Examining the Difference Between Missional Communities and Microchurches

In a recent article, I posted the differences between house churches and microchurches. Since then, I have been asked about delineating between missional communities and microchurches. While the objectives are a bit different and each unique, delineation is not exactly the purpose. The objective of delineating between church planting strategies is for gospel engagement alignment. 

            One disclaimer, for more in-depth study on the subject, one of my recently published books, Multiplying Jesus: Planting Churches describes these strategies in more detail. The book examines and explores the pros, cons, procedures, and steps for each church planting model, as well as provides a biblical and theological underpinning for church planting. For the purposes of this article, the examination will be as brief and concise as possible—illustrating the major differences.

            With that stated, and to reiterate the opening remarks, the purpose of strategic church planting models is not to indicate the superiority of one over another, but how to align vision and mission for gospel engagement. Strategies are tools that must have implementation and application. Since we have already surveyed microchurches, we will first address and spend more time describing missional communities.

Missional Communities

Mike Breen defines a missional community as a “group of approximately 20 to 40 people who are seeking to reach a particular neighborhood or network of relationships with the good news of Jesus.”[1] I would define missional communities as a measurable expression of a reproducible kingdom movement that exists for regional gospel-saturation. With committed oikos’ that thrive and learn together for spiritual growth in Christ, missional communities are made up of a network of believers impacting a specific area or community. 

            Examining the above diagram, there are two sets of “homes.” The darker shaded black represents a missional community, while the lighter shade is households that are not within the “community”; those homes represent believers or non-believers. The solid and squiggly black line represents the community street that separates particular neighborhoods. While a microchurch may consist of several households of people that gather together (in community)—their mission is “micro,” it is defined as reaching something, someone, or someplace (more elaboration below). Yet, the missional community has an objective to saturate an entire community with the gospel (everyone). They may have multiple outreaches, events, and expressions of church that are variously aligned.

For instance, the missional community breaks bread together, lives life together, takes care of one another’s needs when assistance is needed, supports missions, community, neighborhood outreach, social justice endeavors, and worships together. Missional communities tend to have multiple elders that serve as pastors. While each home is a household, the community serves and exists as a whole. This means that two or more households may create an oikos for devotions, baptisms, Lord’s Supper, and worship. It is possible to have several different oikos’ within a missional community. For example, out of 12 homes in a missional community, maybe there are 3 collective oikos’. Without delving into a rabbit hole, one might observe the difference between a missional community and a house church, too. 

A house church can have members that travel into a community and worship within a particular oikos. It is possible for a house church to have believers from other communities that believe in their mission and vision. Additionally, the house church does not need to focus on their specific neighborhood—they may focus on their city, region, or even abroad. Whereas, missional communities are focused on the people that live within their explicit community. Basically, the missional community desires to see all blue homes (diagram) turn to black, participating in the community gospel-saturation mission. However, just because the homes are blue does not mean that the people inside are non-believers. Those people could be part of a microchurch within their region, traditional church-goers, a house church, or any other ecclesial observing formation.

            Looking at some of the benefits of missional communities, it is apparent that disciple-making would arrive at the top of the list. The principles of missional communities are highly attractive to people that are seeking spiritual growth, intimacy, open and honest accountability, and spiritual transformation. As well, people that are seeking companionship, true friendship, and a more communal aspect of life will become excited with this strategy. 

Actively and intimately growing with others is appealing. When a member of the missional community becomes sick and needs care, more than a pastor or deacon visit; the missional community mows the grass, buys groceries, cooks meals, and eats with the family (not merely dropping off), they help alleviate lost income (if needed), or any other need. The missional community is immensely connected to another one in prayer, fasting, devotion, and the navigation of the daily rhythms of life. A person with cancer, a teenager with problems, a dying pet, the loss of job, or the death of a loved one would not be able to be hidden from a missional community. They do life together, every day.

Microchurches

Having examined microchurches in another article, we will keep this brief. Recall that micro does not signify small but rather the fine-tuned vision and mission. A microchurch has one objective mission that encompasses gospel engagement—the goal is not saturating an entire neighborhood or community (unless they live within a cultural ethnic enclave), but a focused mission to a particular people, place, or thing. 

