Contend Earnestly: Church Planter/Pastor Extraordinaire or Total Church?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Church Planter/Pastor Extraordinaire or Total Church?

I am almost done with the book "Total Church" and have very much enjoyed it...some things I question, but for the most part, it speaks to exactly where I believe God has been moving my family and Soma Communities. I thought I would share something from the book to show how it has resonated with me, especially when thinking about church planting and super hero pastors who become the functional saviours of their churches.

I don't feel pressure to "perform" for two reasons. First, "success" and "failure" are common property. We all share a sense of responsibility for what happens. We use first-person pronouns rather than second-person pronouns: "we could have done better" rather than "you could have done better." If I am negligent or ungodly, then people will challenge me. But I do not have to perform. Second, ministry is not an event that occurs on Sunday. It is a lifestyle of word-centered activity. Success is not judged by a sermon or service. It is judged in terms of growing Christians and gospel opportunities.

I have used the first person, but not to trumpet my experience. The reality is that it is often very messy. I have used the first person to show that what I am describing is not impossible rhetoric or unrealistic idealism. I remember talking over lunch with two church leaders. At first they expressed concern that we did not have an accountability structure over and outside us. But as I talked to them about the day-to-day accountability I enjoy from my congregation and from other congregational leaders with its opportunities to share heart struggles, their attitudes changed. Soon they were saying, "I wish we had something like this. Out accountability is so superficial. I feel alone most of the time." True accountability is more about relationships than about hierarchies. It requires community more than structures. The sad thing was that those two church leaders could not imagine their situation ever changing.

Church without programs, structures, or buildings can make you very vulnerable. Leadership in which your life is open can feel scary. But we should embrace this fragility because it forces us to trust God's sovereign grace.

I often describe our church as a group of messy people led by messy people. That is what happens when you take away performance and pretense. They are replaced by messy pastoral issues. But this is how growth takes place. This is how grace is displayed. To paraphrase the opening words of the Sermon on the Mount, "Blessed are the broken people, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them" (Matthew 5:3). Ministry as performance does not welcome brokenness because it ruins the veneer. But God's kingdom is for broken people. When pastoral problems emerge, I do not think, "Oh no, here's another problem to solve." I think, "What a privilege to be serving broken people. This is where God's blessing is found."

The real tragedy of leadership as performance is that it devalues the work of Christ. Our identity then is not rooted in grace but in the success of our ministry. And so we feel upbeat when we have performed well, and we feel down when things are not going well. We become enslaved to other's people's approval. We are concerned to prove ourselves, and that is just another way of talking about self-justification. We preach justification by faith on the day of judgment but do not practice justification by faith in the daily routine of our lives. Our practical theology has become disconnected from our confessional theology. Our song becomes:

My hope is built on something less
Than Jesus' blood and righteousness;
I trust my skills, I trust my fame,
And maybe sometimes Jesus' name.

But we cannot keep it up. Self-justification is always beyond us. The chorus of Edward Mote's hymn, which I have taken the liberty of inverting, actually goes: "On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand; all other ground is sinking sand." Leadership as performance is sinking sand.

Tim Chester & Steve Timmis, Total Church, pp. 197, 198.


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