In our last post we talked about how trying to develop a discipleship methodology for training North Korean underground Christians led us to an examination of the methodology of the current NK underground church, plus other underground churches throughout history extending back to the New Testament itself.
Talk about your life-changing surprises.
It turns out that our modern western way of making disciples and being church—with church buildings, paid pastors, congregations of even dozens of people (let alone hundreds and thousands), with Bibles and study materials for everyone—that’s the historical oddity. The North Korean situation of empty-handed discipleship in the face of intense persecution is the norm!
As we studied the story, our eyes began to be open to a whole new New Testament—one written by persecuted Christians to persecuted Christians who had to face the same challenges we face in North Korea:
- No buildings.
- No paid pastors.
- No Bibles in the pew racks or available through the local Christian super store.
- Literally no nothing that we in the west consider so essential to discipleship.
Instead, what we see in the New Testament—and for many Christians throughout church history right on up to the present—is a church that consistently, cheerfully grows right in the teeth of persecution…through the dedicated service of amateurs with few if any tools at their disposal.
And it’s in those times and using those methods that the church really thrives!
Now, amateur is a word that doesn’t come in for a lot of love in our time. To us, it means “not serious or well-versed in the subject matter.” But that’s too bad, because it’s not accurate. An amateur is someone who gives their all for the love of whatever it is they’re doing. No ulterior motive. No thought of financial gain. No eye towards career advancement. That’s pretty cool, and—as it turns out—effective. Biblical, even.
- Jesus himself was an amateur—not even a trained rabbi. And that drove the paid professional religious leaders of his day crazy.
- Paul? Amateur.
- Peter? Amateur.
In fact, pretty much every major figure in church history for the first couple of centuries of the church’s existence (each of the authors of the New Testament, for example) is an amateur, not a paid professional. And you could hardly describe them as not serious or well-versed: they managed to turn the world upside down, after all.
The Bible calls the amateurs of the Christian ministry world the laity, which simply means “people.” It’s a designation of a new nationality—citizenship in the kingdom of God.
Interestingly, the Anglicans call lay people “the fourth order of ministers in the Church,” along with bishops, priests, and deacons. Lest we think that “fourth order” roughly means “fourth class” or “not serious or well-versed in the subject matter,” consider this definition of “the ministry of the fourth order” (i.e., our pals, the laity) from the Episcopal Church:
…to represent Christ and his Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be; and, according to the gifts given them, to carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world; and to take their place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church.
And effective, as Mormons will readily attest. While we western orthodox Christian types have whittled the definition of laity down to “not the pastor,” the Mormons have done the opposite, building quite the religious empire using only laity—their priesthood, after all, is a lay, not an ordained one.
But we need not look beyond the pale to see “fourth order” (i.e., lay) Christians getting it done around the world today. Just look at a map where the church is growing and ask yourself: Who’s in charge there—the laity or the professionals? And look at where the church is shrinking and ask yourself the same question. It’s not like the church is stuck in neutral until paid professionals and buildings and Bibles for everybody show up. In fact, it’s a little bit of the opposite…
Needless to say, all of this new insight from the persecuted church and from across church history proved extremely helpful to us in our discipleship planning with North Korean Christians.
What we didn’t count on was just how much it would transform us—and our family’s personal practice of church.
Join us for the next post as we talk about how we planted a “church of the fourth order”—a lay church—that spread to another country…even before we started!