            The common misunderstanding with microchurch is defining it. In a recent conversation with Warren Bird, we discussed how many contradictory definitions were being promulgated. Even among well-known evangelical individuals, there is a misconception that micro means small and intimate. Some evangelicals identify microchurch with micro-expression. 

            However, a micro-expression of the Kingdom is a broad missiological term that surveys the many different ecclesial forms. Missional community, house church, microchurch, oikos, and any intimate or disciple-making fellowship can exist as a micro-expression of the Kingdom. Yet, microchurch is defined not by the overall intimacy or fellowship size but by the unified mission that exists within the covenant cruciform community of believers. For instance, in the previous article, the development and mission of a microchurch were described by the prodding of the Holy Spirit to call a skateboarding church planter to seek a person of peace (another skateboarder) within a specific culture or subculture (in this case, skateboarders). In turn, the skateboarding person of peace lives within the daily rhythms of his or her life with other skateboarders (skateboarding subcultural enclave). The microchurch only focuses on reaching and making disciples among skateboarders—that’s it—their mission is micro.

Conclusion

As stated earlier, delineating between missional community and microchurch is not to examine the superiority of one model over another, but to assist in gospel engagement. Strategies help church planters stay focused. Maintaining mission-focus is not only vital for planters but for everyone invested and involved. Regardless, can a microchurch decide to be part of a missional community, or vice-versa, a participating missional community oikos decide to become a microchurch—absolutely—they can. The strategies are not denominational or doctrinal, but ecclesial. Models help cultivate movement. 


[1] Mike Breen, Leading Missional Communities: Rediscovering the Power of Living  on Mission Together (Pawleys Island: 3DM, 2013), 6.

Microchurch Planting vs. House Church: Which One is For You?

Lately, much is being written about microchurches. With the intimacy of fellowship, community, worship, and driven mission, it is obvious why people are being drawn to this vibrant kingdom expression. As a practitioner and professor, I have the grateful ability to view movements from the field and vicariously live experiences through student planters and pastors. Being asked frequently about the differences between microchurches and house churches has propelled me to write a short article (and provide some graphics).

First, microchurch planting is not merely the new trending missiological term; it does have succinct differences and parameters. For the most part, they are catalytic and a decentralized movement creator. Microchurches do not belong to denominations or organizations, yet they develop strategic and dynamic networks. 

As well, house churches also do not belong to denominations. For clarity, most church plants tend to begin as house churches until they are ready for a public launch. More precisely, traditional church planting is not being discussed in this article. A house church is not the same as a microchurch. Microchurch does not mean small church. Micro refers to the definitive mission focus. Microchurches are called to someone, something, or someplace. They do not have multiple outreaches, as they are “micro-focused” on one specific identity.

In the diagram below, a microchurch planter is moved by the Spirit, feeling called to reach a specific subculture of people in his community. The planter prays for these people every day as he joins them in skateboarding. Building a relationship with a “skater-dude,” the planter finds his person of peace (Luke 10:6). As the planter disciples the person of peace, he is baptized and seeks the Word of God and fellowship. Subsequently, the person of peace connects with many other “skater-dudes.” While he’s still being discipled by the planter/catalyst, the skater-dude helps cultivate a microchurch within a subculture.

Diagram

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As stated, microchurches are driven by a unified mission. Every believer is a participating missionary within the same mission. Undeterred by diverse outreaches, programs, or events, the microchurch collectively gathers, prays, and funds one single mission. Each person feels the same Divine calling to the mission. In our case, the microchurch focused on a skateboarding subculture, but it could be a people group or any specific component of culture.

House Churches

While a microchurch is filled with one type of culture, subculture, people group, or affinity, house churches are different. A house church can be autonomous like a microchurch. Still, the house church model seeks to reach anyone and everyone, regardless of culture, subculture, geographic location, ethnicity, race, occupation, or any other defining label—that is a good thing! Below, a small diagram illustrates the diversity of a house church. 

