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Hierarchy-Change both Form and Substance!

It is no secret that many believers have disengaged themselves from the traditional church structure in favor of structures more common to the first-century church, such as homechurches or cell-churches, because of they are weary of controlling hierarchy. It has been proposed that the traditional church structure lends itself to a hierarchy set-up more easily than these new structures, and this would seem to be so. This is because there has long been engrained the fallacy that authoritarianistic leading is Biblical--That just because someone is named a pastor or leader, it is okay for them to have ultimate control over all in the name of 'supervision'.

Below is a testimony sent to us via e-mail after I had written Living Stones and released it to some. This one was forwarded to us off the HomeChurchDiscussion List, and typify how the Spirit is giving similar revelations, urging people to leave what is now being called the "Institutionalized Church" in favor of something less structured:

CA has been a roller coaster ride for us in every way to say the least. When we first landed, we attended a small church which had a declining membership due to a new pastor. He was definitely on the mark with the Spirit, though. We were initially welcomed in the group and the Lord did use us for some powerful things. However, we were not the type to keep silent about anything that we felt the Lord wanted us to say. We were offered a ministry under his leadership and we said that we would pray about it. I made the mistake of commenting that the Lord had never led us to be under any other man's authority before. Long story, but eventually, there came a day when the pastor decided that it was time for him to take *his position* in the church. Things went spiraling down hill from there. He actually made a pyramid type diagram of God at the top, he was at the next level, elders next, then the rest of us at the bottom. It was obvious that hearing from God could only come through him in his eyes. =======:( There was no allotment for God speaking directly to another elder or a member of the congregation without going through him first. It wasn't long after that before we felt the Lord set us free from going there.

Conversely, below is an outline of a home church which fell into pride, control spirit, and hierarchy structure within the homechurch. The person who wrote this remains confidential, having suffered malicious religious abuse by the two leaders. It's interesting to note how the meeting agenda became more rigid, and how even the position of chairs became arranged to focus on the two leaders as the center of attention. The changes were reported to have been gradual.

(edited for length and personal content; initials given were changed)


After reading the first + of the book "How To Meet" by Gene Edwards-- One night I was thinking about the meetings we had at X.'s house (two men, X and Y were the leaders) and how, in the beginning of my involvement with those meetings, they came very close to what Gene Edwards described. I started to write things down, in point form--

1. At the beginning:

2. Gradual downfall: Etc, etc, ad nauseam!

3. What went wrong? a. PRIDE b. Self-promotion c. Exclusiveness d. Control spirit--LEADER MENTALITY

The person who wrote the above draft was eventually rescued from the group described above by both a revelation God gave her regarding false authority, and by a true prophet who spoke against the condemnation the two leaders taught. Not to be critical, but in my opinion there is one very slight error in this person's final conclusion. That was to equate leadership (leader mentality) with the control spirit. True leadership has nothing to do with the control spirit. This person may have been calling it 'leader mentality' already because of her exposure to anti-leader rhetoric.

While reading this and other expressions already woven into the homechurch movement to the effect that there should be no leaders, the Lord has strongly impressed upon me the following warnings:

  1. There is truth to the fact that certain structures lend themselves more to hierarchy because of the traditions to those structures. These traditions make it very easy for a leader to fall into practicing hierarchy.
  2. It is a lie that just because the 'form' is changed, one is automatically protected from the error of hierarchy. No structure or formula of structure is superior. Being proud of a structure and confident in its ability to 'protect you' is nothing less than the same denominational pride that has become the downfall of countless new wine skins.
  3. Substance must also be changed in order to guard against hierarchy, and the most effective way to do that is a renewing of the mind as to what exactly true leadership is. If not, instability (anarchy) would occur from rejecting or resisting necessary structure (or, structure which helps the church to function) and true leadership. If this total 'leaderlessness'/anti structure mentality continues, we are already seeing what the enemy is weaving into the form God is raising up, by sowing 'tares' in order hobble it.
  4. This disintegration could include the cell-church structure, because their structure could easily become rigid with a pyramid hierarchy, and it is just as possible that their home-based meetings could become completely controlled by their leaders. Again, this could only happen if there is no understanding of what true leadership is and the freedom of meetings intended in the New Testament.
Stay tuned for more....
-Teri Lee Earl
Footnote: 'More' is all over the HarvestNET website
See also: Blazing Trails Too ('initial' dissertations/ leaving IC)

Below is a 'position paper' written by a moderator of the HCDL list, before leaving the Institutionalized Church.

