the weblog of Alan Knox

Models and Methods and Forms, oh my…

Posted by on Mar 5, 2007 in definition | 17 comments

It only takes a few moments of perusing the local Christian bookstore to notice that volumes have been written suggesting certain models, methods, and forms for the church. Similarly, there are conferences, workshops, seminars, and even degree programs that recommend and instruct in one model or another method or a new form. Many of these models, methods, and forms arose in response to various spiritual and practical concerns. Most of these concerns were valid. So, in response to failures or problems, believers developed models, methods, and forms to better present the church in their context, or to correct aberrant teaching or practices.

Most of the time, when people study the church in Scripture, they recognize that there is very little (if any) indication of a specific model, method, or form. The Bible clearly shows that believers should gather together, but there is no command as to how, when, or where that gathering should take place. Scripture indicates that believers should teach one another, but it does not indicate how that teaching is supposed to occur. Similarly, in the Bible, we see believers singing, praying, giving, etc. without any particular instructions about how they should do this together.

So, does this mean that all models and methods and forms are bad – wrong – evil? No. But, I think it means that the church cannot be defined by those models, methods, and forms. What, then, is the pupose of those models, methods, and forms?

First, I believe that the Holy Spirit will (super)-naturally gather believers together. Similarly, I believe that the Spirit will gift those believers as He deems necessary in order to carry out His purpose among this group and, beyond this group, to the world around them. The activities, concerns, and mission of this group will be determined by the Spirit himself, through His gifting and through the opportunities that He gives them to serve believers and unbelievers alike. The Spirit will use some primarily as teachers as he gifts them. He will use some primarily through their giving of money and other resources. He will use others primarily through their abilities to serve other people. As the believers obediently follow the gifting of the Spirit and his will in their lives, the church will build itself up and will function as salt and light in the world around it.

Now, this is not an easy process. It takes humility, complete reliance on the Spirit, and continually seeking His will. There will be bumps and bruises along the way. Some will misunderstand what the Spirit is doing. Others will assume that the Spirit wants everyone to function the same way. Still others will prefer to let more spiritual believers function while they “do” nothing. There will be failures. There will be sin. There will be hurt feelings. There will be discomfort. This happens because even believers do not always obey the Spirit. However, as the group of believers learn to recognize and respond to the work of the Spirit in their lives and in the lives of others in their group, the church will be edified and the community will be affected.

So, what happens when the Holy Spirit (super)-naturally brings together another group of believers? There are many options for this group (just as there were for the first group mentioned above), but let’s consider two of these options. First, this second group of believers could go through the same process as the first group. They could work through their sin and pride and independence to determine the way that God expects them to respond to His Spirit and the world around them. Like I said before, this is not necessarily an easy process.

There is another option for this second group of believers. They could look to the first group of believers, notice how the Spirit worked among them, and begin doing the same things. In this way, a model, method, or form is birthed. It will begin much more easily and perhaps “grow” more quickly, because the form defines how the believers should act toward one another and toward the community. However, what if the Spirit has not gifted this group in the same way that He gifted the first group? What if the community context of the second group is different than the context of the first group? What if the resources available for the second group are much less (or much more) than the resources available to the first group? When the second group of believers begin operating in ways that the Spirit has not directed, then they are disobeying God.

Thus, the Spirit can work through people using certain models, methods, or forms. But, that is for the Spirit to decide, not for the people to decide. When a group of believers begins gathering together within a certain model, method, or form, without considering the will of God and how He has gifted them and how He is using them in their communities, then they place the model, method, or form above the will of God.

Similarly, we should never assume that the church will be found and will operate within these models, methods, and forms. The church is the people of God – those separated by God from the world and for himself. The models, methods, and forms should never be confused with God’s people. And, where the models, methods, and forms begin to interfere with God’s work among His people, or where they do not allow the church to function as they are instructed to function in Scripture, then the models, methods, and forms should be modified, changed, or jettisoned.

But, what about disorder? If a church functions with no models, methods, or forms, won’t that church encourage disorder in its meetings? Wouldn’t that disorder be sin, since the church is not obeying Scripture? Wouldn’t following a model, method, or form that maintains order be better?

If there is disorder when the church comes together, that disorder is caused by disobedience to the Spirit, not by a lack of models, methods, or forms. Those causing disorder demonstrate that they are not following the Spirit, since the Spirit will never lead into sin. In fact, it may be that models, methods, and forms encourage order, but hide the sin of disobedience within that same order. People may follow the model, method, or form and thus seemingly remain “in order”, but they may actually be living in disobedience to God.

The Spirit may use (or may have used) certain models, methods, and forms in the life of a church. But, those models, methods, and forms should never be allowed to substitute for believers genuinely seeking the will of God then living according to His will, gifting, and mission in their community and world. This may be “messy” at times, but it also allows the power of God to work through His people when they are not bound by models, methods, and forms.


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 3-6-2007

    There is still much in this area that I am having to learn. Thank you for this post, Alan.

  2. 3-6-2007


    I still have much to learn as well. This post was mainly just me thinking out loud.


  3. 3-6-2007

    I think we fear the messiness more than we fear God. I wonder how often that quenches His Spirit.

  4. 3-6-2007


    That’s a good point. I also think fear of failure may play into some of the desire to follow models instead of the Spirit.


  5. 3-6-2007

    Great thoughts! I think we should not fear “models, methods, and forms.” Actually, we cannot escape them. Everything we do is according to some “model, method and form” or another. And some are undoubtedly better, or at least, better suited to our particular situation, than others. We do need to always be aware, though, of the danger of being bound by “models, methods, and forms.”

