Many of our models for pastoral leadership today are based on recent history. We built them within a certain kind of culture, and some of them worked decently in that culture. Yes, they’re also based on Scriptural precedent and on older tradition, but much more loosely than many people think. More on that soon.
Here’s the problem for us: our cultural landscape is quickly changing. It’s changing enough that I think we need to reconsider how we’re structuring ministry roles.
Three specific issues we aren’t addressing well:
1 – Christianity has been the civil religion in America, but that is quickly collapsing.
We’ve never had a formal Christendom, where Church and State were joined. But America has historically assumed that most people are Christians. And that’s how most people would have identified themselves for the past two centuries. So Presidents swear on the Bible when they take their oath of office. Pastors open the U.S. Senate in prayer. Your grandmother may have never met a Hindu or Buddhist.
That’s all quickly changing, though. A Hindu priest recently led the opening prayer for the U.S. Senate. The Ten Commandments and “Christmas trees” in public have caused all sorts of debates. Tiger Woods appealed to his Buddhist faith when he was trying to get back into people’s good graces a few years ago. Asbury Seminary President Tim Tennent talks about a lot of this in the book Invitation to World Missions. You should read it.
Here’s why this matters for church leadership. In a culture that assumes most people already are Christian, or will seek out Christianity, the Church can focus on preserving and expanding the institution. Build it and they will come. So we “call” or “send” pastors to serve primarily as chaplains for existing local communities. Or if we’ve gotten really into the Enterprise mentality, we make our pastors into CEOs to expand the institution with great, visionary leadership.
In a culture that is no longer Christian, those old structures won’t work. Tim Tennent says it well: “We find ourselves standing in the middle of a newly emerging mission field.” There’s a new frontier! Sending leaders around from one institution to another as chaplains or CEOs won’t reach that field. It hasn’t been reaching it. Just look at all the numbers.
Look at those who were sent in the New Testament. They don’t just move around from one existing church to another – using it as some sort of promotional system, or way to infuse new ideas or energy into an existing group. Most of what they did was on a mission field, not in an institution. A different group of locals – called elders – took care of the local churches’ daily oversight. And there’s no indication that they ever moved. Methodists can look at our own tradition and see the same thing. I’m getting ahead of myself, though. We’ll look at all of that in more detail later.