One of the privileges of blogging is the ability to introduce subjects and people of great significance to the body of Christ. I am excited to introduce a dear saint to you today that I wish everyone could come to know.
Milt Rodriguez has become a dear friend of mine. His life has had a deep impact on me, not necessarily because of what he does (although he does a lot), but simply because of who he is in Christ. I truly wish everyone I know would have the ability to spend some face to face time with Milt. He is a jewel in the kingdom that leaves all who know him with a greater love and vision of Jesus Christ.
The church family I am a part of recently had the privilege of spending about 5 months of ‘face to face’ time with Milt and Mary Rodriguez. They were like ‘chefs’ to us. They served us a meal that none of us knew how much we really needed. The ‘meal’ they served the church here built up the body in ways that I could have never imagined. Simply put, we have witnessed a ‘planting’ of a group of people around nothing other than the person of Jesus Christ. It is a dream come true to say the least.
I have asked Milt to come on the blog today to answer a few questions that I believe could greatly benefit all those who are thinking through and exploring jumping into New Testament church life. So without further delay, let’s jump into this conversation with Milt!
Milt, you and Mary came to know Christ during a unique time period. Could you describe a bit about what the culture was like and the type of things you experienced during the ‘Jesus Movement’ of the late 1960′s and 1970′s?
Yes. My wife (Mary) and I came to Christ when we were both twenty years old. This was in the early seventies (oh, oh – aging myself!) during what was called the “Jesus People Movement.” It was definitely a unique time. Many of the young people in my generation were involved with what was called the “hippie movement.”
Many from this generation were saved during that movement. It seems like people were coming to Christ everywhere! There was a lot of organic church life happening as well. We had no idea what we were doing but there was lots of community and the focus was Jesus. Hence the term “Jesus People.” Things didn’t get very deep, but we were very sincere and passionate about the Lord and learning to love one another.
What is your assessment of what went wrong with the ‘Jesus Movement’?
Like they say: “hindsight is 20/20.” Looking back at the movement I believe it’s very clear what went wrong. Two things mainly:
One, there were two other movements that happened right after the “Jesus People Movement.” One was the “Discipleship/Shepherding Movement.” The other was the “Charismatic Movement.”
The discipleship-shepherding movement became very authoritarian and all about top down, chain-of-command authority structure and discipleship.
The charismatic movement was naturally all about spiritual gifts, miracles, healing, etc.
Now there were two major differences between these two later movements and the “Jesus People Movement.” One is that they came out of the institutional church. The Jesus People Movement came as a grass-roots, street-level movement. The other difference is that these two movements were about “things,” not about Christ Himself. But they were a distraction to many of the Jesus People at the time.
The other problem was that most of us in the Jesus Movement were very young and naïve, in a sense. So we were searching for older, move experienced believers to guide us. Well, the older people came alright. And they brought their agendas and institutionalism with them. We needed mature outside help, but instead we got religion and domination!
What led you out of the institution and back to a pursuit of your roots?
After the Jesus People Movement ended we (like most) just naturally went into institutional churches for the next 15 years. But we never forgot our first two years in the Lord. There was real life in the church then. So, the Lord used that hunger to lead us out of institutionalism to a more authentic expression of His church. Of course this took years of trying many things, reading many books, and finally belonging to an intentional organic community of believers.
In your own words, how would you define a New Testament ‘organic church’?
My quick definition is: “a group of believers who are learning to live by an indwelling Lord together.” What I see in the New Testament is that the church is the Body, or expression of Christ Himself. This Body, Bride, House, Family lives as His expression by His own eternal life that is resident within each one of them. They discover this life together and they live by this life together. You cannot have the church without this (internal) life of Christ flowing in and through humans. This is the core of the New Covenant itself. All of the life and nature of Christ will be expressed by this group of believers if they will learn to live by His indwelling life together.
What would you say to those who think ‘organic’ church is simply an ‘open mic’ session?
First of all, I would say that the church is much more than a meeting. She is a community of the redeemed who are living out the very lifestyle of the Godhead. The Godhead does not meet once per week on Sunday morning! It is a life together.
Secondly, I would say that a meeting of the church is much more than an open participatory gathering where everyone gets to talk. It is the expression and overflow of this very life of God, this river of life that is welling up inside of the believers. It’s not a session where people can just share their own ideas, thoughts, and opinions. But rather it’s a feast for God. All of the life that has been deposited into his people is now being expressed back to him. A beautiful explanation of this is seen in John, chapter 4, with the Samaritan woman at the well. First Jesus asked her for a drink. Then he gives her living water that quenches her thirst. This is his life. Now, she can give him a drink with his very own water (life)!
Describe what you understand biblical ‘apostolic ministry’ to be, and the process of how you became involved in this type of work. (Share a bit about your ministry, and how you came up with the name ‘Rebuilders’)
For me, understanding apostolic ministry has taken about twenty years. I was saved when I was twenty years old and I knew then that I was called to God’s work. However, I had no idea what that meant and what my contribution would be. I had no grid for this at the time. None of the usual choices of pastor, evangelist, or missionary seemed to fit.
