It's interesting that the first believers apparently did not rely on hired staff to carry out most of the church's work, nor did they occupy many formal church buildings until the fourth century a.d. Nevertheless, they were enormously successful at carrying out the Lord's command to be His witnesses "to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:8). At Ephesus, for example, Christian outreach was so effective that "all of Asia [Minor] heard the word of the Lord" (19:10).
If we compare the pattern that seems to emerge from the New Testament with the way most churches in the West are structured today, we can see two models for describing church life.
The first model shows a chain-of-command, pyramid-like structure. At the top are the professional, "full-time" clergy who make up perhaps one percent of any local congregation.
A second level near the top are the "paraclergy," volunteers who are particularly active in congregational life. Their dedicated service within the programs and structures of the church is greatly appreciated by the clergy and is often used as a measure of their Christian commitment.
Next are the "activists," some of whom may be among the paraclergy. These believers take a special interest in matters requiring action and the taking of a position. For example, they may advocate for a certain public policy, lead programs of social outreach, or lobby within the church to influence a particular decision. Sometimes activists stir up controversy and make others uncomfortable, but their zeal to apply the gospel is never in doubt.
Another important category to consider, especially in our own day, might be called "the immobilized." These are people in the midst of a crisis that dominates their experience, such as death, illness, divorce, or unemployment. Their situation makes it difficult for them to participate in ministry to others. Instead, they need the body to minister to them. Depending on the church, the immobilized and the other groups may comprise 20 to 30 percent or more of the congregation.
That leaves a majority of the church's faithful worshippers-perhaps 70 to 80 percent-available for ministries outside the church, out in the world among unbelievers. However, these potential "Monday ministers" are often overlooked by church leaders because their service is not directed toward the congregation itself. Yet because of their strategic location in the culture, they should be affirmed, equipped, and supported to impact the world for Christ (see "Faith Impacts the World" at Mark 16:15-16).
When we examine the New Testament's description of the early church, we find all of the groups mentioned above. However, the way that these believers are organized and deployed for service is "upside-down" from the first model-or "right side up," depending on your point of view. The second model shows the difference.
This is an outward-looking congregation in which the people of God view themselves as agents of Christ in the world. The pastors, teachers, and paraclergy function to "[equip] the saints for the work of ministry" (Eph. 4:12). They are, in effect, "internists" whose goal is to make Scripture "rise up and walk" in the minds and wills of everyday people.
As they do that, the larger congregation, the 70 to 80 percent majority above, become the "church scattered" as they live and work in the world, representing Christ.
Actually, both of the two diagrams shown are valid ways of understanding how a group of believers functions. As the first model suggests, the church needs to gather for worship, instruction, and the care of its members. In fact, the New Testament term for congregations of believers is ekkle-sia, the "assembly." God's people are called out of the world and into the "church gathered," which functions as a home for safety, a hospital for restoration, a school for development, and an orchestra for worship.
This "gathered life," however, has its counterpart in the "scattered life" of God's people. As the second diagram suggests, the church looks outside itself to fulfill Christ's Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20) in the world. Thus the "church scattered" becomes an army overcoming spiritual opposition, a social agency to meet the needs of wounded, hurting people, an agent of justice promoting righteousness in the community, and a communications company proclaiming the good news of salvation.
The church-gathered for equipping, scattered for service. Both dimensions are crucial. Where does your church place its emphasis? What ways can you think of to strengthen its internal growth and external outreach?