The Pastor-ization of Christianity – An Alternative

17 01 2008

internetmap.jpgThe story has been repeated endless times. Whether you were at a Christian camp, on a missions trip, at a youth group meeting, or spending alone time with the Master you suddenly began to believe there was nothing you would rather do than minister to others. There are a million different ways you can experience this call on your life but its what happens the moment afterward that is rather uniform and that must be questioned.

Within seconds most of us have built in our minds the narrative for how this decision will play out in our lives. Unless you decide to become a missionary overseas you will decide attend a Bible College or Seminary and be trained to fill a full-time pastoral position in an institutional church for an indefinite period of time (maybe for the rest of your life). A few will choose to plant a church with the intention of quickly taking off the church planters hat and donning the pastor’s hat, and this is even more commonly a life-long commitment to pastoral ministry.

But what if we’ve got it all wrong? What if, instead of 99% of ministers taking permanent pastoral positions, no one is supposed to take that path? What if this kind of call is apostolic and not pastoral? First lets consider how men interpreted this call in the first century and then explore an alternative path.

Where are the Pastor’s of the first century church? Where do we get our biblical foundation for the way virtually all church ministry is directed today? Of course the answer is, we know of no Pastor who held a permanent position in an institutional church in the first century. The closest example people use is Timothy at Ephesus but was he their permanent Sr. Pastor? This would be an enormous stretch and reading our context into the Scriptures. When you turn to the book of Acts. where first century church practice is actually described, you never see this pastoral position in action. Church after church the apostles travel to and not one mention of these church’s having pastors. Letter after letter Paul sent to direct these churches how to mature and not one mention of the existence of a Pastor nor the admonition to seek calling a Pastor to help. Even churches in desperate straights like Corinth were not encouraged to lean on a single leader. In fact, Paul makes reference to the visits of many other apostles (there were literally thousands of little “a” apostles at that time) who had temporary ministries in Corinth but none settled down there. Why?

Because neither Paul, nor any of the first century apostles, would stifle a church, nor damage Kingdom expansion by holding a position in a single church. They believed they were to work their way out of job and quickly. Two years was the maximum time Paul spent anywhere and that was in a huge city where much training was required. Are we happy with the net effect of replacing thousands of scrappy, entrepreneur, independently funded apostles (and no paid Pastors) with millions of institutionally trained stay-at-home Pastors (and nearly no apostles)?  I’m not suggesting that every Pastor has apostolic gifts (that they can begin a new work) but that every gift (including the pastoral gift) should find its place within an apostolic team (be dispatched to temporary assignments as a part of the larger apostolic ministry).

So let’s imagine…

What would happen if EVERY pastor in the U.S. decided to leave their church in under 2 years and that their position would be dissolved after they left (no one could come and fill in the vacuum). Here’s a short list of what would happen –

  • Kingdom expansion would EXPLODE in growth with millions of trained ministers being released on apostolic missions to start new works or assist with struggling ones.
  • Lay ministry (non-paid disciples) would be released and, for the first time in our country, we would see the royal priesthood emerge.
  • Churches would be totally restructured from large complicated institutions into home-based bodies with almost no overhead, living in community.
  • Billions of additional dollars would be available for even further releasing of apostles
  • Cities would create a city-church structure over the house church complete with a School of Tyrannus to organize constant discipleship training, host visiting apostles, city elders to shepherd the smaller bodies and organize city-wide ministry efforts to bless their communities.
  • Apostolic networks would be formed where gifted ministers would be dispatched to equip churches exactly in the area of the minister’s strengths and that church’s (temporary) need.

So let’s do it! Let’s ask every Pastor to make a pledge to dissolve their position in 2 years or less and to be released on an apostolic mission. Let’s stop talking about seeking the Kingdom first and let’s actually do it. Don’t let petty excuses stop you. Yah, it would be an act of trust. You would actually have to be led by the Spirit to find your next assignment. You would actually have to trust God for provision instead of a comfortable compensation package. You would actually have to earn the right to be heard everywhere you went instead of listing academic credentials on a resume. But if you’re called by God you can do it. And if you’re not called to this type of ministry you should stop anyway.

If we had the faith to try I believe this approach would see the nations discipled in 2-3 generations. Jesus said “Go” not stay, and every apostle of that century obeyed and kept going (their obedience is why we are here today). Why should we be any different?



