What America can learn from the European church | Part 2
[This is the second post of a 6-post series titled “Letters to America,” written by Paul Maconochie, the pastor at St Thomas Philadelphia. Paul was the pastor who followed me at Philadelphia and now, 8 years later, it is one of fastest growing churches in Europe, doing some incredibly imaginative things in a truly post-Christian context. I hope you enjoy the series, and if you’d like to read a little on the history of St Thomas, check out this blog post on how I chose Movement over Mega.]
- To read Part 1 of this series, “From Intervention to Incarnation,” click here.
One of the things I have learned as I have pastored St. Thomas’ Church in Sheffield, UK, is how seductive the trappings of leadership can be. Those of us leading churches can find that we have a leadership role with almost everyone we know. We are given honour and respect and rarely are we expected to do the menial jobs. People behave differently (generally better) when they are around us and give us gifts and encouragements. From what I have seen, this is even more the case in America than it is in England. I once had a suspicious immigration officer question me in detail as I was coming into the USA – the questions continued until he discovered that I was a Baptist Minister, and then he turned very friendly and stamped my passport immediately!
I joined the church in 1992 as a grad-school student. Like most other Gen-Xers I was not too keen on responsibility. I joined a bible-study group and I played guitar in the worship team. I enjoyed the freedom of just being responsible for myself, and life was easy.
Until Mike Breen came to the church as the new Pastor.
Mike started to challenge us to look towards a better prize than the easy life. He painted a picture of a city transformed, and perhaps even a nation turned around, and I found in this vision something that I was prepared to fight for.
I met my wife Elly through the worship team and together with some others we decided to start one of the new ‘Missional Communities’ that everyone was talking about. We had a 3-dimensional vision (Up – relationship with God, IN – with each other and OUT – with those who do not yet know Him) which was to ‘Learn to Worship God with all of our lives, not just our voices‘, to ‘Live lives of real community together, not just mid-week meetings‘ and to ‘Welcome the strangers, where ever we meet them‘. This group grew significantly over time, with a number of people becoming Christians including some heroin addicts and suddenly we found ourselves responsible for other people, with all of their ups and downs. This of course is the essence of the Christian walk. To Cain’s question “Am I my brother’s keeper?” followers of Jesus must answer a heart-felt “Yes!”
One of the main things we learned at this time was how important it is to identify and raise up new leaders. We had to multiply a number of times as we grew and this was only possible if there were people prepared to take up the leadership of new groups. Eventually I became a member of the Staff Team and was asked to turn leadership of the groups over to others.
I was asked to lead ‘Roxy AM’, the morning service in our city-centre ex-nightclub building. I shrank back from this because I struggled with being on the stage regularly in front of all those people, but Mike said to me “Paul, you must realise that your destiny lies in taking responsibility for things.” This was a great word for a Gen-X person to hear. I needed to step up! Within three years Mike moved to the USA and I became the leader of St. Thomas’ Church on a new campus in the Philadelphia district of the city.
Now, eight years later, the church has grown and more than doubled as we have continuously multiplied Missional Communities and is continuing to grow through reaching folks who do not know Jesus.
Leading this church is easy for me now as I have a great team, but once again I have had to hand over the leadership role to others. They are ready and it is their turn to ‘step up.’ Ironically after trying to avoid responsibility for all of those years, it was really hard; I think I had begun to like being in charge.
But we are absolutely committed to a culture of discipleship. This means that first I needed to learn to take responsibility for stuff. Then, like Mike before me, I needed to raise up the next generation and do myself out of a job. And as much as I may not want to see it all the time, often the people I who take my place are better than I am. But isn’t that what we want? To, like Jesus, make sure that those who follow us will do even greater things than us? What if that was the true measuring stick of success?
As leaders, are we committed to raising the next generation into leadership and helping them to do it even better than we could? To go deeper, wider and higher than we were able? Or are we hanging on to our jobs, resting on the laurels of what we have achieved in the past?
There is more for us, and more for those we raise up.
Are we called to just lead churches, or to build movements of missionary disciples that could change everything?