A New Shape for the New Church
By Dudley Foord and Rowland Croucher
(First published in booklet form in the 1970s)
According to the New Testament, the Church of Jesus Christ is a glorious
Church. Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for it. He is continuing to
build and protect it. He walks in the midst of the golden lampstands.
However, the glory of the Church has not always been reflected by the local
churches in history. Since the New Testament has placed the local church in
the centre of God's eternal purpose, it is crucial that we should attempt to
diagnose the ills of our church and move it to health and spiritual renewal
Church attendance in Australia is declining. The gap between the church and
the vast bulk of the population is enormous and of the small percentage who
attend, the majority probably has no clear concept of what the Church is all
about. The local church's great need today for pastors who will be men and
women of God, providing creative, courageous, dynamic, and positive
leadership, inspiring the congregation to new life, new vision, new health,
new outreach and new strategies.
What is to be the new shape, the new style of the emerging church? It would
appear that there are only two options open to the church today:
One is to struggle to patch up the contemporary church, retaining all we can
of traditional forms and patterns of life, resisting with all our might the
forces that demand change.
The other option is to accept the challenge of change and with unfailing
confidence in the Lord Christ, who has declared that He will build His
church, to work towards and expect God to renew the local church. At least
three new attitudes will be essential if we are to experience new life in
? A new humility leading to self-examination and self-criticism from top to
bottom. Lively self-criticism will be abrasive and uncomfortable but that is
better than smug complacency.
? A new flexibility. In many of our churches there exists a massive inertia
wanting everything to remain as it is. At this stage in the emergence of new
patterns it is inevitable that some of these backward looking people will be
hurt and offended. We must work to minimize this but ultimately no church
can expect to keep everyone happy. In a pluralistic world, the structures of
the churches must be pluriform.
? A new willingness to experiment. Today our congregations are challenged by
the emerging "secular city" where the old traditional forms are being
questioned. The local church needs to be on its toes and with freedom and
creative imagination to make bold experiments.
? Above all, a new vision of what God wants the local church to become! Too
many of our churches are dull. They project a sort of "holy gloom". They don
't exhibit the lively, expectant joy of the people of God. Let's not get
locked into a self-limiting, mediocre concept of what the local church is
meant to be!
"CHURCH" - WHAT IS IT?
The English word 'church' is derived from the Greek adjective kuriakos
meaning 'the Lords'. The church has its origins in Christ's Words and He is
its builder and protector (Matthew 16:18).
"Ecclesia" occurs 112 times in the New Testament. Essentially it means a
"meeting place" or an "assembly" of people. "Church" is our meeting together
in the name of Jesus. The vital ideas of the fellowship, upbuilding caring
and sharing are richly portrayed in various biblical metaphors, e.g. "flock"
, "family", "bride", "body".
In the New Testament (e.g. Ephesians) the church is portrayed as a dynamic
new community, winsome and attractive with an eternal significance in the
purpose of God. God planned the church. Christ gave Himself for the church.
The spirit is building us together in the church.
? The church is not a human institution ( Ephesians 1:23, 2:19 ) - there
must be a new recovery of the Lordship and Headship of Christ in the
? There must be practical demonstrations of unity ( Ephesians 4:3). The
congregation is not meant to be a conglomeration of individuals who happen
to agree on certain ideas. Every biblical metaphor, without exception,
emphasises the unity of the congregation. The church is not a channel of
inspiration for uninvolved observers but a common of involved participants.
WE'RE ALL MINISTERS!
In many churches, the spiritual vitality of a congregation is over-dependant
upon the ministry of one man - the ordained clergyman. The laity have been
lulled into believing that they have fulfilled their Christian duty so long
as they perform the "three a's"- attend, agree and admire. It is a pathetic
distortion of all the New Testament metaphors of the church to allow
Christians to be content with attendance at a worship service on a Sunday
for one hour once a week and nothing more. But this precisely the pattern
which many churches establish.
The idea that a church must hire a man who has many gifts and that his
success is measured by how many "laymen" can be persuaded to attend his
activities is unbiblical.
The spirit gives to each Christian a unique grace-gift, and there are many
different 'charismata' for the individual members of the body of Christ
perform functions (1 Corinthians 12:4-11, 1 Peter 4:10, Romans 12:4-6). "The
ministry" thus belongs to all the members of the body of Christ, and our
structures must promote this inter-dependence.