My understanding of the work needed to develop along with my understanding of the Lord Himself and His eternal purpose. They, of course, are all tied together. The more I got to know the Lord and his purpose, the more I understood my own identity and my role in his body. This understanding is still developing, of course, and I am still very much in the learning phase!
I believe all ministry and work to be very fluid and therefore I have a hard time making concrete style statements. But in general I would say that an apostolic worker is someone who is called by God to go and minister to his church in some way. The emphasis here is on the word “go” because the term “apostolic” by definition means to be sent. Someone who stays is not apostolic. However, this doesn’t mean that an apostolic worker is always traveling. There may be times when he/she stays in one place for a specific time. It’s important to understand the seasonal nature of the church and the work. Paul, for example, at times would stay in certain areas for longer periods of time.
My wife and I are currently in a season of traveling constantly. We typically will stay in an area for three to six months to plant an organic church and then move on to another area. We have no idea how long this season will last.
There were two times in my life when God made it very clear to me what I was called to do. One was when I read a biography of the life of Watchman Nee in China. This had a profound affect on me. The other was when we were involved in the charismatic movement in the seventies and the Lord used someone to give us a message. It was about Nehemiah rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem and the Temple. Nehemiah took the burned and damaged stones, cleaned them off, and placed them back into the walls of the city. We ended up naming our ministry The Rebuilders as a result of receiving that message.
Milt, describe why laying a foundation is essential to church life and why many in the ‘house church movement’ reject outside help.
In my understanding of the New Testament, apostolic ministry is vitally essential to the outworking of God’s eternal purpose. This purpose is my passion and motivation for all that I do. In a nutshell, this purpose is that God would have an authentic representation and expression of his Son to show all creatures and all realms the greatness and fullness of his Son. This expression takes place through humans in his church. I live to be used for that end. This is why I get up in the morning and why I am breathing air at this moment!
For this purpose to be fulfilled, certain things need to take place. One of them is the planting or establishing of local communities of believers who would express this glorious Christ. I believe that the New Testament record strongly indicates that this only happens through the help of a “sent one” who lays a foundation of Jesus Christ among a local group of believers. Of course, a group of believers can start meeting together without the help of an outside worker. But at some point they will need to be planted, established, and born by a worker whom the Lord of the harvest has sent to them. There is no exception to this in the New Testament.
The foundation laying is so essential because in it the believers will learn how to live by the life of an indwelling Lord. They will also receive a revelation of Christ through the preaching of Christ. They will also be equipped to function as the Body of Christ, and they will also receive help on living as a shared-life community.
Paul told us that he planted the church and was a wise master builder who laid the foundation of Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 3: 6-16). We also see that he preached Christ (1 Cor. 1:23) and that he equipped believers to do the work of the ministry (Eph. 4: 11-13). This is our example of a church planter and we desperately need churches to be raised up in this way again!
I believe that there are three main reasons why believers do not want the help of an outside worker today.
Ignorance – Pride – and Fear
Most do not understand the calling and need of such a worker. Many are too proud to admit that they need anyone from the outside to help. And many are afraid of asking someone to come and help because they have been burned in the past by authoritarian leadership.
Milt, in your opinion, what is the ‘detox’ process, and who needs to go through detox?
We often use the ‘detox’ analogy to express the need of believers to be ‘cleansed’ from the effects of institutional religion. We have all, to some degree or another, been polluted by human religion and institutionalism. God will expose these mindsets and filters and then require us to lay them down at the foot of the cross and pick up only Christ and God’s eternal purpose.
This includes our religious backgrounds and all “baggage” attached to those backgrounds. I would define this baggage as all activities, ways of thinking, and language that was given to us by a man-made system.
What do you see as the biggest pitfall for groups trying to gather outside of the institution?
I would answer this question with one big answer: Refusal to embrace the work of the cross! Organic church just doesn’t work without it. How can you gather together a group of believers in a living room from many different backgrounds, doctrines, and mindsets and expect it to work? There is only one way it will work.
They must all be willing to lay down all of those things and only pick up Christ Himself. It will not work any other way. They will also need the same vision of God’s eternal purpose. And they will also need to be willing to receive outside help, because they will definitely need it at some point; in my experience, the sooner, the better.
What would you say to an individual who wants to get involved in New Testament church life, but isn’t sure where to start?
There are now many resources available to you. There is a website that I have developed with my co-workers called HouseChurchResource.org that is chock full of articles, books, audios, and many other resources.
I would also recommend that you visit one or two existing New Testament style organic churches. If any of your readers would like to visit any of the groups I have helped to plant, they can email me directly at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Milt, thank you very much for your time and for sharing your heart. Let me encourage all who have read this interview, and would like more information about Milt’s ministry, blog, and books, to visit the Rebuilders website. Milt has authored several vitally important books that I am certain will be a blessing to you and the community you are a part of. Click here to visit the Rebuilders website.
Thanks again for joining us in this important discussion,