A Vision For Christian Servanthood
During a church division in 1993, the Dwell (then Xenos) elders recognized that members of the church (including leaders) were not unified in their understanding of the "vision" that should animate the church. After much debate that was tending to go around in circles, the elders decided someone needed to be authorized to lead the church in this regard. At that point they called on Lead Elder Dennis McCallum to articulate what he saw as the correct vision for Dwell. Particularly important issues at the time included the place of leadership in the church (Dwell has historically been very loose, almost anarchical in its polity) and how to view leaders and workers who have been "wounded" at the hands of fellow Christians. After revising the paper with the elders, McCallum presented it at a meeting of all leaders in the church. A month later the leaders voted by an 85 percent majority to confirm the elders' direction. But this turned out to be the spark for open division, and in the next few months over 1300 people left Dwell, reducing the church from just under 4000 to about 2000. Careful readers will detect references to arguments circulating in the church at the time. We have left those sections in for those with historical curiosity.
Our Vision Today
Our vision for advancing in the cause of Christ today should still, as it has in the past, center around the formation, nature and composition of our work force. Dwell has always been viewed as a church with an extraordinary work force. However, today the values which have brought us this far are not as clear as they should be, and a general sense of confusion has settled over the church. Today, we have to decide whether we want a work force that is divided, demoralized and immature, or a work force whose way of life reflects godly values and the effectiveness that comes with those values. Our future success as a house-church planting movement depends on these values.
At the heart of our vision today is our work force. We believe the Lord would have our church set about the task of building up a godly work force which can do his bidding. This work force is not the same as our leadership, but it should include all our leaders. In addition, there are those who are Christian models—examples of mature and righteous living, perhaps without the gifting or suitability for leadership. These people may be involved in prayer ministries, healing ministries or service. They live the same values we want modeled by the leaders and have gained maturity and experience in serving God. Therefore, they should be considered a part of our committed force of servants of the Lord.
An authentic servant force of the right sort is a potent tool in the hands of the Lord. Whether winning the lost, serving the poor, planting churches or doing foreign mission work, nothing will accomplish these aspects of our mission more than a godly and mature work force. The consensus of the church also arises from this work force, and all sense of vision and unity emanate from this group. Committed servants draw motivation and edification from being with like-minded people. When we are "intent on the same purpose and united in spirit," we experience fellowship that is nourishing and refreshing. The mission of Dwell is well known. We now need the quality work force to carry it out. As Watchman Nee says in The Normal Christian Worker, "It's not the method but the man that matters."
Today the elders are setting out to establish a Servant Team made up of those who will take upon themselves the burden of following the Lord at the highest level. These are Christians from all ministries who understand what God wants, and who have denied self to accomplish his will.
Behind the servant team is the central leadership of the church - The upper leadership of our church is the elders and the upper-level staff. Our leadership needs to be strong—confident that they are obeying God's will for our church, and unapologetic for their direction. Confusion and lack of certainty or agreement are not signs of humility. Jesus was never confused or uncertain, but he was humble. We should put away any notion that decisive, strong leadership is arrogant leadership, because the church will be crippled by such postmodern notions. The central leadership and staff should seek to support the Servant Team as they pursue their ministries. They should also join with existing Servant Team members to facilitate the raising up of new Servant Team members.
At the same time, the central leadership should provide for and manage programs that provide specialized ministries, such as children's ministries, missions or ministry to the poor. They will not be concerned in the first place with the size of our church, but with establishing our work force, upgrading the quality of the work force and providing a good environment for growth to those who want it.
Stated succinctly, this is how we see God's vision for our church:
"Dwell should set out to build a highly trained, sophisticated, caring, leadable, cohesive, committed, and flexible force of Christian servants all operating for the right motives most of the time—namely, serving the Lord and doing his will."
This is how we understand the development of our work force in more detail. By examining the vision statement above, you can see key phrases and terms defined below:
- They must be highly trained and sophisticated. We cannot accomplish our mission today with a work force that is ignorant or simplistic. Dwell has demonstrated particular strength reaching thinking students and adults. We are determined to continue this emphasis by keeping a strong focus on the truth of the Word of God. The need for discernment has never been greater. Training is particularly important for the work force of the church. A work force made up of those who have to be given detailed instructions for every situation, and who cannot reach judgments about complicated ministry situations, will not go far. We believe the level of training often found in the established church today as inadequate. We want to stick by our higher standards of learning (2 Tim. 2:15).