Bob, Teri, ... I just finished reading this (long, but refreshing) testimony from one of the moderators of the Home Church Dot List (HCDL). Thought you might find refreshment from her as well. If you want to sign on, you can write to: and put: info HCDL into the text of your message (nothing in subject). They will send you instructions on how to get on--it's not hard, but I believe they have a two week "read only" time, so that people can get into the flow of things before posting. However, messages can be sent through the moderators (I find them all like Joanne) or a participant such as myself.

<---- Begin Included Message ---->
Date: Wed, 30 Oct 1996
From: "Joann M. Hnat" <>
Subject: HCDL: psuedo-home church
To: HCDL <> 

On Tue, 29 Oct 1996, Susan Hook wrote:

About a year ago, I was having a conversation about this very thing (via e-mail) with a pastor whose church was moving towards a cell church model. He wrote a "position paper," as did I. I've lost his, but here is mine. It's quite long, and contains little or nothing that's new to anyone who's been doing home church for awhile, so please feel free to ignore it if you're not interested in reading. I hope it's helpful to some of you, though.

.. Joann

* * * * * * * * *

Well, I have the evening free, so I thought I might as well take some time to try to write my "position paper." As you said in yours, this is not meant as a logical argument; it is a statement of why I feel called to express my Christianity through Christian community and home church.

It's hard to know where exactly to start. Maybe I should start with when I got saved. I was 17 years old, and it was in the context of a Pentecostal church. The people there loved God, and they taught me that I needed to "accept Jesus Christ as my Savior and Lord." And I did. And they were right, but they didn't go far enough.

Because salvation, at its core, is not an individual thing. It's not something that's just between God and me. Maybe, sometimes, it begins that way. But if it stays there, it will always be an immature sort of salvation. Salvation is what Christians are meant to work out in the cracks, in the places where their lives butt up against one another.

You have said that we cannot extrapolate one particular way of being church from reading the New Testament. I agree. But I do think that what Jesus and the writers of the epistles show us is that our faith is fundamentally and inextricably linked with us interweaving our lives with other believers, so that we can work out our salvation in fear and trembling.

I see very few (actually, I can't think of any, but I'll hedge in case I'm missing something) metaphors for the church that do not involve community with other believers. The church is a body. The church is a family. "I will save you, yeah, and all your household, too."

And "metaphor" may be too weak a word for what was going on in the groups of believers that Jesus and his disciples touched. Because, apparently, other people could pick them out from the crowd. "Oh, yes, those are the followers of Jesus. You can tell because they love one another so well."

To me, the fundamental calling of the church is to be an expression of the kingdom of God here on earth. And the kingdom of God is where people love God and love one another. It's not a social club or a public welfare institution or a place to foster the arts or a political force in the world, although Christians certainly will participate in all of these activities in the course of loving God and loving one another. But I think that a church is not really worthy of the name "church" unless people from the outside look at it and say, "There is *really* something different going on here. These people live as though they really believe what they say." And, given the fact that this is a fallen world, I think that means that the church, if it is to be a true expression of the kingdom of God on earth, will always be radical, as its founder was radical. It will never fit comfortably within the mainstream of life. Its people will always be aware that they are only sojourners here on this earth, and that their country is elsewhere.

So, somehow, whatever structure we humans choose for the church must be one which fosters this radical interdependence amongst people who know and love God. Somehow, the structure of the church must give legs to the Christian profession that we are all part of a single body, with Christ as its head, and with every single part of the body necessary for its proper functioning. Somehow, the structure of the church must foster the formation of groups that end up looking rather like a family, with members who love and rely upon each other to bear one another's burdens in this world, rather than seeing themselves as essentially independent actors on this earth.