28 responses

17 01 2008

I appreciate your zeal and vision. Having been a “typical” Pastor in one form or another since 1989, I’ve seen a LOT of the hangups in the institutional church that you highlight in your post. However, I have one problem with your proposal (and it’s NOT that I’d lose my salary if I did it). Not every person currently serving as a Pastor is GIFTED to be in an apostolic ministry. I can speak for myself most authoritatively. My gifts are teaching and discipleship oriented gifts – not church planting (I’ve tried and crashed and burned) and not evangelism (though I share my faith, I seldom see wide-spread results or effectiveness). To think that there’s a “one-size-fits-all” position for ministers of the gospel is not only naive, it’s dangerous. God’s calling on individuals is unique. Not all are a Moses, or Paul, or Peter. But all ARE called. I agree with you that many who are “professional” Pastors should not be… but not for the reasons you state.

17 01 2008

Great points Carey. I struggled with how to make this clear in my post (I’ll probably do a bit of editing) but what I’m suggesting is not that everyone do what at apostle does but that everyone become part of an apostolic ministry (read:apostolic team).

So someone with your gifts would NOT be sent out to plant churches but would be dispatched by an apostle, who already planted a church, into one that needs to be equipped. But because it is apostolic your role would be temporary. You would work your way out of a job and not settle down there.

So there’s room for EVERY gift as part of an apostolic team. But can you see the world of difference between doing this (equipping the saints and leaving) vs. settling down to a permanent role in a church? What do you think of that distinction?

17 01 2008

I also appreciate your zeal. For many years I function in an itinerate role, preaching to different congregations and gatherings every week. Personally, I found that sort of ministry unfruitful and very unfulfilling. Around three years ago I accepted an invitation to Pastor one local Church and accepted. In my opinion it is far better to pour your life into one congregation if you are called to be a Pastor.

It seems that Paul was suggesting a perpetual oversight of local Pastors (Elders) in Titus 1:5 where he says, “For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you”. The Elders were appointed to the Churches in the city on the Island of Crete.

The writer to the Hebrews echoed this idea and gave instruction to the congregation to, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account.” (Hebrews 13:17). The leaders of the congregation, keep watch as do faithful Sheppards. The role of the Pastor is consistently presented as that of a Sheppard who maintains oversight over a flock rather than drifting from flock to flock.

The Apostolic ministry on the other hand is more akin to that of a Rancher than a Sheppard. The Apostles functioned as Bishops do in many denominations. I do not believe that the office of Apostle is functioning after the completion of the Cannon of scripture. However, I do see a place for Evangelists (missionaries, church planters, ect.) to maintain an intenerate ministry and give oversight of the congregations to Elders (Pastors).

17 01 2008

You’ve made some solid points, and I agree with you to a very great extent. I’m glad, though that you said, “Let’s ask every pastor…” and not “Let’s make…” Even if we ask, though, I’m not sure how many pastors could respond, or for that matter how many could even apprehend the proposal. Most of our churches are in survival or maintenance mode. Others are just chaplaincies to their own members. To the leaders and people in these churches, “apostolic” will either connote heirarchical authority or teaching, depending on the background tradition. We need to do a better job of connecting the word with the concept of sent-ness.

17 01 2008

Hey Zachterry – It seems your associating my proposal with someone who preaches at different congregations every week. If you found that fruitless you’ll find no one who agrees with you more than I (see my post on Are Sermons Destroying Christianity).

What I’m saying is an apostolic team comes into a community, sets up a discipleship training center, aggressively trains the disciples in that community for a period of time (months or several years) all with the understanding that their presence is temporary so the ministry never centers around any of them or their personalities. After the ministry is led and shepherded by elders they leave and the positions they were holding are dissolved (no longer needed). Occasionally members from the apostolic team return to help with issues or gifts injected when needed (again temporarily).

I’ve never seen this tried. I’m sure some are doing it, maybe in other countries (I think is common in China for example), but in the U.S. we’re so cemented in the a Pastor-centered church model that we can hardly think outside of our ecclesiastical box.

17 01 2008

memrob – Excellent point about the meaning of term apostolic. During Paul’s day this was not church jargon but a part of every day life. The Roman empire constantly sent members of its government on “apostolic missions”, the ship they road on would be called “an apostolate” etc. and it simply meant someone who was sent.