If all are encouraged to function according to their gifts (and yet within
their limits), we will find emerging a new value placed on church
membership. (Sociologist Hans Mol, among others, has observed that the
weaker the hold of a denomination on its membership, the more its demand and
functions will be regarded as optional.)
ENCOURAGE YOUR PASTOR!
As the first requisite, the renewal of the pastoral leader is crucial. Paul'
s dictum to his young colleague Timothy - "Train yourself in godliness"
(Timothy 4:7) - is fundamental. The present imperative gumnaze indicates
that this activity is to be regular, continuous, disciplined, day-by -day,
and to be pursued to the exclusion of other clamors for the pastor's time.
He must follow the example of our Lord who "Withdrew himself and prayed"
Frances Schaeffer (True Spirituality) says pastors often unwittingly break
the tenth commandment on covetousness. His personal sin is that he covets
other pastors' successes or gifts and may be filled with resentment towards
God for his own lack of gifts. To overcome such carnal and unspiritual
covetousness, the pastor must develop his devotional and prayer life. Other
pressing matters must be put aside if he is to become a man of God, a true
spiritual leader, to lead a congregation under God to a renewal of spiritual
This principle must also be clearly understood by the congregation. Their
pastors must not become absorbed in all the areas of administration.
Delegation to "faithful" assistants must be rigorously practised.
Furthermore, time for reading and reflection, and true fellowship with other
pastors must be recognised as a priority and they should be released for
such opportunities to keep their spiritual life fresh and vital.
(P.S. When did you last drop your pastor a note telling him you love him,
and are supporting him?).
AND PASTORS - "PREACH THE WORD"
Why is preaching today sometimes regarded as a matter or little or no
importance? Is it due to our spiritual apathy and slackness? Or the quality
of contemporary sermons reached an all time low? "Why should I work at my
preaching?" asks the pastor. "However hard I try, they won't listen." Why
should I concentrate on sermons?" says the layman. "They're never much
good." So the church languishes. The Comfortable Pew by the agnostic Pierre
Berton has been described by someone as an attack, not on the comfortable
pew but on the "luke-warm pulpit".
The main reason for our churches' decline is that they've lost "the sure
Word of the Lord". Biblical preaching is still God's way of powerfully
confronting us with His Word and bringing us into the conformity with His
will. History shows that preaching is a barometer of the life of the church.
When preaching has been dynamic, the church has been strong; when it has
been insipid, the church has been weak. P.T. Forsyth wrote in Positive
Preaching and Modern Mind: "I will venture to say that with its preaching,
Christianity stands or falls". And Emil Brunner (Revelation and Reason) has
asserted that "Where there is true preaching, where, in the obedience of
faith, the Word is proclaimed, there, in spite of all appearances to the
contrary, the most important thing that ever happens upon this earth takes
The major concern of the pulpit ministry will need to be a systematic
unfolding of the whole counsel of God so that Christians will be led into a
deeper understanding of the great provision of life and power available to
them within the Body through the Spirit. The pastor's is essentially an
equipping role: he's a "playing coach", one who inspires, teaches,
encourages Christians to fulfil their God-given ministries. By this means,
there will be growth to maturity (Ephesians 4:15).
? Let us restore vital expository preaching to its place of primacy in our
? Let us undertake a radical reappraisal of the priorities of the pastor so
that he may be released from other tasks to devote the time necessary for
the preaching-teaching function. An acceptable quality of teaching cannot
come from a life frantic activity.
? Let us engage in systematic teaching of the Bible and Christian doctrine
from the pulpit - a deliberately planned programme for each year, aimed to
declare the "whole counsel of God".
? And let our language be that of "our time", free from theological jargon
and directed to twentieth century persons in their concrete situation today.
Too many sermons are earnest but are too abstract. They don't " scratch
where we itch".
LET'S WORSHIP " EXPECTANTLY "!
Sunday services in many places grind on unaltered and sacrosanct at 11.00 am
and 7.00 p.m. Creative thought needs to be given to cause services to "come
alive" so that people are attracted to an exciting celebration of worship
where they are moved from the temporalities of life into the eternal
dimension - an existential encounter with the Living God.
