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The Alexander AntidoteTurning Conflict into a Prescription of Wholeness for the Local Church
By Thomas S. Warren II
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2011 Dr. Thomas S. Warren II
All right reserved.
Chapter OneUnderstanding the Problem
The Great Commission was given by Jesus on four different occasions. The most memorable and certainly the most quoted is the one recorded in Matthew's gospel account (Matthew 28:19–20). It is here that we find not only what the disciples were expected to do after Jesus' departure, but also the way in which they were supposed to carry out the Lord's command.
For most, the Great Commission is obeyed by preaching the gospel to all nations. Others, however, suggest that the fulfillment of the Great Commission is only completed when believers become disciples. A disciple in this context is a person who not only believes in the person of Christ but lives faithfully according to his Word "teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:20, NIV).
Still others argue that the Great Commission is fully obeyed when we establish individual churches that can carry on the work of evangelism and discipleship. If planting churches is the biblical criteria for determining whether or not the gospel is being brought to the world, then it would appear that the disciples were successful in their evangelistic venture, particularly in light of the number of churches in today's society.
The church is seemingly everywhere. In virtually every community, regardless of the size of the town or city, a church can be found. Some places have more churches than others; yet, finding a church in most locations is never a difficult task. This is also true in areas where church attendance is significantly low.
While each of these interpretations offers insight into an understanding of the Great Commission, an additional thought is worth consideration. Gerber suggests that a two-fold task is presented in the New Testament's Great Commission regarding the fulfillment of Christ's command: (1) To make responsible, reproducing Christians, and, (2) To make responsible, reproducing churches.
The strategy of planting churches wherever the gospel was preached was apparently a normal practice for the apostles Paul, Barnabas, Silas, and Timothy. Their work in carrying out this strategy suggests a more balanced interpretation of the Great Commission's primary purpose, namely (1) to preach the gospel in order for people to be saved, and (2) to organize them into an active body of believers called the local church.
The practice of planting churches continues to this day. According to one research report, there were over 150 Protestant denominations and at least 325,000 local congregations in America as of 1990. Nevertheless, despite the plethora of churches on the American scene, they are not as visible as one might think. George Barna, a noted researcher of church life in America, states:
The name recognition of the average church is lower than might be expected. Fewer than one out of every five people, on the average, are aware of the existence of the typical church located within their community.
This fact alone raises an extremely important question: What is, or is not, going on inside the churches of America that prevents them from making a significant impact on their communities? The suggestion that this has been the condition of the church is hinted at by George Barna in his book The Frog in the Kettle, where he identifies ten critical, achievable goals for the church as it faces the 1990s. It is very interesting to note that at least six of Barna's lists of ten goals pertain directly to the fulfillment of the Great Commission. Apparently, something is blocking the ability of the church to reach these goals. A closer look at the local church and its dynamics provides the answer.
Understanding the First Century Church
The apostles were obviously dedicated to planting churches as a result of the Great Commission. The mere presence of so many churches throughout the apostolic world shows us that this part of the Lord's command was taken very seriously. However, in order to understand more clearly why the church today is not having the impact on the world that God intended, we must take a closer look at the daily life of the church.
Thankfully, the apostle Paul and other New Testament writers cared enough about their newly planted churches to communicate with them regarding the ongoing ministry of the church. Fortunately, this communication included those things that needed praise, as well as the issues that had become problems for the believers.
The pastoral letters of 1 and 2 Timothy provide excellent examples of what can happen when a church is planted and the ministry of the church is blocked. In these letters, Paul gives advice to his young apostolic delegate on how to handle problems that arise in the course of the ministry. By examining these epistles, one will not only discover the types of problems that can arise in ministry, but what can be done in order to ensure that God's work goes on despite the presence of conflict.
The Church at Ephesus
Paul had just been released from prison in Rome (apparently after Acts 28), and had made his way back to the church in Ephesus. His intent was to move on and visit other churches as well as continue his evangelistic work. Unfortunately, the ministry at Ephesus had taken a turn for the worse. Paul, intent on going to Macedonia, was deeply concerned about the church and left young Timothy in charge.