Diagram

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The church planting couple in the middle is discipling and leading many people to Christ. Perhaps, as the couple meets “farmer Bob” at a local farmer’s market, they share the gospel and invite him to their house church. Bob knows an inner-city police officer that he invites into the house church. The policeman knows a family with a small baby who lives in the suburbs and would like to join them. As visible in the diagram, there is a comprehensive perspective of people (farmer, policeman, single dad, businesswoman, family, etc.). While house churches may still utilize traditional church polity and liturgy, they enjoy the organic aspect of church. They seek the intimacy, fellowship, worship, and communion of a microchurch, but are not as mission-driven or unified. The policeman may want to start a food ministry in the city, in which several volunteers help him. Someone else may wish to build handicapped accessible ramps for the elderly and disabled. At the same time, another decides to start a single dad ministry. While none of these outreaches are bad, on the contrary, they are all good, just different than a microchurch.

            Nevertheless, there is a need for every strategy and model within church planting. Understanding which model best fits your talents, gifts, and calling are vital. You may have read through this article and realized that neither is right for you. You may be gravitating toward missional communities, a launch model, a team approach, or an entrepreneurial strategy? In each scenario, it is essential to recognize the pros and cons of each strategy. While this article is a condensed version of each, hopefully, it has provided you with a clearer picture of microchurches and house churches. If you have any questions, concerns, or comments, feel free to connect with me. 

Good News! American Trends Show Smaller Churches

Over the last decade, the churches in America have witnessed an overall decline in size. A recent Lifeway Research study indicated that twenty years ago, churches of 100 or smaller constituted 45% of all American churches—today, that number has increased to 65%.[1] While some analysts may view the statistics as doom and gloom, I always look at things either realistically, innovatively, or optimistically. I believe we can do all three.

            As a missiologist, recognizing the continued trend of American churches becoming smaller is not a bad omen. The smaller churches paradigm opens five missional doors to propel the church for more significant cultural impact. Those five effectual doors are church multiplication, community outreach, missional giving, disciple-making, and gospel-reconciliation among diaspora. 

One of the reasons for this article is not merely to present facts and figures or theoretical knowledge but to encourage and embolden the smaller church (and pastor). For far too often and far too long, small church pastors have been viewed as less anointed, skilled, favored, gifted, or even called. Small church pastor, and small church bashing, need to cease! The church growth movement has failed in producing disciple-makers and in multiplying. 

            For clarity, you may be inclined to deduce that smaller churches mean greater Christian decline—but the Lifeway data does not make those distinctions, nor are they factors concerning innovative pioneering and church movements. To be clear, every major church movement through ecclesiastical church history occurred through smaller churches—yet, as Americans, the “bigger is better” motto consumes evangelical thinking. The Western church must view itself as a global church partner (co-laborer), not an imperialistic superior.[2] With that stated, let’s examine the five practical missional opportunities for the trending small church.   

Multiplication

Yes, multiplication is the first and most significant opportunity for smaller churches. Everyone knows that simple is reproducible; the complex is not. Smaller churches have always been viewed as multiplicative. However, missional and communal have become synonymous with small groups or house churches. While house churches and microchurches are aspects of a smaller church, generally, they are viewed as an anomaly or part of some niche evangelical fringe. We want to focus on actual evangelical congregations of smaller than 100. 

            Conferences and books have exploited the small church pastor into thinking they are not good enough; that if they do not break the 200 person-barrier, they are somewhat incompetent and should feel shame. That’s a straight Satanic lie. Neither the big church nor the small church is wrong—both can be and should be utilized, but we need to see the beauty and significance of the small church. The global church must applaud the small church pastor equally as the megachurch one. Frankly, I’m glad that this trend is occurring. Why? Multiplicative church movements will not happen by attempting to utilize the large church methodology—it just won’t. I have nothing against larger churches; I attend one. Yet, I’ve been a planter and small church pastor—it’s time to celebrate and rejoice about the small church.  

            Thus, the research indicates that American smaller churches have grown exponentially from 45% to 65%. The research is not demonstrating that Christian decline caused the smaller church movement. On the contrary, linking the other factors of higher per person financial giving, increased fellowship, missional obedience, and discipleship, the smaller church is a cultural trend that appeals to Gen Z, Millennials, and some Gen X’ers. The days of bigger is better in America is not necessarily true anymore—that was the 80s yuppie marketplace, not the 20s inclusive society. Through social media, the 20s culture has relied upon being invested in the community—having a voice, being heard, recognized, and included—smaller churches answer those needs. Likewise, culture has shifted to smaller marketplaces, organic, and intimate settings—smaller churches are multiplying because they relate to the part of culture seeking this dynamic. 