It seems clear to me that any structure for the church which allows for interdependence amongst Christians to develop must include small groups. How can we bear one another's burdens if we don't know what they are? And how can we know what they are if we are in churches so large that we may not even know everybody's name? In my experience, virtually every professing Christian I know realizes that an hour or two on Sunday morning with 100 or 500 or 1,000 other people isn't sufficient, and virtually all of them become members of some small group or another. Not all of them are house churches, of course. There are Bible studies, cell groups, fellowship groups, worship groups, cell churches, and so on.

And these small groups work well, as far as they go. But, they don't go far enough. They don't allow people to become as mature as they can possibly become, because of the presence of the pastor or the priest who is still involved. I think of it like children with their parents. The children may grow and become quite mature and able to handle just about anything on their own, but until they take the final step of leaving the protection and the authority of their parents' house, they will never be truly adult.

Many small group members seem to realize this. They participate in their small groups, week by week, month by month, and at some point, they realize that the small group, whatever its name, has become the venue where they experience what it means to be the body of Christ, to *be* the church. Sometimes they leave, taking the final, formal step of recognizing what has already happened in their hearts. Other times, they remain as part of the institutional church, though in many cases their attendance at "Church" drops off, while they remain very committed to being the church, within their small groups. They would much sooner miss Sunday morning than Thursday night. Still other times, of course, they remain active in both venues, but are discontent in the larger one because they see what could be and isn't. The visionaries fall into the first and the third categories. One seeks to reform from within; the other decides that the structure is irredeemable and leaves to pursue a different vision.

I have often talked with visionary Christians within the institutional church who fault those who choose to leave rather than to stay and work from within. "There is much good here; let's try to preserve what's good and change what isn't." My answer to that is manifold. First, that view assumes that we Christians should have some sort of allegiance to the particular expression of the institutional church which happens to exist at present. Since I agree with you that no one structure for the church has God's seal of approval on it (although I do find more support in the New Testament for house churches than you find), I feel no particular loyalty to the institutional church as it now exists. Yes, there is a lot of good in it, but there will always be a lot of good wherever Christians fervently seek to follow after God. God sees to that.

Second, significant reform from within almost never works with institutions of any sort. Institutions, including the institutional church, have a life of their own. They are purposely designed to be able to perpetuate themselves in a particular manner, or at least within a fairly narrow range of options. They are meant to be relatively permanent, and they have safeguards against attacks from within and without. Because of this, it takes hard knocks to make them budge even a little bit.

Third, there is an innate conflict between the leadership structure of the institutional church, which necessitates that the designated leaders be in the vanguard of any change that occurs, and the personal interests of those leaders. If the people of God really decided that they were perfectly capable of ministering to one another and teaching one another and praying for one another and doing the marrying and the burying and the sharing of the eucharist, and that they didn't need any particular physical structure in which to do these things, then a lot of people would be out of jobs, whether paid or unpaid. And I think that church leaders who are willing to work tirelessly, knowing that if they are very successful, they will put themselves out of business, are few and far between.

(Just as an aside, there is a parallel situation in my own life. Massachusetts has very high auto insurance rates, always ranked within the top 4-5 states out of the 50. The main reason for this is because of all the lawsuits for relatively insignificant injuries. The way to change this, IMO, is to enact legislation narrowing the right to sue. However, if this sort of legislation is enacted, I will lose money. So, should I work to enact the legislation which I know would be beneficial to the populace of the state as a whole? Probably, but I don't. Instead, I bury my head in the sand to a degree, although I try very hard to be personally ethical in the sorts of cases I take, and not to represent people who are not legitimately injured. And I also try very hard to remember that I am not a disinterested party in this matter.)

My third point, of course, assumes that formal leadership within the church is antithetical to its mission of being the expression of God's kingdom on earth. As I said before, I think that clergy are unnecessary for the life of the church and, in fact, actually inhibit the development of a body of mature Christians who weave their lives together in love, minister to one another, and preserve the vision of the church as a whole.

