Dan Juster

Tikkun Ministries International
"Many years ago, I came to the conclusion that there was no such thing as an acceptable, independent congregation in the Bible and that self-appointed leaders or unaccountable leaders are not in accord with the Scriptures."

"Every now and again, Patty and I ask ourselves, "What are we doing here?" It is obvious. We are here to help foster this kind of connection and accountability within Israeli Messianic Judaism."

Consider the following two case studies drawn from real life here in Israel.

A thriving congregation with significant outreach programs to the needy, including alcoholics and drug addicts, made great gains for the Kingdom of God in Jerusalem. Then one of the leadership team and a few who supported him came to disagree with the senior leader. They decided to split from the congregation and form their own assembly. As a result, there are now two separate congregations that are not nearly as effective as before. The leaders of the new congregation simply appointed themselves to leadership in the split-off group. There is no council that could have judged this situation or prevented the sad results.

An effective congregation ministering to Russian Jews with a large Russian Jewish population found itself in a similar situation to the one described above. A leadership couple split from the congregation and took a good size contingent with them. They were largely self-appointed to lead a new congregation. There was little pressure from the Messianic Jewish leadership in the Land to deal with this couple.

The Wild West and the Book of Judges

Sometimes it seems as though Israeli congregations are like the Wild West or the book of Judges: "Everyone does what is right in their own eyes" (Judges 21:25). Of course, this is not unique to Israel; it is common everywhere in the Western world and especially in the United States. Anyone in the USA can hang a shingle and proclaim themselves a leader. Even Hollywood mocked the phenomena of self-appointment in the film "The Apostle". In one of the most memorable scenes, Robert Duvall baptizes himself as an apostle. This depiction illustrates a Christianity where there is no accountability and no vetting for character standards.

Last week, a colleague spoke to me about a conversation he had with another Israeli who has decided to start a congregation - as a pastor (self appointed). This prospective leader could raise funds overseas from pro-Israel Christians and live in relative prosperity. My colleague assured me that this is not uncommon. While worthy projects and ministries deserve support, sometimes money corrupts. There must be a better order of interconnecting and government to prevent such abuses and to handle disputes. Much of the money raised by Messianic Jews and Christians in Israel does not really go to fruitful ministry, but simply to support the fundraiser. That is pretty shocking. It takes lots of time to keep up with donors. Who has time for fruitful ministry? Does anyone have authority to deal with this integrity issue? Not yet! Many of us know of these people, but nothing is done about it.

No to Self-Appointment and Independence

Many years ago, I came to the conclusion that there was no such thing as an acceptable, independent congregation in the Bible and that self-appointed leaders or unaccountable leaders are not in accord with the Scriptures. Scripture informs us that the apostles planted congregations and appointed elders. Timothy, a fellow apostle with Paul who was his mentor, was given clear standards for the appointment of overseers (I Timothy 3); Titus was charged to appoint elders in every city and again given standards that were much the same as those given to Timothy (Titus 1). Because the congregations planted in the first century were planted by apostles and thereby linked to the apostles who had planted them, none of these congregations considered themselves independent. Hence when the great dispute arose concerning receiving Gentiles, a judgment was rendered that had authority in all of the communities of the New Covenant (Acts 15). In addition, apostles brought correction to the congregations they planted.

Linked and Accountable Congregations in the Early Centuries

By the end of the first century, every city or region considered themselves as one congregation and was overseen by an eldership of the city. We can already see this in Ephesus when Paul called the elders of the city of Ephesus to meet with him (Acts 20:17). Some church historians think that the Yeshua-believers numbered in the thousands and met in many local house groups and gatherings. This was also the case in Jerusalem where there were myriads of Yeshua-believers among the Jews (Acts 21:20). By the time of the writing of the Book of Revelation, we see a person called a messenger who seems to be a first among equals among the elders of the city.1

When doctrinal disputes arose in the early centuries, regional councils of leaders who could decide the issues for the whole region made church government decisions. The idea of councils became the key to the ongoing unity of the people of God. Universal Councils came later. No doubt the model of Acts 15 was perceived as the foundation. The Protestant Reformers sought to implement these models, both the model of the elders of the city and councils for dealing with important matters. The citywide church government in Geneva under John Calvin is an important example.

