Starting a Congregation
There are occasions when not knowing how to do something is a blessing. Starting a congregation is one of these occasions.
Beginning a satellite fellowship of an existing congregation requires merely the implementation of existing policies and practices in a new location by people who already share the same beliefs. But starting a congregation that has no historically established practices requires an extreme amount of patience, or the proper use of authority by an agreed upon leader. When founding members come from differing religious traditions, singing differing hymns, with differing expectations for how long services should be, and whether an offering should be taken, and if fellowship authority should be congregational or theocratic, not enough communication can possibly occur between members. Now place into this mix evolving doctrines as rapid spiritual growth occurs, and a person has the situation that has given rise to The Philadelphia Church the spring of 2003.
First, the primary negative: a congregation cannot be non-denominational and get any work done. A non-denominational fellowship is a pleasant place to enjoy potlucks, but because there is no true unity and no abiding sense of purpose and no particular vision, all that truly gets accomplished is the filling of bellies. Parishioners feel good because they sang praises to God, and heard a generic message or heard Scriptures read which could have been read at home. But in this era, no one has been called merely to receive personal salvation, or to enjoy potlucks. Every person has been called to do a work, to do a particular job, to deliver a message. Salvation comes as a gift with being drawn-and it can be lost if the person doesn't do the work for which the person has been called, as evidenced by the servants that buried their talent and pound (compare Matt 13:11-12 with Matt 25:29-30).
The Philadelphia Church began in 2001 as a non-denominational fellowship that ate together often, but that did no evangelism because personal evangelism had not been the custom of the disciples who had previously attended Sabbath-observing Church of God fellowships. Therefore, members who had come from Pentecostal or Baptist backgrounds experienced considerable frustration, especially as new disciples were "killed" by the former Church of God members giving too much doctrine too soon, thereby choking these babes with the meat of theology.
The larger administrations of the Church of God handle the problem of choking babes by not inviting new disciples to services until these disciples become thoroughly familiar with the basic tenants of the administrations' beliefs. It is the position of The Philadelphia Church that this practice of restricting attendance cannot be well supported from Scripture, especially in light of the requirements for fellowship established by the Jerusalem Conference (Acts 15). Thus, the ministry of The Philadelphia Church has established the practice of welcoming all who wish to fellowship, with the stern admonishment that lay members are to fear offending babes.
The claim of this ministry is that The Philadelphia Church is a portion of the endtime Church in Philadelphia (Rev 3:7-13), which has no central leadership or authority, but is unified through doctrinal belief as a series of associated but autonomous fellowships. All fellowships that hold similar beliefs are automatically members of the association. So this ministry represents one voice in the denomination that is the spiritual Church in Philadelphia. And the organization of this denomination precludes it from ever having anything other than little strength. Nevertheless, this denomination of the greater Church of God will eventually represent a tithe of spiritual Israel. Those who hold its doctrines constitute the living stones that form the walls of spiritual Jerusalem, a city without geographical coordinates.
Therefore, the following instructions for starting a fellowship do not come from having considerable experience, but from the application of common sense and seeing what does not work. The assumption is that disciples wish to start a fellowship of the spiritual Church in Philadelphia after becoming convinced of the correctness of the theological teachings of this ministry. Most likely, the congregation will consist of either two or three newly gathered together in the name of Christ, or will begin by an existing minister bringing a portion of his or her congregation into the association that forms the Church in Philadelphia. In the latter case, this ministry offers only one suggestion: incorporation as a 501(c)3 organization will come back to bite the congregation. Under present American jurisprudence, a free church operates with most of the privileges and none of the restrictions that apply to tax-exempt corporations. So hesitate before filing incorporation documents. Thoroughly explore the matter, remembering that most accountants have never encountered a free church. And this ministry, when contacted directly, will detail its reasoning about the matter.
Where two or three are gathered together in the name of Christ for the first time, every aspect of services will have to be negotiated. The model that The Philadelphia Church uses was borrowed almost directly from Seventh-Day Baptist administrations. Services begin with Opening Prayer, a Bible Study of approximately 40 minutes, which is followed by Opening Hymns, Congregational Prayer Requests and Praise Reports, Prayer, a Sermon of undetermined length, and Closing Hymns and Prayer. But there is no biblical necessity for services to be held in this manner. The Church of God model of Opening Hymns, followed by Opening Prayer, a Sermonette, Announcements, the longer Sermon, Closing Hymns and Prayer would equally satisfy doing everything decently and in order. Likewise, the low-church hymns of congregational fellowships praise God (where the lyrics are appropriate) equally well as do the high-church hymns that this writer prefers. These matters are personal preferences, and as long as services are consistently organized, God will be worshiped with reverence.
To start a congregation, a person doesn't have to be a dynamic speaker, or prophet of God, or wealthy, or an outstanding scholar, or teacher, or spiritual leader. The person must be a servant. Starting a congregation is a commitment to serving and discipling individuals who will eventually become additions to the congregation. This ministry finds no Scriptural retirement provisions from this commitment. Rather, the logic behind "enduring to the end" will cause the person[s] who started the congregation to continue serving until Christ returns, or the person's end comes.
The congregation will reflect the personality of those who serve it. The elders of the congregation will reveal themselves by their service, as will those who fill the various offices in the congregation. A newly formed congregation need not worry about the trappings of "establishment," but should have only as much organization as necessary to effectuate the preparing of disciples for the work of preaching the gospel. A business manager becomes necessary when there is sufficient congregational business to warrant the position. Until then, both the title and the person will get in the way of discipling converts.
To start a congregation, two or more will have come together in the name of Christ (Matt 18:19-20). Nothing more than an opening prayer is needed. Elaborate plans will, most likely, be abandoned, so there is little sense in making them-when Christ is involved in disciples' lives, things seem to have a way of just working out, albeit not without problems. But the problems are always manageable. And the problems direct energies to those things that need to be addressed. For example, a meeting place might be a person's home, or an empty storefront in a strip mall that's available for token rent. The possibilities are nearly limitless. But someone will either have to volunteer space, or knock on doors until temporary facilities are located. The problem of where to meet will cause someone to step forward to solve the problem, thereby producing spiritual fruit in that person's life.
What newly formed congregations don't need is debt. Rather, they need faith that Christ will provide. And they need getting out and doing for themselves. Working together bonds individuals who would not normally associate with one another.
Because those who read this page will likely be starting a congregation for doctrinal reasons, this ministry warns against minimizing the importance of music in worship services. But The Philadelphia Church has not yet resolved its music challenges, which includes having a piano player, so perhaps, this ministry is not yet in a position where its input in this matter will be particularly helpful.
Since, this ministry is directed to the lost sheep of the spiritual house of Israel, the assumption is that those individuals beginning congregations will, must likely, have been in existing congregations. Therefore, apply what worked in the former congregation, reject what didn't, don't sing lies, and don't fear using the linguistic icon "Philadelphia" in the name of the new fellowship.
Because of copyright laws, this ministry here clearly asserts that the corporate entity identified as the "Philadelphia Church of God" (PCG) holds doctrines contrary to the theological understandings of this ministry. While open doctrinal debate would be carnally welcomed in any forum, such debate would not well serve the work of taking the endtime gospel that all who endure to the end will be saved to the world. Therefore, the spiritual Church in Philadelphia [a linguistic icon phrase not subject to copyright] should not be confused with the PCG. The corporate entity known as PCG is of another spiritual fellowship. Thus, this ministry does not hesitate to identify itself with the Church in Philadelphia as that spiritual fellowship is called in the Book of Revelation. Nor does this ministry hesitate to use the name Philadelphia.
Page Updated April 15, 2015