I think of this in terms of classical group dynamics theory. It's sociology rather than Christianity, of course, but I think it is a helpful construct to use when thinking of the church. Most sociologists seem to find two basic forms of groups -- the top-down, hierarchical model, focused on a single, formally-identified leader or set of leaders, and a more diffuse model in which the focus is on the goal or purpose of the group rather than any particular leader or leaders. (Hey, look at the cool ASCII art .. )

      MODEL 1           MODEL 2
      Leader             O - O
    /    |   \          ' \ / `
  O      O     O       O - G - O
 / \    / \   / \         / \
O   O  O   O O   O     ` O - O '

In the first model, the formal leadership of the group are the guardians of its goals and its vision. The people look to the formal leadership to tell them what to do and how to do it. If members of the group have goals for the group which are not shared by the leadership, they must either convince the leadership that those goals are worth pursuing, or they must abandon the goals (or the group). Or they will attempt to convince others among the group, and will generally be seen by the leadership as subversive.

Of course, it is certainly not that clear-cut. Good leaders, in any group, will try to bring out the gifts and talents of the group members. This is shown, for example, in corporations which attempt to adopt less traditional structural models, concentrating on team-building and the like. The workers use more of their skills, develop more of a cooperative relationship with other workers, have a voice in goal-setting. But, nonetheless, the leadership still has the final say. And, time and again, this frustrates the "peons". The leaders keep saying that they're trying to empower the workers, and that "we're all one big happy family" and that "each one of you is very important to the group," but it doesn't feel genuine because, in the end, what the boss says goes.

This model also doesn't require the workers to take full responsibility for their work. They *work for* the corporation, but they don't really feel that they *are* the corporation in the same way that the formal leadership might. The CEO of a company often feels that s/he speaks for the company and, in some sense, *is* the company. And when it's time to answer for what happened in the corporation, like to the Board of Directors, it is the formal leaders who bear the ultimate responsibility. No one from the Board of Directors is going to go to a line worker on the manufacturing floor and ask him or her why the company is running in the red.

In the second model, things look more like a wheel, with the vision or goal at the center. In this model, people are, of necessity, forced to take responsibility for the group as a whole. They see clearly how each person's talents and gifts fit into the group vision, because there are gaping holes evident to all when a member is not living up to his or her potential. This is unlike the top-down model, where the leadership might see the potential of individual members of the group, but members rarely stop to think of the group as a whole, and of what each person's contribution is.

Leadership in the diffuse model is definitely present. There are always leaders in any group. But the difference is that pretty much everyone exercises leadership at some point, in the areas where each person has talent and/or expertise. People are leaders for specific tasks, rather than as an office. Of course, there will be areas where no one is particularly talented or expert, and at those times, the people who are most comfortable with leadership in general will step in to sort of jump-start things.

Classical group dynamics theory holds that the first model works well when the group has a very specific, well-defined task. When you're going to build a house, it's good to have someone who knows what they're doing to tell you what to do. However, the second model is the one to use if your goals are more diffuse, less well-defined, and if you want to develop good relationships between the group members. The second model is much less efficient at first, but as time goes on and the group gels, it is far more efficient that the first model. The first is the model of the institution. The second is the model of family and friends.

Many churches today are trying to meld these two models, using some version of the relational model at the small group level, while still maintaining the institutional model farther on up the line. This cannot work, because it robs the relational model of the very things that make it vital. The relational model only works if the members of the group are truly, entirely, responsible for the life and well-being of the group. No pastor to step in and pick up the slack. The members have to know that if they don't do it, it won't get done. They have to be free to fail -- fail spectacularly, in some cases.

One thing that you talked about when you wrote to me was your concern that groups like this would only be able to minister to a minuscule percentage of the population. At least at first, I think you are absolutely right. But I think that is a *good* thing.

With the way things stand now, it is entirely possible for people to spend their whole lives going to church, either regularly or just from time to time, and yet never feel compelled to make any sort of decision about whether or not they really want to walk with Jesus. They go to church on Sunday morning because it's the right thing to do, or it's good for the kids, or it's a nice social activity, or it's so nice and peaceful to listen to the beautiful music and listen to an inspiring sermon. And, unless they are somewhat thoughtful folk, they probably even consider themselves to be Christians. And in times of trouble, like when there's an illness or a death, there is a priest or pastor there to say the God-words and make them feel better.

