Dan Juster

Director
Tikkun Ministries International
 
 
"I have coined a couple of phrases to describe the sad state of affairs in many churches: "religious event manufacturing corporations" and practicing "competitive free enterprise ecclesiology". There had to be a better way."






 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
"In a Biblical vision of community, the members are trained in the kingdom's principles for their vocations in all spheres of society."
 
 

The Quest for Congregational Community and its Abandonment

Many in our day, especially among the younger generation, have given up the quest to build community in the Messiah. Yet, the Bible is very clear. The Gospel of the Kingdom is to be expressed in congregational communities under the authority of legitimate elders. This community is to be a worshipping, praying and discipling community where members are both mutually accountable to each other and to elder overseers. In addition, the elders are accountable to one another, to the congregation and to appropriate outside oversight. Even a superficial reading of the New Covenant Scriptures shows this to be God's will. Yeshua declares that He will establish His congregation and "the gates of hell will not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:18). The Book of Acts records the founding of the first Messianic Jewish community and the planting of congregations throughout the known world. The letters of the New Covenant were written to congregational communities or to individuals who were given instructions about their part in the communities. So why is there such a problem today?

Our Search

Forty-two years ago, Patty and I began our quest for the meaning of New Covenant community. We were disillusioned with much of what we saw as the Church (of course, this was before Messianic Judaism had taken root and become known). We could not see how just meeting once a week, standing up to sing one hymn at a time, sitting down, having announcements and hearing a sermon was a reflection of the communal dimension we saw in the Bible. We read Bonhoeffer's Life Together and began to explore alternative Christian communities like Reba Place in Evanston, Illinois. Since that time, as some of our readers will remember, I have coined a couple of phrases to describe the sad state of affairs in many churches: "religious event manufacturing corporations" and practicing "competitive free enterprise ecclesiology". There had to be a better way. Patty and I committed ourselves to seeing people built into life together, living near one another, meeting in small sharing groups and seeing qualified elders in place in our congregations. It has been a wonderful and rich life with lasting friendship relationships of 30 to 40 years.

There are many reasons why young people are abandoning the faith and (if they do not totally abandon the faith) are abandoning long-term commitment in congregational life. Here are some of them:

Western Individualism

Life in America, the West and, yes, even in Israel, is a life of individualism. As such, Biblical faith is translated into a distorted individualistic relationship with God that ignores the essential communal dimensions for growth, discipleship and manifesting the Kingdom of God. The congregation is seen as a collection of individuals in a meeting. So it is very easy to forego this form of congregational life.

The Lack of an Enriching Communal Experience

Many young adults have never experienced real community. We tend to give ourselves to what was enriching in our upbringing. If we remember a good marriage and family, we want to reproduce it. If we remember a deep and secure congregational community growing up, we want to reproduce this kind of life in the next generation. Many young adults simply do not have any point of reference for community life in Yeshua. Having grown up in the "religious event manufacturing corporation", many are saying that they have "been there and done that". What's the use of continuing in this pattern of life? Simply entertaining the saints no longer inspires.

The Pain of Community Failures

Many young adults have grown up experiencing the failure of community. Lasting community is a product of the Spirit working through qualified I Timothy 3 elders. These standards for elders are a key to community building. Well-intentioned leaders who do not have the character qualifications for eldership, are unable to build community that can endure. If young people have grown up seeing a few such failures, they will no longer want to give themselves to the quest. Building quality community seems the impossible dream. It is undeniably true that it is hard to join people together; there is so much selfishness and pride or ego to overcome. Yet it can be done; it is being done. We can overcome; it is the central meaning of the Gospel. We cannot give up the quest.

How Does it Make a Difference in the Lives of People?

A community vision can only inspire the younger generation if they see how it makes a difference. If the community does not have strong discipling patterns, those who grow up in a congregation will see ineffectiveness. Instead of seeing people changing into the likeness of Yeshua, they remain unchanged year after year. The ethical quality of the life of the members does not impress our young people. Professing believers seem hypocritical and certainly do not demonstrate the power of the Gospel. Yet Yeshua said we are to engage in the primary task of discipleship in community. The task is not to entertain, but to teach our people and enable them to obey all of His commandments. Difficult? Yes, but it can be done.

How Does it Make a Difference in the World?

In a Biblical vision of community, the members are trained in the kingdom's principles for their vocations in all spheres of society. A community that instructs its members in this fashion is relevant in the highest degree. Such a community teaches people how give godly testimony to the Kingdom of God. This includes business people, journalists, politicians, teachers, scientists, doctors, artists and so many more. It teaches them the biblical use of money so that God's blessing is established in their lives. I dare say that most congregations in the West have no clue about training their people in these basic principles for their vocations! For young adults, a Gospel that is only about going to heaven after death is not a sufficient vision to capture their passion.

