Thursday, April 3, 2008

If Paul Wouldn't be a Viable Candidate for Your Open Ministry Position, Something's Wrong

I heart Michael Horton.

His Touchstone article -- "All Crossed Up" -- on the state of the pastorate is fantastic.

Never mind Paul’s exhortation to Timothy to submit to elders and pastors as official ambassadors of Christ. These days, even in more confessional denominations, it seems that instead of being the Lord’s servant, ambassador, and minister of reconciliation, a pastor is supposed to be the community’s quarterback, class president, or the one voted “most likely to succeed.”

It used to be that the pastor had an office and worked in his study, but today the pastor has a job and works in his office. Whereas Peter organized the diaconal office so that the apostles could devote themselves to the Word and to prayer, ideal ministers seem increasingly to be managers, therapists, entertainers, and entrepreneurial businesspeople.

Open up the average issue of Christianity Today to advertisements for pastoral positions and you’ll find descriptions like “team builder,” “warm and personal style,” “outgoing,” “contagious personality,” and “effective communicator.” (Catholic friends tell me that something like this affects Catholicism, too.)

I think they’re looking for a Director of Sales and Marketing, whom they may (or may not) call “Pastor.” I’m not against directors of sales and marketing; I just don’t think that this is what we should be looking for in the way of shepherds.

Yup yup yup.
We wouldn’t have had Paul, for example. Who, having advertised for an outgoing team builder with a contagious personality, would have hired a pastor who openly disclosed the fact that he was not a great communicator, suffered everywhere he was sent, was nearly blind, and lacked the natural charisma of the “super-apostles,” who were only too happy to point out these weaknesses themselves?

Perhaps, like the immature and sectarian Corinthians (1 Cor. 3:5–9), we celebrate the extraordinary minister more than the ordinary ministry of the gospel.


I was speaking with a pastor recently who applied for a particular lead pastor position with a particular church. He had some good conversations with the search committee and elders, but was ultimately told, "We don't think you're the person who can take us where we want to go."
The pastor said that, months after they had filled the position and after seeing where the new pastor was taking them, "They were right. There's no way I would have taken them there." :-)
A host of passages exhort believers to patient and mutual submission, progressive maturity and unity in the Word, and a community that is disciplined in its worship, life, and doctrine. There are clear instructions on the examination and ordination of a formal ministry that is entrusted with authority subordinate to Christ, with commands to “guard what has been entrusted to you,” going on from the milk of the Word to solid food, and so forth. There are no equivalent injunctions or instructions for small groups, para-church ministries, crusades, marches, revivals, or other movements that celebrate the extraordinary, spontaneous, restless, expressive immediacy that Americans relish, whether in church or on daytime talk shows.

Just as traditionalism is a parody of a living tradition, a ministry defined by the entrepreneurial, creative, and innovative capacities of today’s “super-apostles” should not be mistaken for genuine growth and outreach. Marking the remarkable missionary advances of the apostles, we meet repeatedly in the Book of Acts the phrase, “the word of God spread.”

Mission was about Christ as he is delivered to sinners through the gospel, not about us and our frantic efforts to make a sale. In fact, that is the last clause in Peter’s invitation: “The promise is for you and your children, and for those who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to himself .” The church is not called to mimic the world, but to feed the world the Bread of Life and incorporate strangers and aliens into the story of his redeeming work.

When pastors feel the burden of saving people, selling the gospel, or cornering the market through their own cleverness, methods, creativity, or charisma, they eventually burn out. So, too, do the sheep who are submitted to perpetual exhortations to imitate their restless “authenticity" . . .

Should we not begin with Paul’s list of qualifications for our pastors rather than the average job description in circulation today, and abide by the habits of disciplined growth that we find in the New Testament rather than the consumer habits of the marketplace?

I've written more on this subject myself here:
The Formation of Reformation, Part 1: Pastoral Culture
The Entrepreneurial Pastor Trend
Kind of a Big Deal

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