The Church and the Work

Responsibilities of the Workers Toward the Local Churches

The workers’ main responsibilities involve the preaching the gospel (Matt. 28:19-20), the establishing of new churches (1 Thess. 3:2, 13), and the strengthening of the existing local churches (Col. 1:23-25, 28-29). Watchman Nee addresses each of these items in the excerpts below:

When there is no believer in a locality, God’s workers work to lead men to salvation. After some are saved, there is a church in that place. Before the church is fully established, the affairs of the church are temporarily in the hands of the workers. This is according to the Bible. However, having the affairs of a church in the hands of the workers for an extended period of time is something that is not found in the Bible. The workers should not manage a local church. Rather, the workers should manage their own work. When the church is not yet established, they can manage it since it can be considered as their work. Once it is established, however, the responsibility of the church is upon the believers of that locality and no longer on the workers.

(Watchman Nee, Collected Works, Set 1, Vol. 17, 203-204)

(1) The first responsibility of every worker—no matter what his ministry or what his special line of work—whenever he comes to a place where there is no local church, is to establish one in the locality. (What applies to the individual worker applies also to any group of workers.)
(2) Should he come to a place where a local church already exists, then all his teaching and all his experience must be contributed to that church, that it may be strengthened and edified, and no attempt should be made to attach that church to himself or to the society he represents.

(Watchman Nee, Collected Works, Set 2, Vol. 30, 131)

The responsibilities of the workers are related to the sphere of their work. The sphere of the work may be understood by comparing it with the sphere of the local church. Watchman Nee states that while the sphere of the local church must be local, the sphere of the work is wider in scope:

The sphere of the work, unlike the sphere of the local church, is very wide. Some of the workers are sent to Ephesus, some go to Paul at Nicopolis, some stay on in Corinth, some are left in Miletus, some remain in Crete, some return to Thessalonica, and others go on to Galatia. Such is the work! We see here not the movements of the local church but of the work, for the movements of the local church are always confined to one locality. Ephesus only manages the affairs of Ephesus, and Rome the affairs of Rome. The church confines herself to matters in her own locality. There is no need for the church in Ephesus to send a man to Corinth, or for the church in Corinth to leave a man in Rome. The church here is local, the work extra-local. Ephesus, Corinth, and Rome are all the concern of the workers. The church only manages the affairs in any given locality.

(Watchman Nee, Collected Works, Set 2, Vol. 30, 128)

The apostles have certain authority among the local churches and the church eldership, particularly in appointing the elders. They should come together with the elders to resolve any problem between the churches according to the Scripture and by the Spirit. Watchman Nee, in Witness Lee’s biography of him, enumerates below the responsibilities of the apostles and the elders:

1. The highest authority of the local church is the eldership. Elders are set up by apostles. The removal of elders is also up to the apostles; so the elders should listen to the apostles.
2. The apostles are responsible for the work, and the elders are responsible for the church. But within the region of the work, the apostles can also be elders.
3. When there is a problem between the churches, the apostles and elders should come together before the Lord to seek His mind, have fellowship, and resolve the matter, according to Acts 15. But at the same time we must not just practice the scriptural way; we must have the Spirit of the Scriptures.

(Witness Lee, Seer of the Divine Revelation, 221)

Thus, the apostles’ work is related to the establishing and strengthening of the local churches. Although the apostles appoint elders in each local church, as Watchman Nee points out, the elders are the highest authority within the local church.

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