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Particulars of Christianity:
312 The Church Ethic

Church Gatherings and Leadership

Introduction & 3 Models of Church Gatherings and Leadership
Examining the Models
Examining the Models Conclusions and Study Expectations
Examining Church Gatherings in the Gospels
The First Supper, Jesus' Specific Instructions, Conclusions
Survey of Post-Ascension Church Gatherings
Apostolic and Eldership Functions in Acts and the Epistles
1 Corinthians 1-10 & Introduction to 1 Corinthians 11-14
1 Corinthians 11-13
1 Corinthians 14
1 Timothy 2:12, Conclusions on Women in Church Gatherings
Conclusions: 1 Corinthians 14, Church Gatherings & Leadership

Introduction to the Issues of Church Gatherings and Leadership


In the Church Ethic section of our In-Depth bible studies, we discuss many topics that are related to church life, church leadership, and to some extent church gatherings themselves. Collectively, those articles clarify and contrast New Testament church practices with modern church practices.


In them we learned that the early church met in their homes and did not have church buildings or the rent, mortgage payments, utility bills, and maintenance costs that go with them (see our article entitled, “The Church and Going to Church.”) We learned that early church meetings involved the ability for questions to be asked during the teaching portions of the gatherings (see “Reason and Learning through Questions.”) We learned that in the early church, music did not dominate worship as it does in our church services today (see “The Importance of Music in Worship.”) We learned that scripturally speaking there is no such thing as a specially “call” to be “in the ministry” that is given by God to some believers (see “Ministers, Pastors, and the Calling.”) We learned that in the New Testament church communities pastors, elders, bishops, and overseers were different terms used to describe the same role. We learned that while apostles and evangelists were often fully supported by church communities, local leaders were not fully supported financially. Instead, we learned that local elders could take a portion of a weekly distribution, which was taken to support the needs of the whole community (see “Financial Support for Ministers.”)


These and other facts, gleaned from these in-depth biblical studies, work together to help build a composite picture of New Testament church life and practice. In this study we will take a more focused look at the nature of the New Testament church meeting and inherently linked issue of church leadership.


The immediate motivation for this study comes from several books, which have recently been written on the topic by other home church advocates. At the time of the writing of this article, we ourselves have been involved in a home church for more than seven years. Upon reading the work of these authors we decided that a more thorough scriptural analysis and presentation would be helpful to address and correct the inaccurate models put forward in these books. In particular, the books we are referring to are Pagan Christianity, authored by Frank Viola and George Barna and Reimagining Church also by Frank Viola. We will quote from these two books throughout the course of our study as we investigate the various models that are put forward for church gatherings and leadership. Below is the bibliographic information for both works. Each quote used in the study will include the book name, chapter, and page number where the quote cited can be found.


Pagan Christianity?: Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices. Copyright 2002, 2008 by Frank Viola and George Barna. All rights reserved. First printing by Present Testimony Ministry in 2002. Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.


Reimagining Church, Published by David C. Cook, Colorado Springs, CO. Copyright 2008. Published in association with the literary agency of Daniel Literary Group, Nashville, TN.


In his books, we are informed that Viola’s background and work in the home church movement spans over several decades and includes both charismatic and non-charismatic experiences. These two works (along with other books and writings which are available online) attempt to provide insight into the New Testament church gathering and to redirect the modern church away from long standing false practices in this area.


Upfront we want to be clear that we do not disagree with everything that Viola (and Barna) put forward in their writings. For instance, Pagan Christianity does a proficient job of documenting the historical facts and origins of many modern church deviations from New Testament practice. This work is valuable for informing modern Christian men and women (who are all-too-often highly unaware) of where we get our modern church customs. The effectiveness of the work is found in Viola’s (and Barna’s) quotations of Christian historians who track the development and changes in church practice over the course of church history. Before proceeding into our larger New Testament study of church models, which will in part include a critique of Viola’s model, we want to affirm our agreement with several important historical facts that Viola establishes in Pagan Christianity through his use of reputable scholars and historians.


First, we would like to draw our attention to the following quote of the well-known Christian Historian, Philip Schaff, in which Schaff unequivocally informs us that for centuries after Christ the early church did not meet in buildings called “churches.”


