager a driver’s manual, lecturing them for hours about how to drive, not asking questions to see what they understand, and never letting them go anywhere near a car.  Now tell them to go out into the world and drive on their own.  And wait for the crash!

How do you change a 1700-year-old institution – without shedding blood?

Of course, the church has changed greatly. We have begun the restoration of relational Christianity.

Martin Luther launched the reformation of key truths such as salvation by grace. William Tyndale and others put the Scriptures back into people’s hands in their own language. But there was blood.  People died as the church resisted change.

The institutional church still stubbornly resists change.  One of the most amazing examples in my lifetime is that Latin, a language that no one on the planet has spoken for hundreds of years, was the language used in the Catholic mass as recently as the 1960’s.

Courage to Change What We Love

It takes courage to challenge the institutions that are the most positive influence in the world today. And make no mistake; that is the church.  I love God’s people – the church.  We are the greatest force for good on the planet.

But unless we challenge the structures and the thinking behind those organizational structures, we will never free the Church (the people) of God to rise up and take the land. The people of God will simply show up week after week, sitting in the same pew, doing a few things here and there, but not being fully equipped, trained and released to do the supernatural ministry to which God has called them.  A lot of people are waiting for permission.

What Could I do?

Begin with a thought – one thought.  “What if the role of every church was to empower each individual believer to do the work of the ministry in their everyday life?”

What if the primary role of the apostles, prophets, teachers, pastors and evangelists was to

  • train (teach and model),
  • activate (give experiences and practice),
  • create the expectation that God has a purpose, a plan and work for each of us,
  • release the people of God into their own sphere of influence and let them take initiative,
  • find out where they are spiritually and what is on their hearts to do,
  • coach them through their attempts and failures,
  • and celebrate their successes?

What would that look like?

I would love to hear your thoughts.


Please honor and respect others in your comments. Thanks!

About Dave Milford

I am a Christian life coach, writer and teacher.
I help people live lives of heart connection, heart transformation, and real influence.

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