We Allow our Young People to be Acculturated to the World

In addition, we tend to send our young people to public schools that teach them secular relativism (i.e. there is no real truth in religion and ethics). They spend 35 hours a week being indoctrinated in our public schools, if not explicitly, at least in attitudes. The power of the peer group is woefully under-estimated or ignored by many parents. Then they attend secular colleges where such post-modern relativism is taught with a vengeance. Since we did not prepare them by teaching them world-view foundations and assumptions, they are no match for their professors and the socialization power of their student friends. Christian Overman's excellent book Assumptions is a highly recommended read for all young adults.

So What Can We Do?

The answer begins in prayer. Only a mighty move of the Spirit can reverse this. We must pray for revelation that will show the nature of the community to which we are called. We must pray for people who understand this call to build a biblical community that disciples and begin to practice it. We must also pray for real elders to arise or be appointed who can form and lead model communities that will influence the very nature of congregational life today. Our dream is to do this in Israel; a very difficult place to bring this about. In Israel, we face the challenge of the same problematic trends in the West. However, our success could be a model for the world.

By Daniel Juster
Dan Juster leads the overall ministry Tikkun International Donate to Tikkun International.
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Comments:
12:11 04Jan13 Father Nicholas A. Marziani, D.Min. -
Back in in 1990s I had my own name for these kinds of churches, "entrepreneurial religion" (I think I once mentioned this specifically to Dr. Mike Rudolph). Pretty much says the same thing.

As John Cardinal Henry Newman of blessed memory put it, the church is an organic entity, whose doctrine and life grows and proceeds by processes similar to nature. The 20th century corporate model of existence has little resemblance to the Creator's intention for human beings, and to try to imitate that mutant model of life in the church is of even greater concern. You hit it on the head, Dan ... keep up the good work!

14:12 04Jan13 Hannah -
I do so agree with what you have said, and pray for such a move of the Spirit which will enable us to live in such a way that brings honour to our GOD and envy and longing to those who do not yet know HIM.

15:16 04Jan13 Rittie -
After having committed pretty much my entire believing life to this quest I wish you the best. It seems as though the idea of community and the early stages are truly wonderful. It then unravels and causes disillusionment and pain. I now favor the model of small groups of people breaking bread and sharing life. I want to see people in love with Yeshua and each other. It is my conviction that we will grow into His image supernaturally naturally.

  -- Dr Juster replies: While I do not reject the value of larger meetings and celebrations, the meeting in the house was the most basic model in the first century.

18:26 04Jan13 Gloria Putnam-Kilgore -
This is soooo "on target." Our "church" is working on community starting last year. Pastor is teaching this.My prayer is not only that all Israel be saved, but that the Messianic Community becomes what I know you men and women know it should be - not unlike our desires for the church as it should be the church of the Book of Acts. Excellent, educational, anointed article.

23:42 04Jan13 FD -
Looking forward to having these principles of real community achieved here in Australia.

00:01 05Jan13 JerryAnn Berry -
I agree! Even church has become a lonely place! The expository word listened to only goes so far to meet the cry of the heart for communion with one another! I love that the Holy Spirit is starting to call a new kind of fellowship into being. I have been hungry for this!

02:52 05Jan13 SR -
I came to Israel to fulfill Elohim's call upon my life. As a child, I knew Israel to be my homeland. When I arrived, I met believers at a local congregation. I also saw many needs not addressed by the brethren. There was an unwillingness to allow me (a stranger to the community, yet a strong, committed believer to Y'shua) to be a part of the ministry there. I have been disappointed and broken hearted by the state of affairs within the body of believers, especially for the young adults who need Biblical truth and guidance. I have watched as many fell away, several into trouble with the law, others disillusioned away from their faith in Elohim, still others going about living a life that they believe is right with the LORD. You speak of community, yet my own experience is that when I was part of "community," this community did not seem to care about the burdens of my heart, the ministry that Elohim gave to me. I wanted prayer support, I needed prayer support, and other helps as time went on. New immigrants need courage and strength to persevere within this Israeli society. So much I did not understand. But my brethren did not come along side of me. My testimony is that Elohim is sufficient and has proved trustworthy. For now, it is hard for me to trust others. My trust has been broken by those whom I called sister and brother. And these were strong, "mature," believers living longer than I in the land. I do not know what the answers are. I have felt very alone in Israel. I believe in all you have written about. I agree with all you have written about. Yet, my own experience has caused me to withdraw from organized community. I miss the community and the inter-action and life found within a vibrant community but I walk this land with Adoni.