The church at Ephesus, as Timothy soon discovered, was filled with problems. Almost immediately he encountered men and women who opposed the "sound doctrine" (1 Timothy 1:11) that Paul had taught in Ephesus for three years (Acts 20:31). The false teaching that was present in Ephesus at this time soon began to make itself known in a variety of ways: (1) women began to function outside of their God-ordained roles with no respect for their husbands or men in general (1 Timothy 2:8–15); (2) the false teachers started to advocate a lifestyle contrary to the normal relationship between a husband and wife (1 Timothy 4:1–5); (3) young women were being led astray by their own lust (1 Timothy 5:11), men used seductive logic in order to fulfill their own selfish needs (2 Timothy 3:6–7); (4) believers were bringing accusations against their leaders (1 Timothy 5:19); (5) and people were beginning to place an unhealthy emphasis upon money versus contentment through godliness. These distortions of God's truth, as well as many others, ultimately caused the faith of many people in Ephesus to be "shipwrecked" (1 Timothy 1:19).
The ministry in Ephesus was becoming a major responsibility for Timothy. He was not only responsible for dealing with a variety of problems in Ephesus, but he was discovering that problems are sustained by people who strongly support the issues at stake and have definite reasons for their viewpoints. Paul was already aware of certain men in Ephesus who would most likely give Timothy a hard time in the ministry. In particular, he knew of one Alexander who was almost certainly going to cause trouble by opposing his work and the message of Christ (2 Timothy 4:14–15).
It is not quite certain how much time Timothy spent in Ephesus. However, it seems safe to say that the majority of his time was not spent in an evangelistic ministry, but rather in solving problems. Much effort was obviously given to dealing with difficult people who for various reasons opposed "sound doctrine" and all that it represents.
Fortunately, Timothy's experience in Ephesus provides us with a valuable lesson about the pastoral ministry. Sometimes, ministry cannot move forward as desired because leaders have to spend an enormous amount of time dealing with petty issues and difficult people. The end result is obvious. The Great Commission cannot be carried out effectively when leaders are burdened with this type of work.
Understanding the Twenty-first Century
– The Contemporary Pastor
Noticeably, things have not changed much in almost two thousand years. In the same way that Timothy faced the challenges of the ministry many years ago, pastors of today are continually confronted with obstacles that prevent them from effectively carrying out the ministry of the church. As in Timothy's experience, the modern day pastor also struggles to maintain a balance between promoting the spiritual maturity of believers in the church while he battles the immaturity of believers who are opposed to any ministry effort that contradicts their own views, feelings, and convictions.
–The Contemporary Church
The church of today is very much like the first century church. Despite the differences that one might expect to find between the two, there are many common characteristics that should be considered when one takes a closer look at the ministry of the church.
The first recognizable similarity between the first and twenty-first century churches relates to culture. Each church functions within a given culture. Any attempt to understand the church must take into consideration the role of culture and its influence on the church. But what exactly is culture, and how does it make a difference in the ministry of the church?
In essence, the culture of a society may be primitive or advanced. In either circumstance, "the term culture includes the totality of the life pattern—language, religion, literature, machines and inventions, arts, crafts, architecture and decor, dress, laws, customs, marriage and family structures, government and institutions, plus the peculiar and characteristic ways of thinking and acting."
Society is defined as "a self-perpetuating group who share a geographical territory and a culture." In view of these definitions, culture and society can be seen as dependent terms. A culture can be broken down into smaller units when one considers the fact that within societies there are often smaller groups that are similar in many ways to the larger society yet distinguishable from it. These smaller groups are called subcultures. Within these subcultures a person learns how to behave in a given situation and eventually expects other members of that society to behave the same way. These expected patterns of behavior are called norms.
It is not uncommon for norms to develop within the church. However, the work of recognizing norms that exist within a particular ministry situation is not always easy. Because of this difficulty, a close examination of the subcultures that are significant in the development and growth of a local church, as well as those that hinder growth, is needed. By carefully examining the subcultures within the church, a pastor can begin to comprehend how an issue can be perceived as important, and, in some situations, how a person can become difficult to work with in the local church ministry.