That the Christians in the apostolic age erected special houses of worship is out of the question…As the Saviour of the world was born in a stable, and ascended to heaven from a mountain, so his apostles and their successors down to the third century, preached in the streets, the markets, on mountains, in ships, sepulchres, eaves, and deserts, and in the homes of the their converts. But how many thousands of costly churches and chapels have since been built in all parts of the world to the honor of the crucified Redeemer, who in the days of his humiliation had no place of his own to rest his head! – Philip Schaff, Nineteenth-Century American Church Historian and Theologian quoted by Frank Viola, Pagan Christianity, Chapter 2, The Church Building: Inheriting the Edifice Complex, page 9


In a related quote, Viola cites authors Robert and Julia Banks and Frank Senn to verify similar historical facts. The early church met in one another’s homes for over two centuries after Christ.


Footnote 22: Robert and Julia Banks, The Church Comes Home (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1998), p. 49-50. The house at Dura-Europos was destroyed in AD 256. According to Frank Senn, “Christians of the first several centuries lacked the publicity of the pagan cults. They had no shrines, temples, statues, or sacrifices. They staged no public festivals, dances, musical performances, or pilgrimages. Their central ritual involved a meal that had a domestic origin and setting inherited from Judaism. Indeed, Christians of the first three centuries usually met in private residences that had been converted into suitable gathering spaces for the Christian community…This indicates that the ritual bareness of the early Christian worship should not be taken as a sign of primitiveness, but rather as a way of emphasizing the spiritual character of Christian worship.” Christian Liturgy: Catholic and Evangelic (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1997), 53. – quoted by Frank Viola, Pagan Christianity, Chapter 2, The Church Building: Inheriting the Edifice Complex, page 14


Notice from the quote above that these authors agree to several historical truths we have posited elsewhere in our studies. First, for the first three centuries of church history, Christians met in homes and not in buildings called “churches.” Second, for the first three centuries, Christians had no public festivals (like Christmas). Third, the early Christians did not have musical performances for the first several centuries AD. Fourth, these authors note that the communal meal was “domestic” and “inherited from Judaism.” (We will discuss this later in our study.) And lastly, note that the quote above states that it isn’t due to primitiveness that the early church had such different practices than we do today, as if they lacked the resources or the awareness to do them. Instead, the early church had no church buildings, lacked musical performance, celebrated no public festivals, and had a domestic communion meal because they felt that doing so was contrary to the “spiritual character” or nature of Christian worship as established by the New Testament.


In a third quote, Viola again offers Schaff’s assessment that the early church met in their homes.


Footnote 48: A Historical Approach to Evangelic Worship(New York: Abingdon Press, 1954), 103; Schaff, History of the Christian Church, 3:542. Schaff’s opening words are telling: “After Christianity was acknowledged by the state and empowered to hold property it raised houses of worship in all parts of the Roman Empire. There was probably more building of this kind in the fourth century than there has been in any period, excepting perhaps the nineteenth century in the United States.” Norrington points out that as the bishops of the fourth and fifth centuries grew in wealth, they funneled it into elaborate church building programs (To Preach or Not, 29). Ferguson writes, “Not until the Constantinian age do we find specially constructed buildings, at first simple halls and then the Constantinian basilicas.” Before Constantine, all structures used for church gatherings were “houses or commercial buildings modified for church use” (Early Christians Speak, 74). – quoted by Frank Viola, Pagan Christianity, Chapter 2, The Church Building: Inheriting the Edifice Complex, page 18


To his credit, these types of citations permeate portions of Viola’s Pagan Christianity and go a long way to establishing the little-known truths of early church life and how they differ from much of modern practice. From his knowledge of the subject Viola appropriately draws the conclusion that the modern institutional-corporation model of church life is not the New Testament model of church life.


In Pagan Christianity, Viola provides a deserving critique of the financial drain of church buildings versus meeting one another’s needs, the isolation of modern Christians from real, shared community living, and the unchallengeable, authoritarian concept of having a single church pastor. He documents the error of the modern church service in being structured to be prohibitive of interaction during the teaching. He demonstrates the origin of the modern motivational sermon from the pagan orators of Roman and Greek society through the homiletics courses of seminaries designed to train new pastors how to compose a sermon. And he explains the inadequacy of reducing the full New Testament communion meal to a small bite of bread (or cracker) and a tiny swallow of wine (or juice). For these efforts and conclusions, Viola deserves our commendation and the gratitude of his readers. We would certainly recommend that anyone unfamiliar with the historical facts cited above, which birthed so many of our modern practices, read Pagan Christianity or other books available on the subject.


