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?

Discipleship Methods – Discipleship Series Part 2

15 01 2008

drillsgt_moves_troops.jpgNow that we’ve defined Christian discipleship as “A defined training process that continues until the disciple’s life is brought into conformity with Christ’s teachings” from the elements of the Great Commission (click here to read more) let’s get practical and describe methods.

The first thing that must be said is that the prevailing definition seems to be that discipleship is any conglomeration of activities that might grow a Christian (sermons, relationships, small groups, books, seminary etc.). NOTHING has been more destructive to the creation of a real and effective discipleship process than this self-serving definition of discipleship by serendipity (happy accident). The reason for this (as I’ve described here and here) comes from a backward approach to mission and method (designing one’s ministry around a method or model instead of a mission). What church leaders and planters do is first determine their methods (creating a hip weekly worship service for example) and then try to accomplish the mission (discipleship) with this ineffective tool or with whatever is left over. And despite the enormous resources of Western Christianity we simply can’t disciple our congregations (much less the nations) while using less than 1% of our time, energy and money on the development and execution of an intentional, discipleship process.

So what methods fit this definition? To understand all the possibilities simply undertake this experiment. Ask at least 15 people you know (preferably a mixture of Christians and non-Christians) to describe anytime they were effectively trained in their life (don’t mention Christianity specifically) where they began not having a skill or mastery in an area and afterward had attained this and it changed them. Further ask them to identify what elements about that training they found to be particularly effective. I’ve asked more than 50 people this question and I can’t remember anyone mentioning Christian training (maddening considering this IS our mission and most of those I asked were committed Christians). What I have found is that almost everyone can remember effective training in the secular world whether in the military, nursing or even as a barrista in a coffee shop. Over and over the following elements were mentioned as essential (below is only a partial list) –

1. Intentionality – They showed up specifically to be trained (changed) and for that reason alone.
2. Commitment – They had made a decision to be trained in this area and had alloted the time, money and energy required.
3. Scope of Time – Each skill had a reasonable amount of time associated for mastery which was told to the trainee in advance so they could plan.
4. Outcome Defined – The trainee clearly knew what the training was expected to produce to greatly focus both the trainee and trainer.
5. Skilled Trainer – Some people have amazing gifts as trainers and when these people are the ones made responsible the outcome is vastly improved.
6. Clear Process – The steps to the training explicit and followed so successive progress can be monitored.
7. Group Learning – While individual attention can enhance training most find a group experience designed to not let anyone slip through the cracks most effective.
8. Interaction – Since the outcome is clear and successive steps can be measured interaction is essential to know where everyone is at at all times and to facilitate the possibility of group discovery.
9. Respected Models – While trainers are one kind of models, having access to many models you respect and can relate to gives trainees a clear picture of where they are headed.
10. Encouragement – Change requires us to be pushed and pushed people must also be encouraged to maintain the requisite energy and interest to complete the process.

Have you been through a process like this? If you’re like the random group of people I’ve asked most of you have but not within the church. We are all familiar with effective training methods, we simply fail to see their relevance to our Christian ministry (can you see how absurd this detachment is considering the Great Commission?). In later parts of this series I’ll describe our method and how we’ve incorporated these elements but there’s nothing revolutionary about what we’re doing. All we have done is actually attempt to train Christians with the methods that generally work.

One call in this series is to say that, before we do anything else, before we plant any more worship services ministries or start another Christian small group we must do at least the bare minimum to ensure that EVERY Christian under our care has access to a clearly defined process that will take them from wherever they are to an increasingly radical state as a disciple.

You may see how these elements can work well with training in a finite skill but how are they adapted to changing the way we live.

Check out Discipleship Part 3 – Distintives of Christian Training.

Mission Detachment

11 01 2008

subtitle: “Why 95% of all Christian Ministries should Immediately Cease to Exist Because They Are Detached From Our Mission ”

Disclaimer – What I’m about to write I actually do believe but only recently and I’m putting it out there so it can undergo further testing so give me your honest response.

I used to believe that Christian activity involved a conglomeration of often separate mini-missions and each one was an end in itself.

Feeding the Poor
Assisting the Fatherless and the Widow

And various people could more or less pick what area they are most passionate about and either create a ministry inside their church (if they go to a big church) to fulfill the mission or join a para-church ministry that has a specific focus on that mini-mission.

However, I’ve recently undergone an enormous shift with regard to my belief about the Christian mission. Specifically that we have one central mission – to make disciples. This is how the Kingdom of God expands upon the Earth. This is the activity that consumed the life of Jesus, of Paul and it is the narrow enterprise that they released their trainees to do.

So here’s the question I’ve been working through – what is the logical conclusion of our central mission of discipleship to every area of the Christian life?

One conclusion I’m throwing out there today is this – if discipleship is the mission, then is it appropriate to build ministries that are detached from that central mission? Feeding the poor with no strategy to disciple them. Building Christian community apart from a clear discipleship process. Launching a worship service as the primary goal of the church instead of making disciples.

