Rethinking Church 6

Let’s talk about leadership.   I’ve been in full time church leadership for about 15 years in a variety of settings, which gives something of an insight from the inside ‘for better or for worse.’   I don’t proclaim to know all there is to know, by far, neither do I have any wish to malign any who serve in ministry, but I think it is fairly safe to say that there is something of a bottleneck in the church when it comes to diminishing numbers of leaders in the traditional denominations in particular.  More and more leaders are being stretched in more and more ways, and whilst God continues to call, less are responding. Either that, or God isn’t calling so many.  Whatever is happening,  this challenge can cripple the local church.

The current form and set up of churches, from the traditional to the new churches, set around the Sunday morning preach, basically do the same thing in a different style and many are strongly reliant on the pastor-teacher mode of leadership.  This, coupled with the worship service, mean that the leading of churches has become the realm of the professional.  Again, I speak as someone who has done more than my fair share, but I confess that I’ve long realised that fulfilling the role I have in the ways I’ve fulfilled in traditional church set ups have been a part of the problem.  I’ve said many times that I hope that I am in the last generation of leaders who lead in this way.

I won’t bore you with too much history, but its common knowledge that the church moved into a very different mode when Christianity became the state religion of Rome, adopting practices alien to the church in its first 300 years or so of existence.  When your religion is inseparable from your State, the mission task becomes very different when the assumption that everyone in the country is ‘Christian.’  At worst, this brought nominally and compromise, but there were, of course, some benefits of this arrangement. Yet, here in the 21st Century, were at the back end of this religio-sociopolitical arrangement…Christendom is fading, we are in a new missionary setting.

Without a doubt, many solutions and ways of working will need to happen to enable transition.  The occupational hazard that I have is that I’m not one of those who can maintain the status quo without losing my soul in the process.  And so, my desire is to maintain close relationships with the wider church, but begin working in faithfulness to what I see is part of the way forward.

How can leadership change?  I am convinced that we must realise that God didn’t just give pastor-teachers.  Some are called to apostolic ministry, evangelistic ministry, as well a to engage prophetically.  The apostolic ministry is what I’m going to talk about in particular though.

The New Testament Apostles, whilst unique in their position as being the founding 12, set a pattern for apostles who came after them.  The NT mentions folks fulfilling apostolic ministry beyond the 12.  But what did they do?  The apostolic task was, largely, to do the following:

1.  Instruct believers how to live deeply in Christ.
2.  Teach believers how to function as the body of Christ
3.  To equip the believers for ministry and send them out on mission where they were.

Think about Jesus…what did he teach his disciples?  To do those same three things.  The NT apostles do what Jesus showed them.  And why did Jesus show them this, in particular?  Because that’s what the Father send him to do because the Trinity live deeply in one another, function as community, and sent both Jesus and the Spirit. I’m just honestly wondering why we think doing anything other than what the Father showed makes any sense?

We pay lip service to the concept of the priesthood of believers and the ministry of the whole body.  This, I believe, is one of the larges reasons the church is the way it is.  I’ve met so many people who do not know how to live in Christ, participate fully in the body of Christ or effectively carry out mission in their locality.  How has this become the norm?

I want the rest of my days, as far as church goes, to be spent in building up and releasing the church to be the church and to build churches that can sustain their own life because they are rooted and grounded in Christ, not because they’re luck enough to be able to afford/employ someone to do ministry for them.  This conviction has come through hours of study, reflection, conviction and a deep sense of calling.  The church needs to be allowed to rise up and live in a new way.

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If you fancy some reading, here are just a few on this topic:
‘Forgotten Ways’ by Frost and Hirsch
‘Finding Organic Church’ – by Frank Viola
‘Reimagining Church’ – Frank Viola
‘Organic Leadership’ – Neil Cole

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