What follows is based on my personal experience of pastoring for more than 25 years 18 of which I was the head elder of the congregation my wife and I founded. I hope that you will find this information to be helpful. — Natan
Over the years, many people around the world have asked for my advice about starting a Hebraic home fellowship or congregation. I tell them all the same thing: I learned to pastor through the school of hard knocks with guidance from no one, although I sough it to no avail. Sadly, I had no one to mentor me. As a result, I made a lot of mistakes and learned by trial and error. Therefore, I’m happy to advise people in any way I can, so that they don’t make the same mistakes that I made. That is the purpose of the following article.
My wife and I started and pastored a Hebraic congregation in 1998 that met in our home for more than two years. When we outgrew our home, we rented a church building for another 15 plus years until the fall of 2016.
As a result of our experience, dozens of folks have asked my help in mentoring them in starting Hebraic fellowships. To date, I have put nothing in writing on this subject until now. Perhaps some of the questions and suggestions below will be of value to those people daring enough to start a fellowship.
A Word to Those Desiring to Start a Fellowship
Before giving instructions to Timothy about the qualifications for being an elder, Paul had this to say about those desiring to serve as leaders in the congregation of the saints:
This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work. (1 Tim 3:1)
Desiring to start a fellowship is not a bad thing—especially if the Spirit of Elohim is leading you to do it. If not, forget it. What’s not of YHVH will fail. If the Spirit is directing you, and you’re not being led by the dictates of your own carnal heart, then there are some things you need to consider first before launching out.
Are You Willing to Pay the Price?
Before starting a fellowship, one must ask oneself some hard questions. One must first count the costs; it’s going to “cost” you more than you think. Are you willing to pay the price?, Yeshua taught his disciples.
For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it… (Luke 14:28)
Now let’s read the full context of Yeshua’s statement.
“If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it—lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace. So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple. (Luke 12:27–33)
It is true that Yeshua was specifically speaking about evangelizing the lost, and not leading a congregation, but many of these same instructions still apply for those in pastoral ministry. For example, one never knows whether that person who is walking into your congregation is even saved, whether they are demonized or are just plain troubled people or flat-out troublemakers. A pastor will have to deal with all of the above…
To his disciples, when he first commissioned them to go out two by two to preach the gospel, Yeshua additionally said,
“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to councils and scourge you in their synagogues.…Now brother will deliver up brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved.… A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for a disciple that he be like his teacher, and a servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more will they call those of his household! (Matt 10:16–17, 24–25)
Now you may want to start a fellowship that involves only your spouse, some family members and a few close friends with whom you already get along and agree, but what happens when other people want to join your group who you don’t know? What happens when these new folks have different ideas of how a congregation should be run, have conflicting biblical understandings and doctrinal views and turn out to be vocal, complainers, contentious or outright wolves in sheep’s clothing? What then? You’re happy little group is no longer!
Over the years, we experienced this countless times, and over the past 20 years I have advised dozens of pastoral leaders who were going through the same trials. Don’t think it won’t happen to you; it will. You are not exempt from this trial by fire, for people are people. Yeshua experienced it, as did the apostles as well as the prophets before them all the way back to Moses in his struggles leading the children of Israel through the wilderness. This is because people are people, and the devil is working behind the scenes to steal, kill and destroy anything that is good.
One more thing: are you willing to have even those of your own household turn against you? Yeshua declared that his disciples must be willing to give up all to serve him.
“Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to ‘SET A MAN AGAINST HIS FATHER, A DAUGHTER AGAINST HER MOTHER, AND A DAUGHTER-IN-LAW AGAINST HER MOTHER-IN-LAW’; and ‘A MAN’S ENEMIES WILL BE THOSE OF HIS OWN HOUSEHOLD.’ He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it. (Matt 10:34–38)
The problem is that nearly everyone thinks that they’re an exception to the rule—that what Yeshua predicted would happen to his disciples who choose to serve him won’t happen to them. Before I started pastoring, I didn’t take Yeshua’s warnings seriously. How could I? I didn’t know what I didn’t know! No one ever told me what to expect, except Yeshua, and, honestly, I thought that, for some strange reason, his warning wouldn’t come to pass in my own life. I was sure mistaken! Moreover, I doubt seriously that few professors in Bible college teach this either. This is probably because they have little or no real world experience leading a congregation. That’s why they know little about the real price that pastors and leaders have to pay to be true disciples of Yeshua.
