In a recent editorial, Mark Galli offered a thoughtful and provocative defense of the pastor-as-chaplain model vs. the pastor-as-leader model. Galli criticizes the growing impersonal institutionalism of the church that holds up the model of the megachurch as the only true vision of congregational health and success (and the megachurch “lead pastor” as the only true model of pastoral vitality). I couldn’t agree with him more.
Without doubt, there is continual need for women and men with spiritual sensitivity to the souls of people (in the holistic sense that Galli describes so well). Indeed, there is something incredibly important occurring when a pastor accompanies us through a dark night of the soul, a personal trauma, a moment of crisis. And without doubt there have been far too many churches that have begun to take on the ethos of a corporation that seem to miss these most important moments. I couldn't agree with him more.
Galli wants to raise up the importance of this pastoral presence by challenging our ideas of the "pastor as leader" and--by and large--I agree with his critique. If leader means "someone who makes the organization grow in numbers, dollars and reputation," it is a deficient definition indeed.
Galli goes on to assert that the model most criticized--that of “chaplain”--is actually the model of Jesus who traveled throughout Galilee as a healer. He writes, “For centuries, the pastorate was thought to be about "the cure of souls"—souls being understood not as the spiritual part of us, but as the fullness of our humanity. The pastor has traditionally been thought of as one who does ministry in the midst of a people who are sick and dying, and who administers in word and sacrament, in Scripture and in prayer, the healing balm of the Lord. So who told us that the pastor is primarily a leader/entrepreneur/change agent and anything but a curer of souls? And why do we believe them?”
And it is at this very point that I want to offer a nuance that I hope will be received by Mr. Galli (and the hundreds who “liked” this article on Facebook) as an opportunity to continually clarify the complexity of the pastoral task in our day.
Yes, “for centuries, the pastorate was thought to be about the ‘cure of souls’.” I agree. That’s the way it USED to be. During the centuries of Christendom, this was an appropriate and helpful metaphor. In a culture where Christianity was in the cultural center, “chaplain” or even “pastor” was a crucial component for keeping powers-that-be attuned to the word of God and the way of Jesus when other cultural forces were present to lead us into temptation and conformity with “the world”. In a Christendom world, pastors were needed to continually bring a word of truth, a touch of healing and a prophetic reminder of what God required of his people, an institution or a nation (which is also true in a theocracy, as Galli points out in his use of Nathan as a “servant” to David).
Indeed in our cultural institutions that still recognize the need for someone to be the embodiment of the spiritual in the corporate life, we celebrate. We can rejoice that there are institutions like schools, hospitals, the military (even Congress!) that continue to call on individuals to be available to heal, to care, to counsel and yes, speak prophetically in the midst of the complexities of organizational life. And indeed, this is the model that is still advocated by many of my pastoral heroes like Eugene Peterson, whom Galli holds up as the model (see here for another post where I “Dare to Differ with Eugene Peterson”).
But increasingly, this is not the mission of the church today. In a post-Christendom context, the metaphor of pastor as healer, chaplain, or curer of souls is inadequate to the task and literally killing the church. Churches that continue to cling to a Christendom context and expectation for pastors (as seen mostly in mainline churches like my own) are dramatically in decline and becoming increasingly irrelevant to the changing cultural contexts that are far more like a mission field in the first century than the cultural contexts of the most recent past centuries for which Galli (and most of us, frankly—even me) pine nostalgically.
But that day is gone.
The Missional Movement, as originally inspired by the insights of Lesslie Newbigin expressed theologically by Darrell Guder and others, has given rise to an entirely different understanding of a pastor as the leader of a people in mission.
In this post-Christendom context, the congregation, not the pastor, is the embodiment of Jesus (literally “the body of Christ”). The congregation, not the pastor, is the true ‘healer of souls’ going into the world to demonstrate and proclaim the reign of God. The laity (that is the whole people of God), not just the pastor, is the prophetic voice to power in boardrooms, courtrooms, and classrooms. The Church, not just particular Christians, is the presence of God, the temple of the Spirit and corporately, communally and contextually—the manifold witness of God to the particular locales of God’s world.
To be sure, leadership in a missional context is NOT the model offered by the megachurch either. The institutional isomorphism that gave rise to the megachurch as the model of a successful church-as-corporation is just as rooted in Christendom as the mental model of “pastor-as-chaplain.” And megachurches for all of their numbers and name-recognition are also in decline, by the way. While there are certainly exceptions, most megachurches continue to thrive most in parts of the United States that still hold the most cultural Christianity--the geographic south. It is right for us to recognize that that model, while still vibrant in some places, is likely not the best model for most of us.
What is needed today in our churches is not to replace “leader” with “servant”, as Galli suggests, but a deeper understanding of the kind of servant-leadership needed in this changing world. As the world changes, denominations, seminaries, thought-institutions and and voices of influence like Christianity Today need to continually affirm and support a changing paradigm of pastoral leadership.
This pastoral leadership paradigm is not yet clear (and it will likely not be just one ‘model’). We are more aware of what it is not than what it is and we know that it will look different in every context.
I believe it will be more apostolic than chaplaincy, more about cultivating worshipping missional learning communities (isn’t that what a church of “disciples” really is?), than managing a vender of religious services, or providing private spiritual counsel. It will be both personal and communal; it will be both liturgical and public. It will be complex, holistic, rooted in and expressed differently in every particular context. It will be about organizational leadership that is organic. And it will be in every way about transformation.
We need pastors (and frankly leaders in every sector of society) who are continually being transformed who can lead individuals in their own transformation and communities in communal transformation. We need women and men who are not only gifted in the cure of souls, but also the cultivation of communities of witness and mission. We need more pastors who can teach the faith, cultivate spiritual maturity and equip communities of saints to live and proclaim the reign of God in the mission field that is right past the church parking lot and changing rapidly.
Leadership is about equipping people to grow so that they can faithfully face the challenges in front of them. We don’t need more chaplains. We need more leaders.
We just aren’t sure exactly what they look like yet.