Community Outreach

The Lifeway Research indicated that smaller churches increased (per person) in volunteerism and outreach. The statistics demonstrated what we have already known and guessed that larger churches tend to cause isolationism. This means that people in larger congregations may fade into a congregation without being needed, seen, asked, or want to participate. In smaller churches, believers practice their faith by engaging in communal and individual outreach. In a small church, you will be seen. 

            For clarity, a large church may indeed have a more significant impact upon a city with its ability to provide hundreds of volunteers. Again, the article’s point is not that larger churches are wrong, but that smaller churches are good and that the trend shows great opportunity. Smaller churches showed that more of their congregants participated in community outreach than larger churches. Is there a direct correlation between larger churches and inactive faith—perhaps—but, all believers should agree that while works are not salvific, we were created “for good works” (Eph. 2:8-10)? There can be no separation from the gospel and the mission of God.   

Missional Giving

As obedient Great Commission servants (Matt. 28:18–20), believers have always been compelled to give to the mission of God. While statistics demonstrate that Americans still give more to religious values than any other association, donations have never been higher. Research indicates that of church tithers, regular church attendees provide 81% of the offerings.[3] Overall, smaller churches exhibited to have more active and dedicated members.

            Studying over 15,000 congregations, smaller churches reported higher percentages of donations given toward missions.[4] The analysis illustrated that smaller churches were invested more individually and communally. Individuals within smaller congregations tended to feel connected to their missional giving, sometimes having opportunities to witness and partake within the immediate mission. Additionally, the data demonstrated that smaller churches allocated larger percentages of cumulative giving to missions. Perhaps, the smaller church views the pastor as an example? While subjective, with their moderate to lower-income (than larger churches), means of living, and sacrifice of giving for the mission of God, it may propel the smaller church members to participate with the pastor. 

Cruciformity & Disciple-Making

Having mentioned participating with the pastor, as the apostle Paul stated to the Philippian churches, “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things” (Phil. 4:9). As the more intimate fellowship of believers exists in the smaller church, the witness of example also exists. Closeness may not always imply cruciformity, but there can be no cruciformity without it. 

            Cruciform communities consist of devoted and sacrificial individuals. They engage and partake in one another’s hardships, sicknesses, trials, joys, celebrations and collectively embrace them all. While an aspect of a larger church produces excellent worship experiences, the smaller church employs intimate and communal prayer. These folks walk with one another through the daily rhythms of life. For this reason, disciple-making tends to be more genuine and engaged in smaller churches. 

Pastors of small churches should embrace this one concept if none at all. Rejoice in the participation of spiritual formation and transformation—the testimony of spiritual renewal. As the Holy Spirit begins to work within the body of Christ boldly, you can experience God’s faithfulness with each individual. You partake in each wedding, funeral, graduation, Bible study, VBS, and more. You watch infants grow into youth and from youth to adulthood—seeing the fruit of your disciple-making labor. Smaller churches instinctively produce a greater cruciform community and disciple-making environment. 

Diaspora

Diaspora are globally displaced or scattered peoples from their land of origin. Global migration has reached its zenith, whether through intentional international workplace contracts or illegal immigration. Additionally, United States immigration has reached the heights of the 1890s Ellis Island days.[5] The unreached people groups of the world have come to our shores seeking refuge, asylum, freedom, and prosperity. While some analysts see the Western church in decline, we should see opportunity! The gospel provides refuge, asylum, freedom, and wealth in God.

Due to the astronomical impact of diaspora, the American church, more specifically the smaller church, has an amazing opportunity to reach, disciple, and bring gospel reconciliation to their communities. Knowing that diaspora people tend to cultivate ethnic-cultural enclaves,[6] smaller churches can bring gospel reconciliation to these diaspora communities. As the Philippian jailer and Roman Centurion witnessed gospel reconciliation occur within their households, the intimacy and closeness of small church cruciformity and discipleship are similar. By reaching diaspora, the Western church can reach the world. 

