20 July 2011

is missional post-pastor?

At the heart of the 'missional movement' emerging in the modern church is the notion that ministry is worked by all believers. Thus, the challenge is to dilute hierarchy for the sake of empowering and equipping all who are part of the church for service. An immediate push-back to this idea is the lament of a loss of control and proper authority. I don't want to be one of those people. However, I also happen to think that this particular piece of becoming missional needs qualification - before it incorporates anti-intellectualism and relativistic-spirituality.

Recently I heard the missional approach discussed at a conference, where three leaders of this mind-set were presenting their perspectives on the church. One of them expressed his experience of letting-go of the control and oversight to allow the small-groups to be what they were. His story went on to talk about some of the surprise that he is often met with (that he would not have any proper oversight into the groups), to which he said it is not about the doctrine but about groups of people reading and living the Bible. This is done without curriculum, but with only Scripture and the Holy Spirit - just like the early church.

Let me first respond that we cannot make the simple claim that our ecclesiology (on any side of any issue) is best done 'just like' the early church. No matter what we do or what we say, we are not the early church and cannot simply copy those things that we know they did and expect them to be effective in our context.

It is true that the early church did not have professional clergy as in our modern sense. Yet, they clearly set aside the apostles for the sake of teaching and directing the believers. It is true that the early church only read Scripture (sans curriculum). Yet, they met together at least weekly to have the sacred texts read and explained. It is true that the early church did not have seminarians leading the charge. Yet, the average person had committed much of their Scripture committed to memory (a shockingly stark contrast to the modern believer).

(And, quite ironically, the early church did not have the New Testament - which is always included in modern attempts at doing church 'just like' the early church . . .)

Moderns typically think that the earliest believers had everything quite right and together, all without any bumps or challenges along the way. Such folks obviously haven't read all of Paul's letters - especially to that group in Corinth.

Are we living up to the standard of always being "prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have" if we are handing new believers a copy of the Bible and sending them out with the Holy Spirit? (It becomes a sort of Christianized version of James 2:16.) Or do we ignore that Philip had to explain the Isaiah scroll to the Ethiopian eunuch in order for that text to come alive in his life (Acts 8)?

Yes, it is exciting to consider the life of the Spirit exploding into the world. And I certainly rejoice with those in India who are experiencing more growth than Western evangelicalism can begin to comprehend. But we must not lose sight of the needs of our culture - which is the most biblically illiterate group of active Christians the world has ever seen - and the demands for making disciples of Jesus. It is different for us because we are not them. This is realism, not hubris, that says we are in our culture with our challenges rather than having the challenges of another culture.

Let me say that I believe that the role of pastor in our modern context is changing - some for the better, some for the worse. Such is the way of the world to see things change, and we ought not be bound to our churches or institutions more than we are devoted to the mission of God's kingdom. But we do not know what the pastoral role will look like until it makes the change. Much the like free-marketplace, it will not be mandated or special-ordered . . . the changes will come by way of supply-and-demand - pastor will morph into what the needs of the church and community become, just like the last thousand times the role has shifted. But I think it is a rather large mistake to think that the role will simply come to an abrupt end.

I have signed off to this missional movement. I'm a fan. But it will need its tempering if it is to work. Inflexible thought and theology always dies in irrelevance.

1 comment:

Randy said...

Agreed, the role will probably not come to an end.

Many years ago I happened to read a Peanuts cartoon. Linus was writing a book for pastors and he agonized for days on what title to give his book. He settled on: "Have you ever considered the fact that you might be wrong?"

Perhaps if pastors would take a more servantlike attitude characterized by humility and a willingness to wash others' feet, people would be more open to their authority. Just a thought.