Joining Congregations and Leaders in Networks Today

This gives some background for why I am so zealous to see congregations and leaders joined together in networks. Such networks need quality standards for the ordination of leaders. In addition, they need to give great liberty for leaders to develop their own program directions for their local communities. Doctrinal standards should be clear but not overly restrictive. They should commit to all the basic truths of the Bible generally received by the mainstream of the Messianic Jewish Movement. The new doctrinal statement accepted by the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations in the United States is a very good model.

One of the important requirements for an accountable network is the ministry giftings in the leadership team or governing council. The key is that fruitful five fold leaders be in charge. Bureaucrats leading networks stifle growth, since such folks are inherently conservative and often seek to preserve the status quo. This is the sad situation of many of today's denominations. Administrators do have a constructive role in serving congregations, but the most fruitful five fold leaders are the best leaders for a network. They will have a holy dissatisfaction that always seeks to move things forward in growth and expansion. They will want their network to include significant training and equipping. Evangelists, prophets and apostles especially model this holy dissatisfaction and strive to move things forward. However, teachers and pastors also add to the quality of the foundations and seek to see healthy communities discipled in the Word.

Calling for Righteousness and Justice

Every now and again, Patty and I ask ourselves, "What are we doing here?" It is obvious. We are here to help foster this kind of connection and accountability within Israeli Messianic Judaism. It is a deep conviction for us. We will not abandon the vision. We desire to see a growing Messianic Jewish congregational movement in Israel that has solid theology and government, and is rightly linked with the church streams of other nations - a movement that will be effective in winning people to Yeshua. We greatly desire your prayers in this task.

1 The term "angel of the church" used in Revelation 2,3 does not necessarily refer to a supernatural being. The Greek word, "angelos" and the Hebrew word "Malach" both literally mean messenger and can take this meaning in scripture (see, Malachi 3:1). In Revelation 2,3 the context of the letters indicate an appointed leader is in view, not a supernatural being.

By Daniel Juster
Dan Juster leads the overall ministry Tikkun International Donate to Tikkun International.
Let us know what you think - why not comment to this article. The authors of these articles are often involved in intense ministry and are thus unable to respond to most comments. As is normal with print and online magazines, Tikkun reserves the right to publish only those comments we feel are edifying in tone and content.
Name Display my name ?
Yes No
Email Your email address is kept private. Our editor needs it in case we have a question about your comments.
13:34 05Nov12 R -
When I came to Israel, I saw the same thing you are speaking of in this article. Rather than work with an established body of believers, people wanted to do their own thing. I also experienced a denial regarding specific needs within the body. In my opinion, this occurred due to a desire to control and manipulate the body. I am also familiar with self appointed leadership striving to grow community. It just doesn't work. Currently,I am a rather silent, uninvolved observant member of the body of Messiah. I live a quiet life on the fringes, but when I made aliyah to Israel, I came with two letters of recommendation, one from my pastor and another from a teacher I worked with. The body here welcomes more readily outside "evangelistic" groups and even caters to them, rather than building up and ministering to the local body. I do believe the wind is changing for the better. Hopefully, the body will recognize those sent by G-d (and for whom prayers are offered up). The LORD bless you as you strive to teach leadership responsibility and congregational appreciation and submission. When there is disagreement/disunity within the body, there should be committed prayer for resolution. As one waits upon the LORD, His will is made known. May leaders also walk humbly before the LORD and acknowledge an error, a misunderstanding, etc. may have been. Eager to see the body become a true "family."

18:10 05Nov12 Steve Virg-In -
As a Pastor of a non-denominational church I fully agree with you. When I came to pastor, this church had no specific network or affiliation of churches. Since then I have linked this church with the Apostolic Network of Global Awakening. It has begun to give the congregation a developing sense of a greater worth and a greater purpose.

20:34 05Nov12 Andrew Skipper -
An excellent post on the need for pastoral unity and accountability. I am taking a New Testament Introduction at Asbury Theological Seminary in Lexington, Kentucky. I used to attend Belmont Church so I know Don Finto, Eitan, etc. I see so much of what you are saying among the leaders who helped guide the process of forming a canon of the scriptures. I love the first century context you use for your ideas.

20:50 05Nov12 Lea Splane -
Thank you for this article. I have encountered this here in the past year twice. One person insisted there is no hierarchy of authority in the church.