Consequently, while the small church possesses these five effective missional open doors, I do not believe they are exclusive to the smaller church. Yet, as this trend continues to rise, the objective is to finally rejoice in the small church. We ought to applaud the consistent hard work of the small church pastor. We ought to embrace the opportunities that the Lord has blessed us with. Through multiplication, community outreach, increased missional giving, disciple-making fellowship, and diaspora enclaves, Christian decline in the West can not only be reversed but it can engage in global church partnership. The moral, whether small or large, the Lord of the harvest is seeking laborers (Luke 10:2). Collectively, we must rejoice in all components of the mission of God.  


[1] Aaron Earls. 2021. “Small Churches Continue Growing—but in Number, Not Size.” Lifeway Research. October 20, 2021. https://lifewayresearch.com/2021/10/20/small-churches-continue-growing-but-in-number-not-size/.

[2] For the record, America receives more missionaries each year threefold than any other country. America is the mission field of the world, not vice versa.

[3] Milena. 2021. “Church Giving Statistics.” Balancing Everything. January 30, 2021. https://balancingeverything.com/church-giving-statistics/.

[4] Earls, “Small Churches Continue Growing—but in Number, Not Size.”

[5] Robert Gebeloff and Miriam Jordan, “Amid Slowdown, Immigration Is Driving U.S. Population Growth,” New York Times (February 5, 2022), accessed February 12, 2022.

[6] Ethnic enclaves are concentrations of people that share culture and ethnicity within a distinct geographic location.

The Cultural Mandate’s Connection to the Great Commission

Relationships. Humans have relatedness and relationship because of the Creator. Humanity was created in the “image” and “likeness” of God (Gen. 1:26-28). Our relatedness and relationship ability define humanity as different than any other created thing. We were made for relationships. 

Through the Scriptures, the reassurance of our purpose and design in being relationship-driven is validated. The only time within the creation narrative that God mentions anything negative is in man’s isolation and loneliness (Gen. 2:18). Humanity was made for relatedness and relationship, with God and with one another. What does this have to do with a cultural mandate?

The cultural mandate, as it is known, states, “God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen. 1:28). 

The misconception about the cultural mandate is that people believe that it merely applies to human reproduction. However, in light of the continuity of Scripture, and the wholeness counsel of God, there is a link to multiplicity and a correlation to the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18–20). Yet, as we note from the beginning of creation,  an intimacy of relatedness (to God, one another, and creation) and the primacy of love is innately encoded into our DNA, by the Creator. 

As Adam and Eve walked with the Creator in the garden, they were gaining an intimate understanding of living with God within the daily regularities of life. The proclamation “to be fruitful and multiply,” or cultural mandate, was a commission—to fill the earth as image-bearers of God.[1] 

Think of this—if Adam and Eve had not committed sin, their mandate would have driven them to expand the Garden of Eden to fill the entirety of the earth. The Garden of Eden would have possessed no boundaries. Every person, beginning at birth, would have come to know, love, worship, and serve the Creator by becoming a disciple-maker (talking about God and living for God). For this reason, we can see the correlation with the Great Commission multiplicative mandate to make disciples of every tribe and nation (Mt. 28:19-20). Life is about knowing God and making Him known (multiplying).

As a student of God’s Word, the metanarrative of Scripture is God’s story—the Scriptures reveal the One True God to humanity. As Michael Goheen notes, “The gospel places us between creation and consummation, the beginning and end of cosmic history … we find ourselves in the middle of the Bible as one story whose central thread is the missional vocation of God’s people…”[2] The Old Testament and the New Testament are not divorced from one another—nor are they separated stories, but one continual story, much like a thread of comments on an Instagram post. 

Therefore, I believe the cultural mandate is much like the Great Commission—a direct order given from the Creator to be “fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:26-28; Matt. 28:18–20). While there are some distinctions between the two, both relay a kingdom ethos. Like the cultural mandate, within Christ’s command to make disciple-makers is the tantamount awareness of relatedness and relationship—with man and with God. 

To understand the Great Commission is to understand that each person alive today has been created in the image of God and participates within God’s story. The Great Commission must compel God’s redeemed people to look beyond discipleship as conversion therapy, but as the very definition and story of what it means to be human. God’s story is “the true story of the whole world.”[3] Discipleship begins at relationship, not conversion. 

