When Paul went out from Antioch on his first missionary journey, he established churches in four cities. On his way back to Antioch, he ordained elders for those churches.
This indicates that the Holy Spirit, Who is the author of the Book of Acts, knew these were churches BEFORE leadership was appointed.
“And when they had preached the gospel to that city … they returned again to Lystra, and to Iconium and Antioch, confirming the souls of the disciples,
“And exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.
“And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they had believed” (Acts 14:21-24).
The elders were chosen out of the disciples who made up the churches. Disciples were people called by God out of darkness into light. These sort of people are THE CHURCH! Notice that the writer of Acts uses the words “disciples” and “church” interchangeably.
Notice also that Paul felt it safe to leave these newly-formed churches in the hands of the Lord on Whom the people had believed. This is a key statement and needs to be more fully understood.
We who are in leadership in the church have sometimes wrongfully placed too much importance on ourselves. We do this when we assume that the church cannot function without our total “watchcare” over the flock.
A bishop, elder or pastor is an overseer and a feeder. He functions as a father or a nurse to his spiritual “children.” However, there needs to be a limit to his spiritual oversight. Many leaders have too often violated this.
The major violation by us as church leaders is that we have almost completely taken the ability to minister away from the people. We have given this ability to the “professional clergy.”
WHAT, THEN, IS A CHURCH?
If we take away all that is not essential in the church, that leaves only what is essential. Then we would have Jesus and at least two people who have come together in His name.
Two people who have been born again, meeting together to acknowledge Jesus’ presence, is church at its most basic level. It doesn’t matter where or when these two people meet. When they come together to honor Jesus it is still church.
This, of course, does not mean that this essential level is where the Lord wants us to operate all the time. Praise God for larger groups. But let us never lose sight of the basic church. If we do, we will tend to fall back into forms, rituals, ceremonies, religiosity and legalism.