  -- Dr Juster replies: Yes, we will just remove all the passages on elders in the Bible and on their ability to come together to render a decision for the whole Body in Acts 15. As soon as you say elder and deacons, you have a hierarchy. Of course, then there is western independence. Are these folks reading the Bible or taking their cue from western individualism?

00:07 06Nov12 Nancy Chow -
Your vision is very timely and much needed if not urgent! The movement for the return to our Hebraic roots is growing and many of us gentile believers are also getting confused and misguided since there are diverse teachings, for example is the dietary law still for us today or is the Torah, some taught as the first five books of Moses, the most important books of the Bible and all believers are to know them first and then the same teachers are also calling the Torah, the whole Bible. This in turn causes fear to spread amongst those in the body of Christ who are still not so sure this movement is from the Holy Spirit; that maybe we are going back to Judaism. Meanwhile, those who are for it are still looking to the Messianic Jewish teachers to impart Biblically truth. We will remember you in prayers as we pray for the peace of Jerusalem

  -- Dr Juster replies: There is a mainstream and it is pretty solid in regard to teaching. Then there is a huge fringe. If only people could discern.

02:38 06Nov12 David Wright -
It is sad to see 'independence' in so many congregations in the UK and the USA, and so sad to see this continued in Israel, called to be the light to the nations.
I read the prayer of Yeshua in Yohanan 17 for oneness and wonder if anyone reads this. Surely the Father will answer this prayer and if we will not move then we will see shaking and chastisement.

05:10 06Nov12 Michael Stevens -
I do agree wholeheartedly with your outlining of Biblical apostolic authority and God-given government to prevent division and rebellion or independence and Godly accountability. Unfortunately, in the last 40 years, many apostolic movements and those who lead them grew authoritarian, abusive and manipulated "covenant" as a method of control. There are many examples of this. The Paul / Barnabus John Mark conflict sows also a NT example of an unresolved separation.
So when abusive leadership is itself independent what alternative is there to responding to conscience and protecting both 'sheep' and doctrine but than to separate?

  -- Dr Juster replies: So true. And so sad. Abusive leadership discredits authority. It is part of the enemy's plan. In my books Dynamics of Spiritual Deception, Due Process, Growing to Maturity, and Relational Leadership, I argue for the parameters of good leadership, the extent of and limit to authority. We swing between authoritarian patterns and anarchy and the Devil laughs as he can get us on either extreme.

11:43 06Nov12 Erik Ronneberg -
Yes and Amen. In the Bible, oxen were yoked together, then the field could be plowed. One by itself was not able to do the work. We are wiser than oxen, but we also need to be yoked together, to plow together. Let us not follow those who are self appointed. Perhaps a deeper root is the tendency to follow man, not to be led by the Spirit, or to obey the Word. Joseph when he was alone obeyed the Word, humbled himself to be accountable to those who were not his brothers in Christ, served all he met, was a blessing to the whole nation of Egypt, brought salvation to Israel also. There are plenty of examples in the Word to teach this idea- I pray we have a heart to desire to do the work of Jesus in His ways. Jesus at age 12 left the temple, in a sense left the ministry of the Word, to be subject to His parents. He gladly accepted this yoke of obedience.

17:35 06Nov12 Paul -
Excellent article and this burden for the body was also passed on to me by many elders, pastors, prophets, and sent ones - apostles. Thankyou. I believe also this vision was given to me when I was very young ... Now I'm 60 and still find few willing to "be subject one with another ..." 1 Peter 5:5 in the head who is Yeshua our Messiah

14:31 07Nov12 Jay Axtell -
This really gives a balanced approach to what Spirit-formed leadership in Messianic ministry can bring. I so appreciate the hope and humble direction you are providing to see abundant growth in the Land.

03:54 08Nov11 KR -
I pray for unity.the spirit of the prophet is subject to the prophet. Jim Gall conducted a good healing service 10 years ago in Minnesota. 50 pastor gatekeepers stood up front while 80 watchmen prophets knelt and laid hands on their feet praying healing prayers for them at 2am. Then celebrated Lords Supper. Reconciliation was sweet. Many hurts from both sides were healed. Divination and familiar spirits were completely unable to cause division bites at anyone. I'll never forget it.'

Also in this issue of the newsletter:
Eitan Shishkoff: What About US?
Marty Shoub: Celebrating With Reverence and Joy
Asher Intrater: All Israel Shall be Saved