  -- Dr Juster replies: I too have seen the great need for maturing here. Some new small groups are very good. We are working on a small one.

11:36 05Jan13 Jay Axtell -
Great article, Dr. Juster! Since Israel is the head (Deut. 28:13), it seems the biblical pattern you write of will come to pass in Churches in the west as well. I agree that prayer is vital to this movement. Thanks to leaders and influencers like yourself the message is gaining ground.

  -- Dr Juster replies: May the Lord give us grace to see this happen. We have far to go in Israel too.

12:12 05Jan13 CM -
In your article you mention "We were disillusioned with much of what we saw as the Church (of course, this was before Messianic Judaism had taken root and become known)". I am unfamiliar with Messianic Judaism. What authority does one practicing Messianic Judaism adhere to as the ultimately authority: The Bible (OT & NT)? The Torah? The Talmud?

  -- Webmaster replies: Messianic Judaism takes the whole Bible - both the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures - as its final and ultimate authority. The Jewish writings (such as the Talmud) are formative, in that they record and explain how Jews in ancient times and places interpreted and observed the Hebrew Scriptures, but they are not authoritative. Many Messianic Jews choose to follow parts of the traditions of Judaism, where they do not conflict with Scripture - this is our calling and heritage as part of the Jewish people.

13:36 05Jan13 Ron Blake -
Our Father Who Art In Heaven, Hallowed Be His Name, has given us His Ten Commandments to abide/live by. This world of His Creation would certainly be a much better place if people would embrace and live by the Top Ten List of Divine Laws, beginning with Thou Shalt Not Kill. Those Laws are still in effect people; let us all get back to the basics of life, including Love Your Neighbor As Yourself!

18:15 05Jan13 Diane -
Where else but in Israel, where it all began. I lived in Jerusalem for 10 years and although far from perfect, there was a sense of community that I have experienced since returning the the USA. Thanks for the article.

19:05 05Jan13 Kathleen -
My heart gives a hearty "AMEN!" to this article. For a long time I've been burdened by the lack of strong discipleship for young believers and the young generation. In previous years, I had the privilege to disciple a number of children, youth and young adult women. The joy of experiencing Christian community has been a blessing in just the past 7 years through language school and home church fellowships. Praying that Adonai opens up doors for these real New Covenant dynamics to multiply in His land and spread throughout His Body in the earth. May the Lord use me also as He chooses!

20:40 05Jan13 John Peacher -
I can agree whole heartedly with Dr. Dan Juster's thoughts on the present condition of organized religion; especially here in the USA. A local Assembly of God has torn out the altar and platform area and another is in the process of doing the same. As a child I had great reverence for the entire altar area; it is where sacrifices are made and it is the first step in entering the Presence of the Almighty. Large screen televisions and loud-speakers are replacing a place of reverence and sacrifice. The noise and picture show reminds me of the prophets of Baal yelling, jumping up and down and making noise in the hope that their god would appear. How far we have fallen! Thank God Almighty that I can meet Him, speak with Him, and hear from Him at my own living room table and on my knees in prayer in my home! If we seek Him out, He will be found!

  -- Dr Juster replies: We had much training in understanding God's holiness and our priesthood. Instead we seem to be trying to entertain the saints.

05:36 06Jan13 Nancy -
If we are to obey all the commandments and teach our children this, how do we explain the worship on Sunday instead of the Sabbath, as the Bible Teaches? Is this breaking one of the commandments?

  -- Dr Juster replies: Check out Boaz Michael's book, "Twelve Gates". It is not such an easy issue.

06:09 06Jan13 Abby Chapple -
I would like a definition of "religious event manufacturing corporation." It was a wonderful tease that got me into the article but was never explained in the article and was not self explanatory. Sometimes Dan's great brain is traveling too fast for us mortals and I am one of them. I could interpret what he means and already have a explantion in my mind. I would say churches (in and out of the Messianic fold) have done this historically. I would apply it to The Church that has created Christmas on a pagan holiday, one that does not celebrate Chaunakah, and is off the "Jewish" calendar. But this is my interpretation. What did Dan mean? Because this interpretation does not have much to do with living in community, for example, that was the thrust of the article. But it also brings up another question, also not explained in this article. What is community. At Beth Messiah, members were encourage to live, physically, near one another. But this does not apply to Dan's role speaking to an international community. How does he suggest that we have community on a worldwide basis?

  -- Dr Juster replies: Community begins in small groups and shared life. The term "Religious Event Manufacturing Corporation" is really quite clear in my mind. It means that we are putting on a show for the saints, but have little in community life and discipleship.