Next, the Great Commission is a divine directive for those who have been saved by grace and filled with the Holy Spirit of God to “be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth” (Gen. 1:28). The church actively partakes in, and participates with, the Triune God. There is a divine koinonia, of cross-centered living and sharing of possessions, emotions, and relationships that constrict a cruciform community.[4] The Great Commission has direct kinship to the cultural mandate because God, through Jesus Christ, renews the image-bearers of God. Christ re-creates humanity (2 Cor. 5:17), breathing new breath into them (John 20:22), and placing them back into the Adamic state of relationship (yet, not yet, sinless). 

The cultural mandate is an “evangelistic mandate” and an “imperative to make disciples.”[5] I know that some scholars may disagree with me, but I can’t help to connect the dots within the metanarrative of God—that God created man in His image and likeness to know Him, love Him, and serve Him, and to fill the earth as His protectorates. 

The cultural mandate mirrors the Great Commission as Christ, God in the flesh, the reigning cosmic King, with all authority and an omnipotent presence, journeying with mankind, as disciple-makers make disciple-makers (Matt. 28:18–20). In the Garden, Jesus, the second and last Adam, lived out the mission of God, by and with obedience, something that the first Adam failed to do within his garden. 

So, we arrive at a destination—a course in which God in Christ, by the power of the Spirit, is leading us and directing us in a sanctifying life of mission. As well, our end goal should be the drive, zeal, and desire to be more holy, missional, and like Christ. Jesus was the ultimate reproducible disciple-maker. He was the penultimate image of God (Col. 1:15). And, if we were created for him, to him, and through him (Rom. 11:36; Col. 1:16), then our lives must have intentionality in living out what He said and did (Matt. 28:19). 


[1] Wagner, C. Peter. Strategies for Church Growth, 111.

[2] Goheen, Michael, The Church and Its Vocation: Lesslie Newbigin’s Missionary Ecclesiology), 8–9.

[3] Ibid., 23.

[4] Hastings, Ross. Missional God, Missional Church, 216.

[5] Ibid., 50, 111.

Anointed & Appointed: Missio Communitas

“Now two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the Spirit rested on them” (Numbers 11:26).

During the forty-year desert wandering of Israel, things were not so easy. Quite honestly, things are not so easy, today. And, not unlike our own “wandering” in the wilderness of our faith, seeking a “not-yet” Promised Land, Israel began to complain about God’s provision. This account in the book of Numbers demonstrates (once again) how God obligates Himself to humanity, for His mission.

            The Israelites complain about the constant supply of manna (God’s miraculous provision) and instead yearn for meals prepared during their Egyptian captivity. It seems food has and will always be an obstacle for man. The leader, Moses, is burned out from the constant complaining and the never satisfied attitudes of the Israelites. 

I believe many pastors can relate to this passage, but with hope, should continue reading.

            Besides the Lord’s anger toward the people’s petulant behavior, Moses is grieved with leadership-despair. Moses cannot handle the encumbrance of the masses, he insists, “The burden is too heavy for me” (Num. 11:14). And yet, in the midst of God’s displeasure with the people, He hears the cries of Moses and the complaints of the people. The Lord’s hand is never shortened (11:23).

The Lord instructs Moses to gather seventy elders of the people. The elders will become “anointed and appointed” leaders. God promises to “take some of the Spirit” that is on Moses and lay it upon the seventy (11:17). God obligates Himself by providing grace, power, and wisdom. 

A great contrast can be seen. The people craved and lusted after food from their enslavement, instead of being satisfied with God’s provision (manna). The Hebrew word for manna means, “What is it?” Yet, the Lord sees Moses’ leadership dilemma and provides, yet again, giving the people (what is it?) — anointed and appointed Spirit-filled community leaders. 

The seventy elders gather before the tent of meeting with Moses—the Lord comes down in a cloud and anoints the elders, they begin to prophesy! But, not all of the leaders were at the tent. Two of the leaders never made it—they remained in the community. Afterward, “a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp!” (11:26). 