Through the research of authors in this field, we can be confident that there is good reason to re-examine the New Testament in search for understanding about how the early church met together. But it is at this point that we part company with Frank Viola. In response to the dilemma of deviant modern practice, Viola offers his own model for church gatherings and church leadership. His model is presented in his works. While Pagan Christianity serves primarily to chronicle the historical trends and origins of the modern church, it also contains provisions from Viola for what he believes to be the correct approach. Viola’s concept for church gatherings and leadership, however, is more centrally focused on in his more recent work Reimagining Church. In this second work, Viola provides 306 pages espousing a comprehensive look at the subject.


As we proceed in this study it is important to define the various models that may be available for church gatherings and leadership. After identifying these models and distinguishing one from another, we will proceed to some additional support that Frank Viola makes for the model he puts forward in his books. This will be followed by a discussion of the relevance, nature, and use of the New Testament as an information source for determining the manner of church gatherings and leadership. We will then survey the New Testament in the context of a historical narrative of the early church in order to determine which model fits the biblical picture.




Three Models of Church Gatherings and Leadership:
Introduction and the Pseudo-Traditional Model


There are three basic models for conducting church service that we will discuss in this study.


The first model we will define is what we might term as the Pseudo-traditional church model. We attach the prefix “pseudo” to this model in order to be clear that by “traditional” we do not mean to imply a model that has actually been handed down since the very earliest church period. That might be the implication if we simply used the term “traditional.” Since, however, we are referring to the modern norm for church services, which has only been in effect since about the fourth century AD, we will add this prefix. The name Pseudo-traditional then acknowledges that this model has a very long-standing acceptance over the lengthy course of church history. While at the same time, we are emphasizing that this longevity does not reach all the way back to the New Testament period.


What is the Pseudo-traditional model?


Most of us know it very well. Whether Roman Catholic or some brand of Protestant, all modern church services are very alike in their key aspects. For one, most church services begin with a segment of time for musical worship led by a music minister or worship team and then proceed to an uninterruptable monologue from the pastor called a sermon. The modern sermon itself is a feature that we would seriously critique, due to its lack of real and serious biblical instruction replaced instead entirely by motivational speeches and formulas for successful living in modern society. (Other common features of the modern church service are noted by Frank Viola in his book Pagan Christianity.)


However, the particular aspect of modern church meetings that we are most interested in is the fact that when it comes to authority the senior pastor is without peer in the congregation, operating as the president or CEO of the church just as if it were a corporation. More specifically, we are interested in how this concept of church leadership, vested so extensively in the senior pastor, organizes the church gathering around his uninterruptable monologue and prevents interaction from the rest of the church body.


Due to the widespread familiarity of the Pseudo-traditional modern model we will not spend much more time explaining it further. We will only note how well the Pseudo-traditional model inherent links our concept of church leadership and our format for church services. Below are the defining characteristics of the Pseudo-traditional model.


1. The concept of church leadership is chiefly limited to a single individual.

2. The church gathering is formatted so that speaking and teaching are exclusively reserved for the pastor while participation by anyone else is entirely restricted.


We will now move on to the model for church services and leadership that Frank Viola offers in his work and has practiced in the networks of house churches that he has established over the many years of his ministry.




The Viola Model of Church Gatherings and Leadership


In many ways, the model presented by Frank Viola in his books Pagan Christianity and Reimagining Church are the complete opposite of those exemplified by the Pseudo-traditional model. Viola himself refers to the model he offers as “the organic church model.” However, the term “organic” may validly be applied to whichever model best follows the biblical mandates for the gatherings of the body of Christ. In addition, the term “organic” doesn’t immediately present a clear definition of Viola’s approach. For these reasons, we will instead call his model “the Viola model.”


The quotes below substantiate the various defining aspects of the model that Viola posits. We will be looking at quite a few of them so that we can be clear and specific about the features of Viola’s model, which he feels distinguish it from other alternatives. We will begin with the following quote in which Viola criticizes limiting leadership in church gatherings to a single person and emphasizes the necessity of all persons being able to speak and share.