We get so hung up defining the term as some Christian super hero when there were thousands of apostles in Paul’s day and it referred to the activity that dominated their expansion strategy (the sending of called and gifted ministers from one church to another) and not some official position for super Christian.s

17 01 2008

I like some of the stuff that you are saying, it seems to make sense, I do have a question, do you have some scriptures you are basing this on ? you refereed to the corinthians, and how that the church in Acts lacked a Biblical institution of the role, but is there a biblical directive to not have a long term leader ?

17 01 2008

eden2zion – Thanks for the clarification, but as I think about it, there’s 3 other things that I don’t think you are considering…

FIRST, the cultural differences between our culture and that of Paul. His culture was a non-media, relationship oriented culture. Ours is just the opposite. People today are much less trusting (even Christians) and therefore it takes LONGER to establish trust with them. In all of my pastorates so far, the longest I’ve stayed is 4 years. In the other 2, it was less than 3 years. In all of those cases, the task of building REAL trust was JUST BEGINNING when I got moved on. To imagine only staying 2 years in a particular place gives me a feeling of “What’s the use?”

SECOND, the difference in cultures. The culture of Paul’s day was VERY religious, and converts to Christianity were aware of the COST it would require if they followed Christ (for example, under Nero and Domitian, if you didn’t worship Caesar or Rome itself you could legally be killed for heresy), and therefore were much more committed. In today’s culture, at least in the Western world, there is very little cost to being a Christian, relatively speaking. Therefore people follow the lead of the culture and don’t commit, don’t go very deep (of course I’m speaking in generalities here, but statistically it’s pretty accurate). Today, we have a very difficult time getting people to commit to a regular church group meeting, much less committing to a role of lay-teacher for an entire congregation like would need to be the case once the itinerant moved along.

THIRD, the “time” factor. People in our day and age are very, very, very busy and the average Christian, though they should MAKE the time, WON’T make the time to study, pray, know the word, invest in others, etc. in a way that would be required for them to serve as a lay-teacher, etc. as your model would require. Of course, there are some exceptional people who would prove me wrong, but by and large that’s the state of the church we have today, wouldn’t you agree?

I can see how our “methods” have had a part in creating these problems, but now that they are here, we have to live with them – and find out how to overcome them.

19 01 2008

Hi Matthew – To your question about whether there is a biblical directive not to have a long-term leader the answer is no. There’s no need to forbid a practice that doesn’t exist. But that being said I’m not saying long-term leadership should be forbidden. I’m saying its a bad strategy and one the first church either didn’t use or used so infrequently that it didn’t come up.

19 01 2008

Hi Carey – I may just need to write another post in response but to briefly comment. Everything you say is true IF we don’t restructure the church. It’s unrealistic that people will have the time to lead an institutional church of 200+ people (it’s really a full-time job). But if you break the church down into home-based churches and training into centers of less than 100 people (and 10 of the 100 are willing to help share the load of training) along with the constant encouragement and visits of an apostolic team it can be done. But not within the current structure.

OK – I’ll post on this.

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28 06 2008
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14 07 2008

I’ve stumbled upon your blog and this is the first post I’ve read…. but I heartily agree!

I’ve been a part of an assembly in the Caribbean that is currently house church in orientation, but we are not tied to it as the ‘be all and end all’ of Christianity. The church I’m a part of grew out of the need to come alongside one of our own from our original church who had others coming by his house for Bible study. Those who were coming along either had no local assembly or were disgusted with church ‘as usual.’ Now, two of our members are getting married, and the prophetic words coming out from the church indicate to me that we should be willing to release them to be church in their new community after their marriage, albeit with assistance from us as needed.

The idea of ‘de-pastoring’ the church has worked so far in our 3 years of existence (the 3 years is indicated by the existence of our particular house church, though the network of house churches we are a part of has been in existence far longer.) Because we have ‘roles’ rather than ‘ordained positions’, everyone feels comfortable participating – as we say, we ALL own the church. Furthermore, because we are extremely flexible, and are not tied to a location or a format, our resources are that much easier to distribute. To date, the church has assisted me with overseas trips to facilitate ministry training in deliverance, has been contributing to another member’s vision of starting an orphanage in Guyana, has sent relief to the national fund when we had a national disaster, among other

Your idea of ‘apostolic teams’ sounds right along the line of Eph 4:11-13, where the ‘Body of Christ is built up until we ALL reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (v 12, 13) As you have explained it, it would definitely free up resources to be used by the church to impact the society.

