Genesis 1 and the Roots of Collaboration, A Path to a Healthy Church

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was an age of wisdom, it was an age of foolishness….” So read the memorable first lines of Charles Dickens’s 1859 work, “A Tale of Two Cities.” First lines should hook readers to turn the page to a story about to be told.
Now consider another first sentence: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” These words of anticipation, given to us by the hand of Moses in the book of Genesis, stand in stark contrast to the Egyptian narrative of creation that was popular in the contemporary generation of Moses. The Egyptians’ narrative presented a tale in which both their world and their gods rose out of dark eternal lifeless waters of chaos. The competing narrative of life for Moses’s generation was the Egyptian world view of 472+ gods with a daily – in each 24-hour cycle – death and resurrection of the sun god, Ra. Looking at the cultural context of the Egypt of Moses’s day at the time of the creation/writing of the Genesis text, it is also interesting to note that the Egyptians of the time were committing more of their religious prayers, magic, funeral rites and stories to texts, and especially images. But as God inspired Moses to produce the words of Genesis, it was with an alphabet-based text – no images. God’s inspiring Moses to write with words was nothing like the recordings of the Egyptians.
What do the early chapters of Genesis and Egyptian culture and religion have to do with collaboration in a local church on the path to revitalization, a healthy church? Well, simply put, the collaborative hallmark of the Metokos ministry and methods is rooted in the Triune God, first revealed in the creation story in the text of Genesis.
I invite you to think about the creation story from Genesis. See in it a journey from created chaos to an ordered and sustainable creation – through collaboration by our Triune God. Understand how using collaboration, modeled after God’s example, is necessary as a leadership process to help a church revitalize and become healthy. Understand how God is both the “in the beginning God” who created out of nothing, and the God of “let us make man in our image.” When we understand this second self-revelation, the “let us,” we will see collaboration in our task of revitalization as rooted in who God has always been.
It’s the plurals that make the statement unique. “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” The “more-than-oneness” words are the clues God placed in the text to reveal, or describe himself. After seven declarations of “God said,” in Genesis 1, we come to the marker of the Bible’s first recorded conversation – “God said.” (v. 26) After that attribution, “God said…” we have in verse 27 the sentence, “So God created man in his own image.” The “our image” – the plural – becomes singular again – “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” These sentences point to our God of the universe who created all that is. He is both singular and plural as The Triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
As Moses wrote about the one God who created the earth, it was, to the culture, something very different – this only one concept was the rub. Only one. Not over 470. This story begun by Moses would continue to unfold through history and self-revelation. The story would upend history and people forever. After the rest of the story, we can understand not only the who He is, but also the what He is – this “let us make man in our image” God.
Back to the collaboration in Genesis 1:26 and 27:
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” [contact-form][contact-field label=’Name’ type=’name’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Email’ type=’email’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Website’ type=’url’/][contact-field label=’Message’ type=’textarea’/][/contact-form]  
Notice that the plural-ness here moves to the design in God’s creation of mankind – “Let them. . .” In our individualistic age we often, by default, shift plurals we read in the text to the singular and miss the message. Man and woman made in the image of the creator will exercise dominion as “them.” They will work together as image-bearers, male and female. In church revitalization, we need to use “them” – not just leadership, not just one person with an idea/vision. Part of the image of God in people – males and females—is creativity, ideas/visions. To restrict the prerogative of ideas/visions to one person or a lone leadership team misses this crucial early revelation about God and his image-bearers.
This Genesis picture of plural-ness is one of the many reasons Metokos, as part of its process, asks the elders of a church to appoint a team/group of laypeople to listen to the congregation. Metokos’s services include coaching this team/group to use Revitalization Renewal survey results – developed using a statistical tool known as Gap Analysis. (GA is probably self-explanatory – “where I think we are/where I think we should/could be”) In addition to the structured analysis, the team/group does interviews with every person who attends the church. From the collected data and responses comes a list of vision/mission statements and a prioritized “To Do” list for the congregation. After the elders approve this list, the team/group collaborates with the attenders and leadership working on a common path forward to becoming a more healthy church, a revitalized church.
Let’s take a look at another feature of collaboration that comes our way through the historical roots of Moses’s day. The Pharaoh-dominated cultural and political life of that time created the original “top down” world. This organizational feature, if you will, was passed on to Rome and, over time, the church began to look like the empire it had disrupted. Power had, for most of history, been in the hands of one person – that’s just the way it was. Along came Celtic Christianity and we see a significant change as rule moved away from individuals and rule by councils became the norm for the Celts. As the power, including military power, of the Rome-centered church grew, those Celtic Christians were forced to abandon their councils for Bishops. Perhaps this had something to do with the reasons Scottish Presbyterians set up sessions and presbyteries to govern their churches. Also, there seems to be strong Biblical support pointing away from the rule of one man and pointing toward the shepherding of the church by a council of elders at the local and regional levels of church life.
So in contrast to the lone rule of Pharaoh and the multiplicity of Egyptian gods, we look for our guidance to the “Them,” created male and female, by a God who is one God but who can converse within himself as us and our. The church must be vigilant as it can find itself falling into the leadership process of the day – giving up on both the way we are created in God’s image and the way he wants his church to be shepherded – caring, sacrificial leadership from a council of elders. In small churches, the more people who are part of the creative process, the deeper the commitment to the way forward to a healthy church will be rooted in their hearts, datebooks and checkbooks. The more diverse these appointed working groups/teams are, the stronger they will be. Churches need to see the image of God in each member through the lenses of redemptive adoptive grace.
This desire for diversity – those 3 E’s of education, economics, and ethnicity – in a local church is an echo of Genesis as well as an amplification. The apostle Paul writes descriptively about the body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12. He also expresses the corporate extent of God’s people in Ephesians 4 when he writes, “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” Collaboration at its best, is we not me. A healthy, revitalized church “builds itself up in love” – “when each part is working properly.”

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