Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The Formation of Reformation, Part 1: Pastoral Culture

There is no way I can blog the sort of response I have in mind to the state of the evangelical pastorate better than John Piper responded in his excellent book Brothers, We Are Not Professionals. If you're interested in the art and profession of pastoring and preaching, I highly recommend it.
Nevertheless, as I think about the reformation of the Church's discipleship culture, one point of concern I have that reflects a vicious cycle of unhealth in the Church is the process by which churches acquire leaders.

Nine years ago I met with my church's student pastor to talk about ministry opportunities at the church. One thing he said that really resonated with me, as immature and undeveloped as my ecclesiology was at the time, was that the church prefers to hire from within. Even then, as a kid in my early twenties who'd already sent a few resumes out to churches, I could see the value in that. When you hire from within, you can ensure a couple of things about your hire: a) he knows your community and culture, and b) you know his competency and experience in a way much deeper than credits on a resume or recommendations from references.

It was great. In theory. Nine years later, I am unaware of any ministers at our church who have been hired from within our church community. This is a church that at one time hosted 4,000 people over a weekend and is currently hosting more than 2,000.
I only mention that as an example, because our church is not unique in this at all, and the reasons this hasn't happened are not unique to us at all. We share these reasons with virtually every other church in American evangelicalism.

Small church to big church, the way we hire pastors is from without. Traditionally through seminary referrals. But as seminary becomes less important in the hiring of pastors, professional qualifications increase in importance.
Let me be really clear here: This is not wrong per se. The reason churches continue to hire from without is clearly because there is a dearth of qualified persons within. I'm not saying churches should hire the incompetent and the inept. My concern, rather, is that fact itself. How qualified are those charged with shepherding our communities if they are not, so to speak, training themselves out of a job? If leaders are not being identified, raised up, developed, trained, and promoted into pastoral roles, how healthy is the culture of spiritual growth? Are we training everybody for everything but vocational ministry? We have people with the gifts of teaching and shepherding but no means by which to train them to be the future teachers and shepherds of the community?

One problem the current megachurch culture hadn't anticipated is the rapid growth not allowing for investment in leadership development. Churches grow very quickly with new Christians or immature Christians and almost overnight there is an abundance of sheep and a lack of shepherds. Where do you draw shepherds from? You have to look outside the community because there aren't any inside.

This is a self-perpetuating cycle. And again, while the hiring of professional ministers from outside the community is a necessary response to the problem, it will take intentionality to begin breaking the cycle.
It takes a while for professionals to learn the culture. I think we are belatedly learning that local churches are not plug-and-play environments. And the local church cultures have to learn their new pastors and adjust in ways they may not to leadership they are already familiar with or to a leadership that already demonstrates cultural familiarity.

The problem is that we expect too much from our pastors and also too little.
Here's what I mean by that: We expect our pastors to arrive with a winning personality, dynamic leadership qualities (including attractive speaking abilities), and a set of tried-and-true programs and constructs that will either revitalize a stagnant church culture or continue the upward trajectory of a growing culture suddenly absent a leader. We expect Chia Church -- Just Add Pastor. So we expect too much.

But in doing so we relegate our pastor to Personality. We are okay with him being a public relations spokesperson and a project manager, and in those expectations we have slowly earned a pastorate that is surprisingly deficient in actual pastoring. Business model church leads to -- or, to be fair, can lead to -- business model management. Strategy supplants shepherding; routines supplant relationships; structure supplants Spirit. The means become the ends, and success becomes measured by things that can . . . well, be measured. How many programs do we have? How much money are we raising? How many people do we have?
And the long term investment, the meat and gristle work of turning some people off to turn others on to cross-driven community in Jesus gets left behind in favor of the appearance of success, the air of accomplishment and influence. We expect far too little.

How do we fix it? Only a jerk talks about the problems without offering solutions.
Actually, I'm not sure how to fix it. (Only a jerk would act like he has all the answers.) Here are my guesses, though . . .

While we obviously have to continue looking outside congregations to find ministers in the transition, local congregations can work at inter-development of future ministers by:

a) Identifying those with teaching/leadership gifts and invest heavily in them. Have senior staff spend quality time with them, showing them the ropes. Train them, be their friends, connect them with each other, send them to conferences, take them on retreats, give them lay pastoral responsibilities, send them on hospital visits, assign them to large group teaching. Don't let these people develop on their own and then vanish.

b) Do pastoral interns even exist any more? Pastors, find at least one layperson with leadership gifts and mentor them. Mentor, mentor, mentor. Be a Paul to someone's Timothy. Not just to a Timothy at your old church, but find one in your new churches.

c) Identify future leaders and send them to seminary. Yeah, it's expensive. Figure something out. It's cheaper than that outside waterfall baptistry and a better long-term investment. Give them a job when they're out or send them out to plant a church sponsored by yours.

d) Men's ministry sucks. Fix it. No more quasi-Eldredge drumbeating "I hate my dad and want to punch my boss" testosterone fests. Get men together, fire them up with the inspiration of reformational spiritual warfare, connect them to each other, teach them Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus, tell them to stop jacking off and watching porn and help them. Them and their sons. Teach them that it's better for their wives to be at church because they are, not the other way around. Then practice church discipline if their church self is not the same as their home self. I don't mean to sound chauvinist or sexist but the Church needs its men to saddle back up, and tapping into their inner cavemen isn't the answer.

e) Become a church planting church, not a satellite campus planting church. Not that you can't do both, obviously. But the former will eventually train your culture to anticipate leaders coming from within rather than just expecting to clone the same leaders through technology. A church that plans to expand missionally will be planning to have missionaries. And that training culture will also be producing future ministers for the home church. (I know, it sounds convoluted. I can clarify this point in the comments, if needed.)

f) When interviewing prospective hires, go deeper than the already deep inspection of their education, experience, and references. They may be successful professionals. Are they good husbands and fathers? Do they have problems with anger or obsession? Why are they leaving their last church?
On that note, what's their employment history like? How long do they stay in one place? Do you really want to have to repeat the process in another few years? A guy with a history of investment will be more likely to invest long term in your church, and long term investment bears bigger, better fruit.

g) It may be nice that the guy is hip and down with the times and creative for his generation. How's his theology? Is he a student of the Scriptures? A guy with sound doctrine will be able to adjust better down the road when culture's winds change to the next big fashion. Grass withers, flowers fade and all that. Your guy's not into theology? Make him your staff manager or something, not your teaching or lead pastor. We are a People of the Book. A guy who's just not enamored with the Book is not a guy who should be trusted with the spiritual care of the People. Doesn't matter how big his last church was or how good a speaker he is.

I'll conclude by offering another qualification so no one thinks I'm picking on particular churches or pastors. It is not your new pastor's fault that his church hired him from without. It might be the last pastor's fault. :-) Pastors leave churches for a variety of reasons, and there's nothing wrong with the leaving. Not really even with the getting. In any event, this isn't the fault of anybody in particular. But as the emerging data on the state of spiritual growth inside the churches caught up in "professional ministry" demonstrates, it's all of our problem.


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