- They must be caring. The fact that our work force is well-disciplined and tough should never mean they are uncaring or unmerciful. God's servant is to be gentle and patient when wronged at the same time he or she should be firm and immovable on the truth, including "correcting those who are in opposition" (2 Tim. 2:24-26). A godly Servant Team would be welcoming and open, helping others to reach their full potential for God.
The work force must be leadable. If Christians won't respond to godly leadership, they are an uncohesive mob, not a godly work force. At the very least, such a group would be completely unreliable. The Bible teaches that those who want to serve God should also be prepared to loyally follow the legitimate leadership in the local church (Heb. 13:17). Church leadership is authorized by God to direct the operation of the church. Church leaders are only authorized to lead in the operation of the church, not in other areas such as telling others what to do with their houses or who to marry.
However, when it comes to church policies and rules relating to how ministry is done we will call for leadability, with or without dissent. Dissent also must be within legitimate bounds. (See below.) The Servant Team also has the opportunity to affirm or replace each elder every three years by vote. The principle of rebellion is the principle of Satan. We cannot do God's work using Satan's principle.
- They must be cohesive. Scripture is clear that we are to be united in spirit and intent on one purpose (Phil. 2:2). We are to be diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:3). This means that mature servants of the Lord have a strong desire to be cohesive as part of a team. It also means mature servants elect to practice interpersonal disciplines which will increase unity. Specifically:
- Mature servants will not take up the offense of another when they have not heard both sides. They will insist that those with complaints resolve their problems maturely (Prov. 3:30; 26:17).
- Mature workers will avoid unrighteous judgments of colleagues or others. Judging motives is one type of unrighteous judgment. Scripture commands us to "not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men's hearts; and then each man's praise will come to him from God" (1 Cor. 4:5; Rom. 14:10).
- Cohesive workers will handle dissent in an appropriate way so as to avoid ruining the unity of the church. They will go to the leadership and discuss problems they are having in a timely way. They will not resort to power tactics involving inciting others to rise up against their opponents. They will not threaten or menace others. Such tactics destroy trust and break down the ability of a group to work together (Eph. 4:31; Tit. 3:2).
- Those who dissent from leadership directions, and feel their dissent is serious, should seek understanding or compromise with the leadership of the church. If they cannot obtain agreement with the leadership of the church, they need to consider 1) ignoring the difference and serving in harmony with the leadership's direction; 2) finding a church more in agreement with their own point of view; or 3) if they plan to actively oppose the direction of the church, resigning their position as part of the Servant Team until they feel they can again support the church's direction. Dissent should be, and is allowed in our church. However, the Servant Team is for those who already agree in principle with the direction of the church.
- We believe every Christian worker should find a church where he or she can be supportive and cohesive. If no such church exists, they would be better to start their own new church rather than stay, fighting and unhappy (Phil. 2:2).
- Mature workers will also consider it mandatory that they learn to forgive those who wrong them without exception. Col. 3:13 says we are to be "bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you." While we can call for repentance, forgiveness must be the controlling ethic of our mature team of Christian servants, specifically ranking higher than avoiding hurt or wrongdoing. This is because avoidance of hurt is not always possible, but forgiveness is always possible.
They must be committed. Commitment is more important than gifting or seniority for servants of Christ. Those who have matured in the Lord understand that total commitment to the things of God is our perfectly reasonable service of worship. Committed Christians regularly participate in personal and corporate prayer, Christian fellowship and in sacrificial giving (1Tim. 2:1; Heb. 10:24, 25; Gal. 5:6,13).
Commitment in this context also includes commitment to our particular church, and the mission and vision of our church community. Our commitment to God can be lived out in any local church, but it is important that mature servants of God find one church where they can give themselves to God and others. In the case of those in our Servant Team, the church of choice is Dwell.
Giving of ourselves should include not only time and energy, but also financial support of this church's general fund, the building fund (when applicable) and our missions (2 Cor. 8:7). This is important, first because the worker believes in the cause of our church, and second as a role model for others to follow. For our Servant Team, the terms for qualification for the Fiscal Support Team would be the very least level we could accept as a reasonable commitment. Most of us should be well above these levels. Of course, there are provisions for those with special financial situations to be accepted into the Fiscal Support Team even though they are unable to give at a normal level.
Commitment also means servants in our force are committed to the direction and vision of this church as a whole, and not just to their particular role in it (1 Cor. 12:14; Rom. 12:10). This sometimes implies the willingness to let one's own ministry decrease that the Lord might increase (Jn. 3:30). Self-effacement and humility include the willingness to sacrifice our ministry position for the overall good. In sports, the coach has the right to put players on the bench or on the field at a given time, and to make these decisions without being attacked by the players. Likewise, we need to accept constraints at times, often for reasons we do not fully understand.
