I’m a big fan of both the website and the podcasts, and since you say you always welcome questions I’m going to take you up on that offer!
My question is how does pastoral leadership fit into a Jesus-shaped spirituality? Is the current system even necessary? (By which I mean, the churches that have staffs of dozens and a pastor who gets up and speaks on some topic every week, not discussions with wiser people on spiritual issues). Something that has always deeply troubled me is the cult of personality that often arises around pastors in evangelical churches- the pastor’s always right, a receptacle of great wisdom, has a better opinion than anyone else, has a direct line to God, etc. This is an old issue, of course, but it seems worse today when pastors seem to want to develop multidisciplinary “ministries” whose main outcome seems to keep them away from the church they are supposed to be “pastoring” a majority of the time. What place does “full time Christian service” have in the post-evangelical wilderness?
I hope I’ve been clear. Thanks for your time and thoughts on this subject!
Carl asks a great question that will eventually deserve more than a little attention from this blog. Until then, Carl and the JSS readers will have to get by on these tantalizing tidbits hinting at the posts to come.
A. A good book: Jesus the Pastor by John Frye. It’s still in print and is, as far as I know, one of the few- perhaps only- book/s to take on Carl’s question directly. Different folks will react to this book differently- Charismatics will probably like it better than Lutherans, for instance- but it’s a book anyone interested in Jesus shaped ministry and leadership should acquire. Cheap used copies are easy to find.
John Frye also blogs at Jesus the Radical Pastor.
B. Look carefully at the early church on this question, and for this I’d recommend a close reading and in-depth study of the document called “The Didache,” which appears to be a very early second century manual of church practice with many things to say about leadership. Study of this document and other very early post apostolic documents and historical information can help us see the journey from Judaism to Jesus to the Apostles, the Early Church and onward.
The goal here is to not read our own concepts of ministry back into the early church but to carefully note what we can about how Jesus influenced the concept of ministry leadership and defined it for the direction of the post-Pentecost Christian community.
C. A major focus of this blog will eventually be “What kind of processes did Jesus use to produce the kind of disciple that was his goal?” By processes I mean the combination of experiences, content and relationships, both intentional and spontaneous, that produced the concept of Christian discipleship.
I believe these processes are, in general, the opposite of much of what the modern pastor spends his time doing. There is too much emphasis on preaching and administration of public worship in the contemporary ministry. Jesus was a communicator, but he was primarily combining creative teaching, experience, personal growth and the work of the Holy Spirit in revealing/creating to change those who followed him. Jesus is a communicator, but he is also a facilitator, coach and analyst of the experiences his disciples are having.
For example, it’s clear that Jesus was was not running a lecture hall or a seminary, but something much more akin to an ongoing ministry/training project. Failure and confusion seem failure normal in the curriculum and seeking out experiences where all assumptions are challenged is common. I draw from this that as a “pastor” Jesus was much more inclined toward seeing Christian growth as an accumulation of learning/living experience than just knowing a set of facts (though clearly a basic understanding of the Biblical worldview and Jesus’ own Kingdom theology was important.)
D. I don’t believe we can claim any authenticity in the quest for a Jesus shaped Christianity if we aren’t prepared to take on a deeply critical analysis of what the church is doing now. This is why I have a new appreciation for what Frank Viola is trying to do in Pagan Christianity. While I believe he fails to sustain a serious and competent research methodology underneath his project, his instinct that the ministry we see today is largely shaped by un-named and highly determinative non-Biblical, cultural influences is, I believe, correct.
Without saying where I have arrived on this question, I will say that there is good reason to believe that the leadership roles and models we need within the Christian movement probably ought to shift away from the current model of the work and personality/gifts of the pastor, which seem to have increasingly little in common with Jesus or the needs of the Christian movement and are, instead, a kind of compromise between celebrity and corporate culture, producing a marginally Christian motivational speaker such as Joel Osteen as the most successful pastor in America.
I would counsel anyone looking at the pastorate to look at Eugene Peterson’s work, the serious reflections on ecclesiology of a ministry like 9 Marks, and the missional/emerging rethinking of the pastor/church relationship described by Tony Jones in The New Christians or Bill Hull in Choose the Life.
There is an increasing understanding that we’re producing scholars, entrepreneurs, managers, comedians, commentators and promoters rather than shepherds, apostolic leaders and disciple-makers.
I’m not quite ready to say with The God Journey podcast guys that everything you’ve been told about the church and the pastorate is probably wrong, but I am quite ready to say the image and model of the pastor in megachurch evangelicalism is something entirely different from whatever it means to be a Jesus shaped servant-pastor-leader.