Second, the Protestant order of worship strangles the headship of Jesus Christ. The entire service is directed by one person. You are limited to the knowledge, gifting, and experience of one member of the body – the pastor. Where is the freedom for our Lord Jesus to speak through His body at will? Where in the liturgy may God give a brother or sister a word to share with the whole congregation? The order of worship allows for no such thing. Jesus Christ has no freedom to express Himself through His body at His discretion. He too is rendered a passive spectator. Granted, Christ may be able to express Himself through one or two members of the church – usually the pastor and the music leader. But this is a very limited expression. The Lord is stifled from manifesting Himself through the other members of the body. Consequently, the Protestant liturgy cripples the body of Christ. It turns it into one huge tongue (the pastor) and many little ears (the congregation). This does violence to Paul’s vision of the body of Christ, where every member functions in the church meeting for the common good (see 1 Corinthians 12). – Frank Viola, Pagan Christianity, Chapter 3, The Order of Worship: Sunday Mornings Set in Concrete, page 76


Viola makes similar comments in a later chapter as well, once again criticizing any model for church gatherings that reduces all the members to mere listeners and “mute spectators.”


We believe the pastoral office has stolen your right to function as a full member of Christ’s body. It has distorted the reality of the body, making the pastor a giant mouth and transforming you into a tiny ear. 186 It has rendered you a mute spectator who is proficient at taking sermon notes and passing an offering plate. – Frank Viola, Pagan Christianity, Chapter 5, The Pastor: Obstacle to Every-Member Functioning, pages 136-137


According to Viola it is not correct to have our regular church services be lead by only one or two individuals. (We stipulate regular church services specifically in order to be fair to Viola who does recognize other types of church services, which he says are legitimately lead by a singular individual and where all do not participate equally. We will examine his views on this further as we proceed.) In the series of quotes that follow we will continue to see Viola’s contrast of his own model where each and every member participates to the “pastor-only” limited participation offered by the Pseudo-traditional model.


But there is something more. The contemporary pastorate rivals the functioning headship of Christ in His Church. It illegitimately holds the unique place of centrality and headship among God’s people, a place that is reserved for only one Person – the Lord Jesus. Jesus Christ is the only head over a church and the final word to it. By his office, the pastor displaces and supplants Christ’s headship by setting himself up as the church’s human head. For this reason, nothing so hinders the fulfillment of God’s eternal purpose as does the present-day pastoral role. Why? Because that purpose is centered on making Christ’s headship visibly manifested in the church through the free, open, mutually participatory, every-member functioning of the body. – Frank Viola, Pagan Christianity, Chapter 5, The Pastor: Obstacle to Every-Member Functioning, page 137


Some of the signs of a healthy organic church are:meetings that express and reveal Jesus Christ and in which every member functions and shares - – Frank Viola, Pagan Christianity, Chapter 11, Reapproaching the New Testament: The Bible Is Not A Jigsaw Puzzle, page 241


The New Testament church had no fixed order of worship. The early Christians gathered in open-participatory meetings where all believers shared their experience of Christ, exercised their gifts, and sought to edify one another. No one was a spectator. All were given the privilege and the responsibility to participate. The purpose of these church meetings was twofold. It was for the mutual edification of the body. It was also to make visible the Lord Jesus Christ through the every-member functioning of His body. The early church meetings were not religious “services.” They were informal gatherings that were permeated with an atmosphere of freedom, spontaneity, and joy. The meetings belonged to Jesus Christ and to the church; they did not serve as a platform for any particular ministry or gifted person. – Frank Viola, Pagan Christianity, Chapter 12, A Second Glance at the Savior: Jesus, the Revolutionary, page 243


Taking note that elders are the same thing in the New Testament (and in Viola’s view) as bishops, overseers, and pastors/shepherds, the following quotes demonstrate Viola’s resistance to the idea of elders/pastors monopolizing participation at church meetings and his insistence that the meeting not be dominated by one or two persons leading or teaching.


Elders and shepherds were ordinary Christians with certain gifts. They were not special offices. And they did not monopolize the ministry of the church meetings. They were simply seasoned Christians who naturally cared for the members of the church during times of crisis and provided oversight for the whole assembly. – Frank Viola, Pagan Christianity, Chapter 12, A Second Glance At the Savior: Jesus, the Revolutionary, page 248


In this particular church, they were never called “elders.” And in the church meetings, they were indistinguishable from the other believers. Visitors could never tell who the elders were. The reason? Because the meetings of the church belonged to the whole church, never to the elders. Everyone was free to share, minister, and function on equal footing. – Frank Viola, Reimagining Church, Chapter 9, Reimagining Oversight, page 172