Pastoral experience suggests that at least five subcultures exist within the local church (historical, familial, pastoral, theological, and geographical/ sociological). In order to understand the relationship between the issues that arise in the ministry setting and the people who hold them, these subcultures must be appreciated for their impact on the church. In the next few pages, I provide a closer examination of each subculture in an attempt to demonstrate its significance.
History is more than facts printed on paper. It includes people, experiences, and memories of the past that are desperately in need of interpretation. A proper interpretation will not come easily, but when it does come, it will provide considerable insight into the happenings of today.
The interpretation of history is essential for the modern day pastor. Without an understanding of his local church's history, the pastor will be left to draw conclusions about the church based solely on suspicion and the assistance of selected personal experiences. A careful examination of a local church's history is likely to reveal some interesting and very helpful pieces of information about the church's past pattern of ministry. With these in mind, the pastor can begin to build a better understanding of the present.
Therapists today are discovering more than ever the importance of the family, particularly the family of the past. Marriage and family therapist David Field writes:
Our present lives are attached to our previous families as if by an umbilical cord. Our behavior and thoughts, our attitudes and reactions, and our values and beliefs are all linked to the family from which we came. Our conscious and unconscious actions and attitudes are tied to what I call our families of origin.
The family of origin is the home in which a person is raised. Identifying it is easy for some and more difficult for others (e.g., because of high divorce and remarriage rate, etc.) since the family is dynamic (always changing) and seldom static. One thing, however, is certain. The family of origin is very influential in the formation of a person's life. It is within the context of the family that a person develops life-long skills and perceptions about life.
Growing up in the family of origin, a child is also likely to be trained in a variety of ways. Perhaps the most important way, says Field, is by the meeting of two basic needs: individuality and relationship. Individuality concerns itself with the way a person views himself, while relationship relates to the ability of a person to communicate and get along with others. Each family differs in its ability to meet these needs.
One can imagine the type of person that is developed when there is an imbalance within the family and these needs are not met, or when there is an overemphasis on the meeting of one need versus the other. It has been suggested that there are five "family personalities" found along the continuum between individuality and relationship that contribute both positively and negatively to the meeting of these needs. The family that is imbalanced in its ability to meet these needs can produce a child that will potentially be an adult who is unable to function appropriately in a variety of situations.
Understanding the family background of a difficult person is particularly important for a pastor. An awareness of the specifics concerning his family of origin can help a pastor tremendously when attempting to understand his behavior in a given context.
Very few people are in a position to influence lives like the pastor. Given the opportunity, the pastor can play a significant role in the life of a family over a period of years. Sometimes a pastor's impact is short-lived. Believing his work to be done, he moves to another ministry site. However, there are situations where a pastor may remain in one place for a long time. The impact of such a ministry is far-reaching.
The impact of a long ministry in one place can be seen in a variety of ways. If the church has had only a few pastors, then a pastor who stays for an extended period of time has the opportunity to make a significant impression upon the hearts and minds of the parishioners. He can influence their thinking in many areas. Over a long period of time a church gets accustomed to the way their pastor dresses, eats, drives, talks, preaches, teaches, visits or doesn't visit, plans, works around the office, vacations, laughs, cries, spends his leisure time, and the list goes on and on. Unfortunately, time has a way of causing people not to take a closer look at the way things are being done until someone comes along and challenges their thinking and behavior.
The fact that a church sometimes tolerates the ways of their leader does not mean that the leader is right. In some cases, leaders have been guilty of misleading their people (e.g., Jim Jones, Jim Bakker) under the pretense of truth. Not all local church ministries can be compared to a large television ministry that goes astray. Nevertheless, it does point out the possibility that people can become so accustomed to a particular way of ministry that it is difficult for them to accept change.
Excerpted from The Alexander Antidote by Thomas S. Warren II Copyright © 2011 by Dr. Thomas S. Warren II. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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