Such a new approach to Sunday Worship will enthuse members to bring their
friends along and a new expectancy will be generated. (This is probably one
of the reasons why so many churches in Australia are small, as attempts to
make the public worship more attractive fail simply because the numbers
attending are too small. Good celebrations need plenty of people to generate
dynamic life.) And room must be made for more members' active participation.
A careful study of Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12-14 will be salutary and
suggestive. Let us embark upon some careful and controlled experiments.
Those who can read well may share in the reading of Scripture, others in the
prayers. Occasionally the leader of some aspect of the church's life could
briefly report on those activities or bring a brief testimony or some
missionary news. Sometimes immediately following the sermon there could be a
time of discussion and fellowship. It is quite amazing how such
opportunities can engender natural relations between people which will lead
on to a deeper koinonia.
And let us remember that much of what goes on "in church" seems meaningless
to the intelligent enquirer who may attend for the first time.
We generally sing three or four Victorian hymns and the Bible may be read in
Elizabethan English. Such archaic language gives rise to a sense of
irrelevance. So should we blame him for being "turned off "?
We have correctly emphasised the personal nature of salvation, but we have
perhaps extended this individualistic aspect into our notion of the church
as purely an assembly of individual believers. It was Augustine who used the
term "amputated members" to describe Christians who mistakenly thought "lone
wolf" Christianity was the norm. Our Sunday patterns ought to be revised to
encourage members into new discoveries of what it means to belong to the
family of Christians, and how to enjoy Christian fellowship and engage in
the study of the Christian faith and life. (It is remarkable how few
churches have introduced coffee after services, the wearing of nametags and
the provision on Sunday morning of fellowship in small groups for
discussion.) When a sufficient number of people come together, hungry to
meet God, a special kind of worship experience can occur. In worship, the
gathered people of God come into a new dimension. They come
". to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem,
with its thousands of angels, You have come to the joyful gathering of God's
first-born sons whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, who
is the judge of all mankind, and to the spirits of good people made perfect.
You have to come to Jesus, who arranged the new covenant". (Heb. 22:24a)
In that dimension we will be lifted out of the distractions of daily life
and will pray, give thanks, sing and make music in our hearts to the Lord
and hear and receive His promises.
DEVELOP GROUP LIFE
Our society operates according to the value systems of independence, privacy
and possessions, but Christian values for the congregation reverse the
secular ones to inter-dependence, community, sharing. Someone has said that
the real menace to life in the world today is not the hydrogen bomb or
I.C.B.M.'s "but the fact of proximity without community."
Today a neglected area of the church life the use of the congregation as an
instrument of therapy. The person with an emotional problem is often lonely
and isolated, desperately needing to feel a sense of community with others.
The congregation should have within it's structures the ability to heal his
problem and answer the cry for help. Dr Howard Clinebell in his book The
Mental Minister of the Local Church has observed:
"The inspiration, fellowship and sense of belonging which comes from
involvement in the life of a church where people are members one of another
is an important source of psychological nourishment. This satisfaction of
inner needs helps nurture mental health and prepares one to meet the needs
The Christian community is to be an environment that is a genuine, warm,
loving, accepting fellowship enabling all to glorify God. The practical
outworking of this principle will be the development of small face-to-face
fellowship-support groups. The goal would be to ensure that every Christian
is sharing in one such supportive fellowship.
Ray Stedman says of the N.T. Church:
"Christians would gather together in homes to instruct one another, study
and pray together and share the ministry of spiritual gifts. Then they would
go out into the world again to let the warmth and glow of their love-filled
lives overflow into a spontaneous Christian witness that drew love-starved
pagans like a candy-store draws little children." (Body Life, p.108)
It is an established sociological fact that people communicate best within
their affinity groups. Lyle Schaller calls these "fellowship circles". It is
impossible for everybody to know one another in a church. It is this peer
group where fellowship commences, although it does not end here.
The development of such a network of mini-congregations, each with its own
"pastor", ensures that members feel loved and wanted as if they were members
of a tiny church. John Stott, in his excellent book One People states: "I do
not think it is an exaggeration to say that small groups are indispensible
for our growth into spiritual maturity."