Consider this. How did Yeshua’s apostles view themselves after having served him for years? As his bondservants (or slaves; Rom 1:1; 2 Cor 4:5; Gal 1:10; Eph 6:6; Phil 1:1; Col 4:12; Tit 1:1; Jas 1:1; 1 Pet 2:16; 2 Pet 1:1; Jude 1:1). Yes slaves! This is not a bad, but a good thing. Would you rather be a slave to the world, the flesh and the devil or to Yeshua? It’s either one or the other; there’s no middle ground in this game! There are great spiritual rewards for serving Yeshua, but most of them will be in the next life. The price is high, the cost is much, but the rewards are worth it to be a servant, yes, a slave, of the Master.
Some Hard Questions to Ask Yourself
Before starting a fellowship, ask yourself these hard questions:
- Are you hearing from YHVH on this, or from the dictates of our own soul (your mind, will and emotions)?
- Has YHVH called you to lead a congregation? Really? How do you know?
- If YHVH has placed a call on your life to start and to lead a congregation, are you ready for the emotional and spiritual roller coaster ride of your life? For the best and worst experiences of your life?
- Are you ready to have the stress level increase in your life about 900 percent?
- Are you ready to have your finances, marriage and family put under a magnifying glass, tested to the breaking point and even attacked by people you thought loved you as well as your enemies?
- If you have children at home, are you prepared for the negative fallout they will experience of being pastor’s kids despite your best efforts to shield them from the spiritual backlash and your best attempts to mitigate this impact?
- Are you ready to sacrifice your time, talent and treasure, and to lay it at the foot of the cross for a lot of ungrateful and murmuring people?
- Are you ready to expect little or no financial remuneration for your efforts, yet people will expect you to still pastor them, even though they don’t support you financially? In other words, be prepared to work hard as total unrecompensed volunteer. Yeshua and his apostles did.
- How much do you love Yeshua? Do you love him so much that you’re willing to lay your life down for his sheep no matter the cost and despite their ingratitude, their endless personal problems that need constant attention 24/7, their insensitivities toward you, their personal attacks against you and your family, their pettiness, their murmuring and complaints, their rebellion, their disrespect, their…and the list goes on endlessly.
- Is your spouse in agreement with you? If not, don’t do it. You will only bring strife and misery and possibly divorce into your marriage.
- Are you walking a clean and righteous life and in full compliance with YHVH’s standards of holiness and righteous living as laid out in the Torah and the Testimony of Yeshua (the NT)?
- Do you know the Bible better than anyone else around you? If not, forget trying to start much less lead a congregation! This is because you will be a sitting duck for every sort of crazy doctrine and twisting of Scripture that will come your way and you’ll lack the equipping to address these issues biblically, which will only lead to more confusion, strife and grief.
- Do you fit the biblical qualifications of eldership (see Tit 1:5–9; 1 Tim 3:1–7)? If not, you have no business being a congregational leader.
- Do you have spiritual accountability with other, preferably, older spiritual mentoring elders who have experience starting and leading a congregation, who can advise you?
A Home Bible Study Group Versus a Congregation (or Church)
So you only want to start a Bible study in your home, but not a congregation? What then? Keep these points in mind:
- As they grow, home fellowships often become congregations. Are you ready for this?
- Congregations require leaders and elders that have been discipled by spiritual mentors. This is the biblical way of raising up new leaders. There is no such thing in the Bible as self-appointed leaders. Such are illegitimate and uncircumcised fruit and have no standing in YHVH’s spiritual economy. YHVH doesn’t recognize such people, and the fruits from their ministries will not be good.
