Factotum #5: Church Improvement

It doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. It’s a bit of an ugly word, unpopular and out of fashion, much like the person it describes. A factotum is a servant—someone who goes about a master’s work, a ‘doer of everything’, no matter how menial. ‘Factotum’ is servant training.

This year, ‘Factotum’ will especially be about building your own church. Have you ever thought about doing that? Would you know where to start? Is it possible, or even permissible?

In ‘Factotum’, we hope to provide at least the outline of a Do-It-Yourself Church Manual. For some, the DIY Church will disturb; for others, it will liberate. We hope you will be among the liberated.

Do-it-yourself church

The DIY Industry is alive and well, except in the church. It’s the age of home improvement. We do our own concreting, carpentry, bricklaying, painting and conveyancing, with a how-to manual in one hand and an implement in the other.

But to build a church, we call the professionals. There are 101 reasons why we think we should not start our own church:

  • I already belong to a good church.
  • It would be divisive.
  • I already have a job.
  • Lack of time.
  • Lack of expertise.
  • I’m not ordained.
  • I have no theological training.
  • No-one would come.
  • Where would I start?
  • I don’t own a church building.
  • I’m not a Bible teacher.
  • There are enough churches around.
  • My spouse doesn’t want to.
  • It might fail.
  • I wouldn’t be a good model to others.
  • I’m not a leader.
  • Add your own reasons.

For discussion: Which are valid reasons and which are not?

In ‘Factotu’ this year, we want to stir your latent entrepreneurial spirit. We will be deliberately provocative in order to stir you into action! You know that business you’ve always wanted to start—that invention worked out in your head—that book dwelling deep in your soul? Here’s your chance to let the creative juices flow for Christ!

Build your own church! It doesn’t mean abandoning your current church, nor is it your chance to make a grab for power that you are presently being denied. And it is not like founding your own religion—heaven forbid!

So what might a DIY church look like?

What’s in a church?

What do we need to have a church? What are the possible requirements?

  • a church building
  • a minister or pastor
  • an ordained minister
  • a meeting on Sunday
  • church music
  • a set liturgy or service
  • an offering
  • the sacraments
  • more than 10 people
  • a sermon
  • belonging to a denomination
  • a worship experience
  • a committee

For discussion: Which of these are essential for church? What are the minimum requirements for church? Remember the word church means ‘gathering’ or ‘congregation’.

For study: Read these passages and see if the seven statements below capture what church is:

Matt 16:18; Acts 9:31; 11:26; 16:5; 20:28, 1 Cor 1:2; 12-14; Eph 4; Col 1:24-2:5; 3:1-17 1 Tim 2; 4:11-16; Heb 10:24-25: 1 Pet 2:1-12

Church is:

  1. God’s people meeting in Christ’s name
  2. hearing the word of God, the gospel
  3. responding by faith in God’s word for salvation, expressed in prayer and obedience
  4. the building of Christ’s people through the exercise of Christ’s gifts
  5. characterized by love
  6. holy before a sinful world
  7. growing numerically as the gospel is proclaimed

We have a problem with our evangelical traditions. For all kinds of reasons in church history and government, we have maintained extra-biblical elements in our understanding of church.

There are two broad problems with this—one theological and one pragmatic:

  • We need to be constantly reforming our doctrine and practice from the Scriptures. All of our church life, structures, activities and traditions must be subject to the word of God.
  • By our traditions we have made church planting very complicated and expensive. If we decide a church must have a salaried pastor and special building, it’s a major enterprise.

Anticipating reactions

What’s in a name?

Some people may feel awkward about calling this DIY endeavour a ‘church’. Don’t get bogged down with the label. The reality is you have a church. Call it what you like—a ministry, a mission, a fellowship, a Bible study, a home church. When people gather in the name of Jesus, that’s a church.

What about control?

One of our first reactions to this shameless spirit of Madison Avenue-style free enterprise is the question of control. Where is the accountability? Will the gospel be preached faithfully? Who will choose the elders? Who will prevent sheep stealing?

These are big issues, and we need training and structures to preserve the gospel and exercise discipline.

But the fundamental reality is Christ’s control through his word: “.. on this rock, I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matt 16:18). If we are teaching and living by the word of Christ, Christ will build his church. And if we are not people of the Word, no human institution will preserve us or the gospel. Our institutional control mechanisms can severely suppress our church planting so that we hide in comfortable bureaucracies.

What about my current church?

The last thing we want is ‘schismania’ (I just created a word!). I’m not talking about going off in a huff to start your own thing because you can’t get on with others, or you have some theological eccentricity, or you have to be in control. Too often churches have been split and weakened by schismatics with a deficit motivation, all in the name of church planting.

The DlY church has a profit motivation. In other words, it is focussing upon what will be gained rather than what is wrong with my current church. Its purpose is not division of the body.

In fact, new churches shouldn’t ‘go it alone’. What we need is a close family of DIY churches linked together by parent churches. Although you plant a new church, you might never leave your parent church. There are great advantages in staying close to your parent church: encouragement, sharing of resources, accountability, diversity of meetings for different people and theological direction.

At some stage, if the DIY church blossoms, it may have a more independent life and be self-sufficient. But this is further down the track, and requires careful planning and wisdom.

Where do I start?