So let us rediscover " community". Let us build again a church, which will
be the Church - Christ's body, a womb for nurturing relationships and
ministries within which Christ can be formed in each and every member.
Praying for each other in groups is, of course, a wonderful means of
strengthening the love-bonds between Christians. Group members ought to
commit themselves to praying each and everyday. Some groups form themselves
into "prayer partners ", where two people keep in very close contact for an
agreed period of time.
(And in all this, let us not ignore family units. Have we been off target in
devoting so much time to reaching children, rather than trying to reach the
family unit? Something must be done to redress the family fragmentation,
which is caused by so much of our activity. For example Sunday morning
services ought to be characterised by the whole families being in the church
together. Togetherness is important! Groups should regularly schedule
picnics and "fun-events" to include the children.)
TEACH AND TRAIN!
Jesus preached to the crowds, counselled individuals privately and trained
the twelve. He wrote no books, formed no institution. He just concentrated
His life on those twelve men who would go and make disciples of all these
peoples of the earth. This is still God's strategy - for pastor- teachers to
train faithful, responsive men and women who will be able to teach others
also (Timothy 2:2). Pastors, why not get your 'twelve' into a week-night
group or Saturday morning "prayer breakfast" for fellowship, instruction,
bible reading and prayer (and, as well, some form of "mission").
Further, many Christians have abysmally small understanding of Christian
apologetics. They are often unable to deal with their contemporaries'
questions. How are Christians to go out and penetrate the secular city with
the gospel unless they are equipped? How many of our churches have held
"Teach - Ins" on the various burning issues of today?
As Hans-Ruedi Weber has put it: "The laity are not helpers of the clergy so
that the clergy can do their job; but the clergy are the helpers of the
whole people of God, so that the laity can be the church."
In our Christian Education program we need some "remedial teaching" for
adults which must be followed with a strong program of continuing education.
(Remedial education becomes a necessity because much of what was learned by
some of us must be unlearned.)
One distressing factor arising from ineffective Christian education for
adults, has been the failure of Christian parents to guide and establish
their own children and families in a Christian life-style. One church polled
showed that 96 percent of regular (i.e. Sunday by Sunday) Christian parents
provided no opportunity for Christian instruction and sharing in their
homes. The home must be seen as one of the vital centres of Christian
education, wherein parents train, guide, discipline, lead and share
SO . . .
Each church ought to become an "equipping centre" or, as Elton Trueblood
calls it, a "miniature theological seminary' - training people, bringing
them to their full potential. (For example, are your small group leaders
being adequately trained? Many of them may still operate on the old
classroom teacher-pupil model rather than "workshop" model.)
REACH OUT - WITH LOVE!
The Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Coggan, wrote in his February 1976
Canterbury Diocesan Note: "The church, which is not constantly breaking out
into the community with infectious evangelism, has the seeds of death".
Surprisingly, the great burden of New Testament exhortation is not
evangelism but rather to each believer's role on the body - his
responsibility to his brothers in the Lord and their mutual interdependence.
Evangelism is something that is happening all the time when the church is
truly community, truly in fellowship, truly renewed and renewing.
Too many Christians presume that it is the pastor's responsibility alone to
evangelize. However, when a congregation is spiritually healthy, evangelism
will occur spontaneously.
The Commission on Evangelism in the Anglican Diocese of Sydney, Move in for
Action, reported: "The warmth of the corporate experience of Christian
people seems to be a crucial factor in evangelism. Sympathetic understanding
and unjudging fellowship is the context of some of the most fruitful work.
It appears that few things are so attractive as the true fellowship of real
Professor K. Latourette in his seven-volume work The Expansion of
Christianity reminds us that
"The chief agents in the expansion of Christianity appear not have been
those who made it a profession or made it a major part of their occupation,
but men and woman who carried on their livelihood in some purely secular
manner and spoke of their faith to those they met in this natural fashion."
Yet the overwhelming impression of the picture presented by most churches is
of an inward-looking self-sufficient group insensitive to the gulf which
separates them from the unchurched.
