My brother in Christ, Alan Knox, recently posted a blog outlining what he used to belive about the church and what he now believes. Reading his former beliefs, I am happy to see how he moved away from a very unhealthy theology of church.  I hasten to add that his new theology is not the only possible alternative.  I think Alan’s post provides a golden opportunity to share some contrasting views on these “hot-button” issues. Alan’s thoughts are in quotes, and mine follow after each section.

Alan_HeadshotI used to believe that preaching a 30-45 minute sermon on Sunday morning or night was the epitome of the Christian life. Now I believe that neither preaching nor listening to a sermon on Sunday morning should be the center of a Christian’s life. Instead, serving and loving others in the name of Christ is much more important. Plus, many times, a five minute personal exhortation is much more effective than a general sermon.

I never thought sermons were the center of the Christian universe or the penultimate of our faith, but I do see how our Christian culture has made the sermon an “idol”.  I do believe the sermon can be a positive outlet for those to whom the Spirit has given the gift of teaching and the sermon, in proper perspective, can be a great asset to the church Family. For me, the sermon, serving, and short exhortation, when lead by the Spirit, are all of equal value.

Alan_HeadshotI used to believe that leadership was the greatest type of service. Now I believe that service is the greatest type of service. However, I do believe that we should follow those who serve. But, those who serve are not so concerned about gathering followers. Instead, they are concerned with serving.

I have never been one to make an idol of leaders.  But at one point in my life I did see leadership as something reserved for a certain few. Now I see leadership as a mark of maturity in every believer.  I also agree with Alan that serving is the ultimate kind of leadership. Finally, I have moved away from the “Senior Pastor” model of leadership.  Now, within the diversity of Christian-leadership, I see a place for the kind of leadership that gathers together the saints under the guidance of Elders.

Alan_HeadshotI used to believe that the 501(c)3 organization was the church. Now I believe that the people are the church… really… no, really. The church can organize, but the organization is not the church.

The idea that a 501c3 IS the church seems totally foreign to the way I grew up in the church.  I am glad Alan, and others like him, have put off that kind of silliness.  The church is a Family, and structure is a necessary part of any family, so I agree with Alan that organization within the church should not be feared by those moving away from their unhealthy addictions to 501c3 structures.

Alan_HeadshotI used to believe that the senior pastor (and the staff under his direction) was responsible for all teaching and discipleship. I now believe that while elders (pastors) should teach and disciple, this responsibility is for every follower of Jesus Christ, regardless of the education, gifting, training, abilities, positions, etc.

The more I read this kind of stuff, the more I am thankful for my upbringing under good pastors and my experience with Campus Crusade for Christ at Penn State.  Still, I have a lot to learn about helping others become disciple makers and I am glad for the voices of folks like Alan who are moving this agenda forward.

Alan_HeadshotI used to believe that discipleship was a 1-2 hour per week class with a workbook to be completed by those who were very spiritual. I now believe that biblical discipleship occurs 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. We must live life with one another in order to disciple one another. This cannot happen in a classroom alone, or in a programmed event alone.

I was close to Alan on this one during my college years.  I don’t regret any of the discipleship classes I took, but I am glad there is so much more to the Christian faith beyond the classroom.  I agree with Alan, classes can be good, but the way we structure our training should more about developing relationship and accountability and intimacy.  I have put these principles into practice while writing my own Bible-study materials and I would love to see this kind of approach from more publishers.

Alan_HeadshotI used to believe that it was the leaders’ (elders/pastors) responsibility to “run” the church meeting so that the church benefited. I now believe that it is every believer’s responsibility to think about the others in their community, and speak/serve during the meeting in a way that encourages others towards love, good works, and maturity in Christ.

I can see how this kind of thinking is a struggle for people like Alan who built their entire Christian life around the Sunday service.  I also see how this confusion about the nature of church has led some to think the Sunday service is dysfunctional.  But the truth is that the church needs to gather on many occasions for many reasons.  Not every believer will use their Spirit-gifting every time the church gathers, but every believer must create opportunities to use their Spirit-gifting to edify the church–if it is not on Sunday morning, then each disciple of Jesus must find their opportunity to build the Body stronger!

Alan_HeadshotI used to believe that education and knowledge were the same as maturity. I now believe that education and knowledge often have very little to do with maturity, and can be a source of pride and immaturity.

I am with Alan on this one!

Alan_HeadshotI used to believe that if I could sit quietly during and learn from the pastor’s sermon, then I was spiritual. I now believe that if I can listen to the Holy Spirit and obey him, then I am spiritual.

There were several periods in my life, in total about 12 years, where I got NOTHING from the sermons I was hearing.  I used to feel guilty, but then I realized that the Sunday sermon was not about me or for me.  The sermon is for the church and there are some people who need to hear the sermon.  When I listen to a sermon, I look for ways to build on what the speaker is teaching and pray the Spirit will help me find discipleship opportunities.  What a change from the sefl-centered view of preaching to the other-centered view of preaching.

What are the changes you have gone through in your life as a disciple?


Dr. J.R. Miller is a Professor of Applied Theology and Leadership & Dean of Online Learning at Southern California Seminary. Outside work, he is a church planter. Dr. Miller has a diverse educational background and authored multiple books on church history, biblical theology, and Leadership. Joe and his wife Suzanne enjoy the sun and surf with their 3 sons in San Diego, CA.

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