Commitment to our mission includes the idea of regular attendance and prayerful concern for meetings like the Central Teachings and other fellowship-wide meetings where participation lends power and edification to everyone there. Serious workers should show up at such events every time they are able.
Commitment to this church carries the connotation of loyalty. Forming earthly loyalties is not wrong, especially when we believe the people to whom we are loyal are engaged in serving the Lord. Of course, any such loyalty is never unconditional. Still, we can be loyal even when we don't agree on every point, and in fact, especially when we don't agree on every point. When we agree on every point, we don't need any loyalty because nothing challenges our involvement. Only when disagreements surface are we confronted with the need for loyalty. If we are unable to deliver such loyalty, it suggests we have a problem with the leadership so serious it could interfere with our ability to play an effective role as part of the team. When we have serious reservations with the leadership or others on the team, we need to be proactive in resolving those problems.
- They should be flexible. Christians who are bound to traditions and external forms are ill-equipped to follow the Lord. God expects mature servants to be willing to cooperate with change in ministry. This acceptance of change is not a one-time event. It should be a willingness to change as often and as much as needed in order to remain effective in the Lord's service. While the immature will usually complain and resist change, mature servants should work for change when appropriate without complaining and should trust God for their security.
They must operate on the premise of serving the Lord, and doing his will. This means godly servants do not operate based on wrong motives such as egotism, appreciation from others, recognition, power, loneliness or any other sinful motives for ministry. We will be found out by the devil if we have such veins of moral weakness in our work force.
We are here to serve God. As such, we can't claim we need to be schmoozed with every change, and have our feathers smoothed at every step. These claims may apply to some extent, to the new and immature believers, but cannot be claimed for leaders or other models of Christian living who make up the Servant Team. A servant who needs to be schmoozed over bumps in the road cannot be trusted at any but the lowest level of responsibility. Such people are dependent on higher human leadership for their stability. God wants those to serve him who will move forward whether there is human affirmation or not.
Godly servants of the Lord need the toughness that only comes from denying one's self and picking up our cross to follow Christ. Such servants of the Lord have to be prepared to suffer dreadfully at times, and insufficient encouragement would be one of the least of these trials.
Servants of the Lord know what other people do or don't do is not the reason for their spiritual state. Those who attribute their own quitting, defection or personal sin to the actions of others are revealing wrong motives for ministry. We cannot accept such a verdict. Each of us has been let down by leaders and colleagues and we will be let down again. But this is never an excuse for turning aside from the path the Lord has for us.
We cannot agree that others made us fall from the Lord's way, or that we can only get up from our fallen state when these others do x, y or z to repair the damage. If we have diverged from God's way, we are the only ones to blame, and we must rise up to serve the Lord and stop viewing our ministry horizontally and sociologically.
No church can be any better than its work force. We will be able to accomplish important things for the Lord if we have consensus at the level of our work force. I can see the following themes as likely practical outworking of our vision:
- We could become a church strong at winning and incorporating lost people just as we were before.
- We could complete the acquisition of our facility and use it as a headquarters for our activities.
- We could regain our strong position in student outreach and acquire a facility specifically for student outreach. A student building would be good for outreach, alternative entertainment and training of students.
- We could become a leading center for learning. With our gifted and well-trained work force, we are in a position to offer expertise even to those outside our own church. Our new facility would make training seminars and work-study programs feasible.
- Dwell could become one of the great sending churches for missions in America. With our large numbers and generally white-collar makeup, the only thing still needed is generosity.
- Dwell is already becoming a national role model for effective ministry to the poor. We could become outstanding leaders in this area.
- The church in America is failing at home fellowships and adult outreach. Dwell is in a position to demonstrate effective spiritual approaches to these trouble spots.
A Servant Covenant
To this end, we have drafted a servant covenant, first for leaders, and then for other mature Christian workers. The standards for participants will reflect the understanding of normative mature servanthood as described in this paper. The covenant is between each member, the other members, and the Lord. Elders and upper level leaders will also be expected to agree to the covenant.
We should note that Nehemiah produced a written covenant for the leaders in his day, and things like giving were included in detail (Neh. 9:38- 11:2). This was especially appropriate at a time when the people of God were facing a crisis of vision and direction. We realize that many will not desire to join us in this covenant at this time. However, it is important that we make this option available to those who share our conviction, so we can expressly affirm our common vision for our church.