How much do you trust your lay-leaders? Or how about, how much do you entrust to them? In Acts 20:28, Paul places the mantle of pastoral leadership squarely on the Ephesian church’s elders when he says, “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.”
Paul would never see his beloved co-laborers again, but he was confident that they would be able to stay firmly rooted in the gospel and the teaching (didache) that he has established them in.
And in fact, this church would go on to transform the entire region around it. It became a geyser of missionary sending and church planting – many of the churches named in Revelation would be planted by someone sent from Ephesus! Most of the fruit if this church was sown and harvested long after Paul had left it in the hands of her elders. He trusted them completely and entrusted them with everything.
What are your elders entrusted with and empowered to oversee? What are they equipped to lead? In most of my church experience, elders are incredibly mature, wise, and gifted leaders who are asked to attend consistory meetings, help set policy, make sure the pastor isn’t delving too deeply into fringe theology, and occasionally oversee the search process for a new leader. But for the most part, the ministry and shepherding is left to the “paid professionals.” And most of the time, this system works well enough for all involved.
But, does it even resemble what Paul had in mind when he entrusted the Ephesian elders to “be shepherds of the church of God?” Does such a system challenge gifted leaders to fulfill their own commission “to make disciples of all nations” and to teach them to obey everything Jesus taught?
We started Westside Oaks in 2017 with the conviction that the church is most glorious when discipleship, mission, and leadership are entrusted to ordinary people. In our context, the Westside of Colorado Springs, people are deeply suspicious of institutional forms of Christianity, so it has been a perfect place to experiment with a more Pauline structure of church leadership. Like Paul and his ministry partners, we meet in people’s homes, we entrust nearly all of our ministry to lay-leaders, and we prioritize a church-as-family expression of our life together.
A Different Kind of Church Plant
For 2 years, we have been training up leaders who we have identified as those who will oversee and shepherd our community as it multiplies. We use missional communities, worship gatherings, equipping groups, and affinity groups as vehicles for discipleship and mission, and haven’t relied solely on congregational support, but have utilized alternative income streams to help cover the cost of our life and work within this community. You might lump us in with the either the missional community, or the micro-church, or the family-on-mission movement, but most days it’s hard to pin-point exactly where we fit on the ecclesiological map!
When the Church is Glorious
The church is most glorious when discipleship, mission, and leadership are entrusted to ordinary people, but it is also difficult. Shifting from a staff-lead corporate model to a family of disciples with shared leadership, has been a constant gauntlet of paradigm realignment. Those of us who grew up in staff led churches are regularly repenting our way out of that mindset. Those who grew up outside of the church are constantly re-learning what it means to walk in covenant with other people. It has been frustrating, disorienting, slow, and sometimes is seems like we exist in a constant state of cluttered chaos. And it can be glorious.
When one mom compassionately minsters to another mom in the power of the Spirit, because she gets what it is like to feel alone and overwhelmed, the church is glorious! When a 3rd grader dares to believe that Christ will use her to reveal himself to her peers, so she starts a bible study in her bedroom for her classmates, the church is glorious. When a young couple dedicate their new home to the Lord and begin using it as a beacon of parties, and friendship, and love of their neighbors, in Jesus name, the church is glorious. When people who had assumed that their roll was just to attend church are entrusted with the leadership and shepherding of the church of God, the church is glorious.
Paul reminds us that the church is so very precious to God. He bought it with His own blood. In holy reverence and all humility, I confess that there’s at least as much that we don’t have figured out as we do. Every week I find myself reminding Jesus that this is His church and that I can’t lead it for him (or maybe he reminds me). We haven’t found the “silver bullet,” the one-and-only biblical wineskin, or the true expression of the Acts church in our day. But we have been entrusted with some amazing and ordinary people who are deeply loved by Jesus. And if He entrusted His church to ordinary people, so will we.