Karl D Coke
Millions of Christians have left the Church since 1960. Why? Today’s Church behaves more like a “Greek theatre” than a living organism. Its members “go to” church when they should “be” the church. These spectators are wearied from fighting, wasting money and trying to fulfil a pastor’s “vision.” Most Christians just want “out” assuming there is no alternative. They leave (intending to never again darken a church door) but soon realise they are missing “the” church. They do not realise they “are” the church. Still believing in God, His son, Jesus, God’s Word and the power of His Spirit, they wander and search for something real. They have been made sick from the church “competing” with itself! They only wanted relationship, not membership; ministry, not programs; shepherds, not theatre managers; Bible, not buildings!
Ralph Neighbor, in his book, Where Do We Go From Here? says, “During the past 35 years, a new form of church life has spread across the earth. It is estimated that as many as 75 million people are participating in ‘cell churches.’ It is rooted in the New Testament church pattern described in Acts 2:42-46.” The issue is not whether your church has a building. We need to realise that people are abandoning churches which “focus” on the buildings not people. Believers are not abandoning God. In Canada, as pointed out by Reginald W. Bibby in his book, Fragmented Gods, “Catholics and Protestants are abandoning the Church (buildings)!”
Why the exodus from today’s church buildings? Are her buildings not ornate enough? Are her publicised intentions not pure? Is her mission statement not clear? Today’s exodus from the church is about none of these issues nor a thousand more. Today’s exodus is due to a re-examination of what the Church “is.” Concerned people are reading and doing God’s Word! They have rediscovered that the home should be the centre of their spiritual growth.
Many church leaders, who recognise that there is a problem, have sought for answers to stem the outward flow of members. Most conclude that reformation is what is needed. They feel if they address the loudest complaints of membership they can stop the bleeding. Saints of God, the Holy One of Israel is not interested in reformation. The Creator wants restoration! Reformation only deals with some of what is wrong. It never completely becomes Biblical. Reformation always allows some Greco-Roman culture to remain in place. The Author of our Bible wants us to be totally orthopractic as well as orthodox! He wants us to do His Word His way!
Satan, the enemy of God, has destroyed the family in the Western world. Satan has used television, films, music and has taken advantage of an increasingly worldly church. The church has unwittingly aided and abetted Satan. For example, the church measures faithfulness to God by attendance. It says you cannot get to heaven by attending, but will send anyone to hell for not attending! By demanding faithful attendance to every program devised by the church, little or no time is left for the family to be together. There are many other examples of how today’s church destroys the family, but the worst is the notion that one must be faithful to attend services at the expense of family time.
The church was never intended to be like a Greco-Roman theatre building with stages and pews. If buildings are the answer, then why are so many cathedrals being turned into museums? Is it possibly due to a lack of people? Yet, the church continues to build buildings, not people. It even builds gothic cathedrals in the heart of India where peasants can’t afford the upkeep!
When I say that the church needs to return to the home, I am not speaking of thousands of “mini-Greco-Roman churches.” Nor am I speaking of “cell” churches. I am advocating the restoration of the home as the centre of each family’s spiritual growth. When we build strong families, then our assembling together will make a strong church, not the reverse!
When we of Family Restoration Fellowship made the transition from a “building oriented” church to being “family oriented,” five things were considered. They were:
1) The home should be the centre of spiritual growth;
2) Church leadership should “pasture” the flock;
3) Tithing should be received from all member families as a transaction which requires a blessing from the pastor;
4) The head of each household must assume the responsibility of spiritual leadership; and
5) A weekly family day of spiritual rest must become part of each family’s lifestyle. These five things were found in the Biblical Judaic family model.
We consider firstly the home as the centre of spiritual growth. Children receive parental instruction because it is given in the safety of their home. Proverbs 4:3-4 says, “When I was a boy in my father’s house, still tender, and an only child of my mother, he taught me and said, ‘Lay hold of my words with all your heart; keep my commands and you will live.’” This passage clearly states two facts:
1) learning took place “in my father’s house” and
2) the head of the household did the teaching (“he taught me”)
Deuteronomy 6:6-7 says, “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. “Impress them upon your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” This passage, from the Shema, also makes it abundantly clear that the home is the centre for spiritual growth.