While Joshua is confused and jealous, Moses understands God’s mission and wisdom—to fill His people with the Holy Spirit to live among one another. Eldad and Medad— two anointed and appointed leaders for community mission (Missio Communitas). Moses declares, “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!” (Num. 11:29). 

Indeed, God has brought to fulfillment the snapshot of Eldad and Medad. As recorded in the book of Acts, Peter stands before the entire assembly at Pentecost and recites from the prophet Joel:

“And in the last days it shall be, God declares, 

that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, 

and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, 

and your young men shall see visions, 

and your old men shall dream dreams; 

even on my male servants and female servants; 

in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy” 

(Acts 2:17-18; Joel 2:28-29).

Anointed and appointed for missio communitas.

Every believer of Christ has been anointed and appointed by the Spirit of the living God for community mission—to weep, rejoice, breath, eat, sleep, and live among the people. God’s children are gospel-centered and Spirit-empowered. In agreement with Moses’ declaration, I wish that all believers were like Eldad and Medad, prophesying or speaking the very Word of God within their communities. And more than that—living as anointed and appointed Spirit-filled people. 

Didache: The Way of Life and The Way of Death

I have long been intrigued and captivated by the early church. What I mean by early church is the New Testament era and the first two centuries succeeding. I love the narrative of Acts and its apostolic association with “belonging to the Way” (Acts 9:2). I crave for their sacrifice, and for their disciple-making devotion. While I understand that the early was far from perfect and had vast dysfunction—they also possessed dedication, piety, and desire.

Because of my captivation, I find myself diving deeper into the depths of ecclesiastical disciple-making (See Church Planting by Making Disciple-Makers). My journey has currently positioned me within an early document known as the Didache. If you’re not familiar with the Didache (pronounced, Did-ah-key or Did­-ah-kay), it is not without its controversies, as it seems to have been lost for fifteen hundred years. 

As history notes, in 1873 a Greek Orthodox bishop named Philotheos Bryennios was in the library archives of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem sifting through the early manuscripts.[1] Bryennios wasn’t exactly sure what he had discovered, as the Didache was “sandwiched between other early church documents;” namely The Epistle of Barnabas1 and 2 Clement, 12 letters of Ignatius, and several others.[2] While Bryennios’ contemporaries had common knowledge that Origin and Athanasius had referenced the Didache, many scholars believed that no extant manuscript existed—until Bryennios.

A Little More Background

By the early nineteenth century, the universal church was not monolithic regarding the dating of the Didache. While a small debate ensued regarding the text, some even considered it to be fraudulent. However, with ongoing German and French research, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran in 1945, and the critical work of Willy Rordorf, the dating of the Didache was credibly proposed as preceding the Gospel of Matthew.[3]

Nancy Pardee believed that the Didache’s early dating demonstrated an “important witness to the composition and development of the New Testament.”[4] She stated, “Such an early date and stature by themselves would make the Didache an important witness alongside the New Testament of the development of the early Church, but the additional fact that the text is of more utilitarian nature means that it does not merely supplement the biblical texts, but compliments them.”[5] Indeed, the Didache does compliment the synoptic Gospels. 

Breaking It Down

The Didache itself is only sixteen short and concise chapters (a quick 20 minute read), instructing in the ordinances of the church, prophets, apostles, bishops, and deacons within the church, and some brief eschatological views. I found the section on the Eucharist, “breaking the loaf,” to be incredibly illuminating and missional. With the disciple reciting back the words during the Lord’s Supper (I paraphrase):

“As the seed that produce the loaf is scattered over the mountains,

And then gathered in and became one,

So may your church be gathered together into your kingdom,

From the very ends of the earth.”[6]

The Didache is truly an amazing document, but it was never intended to be equated with Scripture, as it was a practical learning tool (orally taught) for new converts. Perhaps this is the reason for its disappearance? Yet, as someone that thrives to reach the world’s lostness, the Didache’s practical guidance regarding reproducible disciple-making is what I find the most intriguing. 

If the dating of scholars is true, as one reads the Didache, the Gospels are immediately apparent. As well, the writer of the Didache notably assumes the reader understands the Sabbath days, rejecting the Roman days of the week with “second” and “fifth days of the Sabbath” being set aside as fast days.[7] Most noteworthy is how the two ways of life are taught to a new convert; once learned, the “disciple-maker” baptizes the new convert, after a day or two of fasting. The reason I find this so noteworthy is its implication for rapid multiplication.