  6. 3-6-2007


    You said: “We do need to always be aware, though, of the danger of being bound by ‘models, methods, and forms.'” I think you just summarized my post in one sentence. Thank you.


  7. 3-26-2007

    Alan, great post. You’ve reasoned this out very well.

    But unlike the previous commenter, I believe that once we start to develop a model, method or form,we are in danger of limiting the spontaneity of our response to the Holy Spirit, who after all is likened to the ‘wind’!

    Can we really contain the Holy Spirit (the ‘wind’) in a model, method or form? Would we even want to?

    And finally, isn’t the Holy Spirit able to maintain ‘divine’ order (not always perceived as such by many) when we gather together?

    As you rightly said: to not obey the Holy Spirit is of itself sin!

    No matter how well intended our model, method or form may be, it seems to me to cater more to ‘our’ needs than the Lords.

    Just a few thoughts from ‘downunder’! God bless you.

  8. 3-26-2007

    John Purcell,

    Thank you for the comment. I agree that models, methods, and forms can limit the work of the Holy Spirit. Unfortunately, I think that when we operate within models, methods, and forms, we often don’t even think about what the Holy Spirit may or may not want us to do. The model, method, or form already tells us.

    I’m enjoying the comments from Australia. Please come back and comment as we continue to study the church.


  9. 3-26-2007


    Just to clarify, I am not the same poster who referred to himself (in another post) as: ‘Aussie John’.

    Not sure if you had that in mind, in your comment … but just thought I would set the record straight.

    I enjoy your site and would love to contrubute from time to time.

    John P

  10. 3-27-2007

    John Purcell,

    Yes, I did realize that you were a different John from down under. But, thank you for clarifying in case some of my readers did not recognize the difference.


  11. 8-3-2012

    1 Corinthians 14:26 is the best place to start. It tells us what we should be doing when we gather together. Start there.

  12. 10-24-2012

    Good thoughts! Ekklesia begins with life as Christ gives His Spirit to His people. His Spirit gives spiritual gifts “as He wills” (1 Cor. 12:7; Heb. 2:4) for “the common good” or edification of the whole church (1 Cor. 12:7). This will not express itself the same way in all fellowships.

    This is why our fellowship has limited our definition of Christ’s “method” this way:

    “Jesus’ method of building His church is by His Spirit living and working through the active participation of each person who is a member of His spiritual body of believers (Eph. 4:11-16).”

    I do believe there are basic activities which every fellowship should be able to practice regardless of gifts, culture, location and era in history. Such practices are commanded or referenced throughout the NT relative to the life and ministry of every local church.

    More thoughts here, including pages linked to this one:

  13. 10-24-2012


    I love that summary of Ephesians 4:11-16. Thank you!


  14. 4-9-2013

    We will continue to have the lukewarm, shallowness and downright silliness found in most churches until we get it through our heads that the purpose of our gathering is for discipleship and encouragement; not to produce rock-star pastor who compete to have the most exciting “worship service”.

    True worship is not a service. It is a lifestyle produced by the Holy Spirit developing in all areas of our life. Hence called discipleship.

    However, we no longer even understand what it means to be a disciple. We invent 6-week programs to “disciple” people as if it were the newest in-vogue trend. This craziness is taking its toll.

    I can’t even begin to describe the number of people I personally know who have abandoned “church”. They are not leaving because of the lack of a coffee bar or cool guitar chords. No, they are leaving because they are looking for something of substance. They are leaving “churches” and turning to eastern religions. While these religions are deadly, they at least are providing the framework of discipline: something you have to look far and wide to find in the vast majority of churches.

    The good news is that people are searching. I pray God’s Spirit will lead them to form groups desiring true spiritual development and commitment to following Jesus Christ.

    Wake up Christians. There is a day of reckoning coming to the church. It will be a very difficult time.

  15. 4-9-2013


    I’m sorry to hear that some are turning away from the gospel of Jesus Christ because of the “silliness” (as you describe it) of modern church organizations. I pray with you that God’s Spirit will lead them into true community with one another in Jesus Christ.


  16. 4-10-2013

    Thanks Alan.

    Yes, silliness. Here are just a few examples:

    Youth group guys dancing in bikinis under darklight
    Bible study is actually frowned on because dancing before The Lord is more important.
    “End-times” apps and programs for your iphone being pushed by pastors
    Pastors who use profanity to “connect with the group”
    Pastors getting tattoos on stage so they can look “cool”
    Churches trying to get members to vomit in garbage cans to expel demons
    Pastors and leaders who literally preach that the church is a business and members are salespeople (Not metaphorically)
    Churches who give people to attend services.

    I could go on and on. There are just a few….and I mean very few…that I have personally encountered. I have talked to many (no exaggeration) youth who are fed up with the fun and games in churches with no substance. So, yes, I do call it silly. If that isn’t silly, then I do not know what is.

    The problem is we have accepted this as the norm. Satan has worked that way for thousands and thousands of years. A society and/or culture become used to something that once was unacceptable and then, slowly, it becomes the norm. It is no different within the church of Jesus.

    Sorry to seem to appear to be on a rant. However, it is difficult not to do so when I see our churches become exponentially spiritually devoid.

  17. 4-11-2013


    Oh, I know what you mean. I’ve experience alot of silliness among the church… even perpetuated some of it.