Wednesday, December 5, 2007


Going to the Root: Commentary on Christian Smith’s Nine Proposals for Radical Church Renewal

by Wayne Jacobsen for BODYLIFE

1. Build Intentional Community

“Radical church renewal begins with a new vision of Christian relationships
in the body of Christ. It affirms that the church should look, and feel, not
like a club or interest group, but a loving, extended family. What is
necessary for people to live like this? People must truly know each other,
share with each other who they really are.”

In short, discipleship and personal care in the body of Christ were never
meant to come through a paid staff or cumbersome programs. Jesus gave his
ministry to people who would live out their lives in close, personal

Let me give you a word of warning about this chapter, however. It seeks to
build that community through accountability and commitment, two words that
are not linked to body life at all in the New Testament and are often
misused to exercise control over people. While I love his goal here, his
methodology will only set us up for disappointed expectations. Love and
freedom is how Jesus called us to embrace body life for it was in
relationship not institution that Jesus vested his life.

That said, the author gives two key pieces of advice: “Christian community
is an alien, alternative reality that must be purposefully pursued and
cultivated” and “It is a living dynamic experience that is nurtured, not a
prepackaged program that is instituted.”

2. Do Church Without Clergy

Don’t panic! I know a lot of hot-buttons just went off. The author doesn’t
advocate throwing pastors overboard, simply makes the case that we do not
need them in the way they’ve come to dominate church life today. “Going to
the root helps us see that our clergy system is not demanded by the New
Testament. It is often counterproductive. And it can obstruct healthy,
biblical church life. Is it possible that one of the best things that could
happen to the church would be for the clergy to resign and take secular
jobs? The problem with the clergy is not the people, but the profession
itself. The New Testament is clear that ministry in the church is the work
of the entire body of believers, not of a single minister or pastoral team.”

>From both sides the fact of clergy in the body of Christ today produces two
classes of people leaders and followers. This is unhealthy from two angles.
On the one hand we expect pastors to be the body of Christ for every one,
and who can stand up to that weight? On the other, it promotes passivity on
the part of believers, waiting for the leaders to sort things out without
going to the Head and following his desires.

The profession always seems to lead clergy to be more program managers than
mentors, making decisions for people believing themselves to have a superior
perspective, rather than linking people close enough to Jesus, that he can
live out his will through them.

3. Decentralize Leadership and Decisions

“Never in the New Testament is one believer, even a church leader, said to
have spiritual authority over another…. (We don’t find) a model of
leadership that is hierarchical, authoritarian or focused on filling
offices. What we find is a very organic, bottom-up model of leadership….
(Spiritual authority) is given to leaders by believers around them because
of the exemplary, trustworthy character of their lives.

The author goes on to say that whatever leadership emerges exists only to
mentor others to hear and follow the Lord. They should function in plurality
without one leader dominating the others. But for decision-making, he
encourages those believers affected by the decision to engage in a process
of consensus-building. “When dominating leaders make decisions and call the
flock to follow, the seeds of apathy and immaturity are sown.” Of course
this works more realistically in groups less than 50 than it does in large
impersonal groups. For that to happen we will have to learn how to handle
growth by multiplying groups not expanding them until they can longer
function relationally.

4. Open Up Worship Services

“Structurally, the worship services of many churches are preplanned,
clergy-centered and performance-oriented (that often) undermine our best
intentions. In the most extended New Testament teaching on church gatherings
( I Cor. 11-14), Paul repeatedly states that the overarching goal of meeting
together is mutual edification building and strengthening the believing

How can that happen if we don’t move away from our pre-planned meetings, and
invite the honest, open participation of all God’s people who gather? This
doesn’t lead to an efficient service, but it does allow the body to be the

Here the author encourages us away from up-front led worship, which puts the
focus on a few and breeds passivity in the rest. Instead people can have the
freedom to lead out in prayer, give thanks, read Scripture, encourage, and
even ask questions from the teaching so that the body can be built up by its
honest interaction in the presence of the Lord.

5. Get Over The Edifice Complex

“Perhaps the most obvious monument to the church’s immobility and
inflexibility are its church buildings. Buildings are massive, stationary
structures, imposing physical symbols of fixity and rigidity.” Here the
author most clearly suggests the home church model, “The early Christians
could have followed the familiar model of the Jewish temple or synagogue and
created specifically Christian buildings to meet and worship in. They did
not. Apparently they believed their homes were the best context for
gathering…. Homes are a place of family, which is what the early believers
were to each other.”

Of course the edifice complex can be just as apparent in avoiding buildings,
and it could be said that persecution may have contributed to the early
church staying in homes. But we still have to ask what do we gain (or lose)
by confining God’s work to a building that more often than not confines the
life of the body, at great expense to build and maintain.

6. Cultivate a Spirituality of Daily Life

How do we relate to a living God in our everyday existence? Too often we
only see that in terms of meeting legalistic, guilt-inducing expectations in
the do’s and don’ts of our behavior. This method never produces God’s
transformation. Radical renewal invites us to cultivate a relationship with
God, that fills every corner of our lives with his presence where we realize
it’s not what we do for God that matters, but what we let him do in us.

7. Practice Lifestyle Evangelism

“The Bible makes it clear that the central and irreplaceable medium for
communicating the gospel is the quality of believers’ lives together. The
lives of people who genuinely love each other, for all their warts and false
starts, will be a truer explanation of the good news than the most precisely
pitched evangelistic message.” Amen.

8. Work for Social Justice

“Doing biblical justice, therefore, means taking positive actions that
create and preserve flourishing human community in fidelity to God’s
covenant—which is to realize a just social order.” This chapter was not easy
to understand, but it demonstrates that God’s heart is for justice,
especially in alleviating the suffering of the oppressed and needy. How we
accomplish that might differ greatly, but we can acknowledge that our
service in places like that is close to God’s heart and the true nature of

9. Do Grass-Roots Ecumenism

“Radical church renewal rejects the unnecessary divisions that separate and
isolate Christians from each other. It calls believers to work for the unity
of the Spirit. But to be meaningful and effective, this work must become the
bottom-up, grass roots work of the people of God.” Don’t confine your
relationships only to believers who make up whatever group you worship with.
God’s work in our world is so much larger, and we can see that when we make
an effort to seek relationships beyond our own group.

I doubt I’ve done these proposals justice by trying to summarize in so short
a space, but aren’t these fascinating? They have each challenged me to take
a fresh look at what it means for me to be a part of the church.

(Taken from Going to the Root in the June 1996 issue of BodyLife, a publication of LifeStream Ministries. Read the whole article here.)

Used with permission.

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