After defining how to build a first century Church in the twenty-first century, I want to apply that model to the average Taiwanese Church.
What are the components of the Taiwanese Church?
Pastor- main leader, speaker, and preacher as well as mentoring leaders
Elders- Church board to make practical decisions
Department leaders- head up various functions such as prayer, evangelism, or finances
Small group leaders- lead Bible discussions and mentor participants
Worship leaders- lead Sunday morning worship set
Lay people- serve the Church's needs and function in activities
All of these components can be found in the New Testament, so how can this model be different from a New Testament Church?
The answer is in the hierarchical structure.
In the New Testament, Jesus is the chief cornerstone. The apostles and prophets are the foundation. The elders are the overseers. Everyone else comes with their own giftings to build up the Church.
The Church is referred to as Christ's body in which Christ himself is the head. Each member of the Church has a different function and role within the body.
It's in this context that discipleship happens. As life is lived out, as people worship, and as scripture and prophecy are shared, believers are built up.
After the protestant reformation, a new position opened up in the Church called pastor. It was the alternative to the priests of the Catholic Church, but they retained essentially the same major function. They have authority and they hold the keys to the Church (physically and spiritually). As the pastor became bigger and bigger in the eyes of the Church, the average lay man became known as a "pew warmer".
The single focus on the pastor and the sermon as well as the expectation for the lay people to simply be spectators became the main characteristics of the Church in the 20th century. When the new generation arose, they ran from the Church as fast as they could and the most influential pastors started coming up with new ideas to keep young people in their pews (one of which was buying chairs).
This is the model Church that the missionaries of the 20th century took with them around the world. They essentially created carbon copies of the structure and service of the American Church and planted them in different cultural contexts around the world. Taiwan is no different, which now has this same model from American 20th century Christianity.
As Americans fought for an answer to the massive exodus from Churches, other places of the world who received their model fought to maintain their traditional Churches. Taiwan is no exception. The average Church in Taiwan looks identical to the average Church in America, for obvious reasons. But what are the consequences of taking a failed model?
The same pew warmers who invaded the Church in America now invade the Taiwanese Church. It is expected that the pastor will lead most of the worship service and everyone else will listen intently and quietly. Discipleship means submitting to the needs of the Church and fulfilling your duty to serve wherever the pastor needs you.
When everything depends on the pastor, there is a hierarchy built that supposes lay people as spectators who are to be fed by the pastor on top. If anyone wants to serve in a bigger role, they have to go through the right people, proving their worth by their deeds in a works mentality. If the service you feel called to do doesn't fit into the Church, however, you have little opportunity to serve.
In truth, the pastor should have the gift of a shepherd who equips the Church to feed the sheep. It is the lay people who should be doing the ministry, not the shepherd. This is not a new revelation, but it is taking a long time to penetrate the Church's walls.
Since most Taiwanese have this American picture of Church, it's no wonder that only 4.5 percent of Taiwan is Christian/Catholic (including aboriginals who have taken more strongly to the faith than Taiwanese who migrated from China during the 20th century).
When I spoke to a Taiwanese woman on the street about Christianity, she told me she believes it, but she wouldn't dare go to a Church in Taiwan. They control you and just use you for their own means. That's the impression she has of the Church, and it's based on truth.
What if the priesthood of all believers is actually true?
What if the veil dividing the holy of holies with the holy place really was torn from top to bottom?
What if we have access to God the Father through Jesus his Son?
Could I receive my own revelation from Jesus?
Could I receive my own instruction and mission from Jesus?
Could I be led in a personal way by Jesus?
If the answer is yes, the Taiwanese Church has a problem. It's the same problem the Americans fought so hard against. If everyone is one in Christ, then the whole Church could break into chaos. And that's what America saw with the rise of Pentecost in the 20th century. The services were loud, unusual, and marked by the participation of every member.
It was unknown, unexpected, and very dangerous.
The Church immediately cried heresy, but it was this pentecostalism that grew around the world in alarming rates. It wasn't without its own problems, but it showed the world a different type of Christianity. It declared that God is real and can be experienced, and so the Eastern world adopted it in large numbers.
These two strands, a traditional Church expression and a pentecostal expression, often stand in stark contrast to each other, but there is something powerful to be gained from both of them as long as we go back to the scripture and see what Jesus actually intended with his Church.
Jesus was willing to call unqualified men and send them out before they were ready. After the disciples' greatest failure, Jesus rose back from death and commissioned them to make disciples of all nations. Today, we're expected to get a seminary degree and serve for years before we can even take ownership of an outreach or preach a sermon.
If we can empower Christians to find the calling God put on their life and then empower them to live it out, they will serve more effectively and joyfully in the area they're equipped for. Taking the Taiwanese Church back to the New Testament model requires a shift in hierarchy, which means Jesus has to be the chief cornerstone and head of the Church and Christians must have access to God the Father through our Savior.
If we give the authority back to the lay people, they will be empowered to reach into more corners of Taiwan in a more diversified way that will reach people the traditional Church would never dream of reaching. It all must start with the pastor redefining what it means to be pastor and releasing the body for the mission they have been specifically equipped by Jesus to carry into the world.