Pastors, Shepherds and Leadership

Over the next week or two, I’ll examine the functioning roles within a church. In this context, I’ll look to the 5-fold ministry of Ephesians, that is apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, along with deacons and elders and maybe bishops. Mind you, I’ll look at these from a slightly different perspective than the traditional/institutional church. I’m not knocking these men and women of God. They work hard and long for the church and are often facing burnout because of it. I primarily want to say that there is a simpler way and a different way.

First, I want to look at pastors and shepherds. The modern understanding of a pastor has little grounds in the NT narrative. What often passes for a ‘pastor’ these days is nothing more than a sanctified version of a CEO. Granted this is not always the case but this is what is often expected. Many a church runs like a private or publically held corporation at worst or a non-profit organization which most are. This approach toward guiding sheep in the church has its share of difficulties. For many pastors, taking care of business often over rides care for the sheep. Preaching a sermon is looked upon as feeding the sheep when the shepherd should be practically guiding the sheep to the feast found in Christ. The care for the sheep is focused on the ‘pastor’ who runs here and there instead of equipping those other saints in the church with the pastoral gift to share the burden. Is it a big surprise that so many pastors are facing burn out?

So how can the pastoral ministry be done differently in a traditional church? Allow the ‘pastor’ to say, ‘no.’ This one thing can help greatly to prevent a pastor from being overextended. Free the pastor by letting her/him to equip others in the community, with a pastoral gift, to share in the work of service. Let the pastor seek sheep not of this fold, that is, let him develop friendships with the lost sheep beyond the edges of the flock. Above all, encourage the guidance of the sheep to the true Shepherd. Ultimately, any pastor should reflect this characteristic of Christ. Likewise, remember, these people we see functioning as pastors/shepherds, these brothers and sisters in Christ are also frail and broken like the rest of us. Mistakes are made and we should be hesitant to throw stones, cast judgment or gossip. I do not condone the overlooking of moral lapses but when they occur, be quicker to forgive, love and restore.

While the suggestions above are more for a traditional church, what about those shepherds in an emerging/organic church? In such a faith community, a greater emphasis will be on a flock mentality in contrast to a fold mentality. See Neil Cole’s blog for more on this idea. A flock follows the Shepherd, i.e. Christ, and is flexible in structure and movement. The fold keeps the sheep within the wall/fence of the fold, a discernable in/out, and restricts movement. The shepherds within a flock will point to the Shepherd. Likewise, they will reflect those qualities of the Shepherd, care, guidance and protection. In an emerging/organic context, fellow sheep will recognize those in their midst functioning as shepherds because they follow the true Shepherd. So given this view of a shepherd, what are the characteristics of such a pastor? Can a pastor care for those beyond the edges of the flock? Should they?

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Freedom

Braveheart is one of my favorite movies and the story of William Wallace and the fight for a freeScotland garnered awards and praise. (A good deal of why it is a favorite is that I can easily recognize my inner barbarian and the violence in my heart.) Granted the violence inherent to many revolutionary and freedom fighting movements is at odds with what it means to follow Jesus, the ideas presented regarding freedom are what stand out to me.  The notion that, leading the people to freedom from tyranny is important, rings true even to this day.

Of course, how you do it is just as important. The violence of spiritual warfare does not entail the need for physical violence.  If anything, the spiritual warfare we engage in is a reminding of the powers that be of their defeat through the cross of Christ. It is also a reminder to the church; the cross is our example in how to engage the powers. That being said, the following quotes from the movie are not an endorsement of violent revolution but examples of how important freedom is, especially in light of the cross of Christ.

Early in the movie, we see William’s father brought home as a slain warrior in the fight againstEngland. After his burial, Williams’s father appears to him in a dream, telling him, “Your heart is free. Have the courage to follow it.” These words shape the remainder of his life.

Later, after engaging the English and declaring the freedom ofScotland, he meets with the future king ofScotland, Robert the Bruce.  In the context of rallying the nobles and the people to the cause of freedom, William tells Robert the Bruce, “And if you would just lead them to freedom, they’d follow you. And so would I…” He seeks to instill courage into this future royal.

