When I was in my early twenties, I was very discouraged with church. What I saw just didn’t seem to match the Bible very well. Things that seemed important in the Bible were missing from church, and things I couldn’t find in the Bible seemed very important in church.
I never rejected God, but for a time I did reject church as we know it in America. Based on the premise that we all have access to the Holy Spirit, Melissa and I went off and did our own thing. We could do it just as well as anybody else, right? We didn’t need anybody to tell us what to do.
I think God honors us with His presence when we earnestly seek Him. We met with friends and experimented with house church. We found God in that experience and grew a lot. But in other ways, our growth was stunted. We didn’t have anyone in our lives who was challenging us or helping us to level up. In most situations, we were the top dog, so to speak. There was no example in our lives of someone living with more of the Lord.
In time, we outgrew some of that and learned to appreciate American church for what it is. We still have many of the same questions and concerns with the way we do things, but we’ve learned to appreciate the things our churches do well.
Most importantly, we’re in a place where we have people who are farther along in their journey to teach us, challenge us, and encourage us. That’s a recipe for growth.
In recent weeks, Melissa and I have been spending some time looking at Acts 2:42-47. Something stood out to me as we talked the other night. When describing that first church in the world, the Bible says, “…and they devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching.”
“The apostle’s teaching.” When we convert that to modern times, we usually correlate it to Bible study. But that’s not actually aligned with the text. That first-century church didn’t have a Bible as we know it today. They weren’t gathering around a text and having a discussion.
“The apostle’s teaching” in this context was actually the verbal instruction of the living apostles. It was a real-time thing. It was a submission to and an intent to learn from those who had spent more time with Jesus.
This wasn’t something the believers could do on their own. In humility and in community, the early believers submitted themselves to the teachings of living people who knew more than they did.
I think that’s part of God’s design for His Church.
While we all have access to the same Holy Spirit, I don’t believe that God intended to build a no-experience-necessary, anti-hierarchical church. He loves us all in the same way, and the nature of God’s hierarchy is supposed to look different than man’s idea of hierarchy, but we’re not all equal in every way.
Notice that the early believers didn’t devote themselves to a “vigorous roundtable discussion” or to “an open marketplace of ideas.” They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching.
Paul confirmed this. Among many examples, 1 Corinthians 12:28 says, “And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues.” Even if we accept the argument that a list like this isn’t hierarchical, the same principle holds true based on the distribution of gifts. God intended for the Church to have some (those who know more) teach others (who know less).
I’m not discounting the fact that God can, when He so chooses, miraculously qualify us for whatever He wants us to do. It’s ironic or especially poignant that Paul would make this argument, since he considered himself as one such “unnaturally born.” (1 Corinthians 15:8) Paul was not mentored by the typical design, but supernaturally and instantaneously came into his knowledge and power. Certainly, the Holy Spirit can do whatever He pleases and break the “rules.” But nonetheless, even Paul, contrary to his own experience, confirmed that the Church was not intended to be a flat organization where all voices are treated equally and we’re each left on our own to figure it out as best as we can. Generally speaking, we are to be mentored in accordance with the measure of our experience with Jesus.
This isn’t an excuse for power structures that use authority to dominate and control or for personal gain. There’s no defense for that.
Jesus showed us a model of servant leadership in which leaders empower followers above themselves. As recorded in John 14:12, Jesus told his disciples, “you will do even greater things than these.” That’s the Father’s heart for earthly church leadership. Good leaders propel followers above themselves.
The teacher is the servant of all, not the master. A successful teacher ends up as the worst person in the room, because all of his pupils have surpassed him!
This same dynamic is true for writers. You are a part of God’s church. You are an important part of the ministry ecosystem. God intends to use you, and He therefore desires for you to connect with the body in healthy ways.
Forget about self-reliance and the rugged individual. It is not up to you to figure it all out for yourself. As a member of the body, it is right, proper, and good for you to connect in relationship with people who know more than you do. That is the usual design.
Just as those early Christians came into humble community with the living, breathing apostles, so too should you seek community that will challenge you and teach you, and leaders who will ultimately propel you above themselves.
The Holy Spirit moves how He pleases, and I suppose you could be a writer “unnaturally born,” figuring things out for yourself like Paul did. But that path came at great expense to him.
It came at great expense to me, too. In a similar sense, I was a Kingdom Writer unnaturally born. There were no writers to guide and help me. There were no mentors that do what I do now. I was left to do the best I could and learn from my mistakes. I’m here because I want more and better for you.
Today, my apprentices learn in two years what it took me fifteen years to figure out on my own.
We’re supposed to learn from other people who have spent more time with Jesus than we have. That’s the design. We’re not supposed to learn exclusively at a distance, but in community, in real relationship.
That’s how God designed the Church. I believe it’s His heart for every believer, and it’s His heart for writers.
That’s why we’ve structured The Company as we have. We have tons of resources that you can use at a distance. But we also offer life-on-life training and discipleship opportunities so that you can grow in community, with living, breathing instruction.
Like the Kingdom of God on earth, it’s not a flat organization. Some people know more than others. Imperfect as we are, we do our best to offer everything with a heart of servant leadership, propelling others ahead of ourselves.
So who are you learning from? Are there people in your life, with whom you have a local personal connection, that challenge, teach, and encourage you?
Ask God. He is faithful.