Continuing the extracts from the talk I gave recently at at friend’s inauguration service, minus the personal points on the theme of TEAMTALK!
Exploring new ways to Encourage Elasticity in the Ekklesia
When it comes to the ‘E’ word, I’m tempted to say, ‘take your pick’: Envisage Encourage, Enable, Empower and (E)ncite to Excellence and Encounter. But one particular issue I would like to touch on concerns the whole nature of the way we ‘do‘ church.
It may be worth remembering the two ’poles’ of most of the world’s expressions of Christianity. On the one hand there is the Catholic and Orthodox style of priesthood, which is outside the focus of this this article because we are focussing more on the way ministry has developed in the Protestant church. (Many of these thoughts are derived from a book called Pagan Christianity? by Frank Viola and George Barna, (Tyndale 2007) which, despite its alarming title, it is a well researched, readable and provocative history of individualism in religion through the centuries, exploring how the church has moved away from the participatory model the New Testament endorses, and which was the norm until the age of Constantine (AD 300 onwards).
The early Church was concerned to bring people to Christ not primarily in order to save them from hell as a ‘private transaction’, but to involve them fully in God’s community. In other words, conversion and the community of God’s saints were inextricably linked in a way we do not always see today. Every believer saw themselves as priests, with a ministry to offer to the whole community. All subsequent developments were precisely that: subsequent. Almost the moment I became a Christian, the realisation of the wonder of a relationship with the Lord Jesus Himself was matched by the amazing discovery of the Christian family.
A simple question on to ask is, “In your church services, do you talk primarily about God or to Him? Here’s another starter for ten: do ‘hymn sandwiches’ and the traditional Protestant service (which has changed remarkably little in 500 years) actually succeed in transforming people into Christ likeness?
Do they offer an environment in which spiritual fruit can grow? Or, do services in which everyone can participate (and ‘serve’) succeed better in terms of ‘scratching where it itches’? This has certainly been our experience and it avoids the trap of confusing preaching and leading, and of over emphasising sermon led activity which can actually stifle transformation and in-depth journeying together.
Too many ears
It has been said that the average Puritan might well have heard over 15,000 hours of preaching in the course of his lifetime! But what we actually need is encounter with the living Jesus, and to learn how to apply what we already know to be true. Yet more head based teaching merely risks making us theoreticians and sermon tasters rather than practitioners of the faith. It encourages a fundamental passivity that reduces the vast majority of people present to the role of listeners and spectators – albeit without the fines for non-attendance, or official pokes in the ribs by bully boy ushers for falling asleep during the sermon of days gone by! Effectively, such an overemphasis develops everyone into being ‘ears’ in the body of Christ, rather than hands and feet for Jesus.
It was Calvin’s practice to lead almost every part of church services himself, and his Geneva based model has been the matrix from which almost all subsequent Protestant services have developed, Frank Viola concludes that, in that respect at least, he unwittingly, did a very great disservice to the cause of participatory ministry. He goes so far as to claim that making preaching the centre of church gathering had no biblical precedent.’ (Pagan Christianity p. 59)
It is worth noting that the term ‘pastor’ only occurs once in the list of New Testament ministries – and that is in Ephesians 4:11 where it says that the Lord ‘appointed apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers in the Church.(English Standard Version). ‘Shepherd’ is a more accurate translation of the word ‘pastor’ and helps us to focus more on the function of shepherding God’s people than with the role and position of an official pastor.
The professional pastor has become a role that has not# necessarily been helpful in development of either the local or the wider church. A survey conducted by the Barna Update, in September 2001, revealed that 94% of pastors felt under pressure to ‘model an ideal family’, whilst simultaneously working such long hours that it adversely affected family life. Most claimed to have few if any close friends, and a much lower self-esteem than when they first entered the ministry. Burnout was cited as the cause of 40% of pastoral resignations, and a third of all pastors had seriously considered leaving their position during the previous twelve months.
I always remember a friend saying that Ephesians 4:11 has been widely mistranslated as ‘God appointed in the church first of all pastors, and then pastors, pastors and pastors!’ Whatever happened to all the other ministries?
By the way, if there is just one tip to pass on to you in terms of facilitating participatory church: always be on the lookout for what the Lord is saying and doing amongst His people, so that you can help to draw the threads and strands together. At the same time, keep your eyes wide open to reach out to people whose gifts are not yet obvious and invest in them wisely!
Tom Marshall’s brilliant book Understanding Leadership, published by Sovereign World, is still one of the finest around. Do try and track down a copy. It’s written by someone who was a first-class businessman as well as a good pastor, and the combination is particularly successful.
To get back to the E theme: People thrive on being encouraged, used and included. They shrivel without it. Finding ways to notice people and to encourage them is in itself an art to cultivate rather than something to do merely responsively and spontaneously. This article could really do with a concluding paragraph, but since you are the ones who will be living it, so may the Lord anoint you to be great ralliers and encouragers of God’s troops!
With our love,
Robert & Ros