I knew that God had brought us to Northwood Church for a purpose. I didn’t know at the time what that purpose was, but God was moving in our lives and through this Church. There was a connectedness that I had never felt before amongst a body of believers. The many different things going on in the Church encouraged me. It wasn’t chaotic, everyone was harmoniously engaged in their work, using the unique skills that God had gifted them with. It flowed and moved like a machine with many different parts, all working together to achieve the same goal; to expand God’s kingdom and fulfill the great commission.
The first time I attended a Church planter’s training, I was introduced to the idea of domains. I immediately understood what they were talking about when they taught us about the domains of society. I am a social worker and the idea of domains is interchangeable with Social Systems Theory. Social Systems Theory is ingrained in every social worker. It is the foundation on which all social work theories are applied. It is the holistic approach to addressing issues within a society. Social Systems Theory is defined as “Any entity comprised of individuals who have functionally interdependent relationships with one another” (Dale, Smith, Norlin, Chess, 2009). This is not new information. This is as old as 1st Corinthians 12. Social workers actually borrowed the definition of Social Systems Theory from the Bible. Let’s apply some words in the definition to the context of Church. “Any entity (the Church) comprised of individuals (all believers), who have functionally interdependent (Body of Christ/Unity/Reciprocity) relationships (fellowship) with one another (supportive scriptures: in Acts 2:42-47, 1st Corinthians 12:12-31, and John 14:16-31).
For several years American society has practiced linear thinking and has taken a compartmentalized approach to problem solving. We have neatly boxed ideas and have exported our culture all over the world. It is only recently, over the past 40 years, that the west has begun to place emphasis on holistic, comprehensive, functional views of society. Relationships are reciprocal, not linear. This is the way the father intended it. It was Jesus’ prayer that all believers be one just as he is one with the father (John 17:21). In order for many to be “one” the relationship has to be reciprocal. “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it” (1st Corinthians 12:26). If you were to stub your toe your whole body would respond. You would bend at the waist, the hands would reach to comfort your toe, your mouth would expel a few words, your mind would begin to analyze what went wrong, and your heart rate would increase. This is a reciprocal relationship. The same is with the body of Christ. However, linear relationships are one way. If you were to stub your toe, your toe would be in pain, but the rest of your body would not respond. You wouldn’t blink, you wouldn’t scream, you wouldn’t notice. The linear approach is mechanical, not organic.
So, if the body of Christ is comprised of individuals, who have interdependent relationships with one another, why do we fragment and compartmentalize missionaries and evangelist into a small group of people, while the rest of the body of believers is set aside? How is this reciprocal? I believe that there is a more effective way to fulfill the great commission.
Systems theory has roots that date back to the 1920’s. Systems have always existed, but have not always been considered or analyzed. Many schools of thought played into the development of systems theory, such as functionalism, organicism, order paradigm, and so on. This school of thought was not adopted by social workers until the late 1970’s. About this time medicine was taking a more holistic approach, as well as business, marketing, psychology, and sociology (some further along than others). These domains in society were utilizing systems theory in their strategies to accomplish their goals. What were American Church’s doing in the 1970’s? We were taking the backseat and following the same old paradigm of missions as we had since the 1950’s. As the collective society began to understand individuals, societies, and the environment, we learned to take a more pragmatic approach to understanding human behavior and solving societal issues. The American Church, however, is just now beginning to grasp this concept.
Actually, the concept of reciprocal relationship can be found in Genesis 1:26, “Let us make humankind in your image, after our likeness, so they may rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over cattle, and over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move on the earth”. We have owned this concept since Christ walked the earth. We were living in community with God, and no one had need for anything. This is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit living in reciprocal relationship.
The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are interdependent and whole.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was fully God. The Word was with God in the beginning. All things were created by him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created. In him was life, and the life was the light of mankind. And the light shines on in the darkness, but the darkness has not mastered it” (John 1:1-5).
We understand that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one and in reciprocal community, but what does the scripture say about the followers of Jesus Christ?
“All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” Acts 2:44-47
“And the Lord added to their number daily to those who were being saved”. Meditate on that verse for a moment. Think about what is being said. I read it as this:
All the individuals that make up the body of Christ were living interdependent, reciprocal relationships with one another. They met each other’s needs by giving up and selling their earthly possessions to provide for ANYONE who had need. Every day they continued to live in interdependent, reciprocal relationships, meeting in temple courts. They shared food and ate together in each other’s homes, with gladness and sincerity, praising God and enjoying the favor of ALL the people. And the Lord added to their number daily to those who were being saved.
I bolded a few words to place emphasis on how I read this scripture. They were all living in their community. They weren’t sent out to the far reaches of the world (in this particular passage). They were in their own community. They met each other’s needs and provided for ANYONE who had need. They were serving those who were not yet a part of the body of Christ. They continued meeting in the temple courts. You have to understand that the Church, as explained in the book of Acts, was the people of God, not a building. However, they were returning to the temple courts. Think about that. They have found a new way of life, a new covenant, and their worship of Jesus was incongruous to those who remained in the Judeo context of worship and faith. Yet they were still fellowshipping in the context of their community, with non-believers. What? You may be thinking, “How do you figure that”? If they were in the temple courts, they were certainly sharing community with non-believers. Those worshipers in the temple courts were not all followers of Jesus Christ.
“They shared food and ate together in each other’s homes, with gladness and sincerity, praising God and enjoying the favor of ALL (inclusive; everyone) the people. And the Lord added to their number daily to those who were being saved”.
How were they enjoying the favor of ALL the people? Because they were living in community, meeting the needs of others, sharing their lives with those who worship differently than themselves, and praising God openly. What did the Lord do? He added to their number daily to those who were being saved. They were expanding God’s kingdom. They were fulfilling the great commission. They were practicing reciprocal evangelism and reciprocal missiology. They were not practicing linear evangelism and linear missiology. They weren’t separating a group of believers and sending them away to the outer edges of the earth, while everyone else punched a clock and kept to themselves. They were in community!
Let me be very clear. I understand that the point I’m driving may offend traditional ways of evangelism and missions. That is not my heart and not my purpose. In the book of Acts, the scripture is clear that there were those that were sent out to outer most edges of the earth. Jesus even said, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Church planting is fundamental in achieving the great commission. However, when you have arrived to the place where God has called you, a reciprocal and holistic approach to evangelism and missions will sustain your Church. This means that when you arrive to that community, whose traditions, culture, food, ways of life, are different than your culture, don’t think linear. Don’t go there with Chris Tomlin worship tunes and teach them to worship according to your traditions and way of life. Build community with them and understand their customs, don’t be afraid to eat their foods, and dance to their music. “To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law” (1st Corinthians 9:20).
Be bold like Paul! Step out and take a chance. You can’t preserve your culture and kingdom, because it’s God’s kingdom and God’s culture that is coming. The reciprocal, interdependent community is inevitable. Enjoy life and fellowship with your community. Do it with gladness and sincerity, and I believe God will add to your number daily.