Moved Mountains

Banner - Mt Trio, Stirling Range National Park, Western Australia - (c) 2007

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Patterns in the Midst of Change

Several fellowships I have a loose connection with, and one I am a part of, have recently faced some challenging times. The catalyst in every case, and for different reasons in each situation, has been loss of pastoral leadership.

What's interesting is, in every instance, the same 3 things happened;

1) A core group (including people not previously involved with "leadership") came forward to take responsibility for the congregation,

2) Members began to take on roles generally associated with the pastor's responsibilities and

3) A number of families moved off to other churches (actually just about everyone in each instance went to the same large, purpose driven church down the road!).
Fellowship number one decided to make its goal the sourcing of a new pastor. This took place over a series of months and around 2 and a half years ago a new man took to the pulpit.

Immediately just about all of those who had stepped up to the plate disappeared into the background. A few who wanted to stay involved in areas of ministry taken up in the absence of a pastor were effectively pushed out of those ministries and alienated by the new leader.

Today this fellowship is the very model of the CEO-led, attractional fellowship. It retained most of its post-pastor members and has even grown a bit when new Christians have moved into the area. All in all though, it's a Sunday centred church where the pastor calls the shots and is personally responsible for the bulk of the ministry.

Fellowship number two (actually my own), amid some turmoil and because of a difficult financial situation, had no option but to struggle on without a paid pastor. A divided leadership meant some new people (i.e. new to the fellowship's leadership team) had to step up to the plate. For around a year an interim, caretaker board was left to make sure things didn't completely dissolve. Members took on ministry roles, and some began to pursue a missional agenda - sounds sneaky, doesn't it! In reality though it was independent of any major outside influence and with no knowledge of the modern missional/emerging movement.

12 months down the track the fellowship had grown smaller, but the attitude and outlook of those who stayed was slowly beginning to change.

Today, after around 2 years, most have come to accept that there are other ways (other than the CEO pastor way) of doing church. This acceptance has introduced a new level of vitality and personal commitment to the fellowship. Things are happening now that have never happened before. There's still a long way to go, and like the Israelites in the Promised Land, a time may come when they decide they want a "king" again. But for now God is leading in a new direction and a new and exciting picture of the future of the kingdom in this part of the world starting to take shape.

Fellowship number three - the newest to experience the loss of a pastor - is today at the cross roads.

There seems to be a very strong push from within to head down a similar road to ours, to capture that which at the moment is an aberration, created of necessity, and make it the norm. Becoming less concerned with the attractional side of things and embracing a more missional philosophy of ministry.

Where they will end up is yet to be seen, but there journey sounds like it could be an interesting one.

What struck me most in all of these separate situations, was the way the same pattern existed in each examples; a pastor is lost, people step forward, direction is found, people pull together and work as a plurality to achieve an end result. The end result was different for fellowship one, than for two and possibly three, but in every case it was achieved as a result of a group effort.

Where will any of these fellowships be two years from now? I guess the answer to that question lies with God. But my sneaking suspicion is, those that choose and stay with the missional road will be in a very different place to the fellowship sailing the safer, traditional route.


Shannon said...

Interesting post, Andrew.

I think it's great that people step up when a pastor is no longer in "position". I've often wondered what would happen in the church I pastor if I ever left. My suspicion is that it would likely follow the first pattern but probably wouldn't take as long to achieve. I wonder if in the synergistic efforts of everyone getting involved though if something isn't lost. Something valuable. Perhaps I just haven't gotten as far in this missional journey and while I'm not a fan of CEO type ministerial structures, shouldn't someone be the go to person? Someone has to make the hard calls and lead the church in unison or is this something a select group of individuals are set in place to do?

The Creature said...

Hmmm - now you've got me thinking!

Can you explain how you think something is lost in a synergy?

Also, don't forget (maybe it isn't clear in my posts) I am not actually anti-leadership, I guess it is really leadership style, or our theology of leadership that I am questioning.

As for the "hard calls" and the "go to" person. I think that a select group can make the hard calls, and in fact probably should make them in most cases.

Can you think of and share a hypothetical situation where you would be required, in your situation, to make the hard call on your own? I want to understand what you mean by this.

