Christianity Today Senior Managing Editor Mark Galli continues our public conversation on the proper role of pastors. I am indebted to Mark for taking the time to engage in this discussion with me. We are both hopeful that it will lead to something helpful and edifying to the Church. Thanks Mark.
I am honored that Tod would take the trouble to write such a thorough and generous response to my column. It’s clear that we agree on much. We both think that pastors need to be pastors at least some of the time, and that we need less of the corporate leadership model. And we both agree that a pastor is the head of an institution, which requires him/her to be a leader of that institution. It’s not an either/or job, but a both/and.
But how much fun would it to just rub each other’s backs? J So, here is where I’d like to push back, and with a little rhetorical vigor: I’m simply not convinced of the new vision being cast by missional advocates, which is grounded in the assumption that we live in an utterly new era of church history, one calling for a new model of ministry.
First, I have to say I no longer believe it is possible to be a “servant-leader” in our culture. In our culture, the lure and pride and glory of the word “leader” swallows up “servant.” Every self-described servant-leader I’ve met, in the end, has turned out to be mostly leader, and very little servant. This may seem a harsh and sweeping generalization, but I have encountered so many “servant leaders” who have no idea what servant means (except to lead more boldly from the top, “Because after all, when I use my leadership gifts, it helps the church!” they’ll say), I’ve given up believing in “servant leadership.” Please notice that Jesus, while recognizing this his disciples would, in fact, be leaders, never used the term “servant-leadership” or anything like it. Servant was all. Jesus is the main one who gets the title of leader, though it comes in the form of “Lord.” There is a reason that pastors have been called “ministers” for centuries.
Second, I’m simply not convinced that our age is so unique that we need a significantly different model of ministry than we see in the New Testament. As I alluded to in my piece, the clear picture of the church’s ministry and that of Jesus was much more along the lines of pastor/shepherd than leader. The one New Testament letter that spells out the purpose and function of the church is Ephesians. And Ephesians is about nothing if it is not about worship, “to the praise of his glory.” The mission of the church there is to worship. And this, of course, accords with the ultimate “mission” and destination of the church: worship in heaven (Rev. 4, for example). The mission of the church on earth—if it is to have integrity--must reflect its ultimate “mission” and destination, otherwise what in the world are we evangelizing people for? Merely to become evangelists? No, we evangelize people so that they might join the heavenly throng and worship—forever and now.
The other mission of the church in Ephesians, of course, is bringing to maturity the members of the church, to the full stature of Christ, so that everyone in the church will live in the unity of love. There is, in fact, very little missional language in Ephesians as we use the term missional today. The only time that happens, (like in chapter 3) is when Paul talks about his unique calling. But nowhere does he suggest that his calling is to be adopted by everyone. He understands his calling as unique. But when it comes to talking about the church’s general calling, things missional are hardly to be found.
Now let me be clear: ONE of the callings of the church is to send certain people out in mission! Thus the gifts of apostleship and evangelism. But only some members have these gifts. It’s not the way the entire church’s purpose is ever talked about. I would even argue that the Great Commission is the commission to apostles (those like the original 12 who are “sent out”), but not such to each and every member of the church. It is only the church’s commission because apostles are identified and supported by the church. The church, as such, has a fuller, more complete “mission”: worship of the living God and bringing people to maturity and unity in Christ. As noted, this is a fuller vision because this is what we will do for eternity. To worship and grow together in unity is our reason for existence, from beginning to end (Eph. 1).
This does not mean that each and every member of the church is primarily called to make the local church the be all and end all of his/her life—as if the church were nothing but a happy holy club. Some are called to give themselves to the church in this way. But most are simply called to spend the bulk of their energies raising families, being good neighbors, fulfilling their callings. In this sense, the pastor is the “chaplain” of these people—leading them in worship, catechizing them, praying with them so that they can go about their daily lives as witnesses to the love of Christ. The pastor is not “the leader of a people on mission,” but the shepherd of a community that worship and grows together in unity, and of people who are learning to love God and neighbor in their daily lives.
Can this model become myopic and self-centered? Of course! Can this make the church lazy? To be sure! But what model of the church can eliminate human sin? I know of none. And what model made inroads in the most “postmodern” society history has ever known? This one.
Let us remember that the early church made its way in a culture that was pluralism on steroids, and highly relativistic at that. Such was the legacy of the Greek mystery religions, among others. A god for every city. A philosophy for every man. And no one having the temerity to say he had the way, the truth, and the life—because each worshipped their own gods (Acts 17:16ff). The church grew up in this setting, and eventually transformed Roman culture not by being missional in the way it is talked about today, but when it acted like the church I’ve described above. No bold plans to transform society. So big dreams of changing culture. Just a focus on congregational life: worship, preaching, catechesis, and simple acts of charity (taking care of widows and orphans, attending to the sick during plagues, and so forth).
Again, there were the occasional (and famous) early missionaries. St. Mark in Egypt. St. Thomas in India. Gregory the Wonderworker in third century Asia Minor, among others. And so on. But they stand out precisely because they were unusual. They were not what defined the local church, but they were, in fact, made possible by the ministry of the local church.
Okay, that’s enough push back for now. I have deep admiration for the motives and passion of those committed to the missional movement, in its varied forms. So much of what goes on in the name of missional is right and good and frankly inspiring (albeit intimidating: the commitment of some missional leaders is amazing). I just happen to think this model makes unrealistic demands on most church members, creates needless guilt, inculcates pride, and in the long run leads to despair. That’s all J Okay, I’m being dramatic. But I still think the missional model has pastoral and theological problems. I want what missional leaders want: a healthy church that displays the love of Christ to the world. I just think the missional approach, as I understand it, will backfire soon enough, because it traffics too much in contemporary cultural assumptions about what is important, useful, effective, and so forth.
I think there is a reason the early church, when it thought about what it meant to be a church, put the emphasis on worship, catechesis, and the presbyter/overseer as shepherd and teacher of the flock, not the general of an army.
Okay: I have this feeling that not everyone who reads this will be convinced. And I have no doubt I’ve overlooked something, or misrepresented the missional movement in some ways. So I look forward to some vigorous responses, and learning from the exchange.