We must expect different things from Pastors | What America can learn from the European Church | Part 4
[This is the fourth 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.]
When I trained at seminary to become a Baptist Minister, there were a number of assumptions that were made about what that ministry was going to look like.
The major focus was on theology, because of course it would be my job to make sure that my future congregation understood the Bible in the right way.
Other key components included pastoral care and a little on how to preach.
I had no training in leadership, no training in what it means to be a disciple or to disciple others (other than Bible study), no training in how to build or facilitate effective evangelism.
My training was equipping and shaping me to fulfill a certain role; one that most churches in the UK expect their Pastors to perform and one that most Church leaders go along with. The role I was being trained for was this:
- To look after the people of the church and care for them
- To teach the people and to feed them spiritually.
- To help them to be comfortable and healthy as they try to live good lives in a difficult world.
The huge problem with this is that it’s a million miles away from the model of discipleship presented in the Bible. In fact, it could be argued that it’s the exact opposite. Jesus said:
“The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.” (Luke 22: 25-26)
A benefactor is someone who provides for other people and in return is able to exercise some degree of control over their lives. The provision of a benefactor can be financial, intellectual, social or spiritual; sometimes it can be all of these.
Pastors in the Church seem to have entered into a ‘benefactor agreement’ with their congregations, where they are expected to be the providers of what people need pastorally and spiritually.
We have ‘taken hold of that for which the Church has taken hold of us’ instead of taking hold of that for which Christ has taken hold of us.
When we do this, we effectively become like a ‘shell’, insulating people from the life of discipleship that Jesus has called them into, instead of a skeleton supporting and helping people to disciple others.
The church becomes like a crab or a wood louse, with the staff surrounding the people with care and teaching, catering to their needs. But what we want to see is the church operating like a human body; arms, legs and torso supported by the skeleton and working together to achieve the commission that the head gives it.
Jesus’ commission is ‘Go and make disciples.’ Are we primarily doing that as leaders? Are we helping the people in our church to do that? If we are not, then are we really fulfilling the commission that Jesus has given us?
In a city with rock-bottom levels of church attendance, we have seen folks coming to know Jesus on a weekly basis. We are seeing hundreds come into our missional communities each year in a country where the average church congregation size is 38. And we are not just producing consumer-Christians, but believers who get straight back out there, discipling others. Why is that? What have we done that is different?
I believe that it starts with us as leaders.
- Rather than providing pastoral care, we should be building a culture and supporting structures so that our people care for each other.
- Rather than providing spiritual food, we should be equipping our people to access God’s Word and receive food from Jesus directly.
- Rather than making people into clients for what we provide, we should be making disciples who can in turn go and make disciples.
- We can do this by ‘pruning’ out a lot of the management we do, and then start living the life. We form a core community, live life-on-life and reach out to others to bring them into the Kingdom. Like Jesus, we identify and call a group of disciples to go on the journey with us and ask them to do the same. We percolate this throughout the whole church.
We do our job of making disciples and let Jesus do His job of building the church.
Paul, along with Rich Robinson, are spearheading much of our 3DM efforts in the UK. To check out their blog, click here.