Solomon's Church or Abraham's?

By Executive Editor John Yoder

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Under King Solomon’s reign, Israel enjoyed unprecedented peace and prosperity.  Importing the finest quality materials, Solomon constructed the magnificent Temple with all of its furnishings.  Not only did Solomon build himself a grand palace, but in his day middle-class Jewish farmers owned homes superior to any of their ancestors.

1,000 years before Solomon, Abraham and his descendants lived in tents.  Abraham was a wealthy man, with many wives, children, servants and sheep.  But his entire entourage could pull up stakes and relocate on short notice.  Abraham died in a tent, having never owned an acre of land or a modest condominium.

The residences of these 2 generations provide an analogy for the church.  Most Western churches follow a Solomon-type model.  But the Abraham model is more common globally, and remains useful for many first-generation immigrants.  What are some of the differences?

  • Solomon churches have constitutions and bylaws; Abraham churches make decisions by consensus or following the pastor.
  • Solomon churches own buildings; Abraham churches may meet in homes, offices, or another church’s facility. This means that Abraham churches excel at mobility, while Solomon churches excel at stability.
  • Solomon churches provide full-time salaries for their pastors; this is not the norm for most global churches or most immigrant churches.
  • Solomon churches are led by pastors with seminary or Bible college degrees; Abraham church leaders often receive the kinds of on-the-job training provided by Jesus and Paul.
  • Launching a Solomon church requires significant resources, and its closure will be seen as a great disappointment. Abraham churches spontaneously combust, morph and dissolve, often with new groups springing up in the soil they have fertilized.  The expected life span of an Abraham church is longer than a small group but shorter than a Solomon church.

Which model is better?  It depends on who it is intended to serve.  For native-born Americans who own homes and have stable jobs in their communities, the Solomon model makes sense.  The Abraham model is useful for highly transient first-generation populations.  It is also useful for small ethnic congregations, lacking critical mass to warrant the high overhead of the Solomon model. 

If an ordinary Jew of Solomon’s era were to travel back in time to sojourn with Abraham, he might regard the nomadic lifestyle as inferior to his own.  He may be tempted to think of Abraham’s entourage as rural hicks incapable of understanding Solomon, the erudite author of Proverbs.

In the same way, monocultural Americans who have only experienced Solomon churches may look down upon Abraham churches.  Unsalaried pastoral leaders may be given an unflattering title such as “lay pastors”--as if the New Testament differentiated between paid and unpaid elders. 

In forming relationships between American and immigrant churches, many American ministry leaders don’t know how to navigate the relationship between Solomon and Abraham churches.  It may surprise them that their partner church has no vision or mission statement, and often no written doctrinal statement.  They may struggle to help a Board that follows Robert’s Rules of Order to value the fluid, consensus-based decisions of an Abraham church.  Many leaders of the Solomon church may perceive the Abraham church’s governance to be raw chaos.  They miss the beauty and efficiency of its simplicity.

There are many stories of churches that launched with the Abraham model and grew into the Solomon model.  But for many, the overhead of the Solomon model’s complex bureaucracy isn’t worthwhile.  It would be like putting Saul’s armor on David. 

Marriages between individuals of highly different personalities can thrive.  So can relationships between highly different American and immigrant churches.  Such relationships thrive when both parties appreciate their differences and do not try to change each other. 

Loving individuals from different cultures is hard work.  Loving church structures from different cultures is equally hard work!  But we must love Jesus’ Bride in all her structural forms.  May God open your heart and mind to learn from those you serve.