It would take a radical change of heart – one which I fear mainstream Christianity is unready for. But it is being done in areas all over the world.

14 07 2008

bajanpoet – Wow that’s excellent. One question I’d throw out there is – is there a city church expression maybe among the network of house churches that you belong to? Is there any larger, local expression of the church being cultivated?

We found this to be important as we’ve moved from traditional church to a more home-based approach. We try and build an expression of the “city church” that was common in Paul’s day but not in ours and our primary way of doing that is through the development of a discipleship training center (you read about that here –

14 07 2008

Well, the leader of our network (Rowland Whitehead – is looking towards a more Celtic almost monastic, viewpoint – having a centre of prayer, with people living out simple life around the rhythm of community life. He and his wife have been led to seek out a quiet location where a house of prayer can be established (read back in his blog posts where he references it) and are seeking God as to His strategy to acquire an old plantation mill house. So, prayers would be welcomed!

The city church concept seems interesting… discussion building disciples on a larger scale than individual house churches. I’ll seek further into it. Another cell in our network I think is looking into a city church concept.

28 08 2008

Question: Wouldn’t James be considered an apostle who remained in Jerusalem and didn’t move about? How does that fit into your model (which I really like, by the way)?

29 08 2008

Great Question!

2 points regarding James.

1. Remaining in one city does not mean his apostolic ministry was not itinerant in and around Jerusalem. In a city with thousands of believers they didn’t have one mega-church but lots of house churches and hundreds of training venues and James would have been “equipping the saints for the work of the ministry” at many of these (this itinerant equipping is the essence of 5-fold ministry).

2. We need to be careful in assuming much about these seldom mentioned apostles since we don’t know their story. Every apostle we get even a small glimpse of we see traveling (Peter in the book of Galatians or John to Ephesus for example). So its very difficult to get a clear picture of how much James traveled from his Jerusalem “home base”.

30 08 2008

So, would you then say that apostles might have the freedom to stay in a city for more than two years and travel locally far more than translocally? I’m not thinking of James only, but also of those “who seemed to be pillars” in Jerusalem when Paul visited 14 years after his conversion (Gal 2) and the accepted (but accurate?) tradition of Peter being in Rome later in his life.

What I’m suggesting is that the data is not full enough to create a requirement that apostles must move on after 2 years, but I do agree that to shift a heritage of over 1500 years of ecclesiastical thinking in the West, constant movement today may be the best way ahead.

One more thing:

Have you recognised what you are describing in the Weslyan revival in Britain? It had daily early morning preaching, small groups, and Sunday gatherings (though the 1 Cor 12-14 style was sort of seen in the small group meetings instead). All of this was done while still part of the Anglican Church (at least until John Wesley died), but it caused a revival that lasted 80 years! It would be interesting to find out whether the 80 year revival petered out because of a change in that structure, or whether it finished despite that structure.

Regardless, what you have outlined really excites me!

30 08 2008

Hey Ali,

Yes, I agree with what you are describing. I believe those who stayed at home (in Jerusalem) had an equipping ministry and went on 2 way short missions (like is described of Peter in Gal. 2) instead of the multi-city missions Paul did. I’d guess this could have been because they may have had young families (I know having 5 kids deeply effects the type of trips I take).

I’ve heard the structure I’ve discussed is like Wesley but haven’t read up on that deep enough. Any suggestions on where to start? I’d like to dive into that. No question that modern Methodism is structured differently than what I’m describing. They still force pastors to move every 2 years but its from one position of church headship to another which is the worst of both worlds. If you’re going to have a human head you might as well have him long-term but if you’re going to have Christ as the head then dissolve the human church headship position and have those itinerant pastors prepare their churches with a structure that will thrive under the coming and going of 5-fold ministers.

31 08 2008

Yes, if that is the present day way Methodism operates, then it’s a problem. Originally, however, (perhaps because it was still a part of the Anglican Church) they didnt’ have pastors, but itinerant preachers constantly coming and going. Their discipleship was in small groups, but the emphasis in the large group gathering (what you would call Discipleship Centres) was preaching, not dialogue. Perhaps when they moved away from the Anglican Church the minister was introduced alongside itinerants (in fact maybe that’s what brought a slow end to the revival!).