In open contrast, the church is like theatre and has become a world of make-believe to children. Complete strangers instruct them and make the Bible seem like fairy tales. The church, like any theatre in London, Paris or New York, has actors who play out a world of make-believe. The church is merely another act to “go see.” Since the church also has stages, lights, acts, ushers, orchestras, choirs and a stained glass ambience, then the preacher must be an actor. As proof, he uses archaic Shakespearean language, so, while children are “at” church, they use a different language. As soon as they leave the church building, they will return to “real life.”
I shall never forget the beginning of a church service at which I was the guest speaker. The associate pastor began the service with the words, “lights!, camera!, action!” This was an open admission that their church service was like making a movie! Chuck Colson is right when he says in his book, The Body “Every week millions of believers settle into their church pews to worship and watch their cleric perform (not unlike ‘Donahue’ audiences).”
I contend that we need to restore the home as the centre of spiritual life. When mom or dad teach their own child at home, Bible lessons take on reality. Children trust parents who love and nurture them. When Bible lessons are taught in the home, every day language is used.
It should be noted that the Tabernacle was designed after Abraham and Sarah’s tent, not the reverse. All of Judaism teaches this to their faifhful. This idea makes an important point. The Church should be modelled after the home, not the reverse.
Secondly, we consider that church leadership should “pasture” the flock. Most Christians are not pastored, they are controlled. The current church “system” provides little relationship between pastor and congregates. People say they have a pastor, but when you ask them how often the pastor is in their home or they in his, the response is “Oh, the pastor is too busy for that.” The next question is, “how often do you speak with your pastor?” The answer is, “If I make an appointment with the secretary, either he or one of his staff might speak with me.” The plain truth is that most believers have no relationship with a pastor. They only see him on service days, high and lifted up on a platform, preaching at them.
I was the senior pastor of a “building oriented” church. One day, in a grocery store, a woman greeted me with the words, “hi, pastor!” I said to her, “hello, who are you?” With instant pain in her eyes, she responded, “I joined your church nine months ago, don’t you know me?” I was pastoring a forty-two acre church complex with five associate pastors, a Christian school with fifteen teachers, a summer camp located on a lake in the mountains and nearly a one million dollar annual budget. I realised that day I had a relationship with few of the eleven hundred parishioners. I was pastoring buildings, parking lots, staff, school grounds, baseball fields, tennis courts and budgets. I saw that day I had become a theatre manager running a great operation.
God called me back to “pasturing” people with Zechariah 11:4 which says, “This is what the LORD my God says: ‘Pasture the flock marked for slaughter.”‘ The key word is pasture. When the job description is changed from “pastor” (a noun and title), to “pasture” (a verb and function), what a pastor should do is clearly seen. A pastor is one who provides pasture for God’s flock.
Isaiah and Ezekiel are both right. Isaiah 49:9b says, “They will feed beside the roads and find pasture on every barren hill.” Ezekiel 34:13b-14 declares, “I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements of the land. I will tend them in good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel.” Jesus said to Peter, “feed my sheep” in John 21:16-17. Peter repeated this “pasturer” request when he said to the elders in I Peter 5:2, “Be shepherds of God’s flock.” The Biblical point is that the main function of the man of God is to provide God’s sheep pasture. This is not defined by preaching sermons. It means pastors must go where the sheep are in order to feed them. The pastor must know where good food is and lead the sheep to it according to Psalm 23.
The church has departed from the Biblical model of “shepherd” and “sheep.” It has lost its focus on the task of a pastor. Because of this departure, today’s pastoral candidates are better suited to have a business administration degree. They are asked to be counsellors, financiers, barristers, public speakers and administrators. Churches today require “being managed,” rather than being pastored. They have buildings which must be paid for, kept in repair, cleaned, heated and cooled. The pastor has been saddled with this responsibility. Pastors are so busy they cannot study God’s Word. Then church members unfairly cry, “I’m not being fed!”