Pray for a ‘vision’ —not a mystical experience or Paul Keating’s ‘vision thing’; ask God to show you who you could gather together for Christ’s sake. Who do you relate to most easily? What are the needs around you? Pray that God will show you how you can serve him in this way.

Bishops’ training

To be good church planters, we need some ‘bishops’ training’ from the pastoral epistles. In these letters, Paul addresses the issues of the first DIY churches—churches that would proliferate after the apostles. Paul explains the need for ‘bishops’ and gives them lessons, especially in 1 Timothy 3 (look it up):

  1. Bishops are overseers, providing oversight to churches (3:1).
  2. Bishops and elders appear to be the same (see 1 Tim 5:17, Titus 1: 5-7, Acts 20:17, 28). ‘Bishop’ describes their function in giving oversight; ‘elder’ describes their age and dignity.
  3. Paul envisages a group of elders/bishops directing a church, not one (see Phil 1:1, Acts 20: 17,28, Titus 1:5-7, I Tim 5:17). The singular noun is used in 2 Timothy 3:2 because the qualifications of any particular bishop are being set out.
  4. Ambition to become a bishop is commended; it is literally ‘a good work’ (3:1). Paul does not rebuke the aspiring bishop for pride or self-promotion, because being a bishop was just a task, and a fairly unattractive one. The ‘bishops’ in the secular Greek world were civic or religious functionaries working as administrators, inspectors or finance officers. Maybe Paul had to commend their ambition because no-one wanted to do it.
  5. The focus is on doing a job, not holding a position of prestige or power. It’s all about being a factotum. There is no career path for bishops. It is a noble job, taking care of God’s church (3:5), but it is just a job.

For discussion: who are the bishops in your church? Do you want to be a bishop?

A case study in church planting

In 1991, David Crowe commenced a group called Out of the Trenches for men seeking employment after setbacks. David is a member of St Paul’s Anglican Church, Castle Hill in Sydney. ‘Factotum’ spoke with David about his work.

Factotum: When did you first get the idea for the group?

David: I was sitting at home at the kitchen table feeling miserable. I had been retrenched three weeks before from a job as Operations Manager with an electronics company. It was a down time, queuing up at the CES, buying The Sydney Morning Herald more regularly. I hadn’t written a resume for years. I have a wife, two kids and a mortgage. Then I thought about how many others must be in the same boat.

Factotum: What did you do?

David: I flew a kite in the church bulletin for any guys out of work to contact me. Two men phoned and we met.

Factotum: What did you have in mind?

David: Blokes who have been retrenched are vulnerable, feeling unaccepted. They need to know that when you’re unemployed, you don’t have two heads. They feel a stigma and shame. One fellow used to put on his suit, make his lunch and pretend to go to work because he couldn’t tell his family. I thought we could minister to men at this stage when their hearts are exposed. It is a bit like 2 Corinthians 1:3-4—comforting others with the comfort we have.

Factotum: So how did it develop?

David: People came out of the woodwork—relatives, church people and neighbours. We started a 6:30 am meeting on Tuesdays. This was strategic because the men wanted structure and routine, and yet to have most of the day available for casual work or job hunting.

Factotum: Were unbelievers coming?

David: Yes. They appreciated the accepting environment. They felt at ease, often blurting out the usual range of expletives. They had somewhere to belong.

Factotum: What was the programme?

David: Even though we had non-Christians, we decided to read the Bible and pray. It was sort of natural to ask God to help Joe with his interview, and to seek God’s perspective on our common struggles. The men would share their experiences of depression, anxiety, disappointments, positive lessons and employment contacts. And we would bring in some experts on writing resumes, human resources people, the local MP and so on.

Factotum: How long did it take before you got a job?

David: It was about six months before I landed a permanent position. In the meantime, I was a waiter in a Greek restaurant, waiter at a wedding reception place, a barman, a truck driver, a landscape gardener and a builder’s labourer. One of the tensions is how to keep some cash flowing while tracking down the big one.

Factotum: What happened to the non-Christians?

David: Four of the original 20 were converted in the first year. We’ve seen that kind of response throughout. The whole thing is integrated into the men’s ministry at St Paul’s, so the men have lots of opportunities for learning and growth. This link is crucial.

Factotum: So the ministry is still going?

David: Yes, two guys picked up the vision and keep It going. I drop in when I can. A couple of other churches have started up . We produced a manual on handling unemployment. One Catholic fellow got very excited about us helping the unemployed, and he wrote to the Pope to ask him to bless us!

Public service or free enterprise?

You can start a church! That thought has probably not occurred to you often. We tend to think of ourselves as members, not initiators. Even those who manage complex corporations in their daily work do not think of starting a church. We are consumers of church, not providers. We are spectators, not players. Church is put on for us, done for us by those up front. We have a public service mentality, rather than a free enterprise outlook. This comes partly from our British denominational heritages. Our American brothers are far more entrepreneurial, with new churches popping up constantly.

What does it take to start a church?

  • People. Any people, any age, any background, with any beliefs. They don’t have to be Christian at first; they can become believers.
  • People willing to gather regularly.
  • People willing to read and obey the word of God.
  • People willing to serve each other as Christ has done for the church.

That’s it!

For discussion: What would prevent you starting something like that?

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