Where to start? I can’t recall the books I read. I looked up some books at University while I was there – I think John Wesley’s journals, and some people in the course of a biography explain the set up. There is a bit written on how he set up the small groups. He was very detailed and almost legalistic (so maybe that’s one thing you wouldn’t want to take on board!).

Whitfield and the Welsh Church also had similar structures, but Wesley’s was the best organised. For small groups, the book “The Experience Meeting” by William Williams has some details (translated by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jone’s wife).

Also, Asahel Nettleton had an apostolic/evangelistic ministry approaching the one you are describing, going to Churches instead of halls. Michael Haykin has a talk on him called “2nd Great Awakening & Asahel Nettleton” (02/12/06) on Sermon Audio (and continues to talk about Nettleton in “Charles Finney and Revivalism 1”). Come to think of it, though I haven’t listened to any of his messages on the 1st Great Awakening or John Wesley, Michael Haykin may be useful for that too.

Hope that’s of some help.

15 09 2008

I Love Your ‘Pastor Phase Out Concept’, but I think that many of today’s pastor’s will not hear or be able obey God’s call. Perhaps all that is needed is one brave soul to lead the way, but I think I’ve already heard that this correction, going back to the church foundation that Paul established, can not be accomplished thru the voluntary obedience of today’s Priesthood, only thru the obedience of the flock. This old Levitical priesthood model will attempt to survive as long as the flock allows, as long as the flock continues to support it.

I’m not sure about this. I’m still trying to resolve this idea against the passage on spiritual warfare.

NLT 1 Cor 12;1 Now I, Paul, appeal to you with the gentleness and kindness of Christ—though I realize you think I am timid in person and bold only when I write from far away. 2 Well, I am begging you now so that when I come I won’t have to be bold with those who think we act from human motives. 3 We are human, but we don’t wage war as humans do. 4 We use God’s mighty weapons , not worldly weapons , to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. 5 We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ. 6 And after you have become fully obedient, we will punish everyone who remains disobedient.

We’ve tried to claim this promise;
‘destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ’
at our gathering, but I don’t think we have yet fulfilled the ‘becoming fully obedient’ part. Perhaps we just need to Give God time to work?

Is anyone else hearing similar guidance? I hope you don’t mind if I share this article on “Recognizing & Restoring Today’s Blind Spiritual Leaders” it talks about rebuilding on the foundation Paul established.

May His Will Be Done!
God Bless

22 12 2008
J. Stephens

I also stumbled across this blog and find it interesting to peruse. I have a couple questions and I would love it if you would answer transparently. What is your current church situation and what have been your past church interactions?

13 01 2009
Bob Kuhn

I just found this article. It’s great. Don’t be surprised that people who like the whole professional aspect of the ministry will oppose the idea. It can be a good way to make a living. Paradigm shifts don’t come easy. I’m not saying it’s “evil” or even “anti-biblical” to enter the professional pastorate. There are many professional pastors whom I love and admire, but the idea of getting rid of that position for the sake of kingdom growth seems to be a better alternative.

5 03 2009
Kiwi and an Emu.

[…] The Pastorization of Christianity – An Alternative. […]

17 03 2009
Roger McWilliams

I have felt called and have prepared to get a call to serve as a pastor. I have spent almost a million dollars on seminary degrees, a Ph.D., and every preparation possible, but never received a call.

Some of my friends who had parents in ministry positions got calls. Some were just good politicians. Some of the most ignorant with no training or little received calls from small churches.

I tried preaching on the streets, in nursing homes, in jails, anywhere, but was arrested for disturbing the peace. No church committee was impressed with my new experiences, so I just keep my janitor job at a grade school with Experience Works–minimum wage, but better than my trying to get church work.

28 03 2013
David Shepherd

Roger. Please don’t. Lose heart. Those who crave the public ‘pillar of the community’ accolade of an admiring congregation have no reward beyond the grave. We live in an era of Sunday sound-bites and pastoral personality cult. Many church boards blindly endorse even all sorts of thinly-veiled pastoral indulgences in the name of ‘mission’ and ‘kingdom life’.

Those who faithfully challenge themselves and others to thwart and oppose the narcissistic, consumption-loving ‘spirit of the age’ and can declare as Paul did ‘I exercise myself to have a conscience void of offence, both towards God and man’ and ‘renounce the hidden things of dishonesty’ will be rewarded in the eternal life to come!

12 04 2009
The Pastor « Maritime Mennonite

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10 04 2013

God bless u

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