Thirdly, tithing should be received from all member families as a transaction which requires a blessing from the pasturer. Tithing is God’s plan to fund His ministry. It is not an “optional” clause in Scripture. What needs to be done is found in Nehemiah 9:38-10:39. It says in summary, “We assume the responsibility of God’s Law to tithe so that the needs of our priests are Biblically provided.” Denominational statistics indicate fewer than one-third of today’s church members tithe. Part of the cause for this embarrassment is the tithe has been improperly received and improperly administered.
According to God’s Word in Hebrews 7:1-10 and Numbers 6:22-27,18:8-32, the man of God should bless the giver when he gives. The tithe should be given directly to the man of God. It should not be placed anonymously in a pan or pouch which passes through the pews. It should have the integrity of an eye to eye contact between pastor and tither. II Corinthians 9:10 or Deuteronomy 28:1-14 should be invoked over a donor each time he tithes.
Furthermore, how that tithe is administered is critical. It should be invested in the people. According to Numbers 18, ten percent of the total tithe of a congregation should be held in reserve. If a family loses their income, that ten percent could then help with household bills until employment is found. We of Family Restoration Fellowship have seen this work successfully for three years without one family taking advantage of the fund! The Holy Spirit speaks very clearly to the needy family when to ask for help. This has been in stark contrast to any previous “benevolent” fund experiences where people take advantage of the church. Also, I have never had to say “no” to anyone over the past three years, with regard to the amount or the purpose.
We place fifteen percent into a fund which purchases and supplies each family with home study materials. These materials include books, study notes, video tapes, crafts and audio cassette instructional tapes. We simply take what is best from publishers, put them all together to make an orderly study and “give” them to the tithing families. The head of each household sees to it that a day is set aside each week for the family to gather to study God’s Word. The results have been astounding! Spiritual growth has been steady and rapid.
We save another fifteen percent to take all our families on a week-long vacation. Lodging and food are provided for the entire week. The families spend the time building relationships and ministering one to the other. There is a special time each day to gather and share what God is doing in our midst. We meet weekly in different homes during the remainder of the year. We also meet monthly for praise and instructions on the “how tos” of home Bible study and conducting a day of rest. But this week long vacation is something special. It is pattern after the principle laid down in Deuteronomy 14:22-29 if an Israeli could not get to Jerusalem to tithe. The remaining sixty percent provides them a pastor, an office and all the administrative costs.
Properly receiving tithe has taught me a valuable lesson. Before, I had always received tithe in relation to a budget. Now, by directly receiving a family’s tithe, I experience an overwhelming sense of responsibility to “pasture” that family. When I was in a “building oriented” church, I had to raise the budget. Now that I am in a “people oriented” church, I desire to build strong families. The new response from the sheep I am now privileged to shepherd is joy and a feeling of safety. One said to me, “I now see how God provides for all our needs as I watch my pastor provide so well for me.”
Our fourth consideration was the head of each household must assume the responsibility of spiritual leadership for that home. Unfortunately, when a family joins a “system” church, the head of that household passes the spiritual responsibility on to the pastor. Without intending to emasculate the father, the pastor becomes the spiritual head of every joining family. The father stays busy with his work while his wife and family are “pastored” by the pastor. The wife grows spiritually and the children are supervised by church programs, but the father stagnates spiritually. This is proven by the demographics of pastoral counselling. Most pastoral counselling is to wives. This is due to the pastor having replaced the husband as spiritual head of the household.
The time has come to re-establish heads of households as the spiritual leader in the home. This can be a man or a woman in single parent situations. Spiritual priests must be raised up in the home. This requires that heads of households learn how to eat spiritual food for themselves. People are not going to eat for themselves as long as pastors make attendance obligatory (a mortal sin) and provide so many programs that there is no family time.
Nehemiah 9:38, 10:28-29 says, “In view of all this, we are making a binding agreement, putting it in writing … all who separated themselves from the neighbouring peoples for the sake of the Law of God, … and bind themselves with a curse and an oath to follow the Law of God … to obey carefully all the commands, regulations and decrees of the LORD our God.”