However any organisation that places primary emphasis on "pushing its
product" rather than on meeting the needs of its clientele tends to go out
of business. Jesus met human needs. Clearly the church must address itself
to the needs of the community. People will not support programs for
The provision of counselling ministries is a necessity to cope with the
increasing number of troubled people with emotional, marital and family
problems. It was Karl Menninger, who observed "religion has been the world's
psychiatrist throughout the centuries."
Let us develop 'evangelistic expectancy" - a belief that God will bare His
saving power, a belief that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation
and that God will bring more and more people to vital saving faith.
BE INVOLVED IN WORLD-WIDE MISSION!
"The gospel keeps bringing blessings and is spreading throughout the world,
just as it has among you ever since the day you first heard about the grace
of God and came to know it as it really is" (Colossians 1:6)
A congregational survey discovered these attitudes to missionary work:
? 23 percent thought it was an optional extra for those who had time.
? 21 percent thought it was a duty but rather a nuisance.
? 16 percent felt it was no longer the concern of the Western church.
Missions are peripheral importance to many churches, and it's a sad fact
that many congregations seem to develop a propensity towards
Each local congregation of believers has been called to make disciples of
all nations. The congregation cannot escape its calling to be a missionary
Congregations, which are not obedient to this Biblical pattern of deep
commitment to God's strategy to reach the nations, will suffer a loss of
spiritual life. God has only one program: "the message about repentance and
the forgiveness of sins must be preached to all nations " (Luke 24:47).
Mission experts tell us that with the world population at just over 4,000
million people; nearly 3,000 million have never heard the gospel once.
Each church should, therefore, be afire with enthusiasm for the greatest
possible personal involvement in taking the Good News to those who have
And let us not forget that two out of three human beings have not enough to
eat at the moment. The small white "Christian " and western minority is rich
and growing richer. It makes up not more than twenty percent of the world's
people. But it consumes some seventy-five percent of the world's income.
This imbalance must generate within the poor two-thirds of the world an
enormous potential for hatred and resentment. Many astute observers believe
this will be the trigger-point of the next global war.
Many people in our churches would not think of themselves as wealthy,
although by any standards from the Third World they are extremely well-off.
Our mission involves a moral and spiritual responsibility both to our near
and far neighbours. Christians discover that Jesus puts this responsibility
under perennial scrutiny. Dare I buy an extra suit when a "neighbour
sleeps hungry in a Calcutta gutter?
SO SET SOME GOALS!
"Whoever aims nowhere is bound to hit the mark!"
If a survey asked your regular members what was the purpose of their church,
the basic goals towards which their church was moving and what were the
dreams and visions and hopes for the future of their church, how would they
Goals may be suggested initially by
? a church-wide conference
? an "expert" group appointed especially for the purpose, or
? A group representing the church leaders.
Whether such goals emanate from the "the ground up" or "sideways", or "from
the top down", the whole congregation ought to feel they "own" them.
And don't forget to evaluate!
Unless we can establish self-evaluation processes our churches will be
vulnerable to the usual institutional pressures to be place a higher
priority on survival than ministry, and to put institutional maintenance
ahead of serving people and their needs.
Self-evaluation aims to focus on purposes, goals and programs, and must be
built in as follows-
? Relating goals to the purposes of the church.
? Determining means of implementation of goals.
? Establishing expectations.
? Formulating priorities and time schedules for "when" and "rate of
? Periodic reviews.
A decade ago Bishop Stephen Neill wrote: "It well may be that we are just on
the edge of one of those great epochs in which in unexpected ways God
releases forces for the renewal of His Church and sends it out on a new and
It is my conviction that a new understanding of the biblical doctrine of the
Church can and will fire a Christian with a new enthusiasm for and
commitment to the local congregation. We all need to grasp afresh this
glorious biblical vision of who that people of God are meant to be. Our
thinking and practices need to be reshaped.
For every Christian this means a determination to take his local church
seriously. It means deep involvement, seeking to formulate structures,
objectives, goals and contemporary strategies so that the local church may
become the real Church-glorious, healthy and growing. The building of such
churches matters more than anything else.
To reinforce a balanced approach to worship, fellowship, nurture and
mission, the congregation could be invited to be a member of the "Company of
the Committed" by signing a commitment such as the following:
"I HAVE A DREAM"
I HAVE A DREAM of a church in...(my town-suburb ) which is a BIBLICAL
Which is loyal in every particular to the revelation of God in scripture
Whose pastors expound Scripture with integrity and relevance and seek to
present every person mature in Christ.
