Pastoral Ministry Tuesday. PMT posts give some insight or background into my “philosophy of ministry” or my best understanding of the practices that help people become mature followers of Jesus.
1. the study of churches, especially church building and decoration.
2. theology as applied to the nature and structure of the Christian Church.
In this third part I’m going to get to my thoughts on what a healthy and functional ecclesiology looks like. An ecclesiology that is an ikon of sorts that communicates the kingdom coming and facilitates and nurtures the TELOS of becoming like Jesus. This calls back to the title of this post. I am trying to suggest by the title that while we can adopt any number of ecclesiologies, and they may be “functional,” they will not all get us to the same TELOS.
So we have to begin with the end in mind. In the end if the TELOS of our ecclesiology is “…all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.” (Eph 4) then we have to work backwards from there to develop a way of being and “doing” church that looks like Jesus. A more Jesusy way.
If your TELOS, your end goal, is anything other than becoming more like Jesus – for instance, you want to collect “decisions” for Jesus or you want to gather a large crowd or you want to develop your own branded franchise of the Church – you will need to decide on the ecclesiology that will get you there. It’s not hard to find one, there are a lot on the go.
Enough delay, here are some of my thoughts on what this could look like.
First, pastoring the local church should exist in plurality. It should be led by a team of people in relationship with God, one another and the church. One person may be the public spokesperson or designated to manage certain aspects of day to day situations, but the local church should be led by a team of equals. A preaching/teaching elder(s) might be described as “first among equals” in that they are that most public face but they must hold very loosely to such a designation.
A primary task of this team is that of discernment. Discerning God’s will together and guiding and teaching the local church to learn to practice discernment collectively as a community as well.
If you’ve been in the Church for very long you will already see why what I am describing to you will not be adopted.
Nevertheless, let me continue.
So, we start with a team approach to pastoring – not a leader with a team – but a team of people who are willing or eager to practice pastoring the flock of God of which they are a part.
What are these people like?
Paul gives us lists that we’ve turned into rules (1 Ti 3, Titus 2). The simple version is, people who are community can recognize are living for Jesus and like Jesus and carry a tremendous interest in and care for the local church of which they are a part. These should be men and women who demonstrate things like the fruit of the Spirit (Ga 5) and who have the capacity and willingness to relate to other people in and out of the local church. They should be people who have come to believe that the purpose of the local church is “…to come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.”
Let me pause to emphasize this principle – the local church should operate on a flat structure. The work of the people is not served by a human hierarchy but through an ongoing process of spiritual formation into the likeness of Jesus. Of a commitment to pursue the Center of their life together and for pastors to be the kind of people that exude or demonstrate the life of Christ in themselves in such a way that other member of the community willingly choose to listen to them and emulate them as they imitate Christ.
Again, if you have been around church for very long, you can see why this way isn’t adopted.
When the “leader” gets to tell everyone else what to do, make all the life decisions for the community of consequence and divine on their own the will of God for everyone else, there are always going to be people who aspire for, fight for and connive for that position. When the “leader” wraps a towel around their waste and strips of their ego and honor and takes the place of servant among the community, they will find far fewer people in competition with them for the position.
A great deal of conflict exists between the “leader” and “the lead” because it is inherent and fostered by the system itself. It is a competitive system that highlights that some people are “in” while others are “out.”
I’ve heard people talk about the list of attributes for an elder in 1 Ti 3 as if it was some unattainable criteria or if we would never be able to find people who fit the description. This is nonsense. These are minimums, not maximums and if we are not seeing people grow into people of Jesusy character, we’ve already lost the plot. However, my suspicion is, after 35+ years of following Jesus, the “becoming like Jesus” is an idea we affirm but not a way we have vigorously pursued.
More often I think our focus has been on functionality and what it takes to do church and the roles I need people to play in order to achieve my personal vision for the local church rather than God’s dream for the Church.
So the first piece of this ecclesiology puzzle is a plurality of pastors/elders/shepherds that recognizes the gifts and vocations of one another. That walks in humility with each other and the local church. That aims to become more and more like Jesus and guide everyone to this same end and doesn’t entertain any power over, doesn’t coerce, doesn’t manipulate (even for the “greater good”) and takes the posture of a servant. Their primary task is to discern together the direction of God and to help the local church do the same, collectively and individually.
“Power over” is so antithetical to Jesus and so contrary to the very words Jesus spoke that is should startle us into running away when we hear someone who claims to speak for God attempt to exert such control.