Our small town’s gathering of pastors came together for our monthly meeting with two major agenda items: 1) The sending off of two pastors to different callings, as well as 2) Welcoming a summer pastoral intern in our midst.
We started the meeting welcoming the new guy in our midst, which included introduction of ourselves as well as “what advice would you give someone discerning a call to ministry?” (May I remind you there were over five denominations represented.)
It felt disastrous as leader after leader shared, but the general sentiment could be summed up from the most ‘seasoned leaders’ in our midst as they said:
“It is thankless and it is lonely.”
“Run! If God wants you God will get you.”
One particularly exhausted looking brother,who had the longest tenure amongst us said,”If you are doing what God wants, God will give you the strength.”
And finally the last brother, my beloved former co-pastor said,”I’m not the guy to talk to, I’m leaving to go into nursing school.”
If anyone from any denomination had been exploring God’s call into church leadership why would they continue on from there?
The nature of the current church ethos or ‘operating system’ has singled out pastors, ‘heroes,’ individual men (and sometimes women) to carry the weight of faithfulness, success and failure for an entire people. It is literally exhausting, metaphorically backbreaking and essentially soul taking.
If the life or death of a community of faith lies upon one individual or a handful of individuals, that community is only one personal crisis away from collapse.
We (as in every single follower of Christ) are called to make disciples who make disciples. How we live out that calling is particular and important and how we empower/expect our leaders, colleagues, mentors, and mentees to fully utilize the essential passions and motivations that have drawn us into ministry in the first place is the difference between life giving vibrant ministry and pure grueling sacrifice that is to be endured out of pure duty to the church.
But if Christ himself had given a plethora of gifts to the church, and gave particular gifts for church leadership in the five fold gifts of Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Shepherds and Teachers (Ephesians 4), then perhaps those of us who claim to be Bible based scripture loving believers need to begin to discern what the impact of those gifts could mean for the health and vibrancy of our leaders, colleagues, mentors, and mentees.If the life or death of a community of faith lies upon one individual or a handful of individuals, that community is only one personal crisis away from collapse. Click To Tweet
If we believe that God has to give each leader in the church a personal Christ- ordained calling (5Q) on his or her life, but at the same time we do not give them space to fully embody their particular calling in how they live out their leadership, we are immediately snuffing out the same spark we lit in the first place.
Why The Problem Exists
This weekend I met a passionate young church planter who was trying to thoughtfully work towards creating a healthy vibrant church plant through the best way she knew how: prayer. Everything she is and everything she knows on how to move forward in planting this daring new plant centers on prayer. Prayer teams, prayer walks, prayer partners.
This woman clearly embodies the prophetic mind that seeks to listen deeply to God and the community to which she is sent.
But the underlying pressure of the denomination for which she serves consistently devalues her prophetic impulse and leaves her questioning her own intuition towards leadership. They want results that are measurable. For some reason time praying and listening for God doesn’t count.
But they, nonetheless, have asked her to lead. They have ordained her to lead but they want her to do it like an Evangelist, just go meet people.
Within the first year after my husband and I were married we discovered the secret to marital bliss:
Whoever does it gets to choose how it is done.
This includes laundry, cooking, driving, non-life or death, or eternally detrimentally forming children based decisions. My husband has a natural impulse towards all of the above that do not align with mine but rather than wasting our years deciding who is right we have decided that we are glad it gets done.The church has the opportunity to change its expectation that all leaders are going to approach all aspects of ministry in the same way. Click To Tweet
The church has the opportunity to change its expectation that all leaders are going to approach all aspects of ministry in the same way. There are many ways to approach leadership in the church, but more importantly the church needs to begin to realize that one leader on her own cannot grow a vibrant church.
A Fix For The Problem
It takes a well rounded body that fully reflects all dimensions of the ministries Christ embodied throughout his life. A vibrant body of Christ requires the Apostolic impulse to move beyond ourselves into the world and Prophetic impulse to deeply connect both to the covenantal relationship with God as well as guard the God gifted shalom for all humanity. It takes the boldness of the Evangelists who daringly proclaims the gospel to any who would listen as well as thoughtfulness of the teachers who can help communicate the complexities of the heart of the gospel. And yes, the church deeply needs the Shepherds who are mindful and protective of the community and long to watch the community grow in the likeness of Christ through the bondedness of believers.
Using the 5Q “APEST Thinking Hats” with a group of pastors I divided us up Evangelists and Teachers; Apostles and Prophets; and then Shepherds (because I assumed we had more of them).
I chose Mark 2:18-28 (fasting, new wine, old skins, new cloth/old cloth).
Each group was to boil it down to its essential parts, the preachable parts of a sermon.
We ended up with three distinct takes on a scripture I thought was purely prophetic.
The Shepherds still managed to make it nurturing and somehow kept talking about safety. The teachers subjected it to rationality and historical context, and the Apostles heralded it as the end of church as we know it, until one wise prophet hesitantly spoke a word that made everyone look at it in a new light.
The point of this exercise was to prove to the group of pastors what happens when only one person, presumably the pastor, is the keeper of the pulpit, the vision, the direction and momentum of the church.
When we do a thing, we choose how we do the thing, but we are missing out on all other ministry gifts embodied in Jesus and that are supposed to be made manifest in the church. Because of this the church doesn’t receive the fullness Christ offers and arguably struggles with maturity.
If, for 35 years, a congregation only hears scripture as interpreted by the Shepherd-Teacher, they will very unlikely ever develop a deep sense of the call to mission outside the walls or recognize the value of sharing the good news with their neighbor.
Likewise, after a year of only hearing me, the Apostle-Prophet, preach and give direction to the church, our congregation became rather tired of being pushed to do this big vision pouring out of Jessica’s brain, so we were quick to hire a Shepherd to help break the vision up into manageable portions that the congregation can see themselves do.
But the Apostle and Shepherd alone cannot even propel our small, rural traditional church forward. We also determined our need to have an Evangelist who can teach us to communicate to our community as well as a Prophet, who can hold us firmly within the process of holy listening. So we have a team of APES (we have plenty of capable Teachers within our congregation who do an excellent job teaching). Together our job is to cast vision, share the pulpit, balance Bible Study and help our congregation discover their own gifts of ministry and leadership so that they in turn can grow in maturity and reproduce themselves.
I imagine the burden our area pastors felt around the table could be alleviated if they found themselves one of many gifted to lead in their congregation. I believe if our leaders could be empowered to embody leadership as God designed them, within a body of likewise gifted people, the burden of success or perceived failure would be shared.
In turn, as leadership, visioning, preaching and Bible Study begins to reflect the fivefold ministries of Christ, congregants will be to see their personal inclination toward ministry reflected in what they are seeing and hearing, and they will begin to recognize their own role in the body.
If your Apostolic congregants only see and hear ministry from the perspective of a Shepherd they will not be able to imagine their role inside the body because it will feel so foreign to every inclination they have to lead. Once they are empowered, passionate, knowing themselves and how they belong in the body, they can then be stretched to learn what the fullness of all gifts have in store for their lives.
The Church is referred to as The Body of Christ for a reason, we have many members each with a particular divine calling and it is a calling far more profound than greeting at the door or making coffee.
Imagine if the church could embrace the fullness of each divinely gifted person in their midst, the impact of their empowered giftings would make the whole earth tremble and fullness and maturity of the body Christ could finally bear the fruit we were designed to bear in the first place.The Church is referred to as The Body of Christ for a reason, we have many members each with a particular divine calling and it is a calling far more profound than greeting at the door or making coffee. #5Q Click To Tweet