Both of these quotes from the movie show the importance of courage in light of freedom. Granted the path of taking up the sword is distant from the way of Jesus, we need courage nonetheless to embrace the freedom we have in following Jesus. The heart is set free in pursuit of Christ. However, fear and forgetfulness will seek to stifle that wonderful freedom in Christ. We must remember, we are free in Christ and we must encourage one another in that freedom.

Often, those in leadership in the church take to feeling entitled to the position they have. If anything, the leaders should seek the example of Christ and point the way to Christ. If a leader does this, embrace and encourage freedom in Christ, the transformation of believers and the church will be nothing short of a resurrection that empowers the Body of Christ for service in the world. Will those in leadership in the church give up control for freedom in Christ? Isn’t this what the world needs?

 

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Going Underground

A few years ago I wrote the following as an introduction to my final paper for a graduate seminar on Metaphor in/and Theology. I was trying to paint a picture of “religionless Christianity” as Bonhoeffer put it. I’m now putting my money where my mouth is. I’m going to spend this summer in an organic house church environment. What happens after the summer is anyone’s guess.

Imagine a world in which the church buildings, cathedrals, mega-churches and other structures used for Christian gatherings are no longer, or at least less often, the places they once were.  Now these buildings are museums, community centers, homeless shelters, theaters and so on.  The people that once filled these buildings gather there much less frequently if at all.  What now occurs are smaller gatherings in homes, coffee shops and bars that are unique expressions of the Body of Christ in each particular city, culture and nation; expressions of faith that seek to express and work out what it means to follow Jesus in their specific contexts.  Large numbers of Christians have left the traditional practices and structures of going to church for the option of being the church, taking seriously the metaphors of being salt and light.   Large portions of the Christian community have intentionally gone underground, not because of persecution, but for the purpose of pursuing and modeling Jesus Christ through a cruciform life.  This cross-shaped life calls for a discipline unrivaled by some mystics but also a giving of oneself in love to share in the suffering of others.  This desire to commune with God leads to a love of the world on all levels.  An ever-expanding network of simple, flexible, mobile fellowships, with no central headquarters, that seeks to be the parable of Jesus Christ for others in the world.

Could this be a possible future for the church in America? in other parts of the world? Is the era of the mega-church over? I’m interested in your thoughts.

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The Christian Label

I’m not sure when it happened, but somewhere along the way “Christian” became an overused adjective. I’m sure the creation of a Christian sub-culture in America helped in this respect with a wide variety of Christian products to serve up. We have Christian variations of television, radio, music, movies, singles websites, social media and on and on. It seems with the advent of any new type of trendy cultural contrivance the sub-culture seems to need to devise a Christian version of said device. This need to subvert culture in such an impetuous way seems a betrayal of the way of Jesus.

This reactionary recklessness is evident in the recent destruction of Serrano’s controversial artwork. Keith Giles offers an insightful response in Christians Unclear on the Concept. The need for a Christian sub-culture will only produce artistic works that are sub-par. This encourages the retreat to a Christian ghetto mentality. The need for clean, safe and holy artwork neglects a great deal of our human situation. The challenge for Christians in any sort of culture creation is the need to move beyond safe sub-culture to fully engage culture. The perpetuation of a Christian sub-culture is nothing short of cowardice. We are called to go into the world so why create things that are labeled “Christian?”

The people are Christian not the stuff. Going to the book of Acts, the followers of Jesus were commonly called followers of the Way or disciples. They are first called Christians in Antioch. Also, take into account how Paul spoke of the believers in the churches he raised up. He called them, saints. Also, brothers and sisters. Off the top of my head, I don’t believe he ever called them, “Christians.” So as disciples and followers of Christ, let’s drop “Christian” as an unnecessary adjective to describe what we do. Instead, let Christian be what we are.

grace and peace,

JWR

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Authority and the Bible

The Orthodox (Roman and Eastern) Church takes both apostolic tradition and the Bible as sources of authority in the church. With the different view of apostolic tradition laid out in my last blog post, we now turn to the biblical record as a source of authority in the church.