While gifted elders had a large share in teaching, they did so on the same footing as all the other members. They didn’t monopolize the meetings of the church. – Frank Viola, Reimagining Church, Chapter 9, Reimagining Oversight, page 170


It’s quite clear, then. The New Testament consistently rejects the notion of ecclesiastical officers in the church. It also greatly downplays the role of elders. – Frank Viola, Reimagining Church, Chapter 9, Reimagining Oversight, page 185


It would serve us well to ask why the New Testament gives so little airplay to elders. The oft-ignored reason may be surprising to institutional ears: The bulk of responsibility for pastoral care, teaching, and ministry in the ekklesia rests squarely on the shoulders of all the brothers and sisters. In fact, the richness of Paul’s vision of the body of Christ stems from his continual emphasis that every member is gifted, has ministry, and is responsible in the body (Rom. 12:6; 1 Cor. 12:1ff.; Eph. 4:7; 1 Peter 4:10). As a consequence, ministerial responsibility is never to be closeted among a few. – Frank Viola, Reimagining Church, Chapter 9, Reimagining Oversight, page 185


With dramatic clarity, all of these “one-another” exhortations incarnate the fact that every member of the church is to share the responsibility for pastoral care. Leadership is a corporate affair, not a solo one. It is to be shouldered by the entire body. Consequently, the idea that elders direct the affairs of the church, make decisions in all corporate matters, handle all of its problems, and supply all of its teaching is alien to New Testament thinking. Such an idea is pure fantasy and bereft of biblical support. – Frank Viola, Reimagining Church, Chapter 9, Reimagining Oversight, page 187


In the following quotes, Viola includes what he feels are deficiencies of small group bible study formats despite their allowance of greater interaction and dialogue than the typical Sunday morning service.


All the gatherings operated more like a Bible study or traditional prayer meeting rather than a free-flowing, open-participatory gathering that is envisioned in the New Testament where Jesus Christ is made visible by the every-member functioning of His body. – Frank Viola, Pagan Christianity, Afterword, page 266


Note that it takes time for a church to be equipped to conduct an open meeting. And herein lies the role of church planters. Their job is to equip the members to function in a coordinated way. That includes encouraging those who rarely participate to function more and those who tend to dominate the meeting to function less. It also involves showing God’s people how to fellowship with the Lord in such a way that they will have something to contribute in every meeting. – Frank Viola, Pagan Christianity, Chapter 12, A Second Glance At the Savior: Jesus, the Revolutionary, page 252


The above quotes give us some additional insight into what Viola envisions for regular church gatherings. Not only is Viola against the Sunday morning format, which completely restricts all participation from the congregation, but he is also ruling out any format where leadership and participation is not equally shared by all. Bible study formats where one, two, or three persons lead the group are just as unacceptable to Viola as services where one person gives an uninterruptable sermon. In Viola’s model, there must be total equality of participation by virtually all that are present. No members should speak or be more dominant than any others. Consequently, home churches where some lead and present teaching while others interrupt throughout the study, ask questions, or make comments are not what Viola has in mind.


One key to understanding Viola’s model is what he means by “functioning” and “sharing.” Some of the above quotes imply that in Viola’s view the sharing and functioning, which is traditionally reserved only for the pastor, is instead shared equally by all members of the congregation. Below, Viola describes the model he envisions and implements in the house churches that he interacts with.


In organic church life, the meetings look different every week. While the brothers and sisters in an organic church may prayerfully plan the focus of their own meetings (for instance, they might set aside a month for the body to concentrate on Ephesians 1), they do not plan a specific order of worship. Instead, everyone is free to function, share, participate, and minister spiritually during gatherings, so the creativity expressed in them is endless. Participants do not know who will stand up and share next nor what they will share. There might be skits; there might be poems read, there might be new songs introduced and sung; there might be exhortations, testimonies, short teachings, revelations, and prophetic words. Because everyone is involved and people contribute spontaneously, boredom is not a problem. The most meaningful meetings are generally those in which everyone participates and functions. Jesus Christ is the center of the meeting. He is glorified through the songs, the lyrics, the prayers, the ministry, and the sharing. The meeting is completely open for the Holy Spirit to reveal Christ through each member as He sees fit, In the words of 1 Corinthians 14:26, “every one of you” contributes something of Christ to the gathering. In organic church life, the corporate church meeting is an explosive outflow of what the Lord revealed of Himself to each member during the week. These features are virtually absent in the typical institutional church service. – Frank Viola, Pagan Christianity, Afterword, page 261


