Monday, August 29, 2011

An exciting vision for the church

A little over a year ago, one of my good friends (I'll call him Joe) was being "exited" from his position as a pastor. The beginning of this happened to be at the same time as General Assembly, so I was able to spend some time with Joe as he went through it, as were some other friends. At this year's G.A., one of our mutual friends (who I'll call Steve) and I were talking and he asked how Joe was doing. Then Steve asked, "what was the real issue for him, anyway?"

I replied that, from what I understood, some of Joe's fellow Elders felt that he wasn't doing a good job casting an exciting vision for the congregation. The Elders wanted him to be doing something flashy and attractive, different from what he was doing. Joe's approach to pastoral ministry is simply to preach and teach the Word, administer the Sacraments, pray for the congregation, and visit them in their times of need.

Steve said, "That IS an exciting vision for the church!"

I agree. It seems to be trendy to shape pastoral ministry to look like Steve Jobs and Apple, or some other model of sexy and new styles of product promotion. Obviously, some pastors have had some success in drawing in larger crowds when they have approached ministry this way. And something in, I think, most of us wants our congregation and "my ministry" to stand out as distinct and different from the rest.

The problem is, there's nothing of these in the Bible as the reason why the Kingdom expands. While the growth of the first-century church has seldom been rivaled, the methodology, vision, and mission have essentially been these same things: preach and teach the Word. Administer the Sacraments. Pray for one another. Serve one another in various times of need. Build real relationships, and minister to each other within those.

Which means that my ministry shouldn't really be all that different from the pastor down the street or the one across town. And that is just fine, because it's not really my ministry, anyway, is it?

I'm reading Eugene Peterson's excellent memoir, The Pastor, and he touches on many of these same points. At one point, he directly addresses what a problem this is (and where it comes from):

This is the Americanization of congregation. It means turning each congregation into a market for religious consumers, an ecclesiastical business run along the lines of advertising techniques, organizational flow charts, and energized by impressive motivational rhetoric. But this was worse. This pragmatic vocational embrace of American technology and consumerism that promised to rescue congregations from ineffective obscurity violated everything— scriptural, theological, experiential— that had formed my identity as a follower of Jesus and as a pastor. It struck me as far worse than the earlier erotic and crusader illusions of church. It was a blasphemous desecration of the way of life in which the church had ordained me— something on the order of the vocational abomination of desolation.
Eugene Peterson, The Pastor (New York: HarperOne, 2011), pp. 112-113

I prefer Joe's exciting vision to the flashy, sexy, pragmatic approaches that I get direct-mail promotion for on a weekly basis. Don't you?

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