As I said, you have got me thinking. I was struck with the horrible possibility when I first thought about your post this morning, that perhaps I am just playing with smoke and mirrors. In reality much of my role as the paid "church worker" is that of the traditional pastor, I just don't have that lable or title even though I am doing the job. Am I just kidding myself - is my fellowship any different to the first fellowship in this post?

I think it is, for a number of reasons, and I think yours probably is too. I hope we can explore this a bit further.

This is an interesting, and I think very important, topic.


Shannon said...

I guess it cannot be overstated that every group of believers is different therefore, what works for one cannot be assumed a perfect fit for another.

My thought of something possibly being lost in the situation of a synergistic effort of leading the church would be based on my own "current" situation of ministry.

My thoughts are that with so many, however many, leading or making decisions for the direction of the church, could get very messy as I see it. I do have an advisory board which is set in place to help me make decisions that will affect the entire church. One such hypothetical situation where I would have to make the hard call would be if the board was split and I am always the deciding vote. In addition, I hand pick the pastoral leaders in the church, this is not open for a church/board vote. That may sound a bit CEO but my point in that is I know with whom I can work with to accomplish the greater tasks better than my board or church members.

Though structurally, my church is closer related to the first one in your post but as you suggested, in practice we're not. We have a constitution and bylaws which name me as the "President" of the incorporation but this is purely for legal purposes in the State of Texas.

In practice, I think we're more like fellowship #3. I don't rule over everything and every ministry in my church. I do know what's going on, but I don't control them....the Youth Pastor is free to do his ministry as the Children's Pastor. Tonight I met with 2 ladies that are beginning a new ministry called "Reach Out" geared toward the many 20 somethings in our community. I told them that I don't want to tell them how to do this and that they are only limited by their own creativity. They are at the very onset of this ministry and I don't want them to feel boxed in right out of the gate. Though I will be aware of what is going on in that aspect of our overall ministry, I don't control it. I think this allows for others to really put to work the creative genius that God has placed in us all.

I'm not sure if I'm making any sense with this. Again, my questions really come from a pure desire to understand better what church should look like; not based on tradition but on biblical foundations. I admit it's difficult for me to see the "simple church" and "emergent church" as it doesn't fit what I've known and understood for so long. I guess what I struggle with is the realization that, truly, my church is uniquely gifted in so many ways and that it functions so well as it is and we're doing so many great things for God's Kingdom that to consider an idea that we're somehow off, is really hard to grasp.

The Creature said...

Thanks Shannon - sorry for taking so long to reply!

I think you are probably more like fellowship 2 than 3 - 3 at this point has no real consensus on future direction or leadership, for them it is early days.

I guess - and I'm not speaking specifically to your situation cause I don't know the "ins" and "outs" of it - I struggle to see how any leadership model can be successful without a clear plurality aka Ephesians 4.

I don't think we should fall into the trap of advocating for a "we can all be leaders" kind of thing either, because this is pure insanity.

As I see it, leadership is essential. A filter for leadership has been given to us by God - called the spiritual gifts (it's primary role is equipping, but it is also a filter). The leadership will be a representative sample of the wider membership but will still only be small in number (of course this will depend on the size of our fellowship), when compared to the membership. It will be based on leadership gifting, where responsibility is given according to gifts - and not just the individuals own perception of themselves and their gifts but on the general consensus of the members.

The pastor will be one of several and responsibility for the ministry of the fellowship will rest, first, upon the leaders, and secondly, upon the members.

And I think that there are many missionally mined pastors out there serving in what are outwardly CEO roles, who are also doing many great things (I mentioned a couple who greatly influenced me in my post The Leadership Thang) but - and its a big but - who are going to keep running into problems getting their congregations fully into a missional way of looking at things simply because of the very structure they are forced to work in and around in the first place.

IMO the very operational structure of a CEO-type church leads to an abrogation of calling within the members. Most members, regardless of what is being preached from the front (the fact that there is a front from which to preach is also part of the problem), will continue to see the primary ministerial role as resting upon the or at the feet of the pastor. They will tell themselves this is why they contribute to his salary each week - so he can do the things they cannot do or don't have the time to do themselves. And therein lies the problem.

I think I might turn this comment into a post, but I really want to hear what you have to say.

These comments are based on my perceptions (which I hope have been influenced by prayer and bible study) but are, at the end of the day, still just my perceptions.

Bring it on! :)