I have read recently that those who hold to a more structured and organized understanding of the church have a “strong ecclesiology”, while those who hold to a less structured and organized understanding of the church have a “weak ecclesiology”. I am one of those who believe that the church is not defined by either structure or organization. I believe that less organization and structure is better. I also believe that organization and structure often hamper the church. Is this a “weak ecclesiology”?
In my ecclesiology, all believers are “ministers” – servants. All believers respond to God by serving others – both other believers and nonbelievers. Leaders (pastors/elders or deacons) are not more responsible that others. All believers teach, care for, and watch out for other believers. Leaders are not more responsible for teaching, shepherding, or overseeing. Believers do not serve because they hold a certain position, but because they are all gifted to serve.
In my ecclesiology, all believers are “missionaries” – sent out into the world. All believers respond to God by proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ in word and in deed. All believers live in a way that demonstrates the love of God to “the least” of society. All believers speak in a way that proclaims the truth of God, including his grace, mercy, and forgiveness. Leaders (missionaries or evangelists) are not more responsible for proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ. Since all believers have been reconciled to God, all believers are ambassadors, representing God in his ministry of reconciliation.
In my ecclesiology, all believers speak and serve one another during the meeting of the church. All believers are gifted by the Holy Spirit; and, when the church comes together, he alone decides who speaks and who serves in a way that best edifies all believers present. Even those who aren’t prophets can prophesy when enabled by the Spirit. Even those who aren’t teachers can teach when enabled by the Spirit. Leaders (teachers or preachers) are not more responsible for speaking during the meeting of the church. Since all believers are gifted by the Spirit, and since love and edification – not training or education – are the requirements for speaking during the meeting of the church, all believers share that responsibility.
In my ecclesiology, all believers make disciples. All believers work to see one another grow in maturity in both the knowledge and unity of Jesus Christ, with him being our only measure and goal. All believers consider how best to stir up one another toward love and good deeds. Leaders are not more responsible for discipleship than other believers. All believers help one another bear their burdens, correct one another in gentleness, and exhort one another daily to grow in character and obedience toward Jesus Christ.
In the traditional “strong” ecclesiology, a few leaders in the church are responsible for serving, evangelizing, speaking, and discipling. In my “weak” ecclesiology, the entire church – every believer – responds to God’s amazing work in their lives by serving, evangelizing, speaking, and discipling.
What’s the difference? In the traditional “strong” ecclesiology, leaders are given and take responsibility for things for which they (alone) are not responsible. Other believers, in turn, allow or expect leaders to carry these added responsibilities. Then, when things are not “accomplished”, the leaders are found to be at fault. This may be a “strong” ecclesiology, but I believe it creates a weak church.