For instance, I (Frank) recently attended a conference where a contemporary church planter spent an entire weekend with a network of house churches. Each day, the church planter submerged the churches in a revelation of Jesus Christ. But he also gave them very practical instruction on how to experience what he preached. The churches, having been equipped that weekend, have been having their own meetings where every member has contributed something of Christ in the gathering through exhortations, encouragements, teachings, testimonies, writing new songs, poems, etc. This is essential New Testament apostolic ministry. – Frank Viola, Pagan Christianity, Chapter 4, The Sermon: Protestantism’s Most Sacred Cow, page 99


Some shared poems, others shared songs, others shared stories, others shared from Scripture, others offered prayers. – Frank Viola, Reimagining Church, Chapter 1, Reimagining the Church Meeting, page 70


In fact, one of the goals of New Testament-styled preaching and teaching is to get each of us to function (Ephesians 4:11-16). It is to encourage us to open our mouths in the church meeting (1 Corinthians 12-14). – Frank Viola, Pagan Christianity, Chapter 4, The Sermon: Protestantism’s Most Sacred Cow, page 97


The church meeting was based upon the “round-table” principle. That is, every member was encouraged to function and participate. – Frank Viola, Reimagining Church, Chapter 2, Reimagining the Church Meeting, pages 53


To be sure, Viola certainly intends that all persons have an equal part in speaking. However, we can see that by “every-member functioning,” Viola does not simply mean that all members take turns giving long-winded sermons. At Viola’s church meetings there are songs. There are poems. There are skits. There are short teachings. There are commentaries on passages read earlier in the week. There are testimonies and stories about what God has done in your life. Prayers are offered. But no member teaches at length. There are no long teaching presentations in Viola’s church gathering. While some planning may occur, it is not necessary and the meetings do not follow a set order, but rather are completely spontaneous. Each person takes a turn leading and sharing for a few moments. No member takes up a disproportionate amount of the meeting time than any other member.


As Viola explains, he believes that the New Testament calls for just the type of meeting he has described for us above with no one, two, or three people  dominating or directing the meeting.


Nowhere in the New Testament do we find grounds for a church meeting that is dominated or directed by a human being. – Frank Viola, Reimagining Church, Chapter 2, Reimagining the Church Meeting, pages 54


In like manner, the New Testament letters show that the ministry of God’s Word came from the entire church in their regular gatherings. From Romans 12:6-8, 1 Corinthians 14:26, and Colossians 3:16, we see that it included teaching, exhortation, prophecy, singing, and admonishment. This “every-member” functioning was also conversational (1 Corinthians 14:29) and marked by interruptions (1 Corinthians 14:30). – Frank Viola, Pagan Christianity, Chapter 4, The Sermon: Protestantism’s Most Sacred Cow, page 88


The regular meetings of the church envisioned in Scripture allowed for every member to participate in the building up of the body of Christ (Eph. 4:16). There was no “up-front” leadership. No one took center stage. Unlike today’s practice, the teaching in the church meeting was not delivered by the same person week after week. Instead, every member had the right, the privilege, and the responsibility to minister in the gathering. Mutual encouragement was the hallmark of this meeting. “Every one of you” was its outstanding characteristic. – Frank Viola, Reimagining Church, Chapter 2, Reimagining the Church Meeting, page 52


Again, “one-anothering” was the dominant ingredient of the early church gathering. In such an open format, the early Christians regularly composed their own songs and sang them in the meetings. In like manner, each Christian who was given something to say by the Holy Spirit had the liberty to supply it through his or her unique gift. – Frank Viola, Reimagining Church, Chapter 2, Reimagining the Church Meeting, pages 52-53


From all of these quotes we can get a pretty clear idea of Viola’s model for church gatherings and leadership. Below we have listed its chief characteristics.


1. No one, two, or three people lead or teach at church meetings or take up the majority of the speaking.

2. Church meetings are not defined or dominated by leading and teaching from elders/pastors/bishops/overseers.

3. There are no long teaching components during a church gathering.

4. Every member, whether man or woman, has the right and the responsibility to share and speak at the church gathering by singing a song, reading a poem, acting out a skit, giving a short bible commentary on a passage they read that week, saying some encouraging words, giving a testimony of something good God has done, or praying.




