Immediately after hitting "publish post" on my last blog, the Spirit of God spoke to me. I was thinking about our beginnings as a church. My husband and I were an integral part of a large interdenominational church, Trinity Chapel. But our church, Harvest Church, began in a livingroom.
Someone else's livingroom...(Post edit done by the author of this blog, editing unnecessary details that are now - and sadly - obsolete)...
That small group grew to the point that we needed to divide it and create another, and so we did just that. Then that group also grew so large it needed to divide, and that is when we ended up with a church in our livingroom.
Then that group also divided...or multiplied. However you want to look at it.
About a year later, we were approached by the leadership of Trinity Chapel, and asked to plant a church. A handful of families went out with us, and then many of them went right back - we all quickly discovered that church planting is the hardest thing you will ever do. The few families who have gone the distance with us can tell you....church planting ain't for sissies.
And you absolutely have to be in relationship with the Father and with each other. If you don't love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and then love each other as you love yourself, you will never make it in a new church plant.
There were many Sundays in which our peak attendance was 10 or 15 people. Tim and I were stunned. It was as if that "gathering gift" we'd enjoyed while members of our parent church....was gone. We truly thought that if we planted a church, it would grow just like our house churches did.
Um....not necessarily. In fact, we are still considered a "small church", fifteen years later. Trust me, if we are "small" in number today, we were minuscule when we began - and we stayed minuscule in size for years. The only sort of church I had ever known, really, was "big church" - I grew up in Trinity Chapel. I was used to worship with a full band, complete with percussion and a piece of brass or two, and a grand piano, with a salaried worship leader. Suddenly, our worship was reduced to one acoustic guitar. Suddenly, my husband was trouble shooting sound each Sunday, playing worship, preaching, counseling, and doing construction work on our facilities - all while working overtime on his "day job".
So at what point did we become a valid "local church"? Was it when we reached a membership of 20? 30? When we finally put together a worship band?
We were a valid local church from day one. Because, from day one, we already had the "four sights of a local church" in place and functioning. That is what the Lord spoke to me, after publishing my last blog. He said to me, "A local church of any number of people can function as the church, if they have Insight, Hindsight, Foresight, and Oversight."
That bowled me over. I knew it didn't come from me - not all at once, without any developing of the ideas. When good things come to you, full blown, it is a God-thing. I hope to elaborate on each of the four "sights" of the local church in future blogs - I find them fascinating. For now, here is an overview:
Insight - into the plan of salvation and the mystery of grace. A group of people, particularly their leader or leaders, must have a firm insight into the gospel, and be able to simply and easily share their insight with anyone and everyone.
Hindsight - a people must be sent. There are those few exceptions, but they are not the norm. Biblically, church planting is all about being sent or ordained or affirmed by another established spiritual leader or leaders. This gives every local church, even the one meeting in a livingroom, a history. On the first day they meet as a newly planted church, there is hindsight - a story of ministry that came before them, and sent and affirmed their efforts to plant another church. (God is way into church planting, in case no one else has told you.)
Foresight - a people must have a vision, and it needs to be as simple and specific as possible. A group of people, meeting as a newly planted church, need to know where they are going. Our vision is, "Love God, Love Each Other, Love Your Neighbor". That's it. But it is a vision so compelling and consuming that it keeps the entire church body very busy - not with programs, but with people. Love is our vision. Love is our direction. Every church needs foresight, to be able to "see" where they are headed.
Oversight - both in-house, and general oversight. In other words, our church members have oversight in the form of my husband, their pastor. We also have a leadership team of gifted men who look after the flock of God, willingly, and not by compulsion....men who are selfless and who have not sought a position....men who simply "are" leaders, they don't have to try to be. They have good marriages, and good reputations outside our church.
Then we have oversight to whom the pastor can turn. This is our Masterbuilder's network of churches. Masterbuilder's is led by a small group of men, all of whom have recognized apostolic, teaching, and pastoral anointings, and these men oversee the churches in our network. They have never one time been heavy handed or domineering, and they don't make a salary for doing it. I have never seen a more selfless group of men, always nursing and tending to the various churches who are blessed enough to be part of our network. (And no - my husband is not on this team. He gladly answers to these men, has turned to them during times of crisis and trouble, and they have never failed to come through for us, often at their own expense. We are deeply indebted to them.)
However. As selfless and low-key as they are in their leadership of the churches, if my husband became some sort of heretical renegade, we could count on them to step in. First, they would try to restore us, if we have gotten off-message. If we refused to be restored, they would prayerfully take whatever steps necessary after that. It is such a precious safety net for the flock of God. Their pastor oversees them. Their pastor has oversight.
And it is all based on relationships. Tim is in consistent, ongoing relationship with the Masterbuilder's oversight team. He welcomes it.
Any group of people, to be a viable expression of the church, needs to have oversight.
Any group of people, when they have functioning within them, all four "sights" ~ Insight, Hindsight, Foresight, and Oversight ~ they are a local church, no matter how small or large or where they gather. They aren't just a "Bible study". They have more than just a creed and a livingroom and their own insecurities to build on. With all four "sights", keenly and clearly operating in their midst, they are the church...the local church.