10:37 06Jan13 Steve -
I have these exact feelings about churches and messianic synagogues where I live in the US. I have experienced great disappointment and have lost my desire to be a committed part of any congregation. I have also been unable find even one or two men that I have enough in common with to build lasting relationships with to have the type of community and fellowship the bible speaks of. I have decided to shift my efforts and focus on my first ministry priority, which is my wife and kids. I have found peace and enjoy creating closer relationships with my wife and kids than I ever have within any congregation.

  -- Dr Juster replies: The call to build the extended family of congregation can still take place when the Spirit brings change. However, it requires a group that is all out for the Lord and wants to seriously obey him.

16:03 06Jan13 Jacque Householder -
You are so right about discipling and reaching into the communities. I am so tired of playing church. My spirit is so restless and bored with it. I want the word, reaching out to the communities with the love of Yeshua and the life of hope.

  -- Dr Juster replies: Let us look forward to God doing a new thing that is really quite ancient.

17:49 06Jan13 Mariel -
I don't understand the division of life-style and ministry between Messianic Jews and Gentile believers in Yeshua. As a Gentile, our heritage was pagan, so why shouldn't we participate in the traditions, ministry and life-style of Jewish believers? If Gentiles are now part of the Commonwealth of Israel, why is there separation as to what is for Messianic Jews and what for Gentile believers to be part of? Why, if Israel was to teach the nations about God and His way are Gentiles not expected to participate in everything Israel does? How are Gentiles to be included in the constitution of Israel (sprituallyY) and yet be separate from it? What then is the "One New Man" of Ephesians?

  -- Dr Juster replies: Well, I can only give you an analogy. How is it that New Zealand, South Africa, Canada, etc. are the commonwealth of Britain but still not Britain and do not participate in all the same things. Somethings are indeed in common and some are not.

09:00 07Jan13 Lisa Sowry -
My heart was so engaged in your article, because as a believer, I find myself unable to connect anymore to the western church. I have been looking for an organic, Acts type community and they are out there, but few and far between. However, I believe this is a movement of the Holy Spirit in this age and we will see more and more. You cant mature apart from community. Thank you for a timely and encouraging article.'

  -- Dr Juster replies: I agree with you. It will happen more and more but at time of writing is hard to find.

14:54 07Jan13 Glenn -
I would say that many younger people are in fact rejecting outright free enterprise and religious manufactured churches. The emerging church, the monastic communities and many other new models have been noted as seeking to build the life together model Bonhoeffer described. Emerging church philosopher Peter Rollins is perhaps the biggest critic of any I know of the models you described in the past. Not many of the 20's age group has any draw at all to the baby boomers model that defined the seeker sensitive movement. This is one reason Barna see these older models as becoming a relic fading quickly with the baby boom generation.

  -- Dr Juster replies: Alan Hirsch says similar things.

18:22 07Jan13 Suzanna -
Very truly said. Also from 2 great seminars in one church, when together we learned (not new) but re-affirmed aspects of all kinds of prayer. The second even more meaningful was a godly, spiritual and scriptural study of the SEVEN (only) MAIN "Motivational Gifts of the Spirit".
Sadly finding out the gifts and using them wisely did not follow. Seeking to be humble, I almost always worked in the kitchen (that's O.K.) but never in direct "People Ministry" where my heart was (and I believe God's gifting is). Amazingly, God has now given this to me, (through the Internet!) If members in a congregation are working in the area of their giftings, that would bring deep satisfaction to their participation and "FELLOWSHIP" - which should be spelled "FRIENDSHIP" i.e. knowing, caring, praying, accepting, helping when needed,and really LOVING in Yeshua ... Sadly often just not there. You have described it so well.

16:24 15Jan13 Richard Brokaw -
I could not agree more! Community is such a missing, yet an integral part of the Kingdom mission. It cannot be fulfilled without community. John 17:23b "... that they be perfected in unity that the world may know that Thou didst send Me, and didst love them as Thou didst love Me." I am reading a great book by Andy Stanley called "Creating Community". He has blazed a trail in this area of building community and we can learn much from him. In our church, we are slowly getting the picture. The Spirit of God is moving His Body into community in preparation for what is to come.

12:48 23Jan13 Lorraine Bastien -
Thank you for this excellent article. Identifying the cracks in a vessel is the first step in reparing the vessel. Much to pray about and put into practice.


Also in this issue of the newsletter:
Eitan Shishkoff: If You Will It, It is No Fable
Marty Shoub: Gathering the Children Together
Asher Intrater: God and Armies