- Without properly mentored, discipled and divinely appointed and anointed leaders, a fellowship will eventually fail no matter how harmonious its beginnings or how well intentioned its founders. Carnality will manifest resulting in division, strife, accusations, hurt feelings, offenses, doctrinal differences and so on. When such occurs, this has to be dealt with by experienced leaders who know how to handle these issues biblically. This means they must know their Bibles inside and out, so that they’re equipped to deal with these issues when they arise. If the leadership is inexperienced, then they need to have some experienced apostolic-type leaders to call on for advice when such difficulties arise, and they will arise because people are people.
- If you plan to have a Bible study in your home, remember this: the bigger the group, the more your home will be suffer—especially if people bring their kids. Are you okay with this. Not only that, you will have to feed them (don’t expect people to bring much food, if any at all), and your water bill increase and you’ll need to allocate more money for toilet paper and other miscellaneous expenses you never counted on.
- Will you have room in front of our house for all the cars? Does your neighborhood and city allow for extra parking? Will your neighbors complain if you have many cars parked out in front of your house—or their houses?
- You will need to spend extra time on Fridays cleaning and preparing your home to receive guests on Shabbat. This means that you may have to take time off from work early. Are you prepared for this sacrifice? Then after your guest are gone, you have to clean up the mess including the food stains in your carpets and couches.
- If you’re meeting in your home, you will need to have rules and guidelines about what can and can’t be done, and when meetings will start and end. If you don’t have an ending time, people will park themselves on your couch until all hours of the night week after week. If boundaries aren’t set in place, people will take advantage of you and strife and contentions will arise. You must exercise quiet but firm leadership in these areas. If you’re too authoritative, people won’t come. If you’re too passive, some people will run rough-shod over you and take advantage of your kindness and generosity.
- Guidelines, rules of conduct and rules of order must be established ahead of time when conducting meetings. YHVH isn’t the Author of confusion. A structured order may not be necessary if you only have a few people who are close friends or family. In these situation, meetings can be more casual and “Spirit-led.” But what about when people start inviting other people who are outside of your close-knit circle of friends, and who don’t have the same level of respect for you and your home? This is when problems can arise.
What are the blessings and benefits of starting and leading a congregation?
Despite all of the above warnings, there are tremendous blessings from being a servant in YHVH’s hands to help expand his kingdom. I have no regrets about my years of pastoring. I am a better person for it in all respects, but the price is high but so are the heavenly rewards. Here are some of the blessings that come as a result of submitting to the will of Elohim and helping to lead his sheep:
- You will learn what it is to be a bond-servant of Yeshua.
- You will have to study your Bible more than you ever have before, and you will become more knowledgeable about the Word of Elohim than you ever thought possible.
- You will learn to accept both praise and criticism with meekness, grace and humility.
- You will learn to rely on Yeshua like never before.
- You will understand the fellowship of Yeshua’s sufferings. This will bring you closer to him.
- You will learn to camp at the foot of the cross.
- You will learn the art of diplomacy.
- You will learn to turn the other cheek.
- You will learn to love Yeshua’s sheep.
- You will experience the joy of seeing people grow spiritually and know that you were a tool in YHVH’s hand to help that happen.
- You will grow and mature spiritually in ways you never imagined possible.
- Because of your experience leading YHVH’s sheep, areas of the Bible will come alive to you, and new vistas in your understanding of it will open up.
- You will become a strong spiritual tree whose leaf won’t whither in the time of heat and stress because you’re planted next to the river of life, who is Yeshua, as you bear much fruit for him (read Psalm 1).
There are many other benefits too that are too numerous to mention.
This Is Only the Beginning
What I have shared above is only the beginning of what to think about before starting home fellowship or congregation. We haven’t even discussed how to lead or run a congregation, leadership styles, meeting formats, conflict resolutions, leadership training, preparing teaching materials, praise and worship, and other congregational dynamics. We’ll save these discussions for another time.