Isn’t this the problem? Isn’t this the reason the country with the most ministries, the most churches, the most seminaries is having a decreasing impact on the lives of professing Christians?

What if 100% of people involved in ministry in the United States only continued if their ministry was structured and driven by the goal of making disciples. I believe 95% of them would cease to exist. And then what would happen? Those gifted people would be forced to reconstitute their ministries in alignment with our mission. The food kitchen worker would only continue if they worked hand in glove with those willing to pour time into these souls not just food into stomachs. Imagine the worship leaders, prayer warriors and mercy ministers all coordinating their efforts in line with an intentional discipleship process that actually transformed people’s lives. Imagine the massive change this would create and the Kingdom fruit that would result.

But who wants to design a coordinated focussed attack around a clear mission when we can all simply group up with people who share a like-minded passion for a mini-mission?  It would be like in war where all the pilots went to one battlefield, the mechanics to another, and the fuel supply to a third. When they begin to fail at their mission and the general tries to bring them into alignment or orders them to disband they might cry out “But what we’re doing is so important.”. Yes, but it’s not as important as the mission and you’ve been given gifts and training for the purpose of the mission.

So why not either disband or reorient all Christian ministries around our mission?

Here are some of the objections that have been raised thus far:

1. “Why shouldn’t we just increase discipleship instead of alter or disband existing ministries?” Everyone seems to say this at first but I think what Christians so often fail to realize is that the good is the ENEMY of the best. What that means is the main enemy of discipleship is NOT the sinful world but the well-intentioned ministries that, on one hand, suck the resources, passion and personnel away from discipleship and on the other, subtly replace that mission with another.

2. “Jesus told us to do many things including giving people a cup of water in his name and that is not discipleship.” So by this are we saying that Jesus was just as likely to set up a water distribution ministry but he just happened to spend most of his time discipling because that was his gift? No, Jesus discipled because that was the mission. Other things Jesus told us to do – visit the sick, feed the hungry are things you do as part of discipling and being a disciple. That was the way he did it not instead of discipleship like is being done today.

3. “Didn’t the early church have a widow feeding ministry in the book of Acts?” This was only for widows who were disciples. Paul even lays out the widow feeding rules in 1 Timothy 5 where he tells Timothy to only put widows on “the list” if they are believers who have no believing family to take care of them. It’s not hard to see how keeping disciples from starving is directly connected to discipleship. But are we to have a ministry to feed the poor outside the church?. Sure, if its a part of a larger strategy to also feed their souls. What if its just to feed them? I can’t find a single example of the early church doing this and I’ve been looking (someone help me here).

4. “Aren’t you being a jerk? People who are doing these ministries are doing them out of love.” Let’s go back to the war analogy. Is the general being a jerk when he insists that the elements of his coordinated attack work together and for the same mission? If you have 10,000 hungry people in your community are you being unloving when you alter your ministry to feed 500 because through coordination you can actually feed AND disciple 50? Does the Christian food kitchen and the Christian prayer ministry have the same mission or not? If they do then why shouldn’t we choose to only move forward when we work together and when our ministry is designed to accomplish the mission we’ve been given.

5. “What if God specifically calls me to feed someone and I don’t know why?” This, I want to declare, is the one exception to the rule (I’ve found so far). If the Holy Spirit prompts you to do something for an unknown reason you do it and you don’t ask questions about strategy. But that doesn’t mean you build an entire ministry around it if its detached from our mission. If God is calling you to start a ministry simply insist that it be designed to accomplish our mission and refuse to allow it to become a mini-mission off on its own.

Are you building another man’s ministry?

29 10 2007

A prophetic word sent out last week included this line that deeply struck me.  The prophet wrote about a shift coming in the way people are released into ministry.  He wrote, “The new breed of ministry will not use the people to build their ministries.  They will use their ministries to build people.”

It’s a subtle difference but many churches and ministries are NOT designed to find and release people into their ministries (into the unique calling God has placed on you).  They begin with a specific ministry agenda and seek to find others to help them build THEIR ministry.

But is that how a church should be structured?  Should we structure a church, a body of equally gifted, interdependent believers around the ministry, gifting and calling of one man?  Should not churches be a place where everyone is released?  Where the first question is NOT “what ministry position can we fit you into” but instead “what is your Kingdom destiny and how can we equip, encourage and release you”?

But there is one huge weakness in a model that releases everyone instead of supporting only one man’s ministry.  The weakness is this – if everyone is released, it requires each person to PROACTIVELY pursue their calling and NOT wait for someone to come along and give them a position.  We must each take responsibility for our own calling and steward those gifts and fulfill our responsibility to God and His Kingdom.

Oh what am I saying???  Its so much easier to just put in our hour or two per week supporting another man’s ministry.  Let’s just do that and get on with our lives.  Anything more might require too much of me.  Anything more might require me to die to myself.  Anything more might mean I will have to be crucified with Christ, that I can no longer live, that Christ will have to live His life through me.  Anything more might mean I’ll have to live in God’s Kingdom and NOT mine.  His life for mine.  His Kingdom for mine.  And that is why almost none of us will do it.  See you at the ministry fair.