People who know me well sometimes speak hard truth into my life. Sometimes I can, in my enthusiasm, get off track and I am grateful for people who will challenge me. On the other hand people who do not know me can sometimes misunderstand me and challenge me based on that misunderstanding. Lately I am feeling a bit misunderstood. Some folks have misunderstood what I write as opposition to the Church. This is far from the truth! I love the Church and I love her Groom! I do have strong opinions about the institutional church which exhibits a ‘come and get it!’ mentality, seeing itself as having God and if others want Him they must come to us! The Father sent the Son and Jesus came in the flesh as a ‘show and tell’ of the Father’s love. Jesus sends the Church as a show and tell to the world. The Church like her Lord is to be on a mission (I use the word missional) and is to be a demonstration of the Father’s redeeming love (I use the word incarnational). I realise that what I propose is radical; meaning that it takes us back to the very root of the matter but it is not at all unloving and I am sorry that it is sometimes misunderstood in that light. I write this preface before I embark on an easily misunderstood thought. Please do not hear what I am not saying!
In her marriage to the empire the church emerged as a quite different entity. In her missional/incarnational mode the Church was best described as a movement but as the religion of the State became institutional. The institution required a hierarchy. Someone needed to be in charge to guide and direct this institution. The choices for leadership of this new establishment were 5 fold: Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Pastor and Teacher. Allow me to give a thumbnail description for each of our candidates for leadership. The apostle is an entrepreneur visionary; a pioneer. The prophet is concerned primarily with Truth and hearing from God. The evangelist is primarily concerned with the lost. The pastor has a prime concern for ‘the flock’ those who are already members of the Kingdom. The teacher also cares primarily for the flock and their growth and ‘feeding’. From this menu of potential directors emerged the leadership of the pastorate. This was the safest choice and the default position of the emerging institutional church.
I suggest that this leadership decision has had lasting effects on the institutional church as the pastoral role was elevated and other roles diminished. Now please do not hear me saying that pastors are bad and others (particularly evangelists) are good. All of God’s gifts are good! But as all positions of authority became invested in one role of leader, I believe, the whole Body was hurt.
Jesus said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:25 – 28)
This is a theocratic model which makes for an interesting organizational chart. Jesus left us a simple hierarchical model; at the top “Jesus is Lord” or “Head” and below are we the “Body”. I readily admit the practical need for structures to support our mission but these structures ought not to violate the model described above. I am convinced that now is a time for the restoration of the 5 fold gifts described in Ephesians 4:7 – 16. Imagine if you will a leadership team comprised of people representing these gifts. Imagine this group in submission to Jesus as Lord and at the same time passionately advocating for their position on a matter (pioneering new ventures, speaking God’s truth, advocating for the lost, caring for the flock, and equipping the flock with skills and understanding.) Each would faithfully present their position. Each would be genuinely heard by all the rest. Together they wrestle through the issue and finally consensus is reached and the Church is on the move. This recapturing of an early church dynamism can recreate the missionary movement the Church.
It will involve pastors relinquishing the inherited power of the institutional church. It will mean those with differing gifts must stop destructive ‘carping’ and engage passionately in respectful dialogue. It means we must first be submitted to Christ as our Head and mutually to one another. At the same time as I advocate this I realise that I am asking the most from pastors, they will be the gatekeepers in the historic church. The responsibility for the reformation of the church for incarnational mission rests heavily with them, but those of us others must engage positively. This is the way old wineskins may contain new wine. Otherwise we will likely see the creation of more and more new wineskins as the old wineskins remain just that ‘old wineskins’.
Next week I plan to write more about the necessary changes in thinking required for missional/incarnational church leadership. I invite pastors and others to comment on anything in this. If this can be a part of the respectful dialogue I have earlier mentioned i would be pleased.