Who was it that said that religion is the opiate of the masses? Marx? Well, whoever it was, this is the sort of religion he was talking about. Not the radical faith that Jesus preached, the kind that actually compels its followers to change their lives.

I think that the church catholic would be far, far better off, both in terms of the individuals involved *and* in terms of its ability to minister to the apostate world, if it consisted of maybe 1/10 or 1/20 of the people who are involved now, but if each and every one of those people were really dedicated to following the hard path that Jesus set before us and functioning in the fullness of the gifts given to him or her by God. And what of the rest of the people? Well, for starters, they wouldn't be able to sleep through their lives and still think of themselves as Christians. They would know that being a Christian really meant something. Perhaps with some of their comfortable supports gone, they might turn to God when desperation strikes at their souls. Maybe not. That's up to God.

As for civilization's need for the priesthood, for shamans, I feel pretty much the same way as about all the other archetypes. It is natural to project one's archetypes onto others. However, the process of individuation involves moving beyond this, to integrating the archetypes within oneself. Just as I think it is very sad when a man or woman does not mature past the anima/animus projection stage with a spouse or lover, I think it is very sad when a people does not mature past the projection of the shaman archetype onto certain individuals. In both cases, the projection may give great comfort and nourishment to the one doing the projecting, but it prevents him or her from really growing up and moving on to an even better place.

As far as supporting someone to study and think is concerned, that may well be an appropriate use of the church's resources, at least for a time. I do think that Paul's pleasure in being able to say that he earned his own living, even though he could have legitimately claimed the support of those to whom he ministered, says something about this. I have no problem whatsoever with full-time, paid, Christian workers. Home churches, acting in concert, are perfectly capable of (and do) pay people to minister. (Proportionally, home churches have a lot more money than the institutional church, because there is no building to maintain and no clergy to pay.) But these people minister to the world, not to the church. The church, the body of Christ, can take care of itself. Finally, you mention the transcendence which comes from being part of a mass of people. I agree. Just as the large church has serious problems which can only be managed through the use of small groups, the house church has serious problems which can only be managed through the use of large groups. That's okay. House churches around the world band together in networks and communities that allow them to take advantage of one another's gifts, to pool resources for ministry, and to worship. Before I end what has turned into a *much* longer dissertation than I intended to write, I just want to touch on a couple of other things about house church that I love -- the teaching and the prayer. Teaching in house church is virtually never dry and boring. It's not preachy. (When I listen to a preacher orating, I think "politician".) And it's always open for discussion, so you get the advantage of 6 or 8 viewpoints, instead of only one. I feel so sad when I go to an institutional church and listen to an excellent sermon, only to have it end with everyone saying "amen", walking out of church, and shaking the pastor's hand, "good sermon, Reverend". I like teaching that engages the minds of the listeners and draws them into a discussion where they really wrestle with the issues involved and come to deeper and deeper levels of understanding.

And the corporate prayer in house church is wonderful. I can always tell when visitors aren't used to it, because they try to be eloquent and use a lot of God-words. They're usually long-winded, too, and sometimes end up giving little mini-sermons within their prayers. People in house church are used to everyone participating, so there is a very nice ebb and flow with regard to who speaks and what they say. No one goes on and on. It's not necessary, because we're all in it together, and what one of us forgets, another will remember.

Oh, and one more thing. People really *do* know that we're different. There is barely a one of my non-Christian friends who hasn't commented favorably (sometimes in utter amazement) at the way in which my brothers and sisters in the church love and support one another. Friends of mine who want nothing to do with the church in general ("a bunch of hypocrites") will listen to me talk on and on about God, because they see the fruits of the Spirit in our corporate life. People really *do* tell us that they know we are Christians by our love.

See also: Blazing Trails Too ('initial' dissertations/ leaving IC)
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