How should we lead the church?
New Testament scholar Andrew D. Clarke imagines what it would be like to interview the Apostle Paul about church leadership today.
The opportunity to interview the Apostle Paul about his perceptions of church in the early twenty-first century was an opportunity not to be missed.
Interviewer: Paul, could you start by telling us some of the most striking things that you notice about churches today?
Apostle Paul: The thing that amazes me the most is to see how church buildings now have such a high profile in every town and in some of the best city centre locations.
Interviewer: Did you ever foresee church buildings would be so large, so permanent and so centrally located?
Apostle Paul: No – our imaginations in the first century never quite expected this. But then, nor did we expect so many centuries would pass without seeing the return of our Lord Jesus Christ. Certainly these churches are amazing testimony to centuries of significant growth, development and influence.
Interviewer: Would you have liked to minister in these kind of churches?
Apostle Paul: I can certainly see advantages, but then I can also see disadvantages. The biggest advantages are public profile and space. Christians travelling through a strange city can immediately identify where believers are gathering. For many years, identifying whether there was a group of believers in a city was a major challenge to me on my travels.
These church buildings also offer an amazing space for large crowds to worship and hear the gospel proclaimed. Our Lord Jesus, of course, often spoke to very large crowds of my countrymen, and we also looked forward to festival days when the whole city of Jerusalem could offer loud worship to the Lord, with many musical instruments. These new buildings must be ideal for this. When I wrote to the churches in Asia Minor, Macedonia and Achaia, however, this was something I knew was not a realistic option – so I said little about it.
Interviewer: And the disadvantages?
Apostle Paul: Probably the same – public profile and space! As I look around today, it seems to me that ‘church’ is now identified either with a building, or with what happens in that building – at fixed times each week. It’s as if church comes down to a list of weekly activities, advertised on large notice-boards outside locked church buildings.
Interviewer: But, what about when church is ‘on’?
Apostle Paul: As I say, I’m excited about the opportunities for both teaching and worship, but I’m puzzled about how the mutual up-building of the body is carried out in spaces like this, and I’d be surprised if these buildings were good places to meet unbelievers.