Whose people love the word of God and eagerly attend each Lord's Day longing
to hear and be taught its truths. Whose members frame their lives according
to its precepts with an obedient and Christ-like life?
Which is preserved from all unbiblical emphases. Whose life manifests the
health and beauty of biblical balance.
I have a dream of a BIBLICAL CHURCH.
I HAVE A DREAM of a church which is a WORSHIPPING CHURCH
Whose people come together to meet God and worship Him
Who know God is always in their midst and bow down before Him in true
Who regularly frequent the table of the Lord Jesus to celebrate His mighty
act of redemption on the cross.
Who enrich the worship with their musical skills
Who believe in prayer and are developing daily habits of disciplined praying
Whose worship is expressed not only on Sunday Services and prayer groups but
also in their home-life and their weekday vocation.
I have a dream of a WORSHIPPING CHURCH.
I HAVE A DREAM of a church which is a CARING CHURCH.
Whose congregation is drawn from many races, nations, ages and social
backgrounds and exhibits the unity and diversity of the family of God.
Whose fellowship is warm and welcoming and never marred by the bitterness,
selfishness, jealously or pride.
Whose members love one another with a pure heart fervently, forbearing one
another, forgiving one another and bearing one another's burdens'
Which offers friendship to the lonely, support to the weak, and acceptance
to those who are despised and rejected by society.
Whose love spills over to the world outside, attractive, infectious,
irresistible- the love of God Himself.
I have a dream of a CARING CHURCH.
I HAVE A DREAM of a church.which is a SERVING CHURCH
Which has seen Christ as the servant and has heard His call to be a servant
Which is "turned inside out" giving itself selflessly to the service of
Whose members obey Christ's command to live in the world, to permeate
secular society, to be salt of the earth and the light of the world
Whose people share the good news of Jesus simply, naturally, sensitively and
enthusiastically with their friends
Which diligently strives to meet the needs of residents in its community -
workers and employers, families and single people, nationals and immigrants,
senior folk and little children
Which is alert to the challenging needs of society, sensitive and flexible
enough to keep adapting its program to serve more usefully
Which has a global missionary vision and is constantly challenging its young
people to give their lives for the world and is constantly sending its
people out to serve.
I have a dream of a SERVING CHURCH.
I HAVE A DREAM of a church which is an EXPECTANT CHURCH
Whose members can never settle down in the material affluence or comfort
because they remember that they are strangers and pilgrims on earth
Which is all the more faithful and active because it is waiting and looking
for its Lord to return
Which keeps the flame of the Christian hope burning brightly in a dark,
Which on the "day of Christ" will not shrink from Him in shame but rise
joyfully to greet Him.
I have a dream of an EXPECTANT CHURCH.
Such is my dream for the church.
May we all share it under GOD may it come true.
Wagner, C.P., Your Church Can Grow (Regal)
Richards, L.O. A New Face For the Church (Zondervan)
Moyes, G. How to Grow an Australian Church (Vital)
Schaller, Lyle, Hey That's Our Church, and The Change Agent (Abingdon)
Ortland, R. Lord Make My Life a Miracle (Regal)
Stott, J.R.W., What Christ thinks of the Church (Tyndale)
Watson, David, I Believe in the Church (Hodder)
The ideas here are meant to be "discussion starters". As you read them,
write down the points which you find for reflection and discussion. You
should find quite a few, relating to your own church situation.
Why not use this material at a deacon's or leader's conference? Perhaps two
or three topics can be studied in each session.
These insights have been condensed from material originally written by
Dudley Foord, who is senior minister of Christ Church, St Ives, in Sydney.
He's an Anglican, yet I believe these principles are relevant to any
evangelical congregation . Our prayer is that you will be encouraged and
stimulated, and that our churches will be renewed as we catch something of
the glorious vision Christ has for His Church!
Dudley Foord and Rowland Croucher
From the Booklet
"Your Church Can Come Alive" Dudley Foord, Rowland Croucher
ISBN 085044 174 9 No 174
The Clifford Press (The Australian Baptist Board of Christian Education)
597 Burwood Road Hawthorn 3122