02 November 2011

the experts

One of the most disturbing bits of modern evangelical terminology is church expert.  We have been convinced that we need a class of the superchurched who can lead us along the path of ecclesiastical prosperity.  In our ongoing quest to discover the placard map which will not only tell us "You Are Here" but also the right path to get where we want to be, we seek out canonical gurus that can guarantee our success.  Or so we have sometimes told ourselves.

My problem with this line of thought is that I strongly disagree that there are any modern church experts.  That's right, I deny their existence.  At first, you might think this is a near-incoherent rambling of someone who has been burned in the catacombs of church leadership.  You are right on some regards, but my decision to question the existence of church experts was not made on the basis of emotional reaction.  Instead, I come to this as a theological determination, reflective of what our larger narrative context ought to be.

Sure, there are programs and degrees which confer on ourselves the perception that we have attained some expertise in the life and health of the church, though we must be reminded that true wisdom and understanding is the growing acceptance of the knowledge that we are aware of far less than our arrogant youth assumed.  That is to say, if we are truly wise we know that there is far too much knowledge that we are not experts - not in any sense of superiority - for learning is lifelong and truth holy and profound.

But there is a sea of books, audio lectures, seminars, consultants, curricula and, yes, degree programs that capitalize on our sense of having mastered the science of church life and health.  We believe that we can create for ourselves a class of spiritual physicians, headed up by a team of specialists and surgeons for when those difficult situations arise.  And maybe we are not so far off in asking for help from those who have been there before, or seeking the counsel of those who display godly wisdom,  But how does that become its own trek of Christian discipleship, that we should sit at the feet of those who program church as though it were a corporation?

It seems to me that the church has already identified a group of church experts, and that they have served as the foundation for how the body of believers will move in faith and practice upon God's word.  Indeed, we rest upon Apostolic Authority, not only in the determination of how the canon was assembled but also in the message we have received regarding our path of discipleship.  The Early Church Fathers understood this and sought to build upon the work of the apostles, some of whom were the disciples of these twelve disciples.  The same could be said for the Reformers and many other moments in church history.

But I fear that it is far too common for church leaders today to give more credence to the fleeting whims of publication and trendiness than we will to the work of the apostles.  In other words, we are trying to find our faith in the systematized techniques of modern organizational theory than we are reading and learning and memorizing our Scripture.  There are far more answers for the church in its sacred canon than in all of the leadership treatises combined.  Many would echo that statement, but few will be innocent of it; many will walk the wide path, few will choose the narrow.

How many church experts have you encountered?  I haven't seen too many, but from what I have seen there is nothing new under the sun, and there is often a lack of spiritual or scriptural depth to what I have seen presented.  One particular piece of correspondence chided the congregational leadership for lacking in credibility, though never once in a multiple page document did they make an appeal to Scripture (or even a scriptural principle), personal character or ethics in God's kingdom (that context didn't appear at all) . . . but did make reference to the appropriate fee structure that could be arranged for any assistance that was given.

I am beginning to wonder about any of this taking money for ministry (even though it is my vocation), as I see how it can be a strong internal motivator against the people of God.  For with such a set of parameters, both truth and love are certainly taking hits for the sake of retaining a position, an income, or a reputation . . . all three of which should have been crucified with Christ and no longer living.

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