What Went Wrong with the Jerusalem Model?

The Banqueting Table

The Banqueting TableA helpful e-newsletter from Dr. Traver Dougherty
from the archives

Since I had the privilege of sharing organic church principles alongside Neil Cole last weekend, I figured now would be a good time to share a little something out of Cole’s recently released book, Church 3.0. Although the book is exemplary, one particular discussion had me turning the pages a little faster than normal.

QUESTION/TOPIC IN FOCUS: If the church (ecclesia) functions best as a decentralized missional force, how do you explain the overtly-centralized Jerusalem church?

What Went Wrong with the Jerusalem Model?
Excerpted from Church 3.0 by Neil Cole
Church3.0 by Neil Cole
Of all the churches in the book of Acts, I personally believe the Jerusalem church to be the poorest model and one we should be cautious about following. Of course, there is much to learn in the opening chapters, and I would not discount the beauty and power that was evident there. The success of the church in Jerusalem is legendary, and I will not take anything away from it. I would add that it was short-lived and localized. Within just a few years, the church plateaued and began its decline; soon it descended into a cesspool of ugly bigotry, gossip, slander, and legalism (Acts 21:20).
What went wrong? One could argue that they quickly centralized and established a hierarchical leadership chain (Acts 6:1-6). They also welcomed in new “converts” from among the priests (Acts 6:7), which of course is not a bad thing (even Paul was one), but something else occurred. They allowed a Judaistic legalism to saturate the church and choke out all health (Acts 21:20) (2010:101).
My Reflections
After the excerpt above, Neil (my friend) continues with this assessment: “I personally do not believe that the demise of the church was strictly because of structural issues or hierarchical development” (2010:101). On this point, Neil and I agree. What I’d like to expand on, however, is the way in which the “legalism” took place (Acts 21:20). Before unpacking the concept, however, consider F.F. Bruce’s take on the downfall of the Jerusalem church (to read the whole article, click here).
  • They were too concerned with cultural uniformity
  • They played it too safe
  • They allowed for the integration of Jewish customs
  • They were too exclusive; that is, they wanted to keep those who didn’t follow Jewish customs out
Now, let’s look at Acts 21:20, 21. Here’s what we need to know. At no time did Paul teach against circumcision or Torah. Paul did, however, fight against the traditions of the Pharisees. As such, notice that F.F. Bruce sites the integration of Jewish customs and not adherence to Torah as that which caused the Jerusalem church’s demise. Thus, following Torah wasn’t the downfall; instead, it was the infiltration, the mixing, of rabbinic tradition with that which is good and true and right that crippled the ecclesia in Jerusalem.
Here’s my point. As disciples of Yeshua (Jesus), we need to have an accurate understanding of cause and effect. While legalism did cripple the Jerusalem ecclesia (which is Neil’s point), it wasn’t a heartfelt adherence to Torah that did the crippling. To press the point even further, consider that the word church means, literally, circus (bounce houses and Easter Bunnies come to mind). And when do things become circuses? Simplistically, it’s when we replace God’s instructions/wisdom with what seems right in our own eyes (Isaiah 5:21).
Hope this was of some benefit to you.

Traver Dougherty (bio)
The Banqueting Table

Insightful Videos from Neil Cole



Our bro, Neil Cole was at the Newforms National Conference in April and they captured some video…these clips are short (3-5 minutes) and pithy!



  1. Sabatoging Movements
  2. What is Church Planting “Movementum”?
  3. The Power of a Movement
  4. Building a Movement
  5. Believe in the Seed

Welcome to the Priesthood by Brad Brisco


When attempting to transition an existing church in a more missional direction I believe one of the topics of discussion must surround the concept of “the priesthood of all believers.” For me the “priesthood of all believers” is not just a theological perspective on there being no need for an earthly mediator to God, but I also understand it from a missiological standpoint. In other words, if we understand the church as God’s agent sent into the world to participate in what He is already doing, then every member must be developed and deployed as missionaries into their local setting. The church is sent, not just collectively, but individually. Therefore, the church needs to be affirming and “commissioning” every member to engage his or her local mission field.

In their book, Untamed: Reactivating a Missional Form of Discipleship Alan and Deb Hirsch tell a story of how they “commissioned” the entire congregation of South Melbourne Restoration Community.

At South we took the “priesthood of all believers” (that every person is a minister and needs to be released as such) seriously. This didn’t mean that our community always lived this out, but it was a value we tried to live by (and at times used humor to reinforce). In order to drive this point home, one Sunday morning, as our community arrived for our gathering, we greeted each person at the door and handed them a two-inch-wide strip of white flexible card and a fastener. Many looked puzzled but decided to play along, wondering just what we were up to.