To obey God’s Word and reinstate the head of the household as the spiritual leader of the home is a bold step. It is a step which will meet opposition. The opposition will come from the church “system.” Many who wish to assume spiritual responsibility wilt under pressure from “Christians.” What is particularly sad is that these “well meaning” Christian persecutors have become defenders of the “system” rather than defenders of the faith. This is due to constant hounding from the pulpit that faithfulness to God is equated with attendance in a building.
Having parents as the spiritual head of the home is prophetic. It is a sign of the coming of Messiah. Malachi 4:5-6 says, “See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse.”
Each of our families which has placed the head of the household into spiritual leadership has grown rapidly in all areas. The hearts of the children have turned toward their parents. Parents now know where their children are spiritually. The security of wives has changed from material goods to knowing their children are learning from their fathers. Fathers who were once too busy for their children are now excited about the time spent with them.
The families who have learned to bless their children with Genesis 48:20 (boys) or Ruth 4:11 (girls), Numbers 6:24-26 and Isaiah 11:2-3a are growing closer each week. Husbands who bless their wives with Proverbs 31:10-31 in the presence of their children are experiencing the love of I Corinthians 13 for the whole family. The children who are being affirmed by the blessing of their parents no longer desire worldly entertainment. Parents are learning God’s Word at an unparalleled rate because they must study in order to teach.
A spiritual day of rest must become part of the family lifestyle. This fifth consideration is extremely important. Yet, due to an explosive anti-Semitism in the church, most recoil at the thought of honouring Shabbat. Ignorance throws away the Shabbat with the statement, “I’m a New Testament Christian, I’m under grace not the Law!” With that sweeping statement, Believers throw away God’s great gift of Shabbat. A gift which can restore the family.
Shabbat is ineffable. It cannot be fully grasped or explicated through words alone. It must be experienced to be fully appreciated and understood. Jesus said, “Shabbat was made for man, not man for Shabbat.” We do not “ grasp” the Shabbat as much as it grips us. Of the many contributions Judaism has made to Christianity Shabbat is perhaps the most important. Moses said, “Ye shall keep the Sabbath for it is holy unto you.” This implies that the Shabbat is committed to man, not man to the Shabbat!
Shabbat is the only ritual mentioned in the Ten Commandments. Shabbat enables a person to experience a foretaste of the Messianic age to come, to return to his ideal state in the Garden of Eden and to celebrate his escape from bondage! Man is in desperate need of the Shabbat today. Through it we can reaffirm the centrality of the family, the home and God in our lives! It brings together every Biblical value — warmth, spirituality, sanctified materialism, family, community, prayer, love, Torah study, singing, longing for Messiah and affirming covenant. Having a weekly family Shabbat centred around the LORD Jesus, our Messiah, will restore what the world extracts.
Many organisational people have shown concern over Christians who have opted to meet in homes. They are quick to quote Hebrews 10:25, which says, “Forsake not the assembling of yourselves together…” Their only measure of a meeting is the one held in their single purpose building. The only “official” meeting is the one conducted by the priest at a scheduled time. Leviticus 23:1-3, however, says the most important meeting to God, and, which should never be “forsaken,” is the family home day of rest!
I offer one final note. “As spiritual relationships are strengthened, ministry results.” Ministry results from relationships. Ministry is what we do at home for those with whom we have a relationship. As relationships are established outside the home, ministry naturally follows. We now do for others outside our home what we do for those within our home. The pastor’s job is to equip the head of the household who in turn equips the members of his household for ministry.
Donald Posterski and Irwin Barker in their book, Where’s a Good Church?, list things to look for if you are considering changing churches. While they fail to point in the Biblical direction of being the church, they confirm exactly what we have found and say, “the power of the family is unequalled ….the power of the family is stronger than the leverage of the church.” The answer is not in finding a new church, it is found in having your family become the church! James Rutz was right when he said in his book, The Open Church.” When we switched from living rooms to church buildings and professionally staffed the church, we lost all momentum. The church became weak and cold.” I say, “Let us invest in people, not in more buildings.”
(Reprinted, with minor editorial changes, from Tishrei Vol 2, No 4, Summer 1994, Community)