Jesus had two separate ministries. One was to Israel, and the other was to the Twelve, whom he knew would carry on his work after he departed.
Let’s take a closer look at the difference between his public ministry, and his private one:
6 “I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. 7 Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. 8 For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. 9 I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. 11 I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.– John 17:6-12 NIV
Although he taught thousands publicly, he said none was lost except for Judas, and he by prophesy. When the multitudes became confused at his teaching and dwindled, he wasn’t talking about them. His deepest desire and work in the Spirit was for the eleven men his Father gave him as his personal ministry. At the end, he could say that he fulfilled this responsibility and that none were lost.
There were two things that made these men into a spiritual family: “I gave them the words you gave me – and they accepted them.”
Jesus called them, and they left their businesses and families to follow him. He taught them, and they accepted it as from the Lord. This is what makes a spiritual family. Whomever you accept as the teacher the Lord has placed in your life, he or she is your spiritual parent.
No one takes authority in this scenario, and it isn’t blind faith. We give authority, after we have tested the person thoroughly and determined that the Lord has placed them in our lives for our benefit. I don’t say that my teacher is incapable of error. I accept him as a gift from God, give grace for his imperfections, and seek the blessing the Lord wishes to bestow on my life from his relationship with God.
Modern Church Structures
I was moved to write this because of a book and author I met, Unchurching, by Richard Jacobson. He happens to live near Nashville, and I happened to meet one of the people who is doing church the way he writes about it; that is, if you believe in things just happening. I do not believe that, but felt guided to quit my long-time job with the University of Idaho and move to Nashville, and felt guided to him and his book.
In Unchurching, Richard writes about the way his family practiced their life in Christ in small communities like a family during the Jesus Movement of the 70’s, and how later on he became a professional pastor in an organized church. He felt the presence of God in both settings, but became increasingly uncomfortable with the way churches have become corporations that do not reflect what we read about the church of the New Testament.
Richard felt the Lord call him (and not necessarily anyone else) to step down from the corporate church and return to a small Christ-centered community again, like a family. His most controversial views concern the equality of all believers – men and women alike – and the lack of a firm scriptural basis for corporate structures or hierarchies. They had elders and bishops, but an elder is a family head, and a bishop is someone who keeps a watchful eye on sheep for their owner. Apostles were “sent.” Everyone had a calling from the Lord, but each answered to Jesus and to the community through mutual submission, from the eldest to the youngest. That kind of trust doesn’t happen casually – it takes years of growing together to become like family.
I can not speak for the church in other countries, but I can say with some confidence that the church is broken in North America. I got involved in Christian outreach through a small downtown storefront church where we worked with ex-convicts, mentally ill, and others that fell through the social services “safety net.” I invested ten years into this church, loving all of it, but when it grew to the point that it began to compete with existing ministries and social services for “customers,” I was just done.
The church Jesus founded was never commanded to make those things its primary mission. A few were still coming to belief and requesting baptism, but I did not think we needed our own building, with coffee shop, bike repair business, eBay store, and a host of social service offerings with full-time staff operating it during normal business hours. The non-profit model we bought into as a church took away my family and offered everyone a paying job instead.
Small Families Within a Larger Body
At the start of my journey, the Lord sent an older man to befriend me. He knew me when I was still a Mormon, walked with me through my recovery, and still calls me every day. I call him my father and he calls me his son. When I was broke and needed help, he gave me money. When he was broke, I gave him money. This is what family does. He has been thrown out of some pretty respectable churches, and he never did buy into the corporate model.
He was converted by the Spirit of God, and went to Seattle to join in the Jesus movement in the 70’s. He preached on street corners, and still ministers to strangers in restaurants, trailer parks, and parking lots. Today he is known by all the churches of Spokane as a prophet, but his only “church” is the people the Lord has given him to shepherd, and we are few in number. He has ministered to thousands, cast out demons, healed, prophesied, and has spoken out repeatedly at pastor’s breakfasts, but the family he shepherds is only about ten.
A few years ago, Sandra and I decided to start a Bible study group in our apartment complex, and we invited the whole neighborhood. Eventually, about 5 or 6 regulars became a family with us centered around Christ. Gary showed up occasionally to check on our progress or give a word from God. Anytime he came, I taught nothing and let him speak. We prayed together, sang together, ate a meal together, served communion, read the Bible together, and when the unexpected happened, we helped each other like family does.
Some belonged to an organized church, and some did not. In this setting, our son and his fiancee overcame their questions, received Christ, and asked to be baptized at a local church where they still belong. Our role was small in this, but we were family and we believed. We should not underestimate the power the Spirit of God has to convert unbelievers when we come together in this way.
During this time, the Lord gave me one young man to shepherd who has become like a son to me, so the “family” continues. Like father, like son.
Q: Who is your spiritual father or mother? Whom has he given you as a spiritual brother or sister, son or daughter?
A: This is your church. We can still minister to tens, hundreds, or thousands, but our first priority must be the ones the Lord has entrusted to us personally.
Q: If the real church is like family and not an organization, then how do we manage it when it grows?
A: If Jesus is the head of my church, he manages it. He has given me Sandra and one young man to look after. I just need to keep doing what I saw my father do.