Spiritual Gifts and Church Gatherings


As we sum up Viola’s model we should comment briefly on an additional set of items that he lists as possible occurrences at their church meetings. In the above quotes and elsewhere in his books, Viola mentions the giving of revelations and prophecies. He also mentions every person using their gifts for the benefit of all as they are enabled by the Holy Spirit and he references 1 Corinthians 12-14 in support of his “every-member functioning” model. However, Viola does not (in his books) provide evidence for whether spiritual gifts, such as those mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12-14, are legitimately being distributed to the church by the Holy Spirit today.


This subject has some relevance to our study of church gatherings for two reasons. First, if the Holy Spirit is not giving spiritual gifts to the church today as He did in the early church period, then passages in the New Testament which inform us about their occurrence during church meetings are not relevant to our meetings today. (We will return to this topic later as we discuss the relevant New Testament passages.)


Second, any model for church gatherings (such as Viola’s), which demands replacing human leadership with the direction and involvement of the Holy Spirit must first answer the question of whether the Holy Spirit is providing that same kind of oversight in the church today. Viola does not answer this crucial question in his books. A discussion of that topic can be found on our website in the In-Depth Studies section of our website under the title “Charismatic Doctrines.” The conclusion of that study is that the gifts are not being distributed by the Holy Spirit in the modern church the way they were in the early church. Without the legitimate leading of the Holy Spirit (as exemplified through the distribution of true spiritual gifts), Viola’s model, which claims to be Spirit-led rather than human-led, will either be a model without any leadership or one which, in reality, is as much based on human leadership as any other model. The only difference is the number of humans leading the meeting, many instead of just a few.


Having defined the first two models of church gatherings and leadership, the Pseudo-traditional model, and the Viola model, we will now move on to the third model that we will discuss in our study.




The Elder-Leadership Model for Church Gatherings and Leadership


The above two models for church gatherings and leadership are at opposite ends of the spectrum from one another. One model, which we have called the Pseudo-traditional model, restricts the leading of church meetings to a single, authoritative pastor/elder/overseer/bishop who alone can teach and speak over the course of the meetings. No one else can contribute, speak, ask a question, or share in any other way during the service.


In the second model, which we called the Viola model, leadership and teaching by one, two, or three dominant persons is completely prohibited. As such, pastors/elders/overseers/bishops do not lead the meeting through teaching. There are no long teaching segments at all. All members speak and contribute equally over the course of the meeting through songs, poems, skits, prayers, testimonies, encouraging words, short commentaries or teachings. 


A third model is available, which we believe is the model actually presented in the New Testament. The defining features of this model will be compiled as we survey and study the New Testament. However, at this point it is helpful to likewise provide a definition of this third model to compare and contrast against the other two alternatives. This third model we will call the Elder-Leadership model.


In the Elder-Leadership model each local church community is lead by a group of elders/bishops/overseers/pastors. These men coordinate and work in cooperation with one another as a group and not in the singular manner of the Pseudo-traditional pastor. Church meetings are conducted through the leadership of the elders who dominate the meeting by teaching the Word. However, participation and sharing are not exclusively limited to the elders. Instead, the men present in the meetings are able to interrupt at any point during the presentation of teaching and ask a question or make a comment of their own. It was also possible and allowable for other men, besides the elders, to present scriptural insight to the church, provided that the elders were present to supply supervision. (The question of participation by women during church gatherings will be addressed later in our study.)


In this way the Elder-Leadership model falls between the two extremes offered by the Pseudo-traditional model and the Viola model. In it, dialogue is not prohibited. Instead it is encouraged. However, emphasis is still placed on the priority of teaching of the Word. This is done by those who have become capable of doing so. This teaching of the elders dominates the church gatherings, with one of its purposes being to develop other men to share in this vital role.


To sum up, the Elder-Leadership model has the following characteristics.


1. A group of capable teachers dominates the church gathering through the teaching of the Word. These men could correctly be referred to biblically as elders, pastors, overseers, or bishops. They share the leadership with one another rather than having a single person over the entire church community. One of their goals is to train up other men in the congregation to join them in this important role.

2. Speaking at the church gathering is not limited to the teaching of the elder(s), instead the men (but not women) who are present can interrupt with questions, comments, clarifications, or even counterpoints. Dialogue is permitted and encouraged as useful.