The Way of Life

The first several sections of the Didache are the two main aspects of the “teaching.” In perspective, we shouldn’t be surprised with the Way of Life and the Way of Death as central tenets, as a latter title for the Didache was “The Lord’s Teaching to the Nations through the Twelve Apostles.”[8] The Didache is missional, devotional, and multiplicative. Yet, within the two ways they provide a glimpse into an early devoted and dedicated community—devoted to holiness and dedicated to Christ and one another.

The Didache begins with the introduction consisting of the two ways (1:1) but immediately proceeds with the first four succinct chapters describing the Way of Life. As a believer, I instantly see the value of guiding of a new convert through these first thirty-seven “verses.” The Way of Life begins with the greatest commandment, “You shall love God who created you; second, your neighbor as yourself; all those things which you do not want done to you, you should not do to others” (1:2).[9]  

The abstention from “carnal desires” and how to practically treat others is resounding (1:4). Giving is not a motto for the Way of Life but emphasizes God’s generosity to the adherent (1:5). It is easy to see the Ten Commandments interwoven throughout the Way of Life (2:2–7), as well as humility, patience, justice, hard work, and respect for the image of God. The new convert is reminded not to neglect the “Lord’s commands, but to hold fast to what has been handed down to you” (4:13); the very nature of disciple-making! 

The Way of Death

Contrasting with the Way of Life, the Didache does not possess any gray area for the believer. You either walk in the Way of Life, or you’re cursed by wickedness—most notably, the Didache does not sugarcoat lasciviousness. Those who follow the Way of Death “do not know their Maker” (5:2). The warnings for the new converts, not to be led astray from the Way of Life, are foundational. 

One might assume that the Didache is merely a set of rules and regulations, a means of legalism, but to the contrary: 

“If you are able to bear the whole of the Lord’s yoke, 

you will be complete. 

However, if you are not able to bear that yoke,

then do what you can” (6:2).

In reflection, the Way of Death denotes the “old self” and the ways of the world, but as a student of the Bible, the Didache reads as a mixture between Jesus’ words and Pauls’ epistles. The Way of Death ends in chapter six and is much shorter than its counterpart, the Way of Life. The Way of Death is utilized as a practical guide of admonition, encouragement, and sanctity.

Conclusion

Spending the last several months researching the Didache has been more than rewarding; it’s been enlightening and informative to view an early community of steadfast believers. Without Scriptures, Paul’s epistles,[10] the Gospels, and Revelation, it is eye-opening that such a document could have existed and point to biblical values (i.e. Great Commission teaching). The Didache demonstrates that the early church was not merely concerned with “Jesus loves me this I know” and that’s enough, but with multiplication, perseverance, righteousness, and humility. 

            The remaining chapters of the Didache are no slouch, either. Understanding its views of baptism, the Holy Spirit, the Eucharist, church administrative structures, and end times may not be prescriptive or inspired, but they are revealing as to how the early ekklesia communities lived out the rhythms of life. Any time the modern church can utilize documents like the Didache, I believe it to be edifying. Again, while the Way of Life and Way of Death are not inerrant and inspired, they are definitely biblical—there’s no doubting their veritas


[1] O’Loughlin, Thomas. The Didache: A Window on the Earliest Christians (Baker: Grand Rapids, 2010), 4–5.

[2] Milovec, Aaron. The Didache: Faith, Hope, & Life of the Earliest Christian Communities, 50-70 C.E. (Newman Press: NY, 2003), 4.

[3] Ibid., xxxi.

[4] Wilhite, Shawn, J. The Didache: A Commentary (James Clarke & Co.: UK, 2020), 4. 

[5] Pardee, Nancy. Genre and Development of the Didache, 1.

[6] O’ Laughlin, Didache, 167.

[7] Didache, 8.1

[8] O’ Laughlin, 5.

[9] Ibid, 161.

[10] Even though there is ample evidence that Paul’s letters were circulated among the early churches, early dating of the Didache would predate the over a third of the New Testament, including the Gospels.