A short time after the service began, Al asked everybody to stand up and fasten the white strip around their necks. He then proceeded to lead the whole church through an ordination ceremony. It wasn’t quite what people were expecting, but that morning each and every person gathered at South was officially ordained into the ministry of Jesus. Once they were all ordained, they could dispose of the symbolic (and very unnecessary) dog collars and just live out their commission.

How else can we encourage people in the church to live out a “priesthood of all believers” understanding? What things have you done to “commission” people to mission?

Is Leadership Permanent? by Traver Dougherty

Sevant LeadershipLeadership in an organic church expression looks a little different than what we’re used to; in an organic expression, leadership is truly servant leadership, exemplified in practice.

I recently read a book by Jean Vanier that nicely illustrates this principle. Vanier founded an intentional community of faith whose purpose was to live out the Kingdom by living with and serving those with a handicap. Founded in 1964, l’Arche communities can be found throughout the world.

THIS WEEK’S QUESTION/TOPIC: Is Christian Leadership Permanent?

The Life Cycle of a Leader

Excerpted from Jean Vanier’s Community and Growth
When a community starts, it is the founder who decides everything. But gradually brothers and sisters arrive and bonds are created. Then the founder asks their advice. It is no longer he, or she, who dictates what should be happening; he listens to others. A communal spirit is born. The founder begins to discover the gifts of each of the others. He discovers that others are more able than he is in certain ways, and that they have gifts which he doesn’t. So he entrusts more and more to others, learning to die to himself so that the others can live more fully. He remains the link and the person other community members turn to, a coordinator who confirms the others in their responsibilities and ensures that the spirit and unity of the community is maintained. At moments of crisis, he will still be called on to assert his authority, because the ultimate responsibility rests with him; he must, when discipline is failing, recall the others to their responsibilities. His authority will become less visible, but will still be very present until the day he disappears and another takes his place. Then his task is done. His work will continue; his role has been to disappear.
My Reflections
One of the tasks of any Christian leader is to remember the church is Christ’s bride, not ours. And just as John the Baptist recognized his “friend of the bridegroom” status, so must we – continually.
Too often, the Christian leader finds his identity in leadership, even servant leadership. This shouldn’t be. Instead, the Christian leader must find his identity in Christ alone.
Over the weekend, I attended Church Multiplication AssociatesOrganic Church Movements Conference. I was reminded, once again, of the dangers of status anxiety – that pesky desire in all of us to bow to the idol of prestige (i.e. power).
And prestige, as we know, is fleeting at best and robs God of his glory at worst. Say it with me aloud, would you please: To God be the glory!
Hope this was of some benefit to you.

Traver Dougherty
The Banqueting Table

Originally written February 11, 2008

You’re Going Too Fast! by General William Booth

General William BoothFrom 1886 by Salvation Army founder William Booth

They say we go too fast! This accusation comes from all directions. Our enemies do not like our speed and our friends are afraid of it. What do they mean? If they had complained that we did not go fast enough, I could understand them. If our enemies had argued that after all we say about the evils of sin, the terrors of the Judgment Day, and the damnation of hell, we do not believe in these things ourselves, I could understand that, and feel humbled under their indictment.Blazing Speed

If our friends came together and said, “Why don’t you increase the speed? Look at the dying millions at home and abroad. You have evidently got a wonderful way of reaching the masses. You have accomplished what no other organization has. You can adapt yourselves to all peoples and countries and climates. Why don’t you push on faster? Why don’t you train more cadets-send out more officers-hunt up more criminals, drunkards and fallen women? Go faster; get up more steam!” Now, this seems to me would be the natural way of talking for both foes and friends. But no! The cry is not “Go faster” but “You go too fast!” What do they mean?

Speed is a good thing…   Read the rest here

Cultivating A Life For God E-Book

Cultivating A Life For God Cover

Cultivating A Life For God CoverThe classic work by Neil Cole on discipleship, Cultivating A Life For God, has just been released in an E-Book form on Kindle and coming soon on Nook and other e-book formats.

The new version is sporting a new cover designed by Neil Cole himself.

This book has sold thousands copies and still has a potent message to leaders and churches about making and multiplying disciples. Life Transformation Groups are being used fruitfully to make and multiply disciples all over the world!

We are pleased that CMA Resources could bring this important book into the electronic medium.

“In my years of ministry, I have not found any method that produces such powerful results in fulfilling the Great Commission. I personally plan on using this system for the rest of my life to make as many disciples of the kingdom as I can before Christ calls me home!” – Neil Cole (page 89)


Added May 12, 2012

Now available on the Barnes & Noble’s NOOK also.

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