In some evangelical circles, the place of the Bible is supreme. Coming from a Southern Baptist background, a certain pride was being a people of the book. In some more conservative (some might say fringe) groups, the Bible must be 1611 King James only. The point being this is the true word of God and other translations are in error or, more generously, a mix of truth and error. Such a view of scripture finds a certain similarity to Muslim and Mormon views.

While such views are often the reaction to textual criticism, New Testament studies and other things like the Jesus Seminar. Theologically, the work of NT scholars should be acknowledged and considered. However, this can be taken with a grain of salt since the emphases change roughly every twenty to thirty years. The greater task may be that of interpretation. Ultimately, I see the hermeneutic lens as that of the life and teachings of Jesus. He is the final Word and the living Word that the Bible testifies to through the power of the Spirit.

The narrative of the Bible is the story of God and humanity; God’s purpose for humanity and the plan of redemption revealed in Christ. Granted this is greatly simplified, the story of the God revealed in the Bible is rich in the text. Likewise, the story we find ourselves in is part of and a continuation of the biblical narrative. The canon of scripture is closed but we continue to testify of the living God revealed through Christ Jesus.

Let us consider our view of the Bible: Do we look to the Bible for ammo to cut down the one we disagree with? Do we interpret scripture to justify our economics, politics and culture? Or do we see the written testimony of people of faith that testify to a redeeming God? Do we see the living Word via the written Word? Does our view of the Bible end at the book or point us to the One the book is about?

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Authority and Apostolic Traditions

The end of Matthew’s gospel has Jesus proclaiming that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him. This seems to be a proper starting point and the source of the church’s authority. Some will argue that the authority is in the apostles (especially Peter) and the traditions they hand down. Yet if we look at the biblical record, the traditions are very simple. Gospel. Baptism. Eucharist.

The gospel proclaimed by the apostles was not overblown theological fluff, nor elaborate dogmatics, nor propositional arguments for God’s existence. The gospel story evinced in apostolic preaching is that of a Jewish rabbi that was crucified and was raised from the dead. The call to respond to the gospel wasn’t and isn’t responding to things about him but rather responding to him. This living Christ is the one in whom to find salvation, healing, forgiveness, peace and reconciliation. Things are made right between God and humanity and between fellow human beings in Christ.

Baptism is the symbol of the reception of that person the gospel proclaims. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is symbolized in the immersion (death) and raising up (resurrection) of the believer. The picture painted in baptism is powerful yet simple. This powerful simplicity likewise can open the possibility to presenting the gospel again to those who witness it. Baptism also symbolizes our entry into the new covenant and the community if that covenant.

The final tradition handed down is the Eucharist. This is the celebration of the broken body of Jesus Christ and of the blood he shed for the new covenant. The Eucharist was taken within the context of a meal. The later reduction of the celebration to a wafer and a sip of wine seems to overlook the sense of community found in a communal meal. Likewise, the service of the Eucharist limited to one person takes away from the priesthood of all believers and the serving of one another in the church. The Eucharist is a celebration that all should have the privilege and opportunity to serve to one’s brothers and sisters in Christ.

The apostolic traditions are not elaborate but simple. This simplicity however does not mean that a wealth of meaning and spiritual insight is not available in these traditions. A minimalist view of apostolic tradition provides a simple expression of Christian faith in practice, which one can easily pass on. Granted simple need not provide an outright rejection of sophisticated expressions either. Simplicity allows for a starting point that is accessible to all.

Just as the person of Christ is the source of the apostolic traditions, so too is he the source of any authority in the church. Only one man has all the authority for the church, that man is Jesus Christ. So do we look to the Sent One or someone else?  Do we embrace the simplicity (and depths) found in Christ or someone or something else?  Should what we pass down to new believers become a who instead?

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