Guest writer and long-term supporter and mission partner, David Brown, looks into the challenges facing the Church
and mission organisations in the wake of the Great Commission, before giving his verdict on Flame International.
The Great Commission of Matthew chapter 28 seems clear enough. And the Church has long seen it as a governing challenge to which church leaders, synods, commissions and committees have ever sought to respond. Today we see a large number of initiatives in the Church to promote evangelism and mission. Surely, here’s the path to church growth?
Curiously, the early church seems to have marched to a different drum. Having said “Go into all the world…” Jesus left no known plan and no apostle was warned of future travels. In Acts, the twelve apostles didn’t seemingly see any need to go “into all the world” or to send anyone else. Peter and John were, admittedly, sent briefly next door into Samaria. But there is no sense that the council in Jerusalem felt any call to engage in strategy, planning or programming; in organisation or centralisation to any extent. Yet evidence piled up of extraordinary church expansion. God’s Kingdom grew.
At home our big denominations agonise over their substantial problems: ageing and declining congregations, declining clergy numbers, declining income and an unaffordable portfolio of church buildings – against a background of widespread disbelief and rejection of our nation’s Judaeo-Christian foundations. In many troubled parts of God’s world the problems seem even more acute: dark forces emerge that disable nations, inflicting terror and violence upon the vulnerable and devastating community life. We may fall easily into discouragement.
Yet Jesus said, “all power is given unto me…” giving us absolute confidence that love shall win. So it may be helpful to ponder the relationship between God’s Church and his Kingdom. How do they connect? What are their respective roles? What is the choice between organisation and organism? And what is the leadership’s place?
It’s a pressing question, for human wisdom and effort can easily dominate future projections and we easily slip over a boundary – locally or nationally. We start acting like owners, forgetting we are mere stewards of our small part of Christ’s Church. Thus awareness of how God’s Kingdom works will start to fade. As Calvary neared, Jesus told some heavily loaded parables of God’s wrath towards stewards who decided to act like owners.
The Kingdom was Jesus’ main priority, its leaven powering growth like no other. With his great desire for multiplication, it must happen unless, perhaps, the Church gets in the way. Kingdom power is the only power on offer. But we have to watch our roles. Put starkly: do we want the Church to shape how God’s Kingdom might grow or, conversely, do we want the Kingdom and its values to shape how the Church is to be? The book of Acts surely offers a timeless insight into the latter way of being. It merits reflection.
ORGANISATION OR ORGANISM
An organism is a received arrangement. Born of a creator, with inherent life and coherence, it is not self-determined. An organisation by contrast is man-contrived, established by human ingenuity and initiative for good or ill—without intrinsic energy. Viewed this way, we can see an organisation’s susceptibility to ‘Caesar’s’ harsh worldly power. Organisations have to ‘deliver’, so are designed to tackle human frailty. Lines of accountability and coercive powers are thus defined to secure compliance. And a whole package follows—of strategies, objectives, budgets, delegated powers, returns, audits and inspections, and the full sweep of regulation and law.
The bigger organisations get, the more they focus on finance, systems and results over individuals’ well being. Statistics, targets and outcomes reign.
Many think the early church evolution from organism to organisation was inevitable. Yet no theology, logic or experience supports this. The ‘Body of Christ’ signifies nothing less. We should demonstrate that being an organism, a living, relational, coherent and reproductive unit, is God’s way. It works.
Jesus locked this into his apostles’ understanding by promoting them from servants to friends. A friend will hate letting down his friend Jesus: a secret strength that binds the organism together.
THE PLACE OF LEADERSHIP
Leadership logically belongs to organisation more than organism. This may explain opposing church opinions on it. Organisations—complex and baggage-ridden—have to be led if they are to prosper. Maybe those who oppose the leadership idea yearn for Kingdom values. Since our inherited Church is an organisation, our leaders have to grasp today’s nettles. Yet our expectations should be realistic, for Jesus formed a body instead. We turn again to Acts. What did the apostles actually do with their time? It seems they did the things Jesus did, wherever they happened to be. Very occasionally they offered wisdom for bringing the expanding Church forward, not least over Jew and Gentile tensions. Otherwise, as servants-become-friends they simply followed Jesus’ example. As with Jesus, the Father did the strategy and planning; like Jesus, theirs was to listen, then obey. I guess the apostles did much of each, evincing that unity and glory for which Jesus prayed. Thus was Kingdom power released; things happened.
So, in light of this, where does Flame International stand? I have been a Flame supporter for several years and I volunteered to join a mission team to Armenia in 2014. I went again in 2015. Flame is more like an organism and less like a humanly contrived organisation than anything I have seen in my 75 years.
Here’s my reasoning: its office structures and employed staff are minimal. Its accountability is purposefully God-ward and attentive to him. At the human level it is decisively subordinate to its trustees. When on mission it places itself under the authority of local church leadership. Flame is attentive to input from local church leaders, team members and many intercessors, and its initiatives are few. Invitation is the basis of every mission trip. Necessary decisions depend on first waiting upon God. Its work is pure gift. There is no demand on host churches’ finances. Flame’s basis is prayer – the commitment of intercessors across the world releases God’s power, granting teams protection, calm confidence and the peace of God that passes all understanding. Its chief sign of God’s love is the unity he gives. Both teams I have joined have been granted an extraordinary unity from the outset, for which there can be no human explanation. Fruit follows. We feel like spectators, watching God do things.
So may God’s Kingdom come, through the listening obedience of his people.